bosnia report
New Series No. 8 January - March 1999
 
Bosnian Serbs and Anti-Bosnian Serbs

by Marko Attila Hoare

The Partisan resistance movement of the Yugoslav peoples to the Axis occupiers in World War II has long since entered the realm of legend in the West. During the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, this legend was frequently appropriated by commentators favouring a Western accommodation with Serbia. The Serbs were, according to Fitzroy Maclean, 'the very best guerrillas in the world'; they were, according to Misha Glenny, capable of 'skinning alive' any force sent by NATO to confront them. Douglas Hurd and other Western political leaders were fond of citing how the Partisans tied down enormous numbers of German troops. The message was: the Serb forces of Karadzic and Mladic stem from a tradition of Serb military invincibility; the West has no choice but to accommodate them. What none of these commentators or politicians did, however, was to consult the numerous Bosnian Serb veterans of the Partisan movement who lived to see the war of the 1990s. The Serb Partisans of the 1940s and the Serb nationalists of the 1990s are not so easily equated.

In Belgrade on 30 April 1992 seventy veterans of the Partisan movement published an 'Appeal for peaceful coexistence by the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina': it condemned the 'external and internal aggression' on the 'sovereign and internationally recognized state' of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the 'natio- nalüchauvinist doctrine' according to which the 'coexistence of people of different nationalities' was not possible.1

The signatories included Bosnians of all nationalities; among the Serbs who signed was Cvijetin Mijatovic- Majo who, as Communist Party (KPJ) secretary for his native East Bosnia, had stated in 1944 that Bosnia-Herzegovina within the Yugoslav federation was to be an 'independent unit' with 'its own council, its own government, its own army', so as to guarantee that 'our people lives in brotherhood'.2

Another signatory was Lepa Perovic, a native of Bosanska Gradiska who was Secretary of the General Council of the Antifascist Women's Front for Bosniaü Herzegovina. Perovic's husband Koca Popovic, a Serb from Belgrade who had fought in the Spanish Civil War and served as the first commander of the 1st Proletarian Brigade, was himself a staunch opponent of the 'unbelievable, primitivistic- nationalist and stupid euphoria' whipped up by the policies of Slobodan Milosevic and Dobrica Cosic.3

A third signatory to the Appeal was Ljubo Babi‚, also from Bosanska Gradiska, who as commander of the Drvar Brigade had been at the forefront of Serb resistance to the genocide carried out by the Croatian Ustashe in the most solidly Partisan region of Bosnia. Despite his advanced years Babic would subsequently brave the horrors of the BoÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ snian Army's tunnel into Sarajevo when, during the 1992-5 war, he visited the besieged Bosnian capital to deliver a message of solidarity to members of the Serb Civic Council, the body representing Bosnian Serbs opposed to the aggression on their country. The signatories formed themselves into a Multinational Association of Bosnians and Herzegovinians to protest against the war. Headed by Babic and by Dimitrije Bajalica, a Serb from Kozara and former political commissar of the 4th and 10th Partisan Divisions, the Association campaigned for the breaking of the siege of Sarajevo. In February 1994, following the marketplace massacre of 68 civilians in Sarajevo, the Association wrote in a letter to UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali: 'It is your responsibility to dislodge and disarm the criminal band above Sarajevo and in that way break the siege and, what is most important, save the lives of tens of thousands of innocent citizens - Serbs, Muslims and Croats - who are in these conditions condemned to death.'4

Partisan veterans for Bosnia
Many Partisan veterans chose to remain in Sarajevo after war broke out in 1992 and to put themselves at the service of their city and their country. Three Yugoslav generals and former Partisans, Milan Acic, Dzemil Sarac and Mirko Vranic, served as military advisors to the Bosnian Presidency. On 24 August 1993, a message signed by nine former mayors of Sarajevo was sent to Boutros Boutros Ghali as UN General Secretary and to the mayors of the capital cities of all UN member states. The message stated that 'we shall never be able to accept the partition of our state Bosnia- Herzegovina', and that 'Sarajevo has for centuries been an open city and multi-ethnic urban centre of tolerance and coexistence.' It called for the UN's assistance in protecting the lives of the citizens of Sarajevo, ending the siege of the capital, enabling the return of refugees, and putting on trial the perpetrators of war-crimes.5

Following the marketplace massacre of 5 February 1994 the former mayors sent out another appeal demanding that the international community employ 'all means to execute the existing resolutions concerning Sarajevo as a protected area, the removal of heavy artillery and the ending of the siege'.6 Among the signatories was Dragutin Braco Kosovac, a Sarajevan Serb from a family persecuted by the Ustashe, a Partisan from the start of World War II who became secretary of the Communist youth organization in the Bosnian capital and subsequently president of the Sarajevo district council. Kosovac says proudly of the multi-ethnic heritage of Bosnia-Herzegovina that 'here for five hundred years people of four religions lived together: Catholics, Muslims, Orthodox and Jews' and that, although 'the diversity was great, nevertheless they always lived together. For five hundred years in Bosnia, and particularly in Sarajevo, there was no genocide, no Bartholomew's Night massacre, no pogroms'. According to Kosovac, the Serbs during World War II readily accepted the Partisans' goal of a Bosnian Republic and indeed 'for the foundation of Bosnian independence the greatest contribution was in fact made by Serbs'.7 Another signatory of the mayors' appeal was Dane Olbina, a Serb from Croatia, political commissar of the Partisans' 3rd Corps in East Bosnia and mayor of Sarajevo from 1948 to 1955. Comparing the recent war in Bosnia to that which the Partisans fought, Olbina says that 'the Sarajevans, those who defended the city, were also fighting a war of liberation; they were defending themselves, because the Serb Democratic Party and Croatian Democratic Community wanted to exterminate the Muslims.' Olbina remains confident that 'Bosnia cannot be destroyed'.8 Ugljesa Danilovic, a Serb from the Odzak region in northern Bosnia and the only suÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ rviving member of the KPJ Provincial Committee for Bosnia-Herzegovina that directed the Partisan resistance there, lives today in Dubrovnik. He says that 'I should be the happiest person if a Bosnian nation existed', but continues that it was not possible for the Communists to establish a Bosnian nation, since the Serb, Croat and Muslim nations had already come into existence and could not be superseded. Nevertheless, for Danilovic Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and the other former Yugoslav republics are the legitimate successor states to the deceased Yugoslav federation.9

Among the Serb Partisans who remained in Sarajevo throughout the siege of 1992-95, Cedo Kapor from Trebinje, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War and former political commissar of the 10th Herzegovinian Brigade, the vanguard Partisan unit in Herzegovina, says that 'I am absolutely for Bosnia' as a 'unified, democratic country of equal people and nations. Only through unity, tolerance and respect between them can something be achieved.'10

Zaga Umicevic-Mala was beaten and tortured by the Ustashe in 1941, in her home village near Bosanski Novi in western Bosnia. As secretary of the illegal Communist Party branch in Banja Luka, she organized the resistance to Ustasha rule in Bosnia's second city. She continues to play a leading role in SUBNOAR, the Partisan veterans' association, which in 1992 put itself at the service of the Republic of Bosnia- Herzegovina's resistance. The Sarajevan Jovanka Covic-Zuta, who also served as KPJ secretary for Banja Luka in World War II, laments the absence of a Partisan-style resistance capable of opposing the genocide of Muslims in western Bosnia in 1992. 'We so much wanted peace and brotherhood among our peoples', says Covic in bewilderment at the cataclysm. 'We all know today whence the war arose, whose paws fell upon this Bosnia, but that is not all. The role of Serbia and Croatia is known, but that is not all. How was it possible over here for so much evil to be roused?'.11

Chetniks and Ustashe
Ilija Materic from Drvar, the only surviving Partisan in Bosnia-Herzegovina who holds the honorific title of 'People's Hero', condemns all efforts emanating from the Serb Republic in the 1990s to reconcile former Serb Partisans and Chetniks: 'The Chetnik ideology is extremely dangerous. It is most monstrous that, even after defeat in World War II, it survived and manifested itself in a still more monstrous form in this war. Against the Chetnik ideology, as against the Ustasha ideology, it is necessary constantly to struggle.'12

Smilja Mucibabic was the sister of a prominent Mostar professor murdered by the Ustashe in 1941, who was herself persecuted by the fascists during World War II and awaited liberation in 1945 in a Nazi concentration camp. She subsequently gained a PhD from Cambridge University and became vice-rector of Sarajevo University. Politically close to the Bosnian Social Democratic Party, her apartment was partially destroyed by Serbian shelling in the 1990s. Rade Hamovic from Stolac, a leader of the anti-Ustasha uprising in the Romanija region outside Sarajevo and subsequently chief of staff of the 29th Herzegovinian Division, sent a message in August 1994 from his home in Ljubljana to his former Sarajevo Partisan comrades declaring: 'to remain in Sarajevo in the present period is neither easy nor straightforward. To endure all the storms there and still remain a beacon of honour - that is a unique achievement.'13

146 former Partisans were killed or wounded during the siege of Sarajevo, 1992-95.

Contrary to myth, the Partisan movement that fought the Nazis and Ustashe in Axis-occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina was motivated by Bosnian patriotism far more than by Serb nationalism, an ideology generally associated with the collabÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ orationist Chetnik movement. The propagandistic equation of the entire Serb nation in Bosnia-Herzegovina with Great Serbian nationalism obscures the scale of the Serb contribution to the establishment of Bosnian statehood in the 1940s - similar to that of the Bosniaks to the defence of that statehood in the 1990s. The Bosnian Serbs in 1941, like the Bosnian Muslims in 1992, were the victims of systematic genocide; the resistance to this genocide, which came to be embodied in the Partisan movement, was waged under the banner of a unified Bosnia-Herzegovina of Serbs, Muslims and Croats. Predominantly Serb in composition in 1941, the Partisan movement in Bosnia attracted an increasing number of Muslims and Croats as World War II progressed. Its victory resulted in the establishment of a 'People's Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina' - the very state that the armed forces of Karadzic and Mladic would try so hard to destroy in the 1990s. For while the Partisans fought for the 'centuries-old dream of the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina for independent government for their country' and for the 'brotherhood of Serbs, Muslims and Croats in the struggle for the liberation of their homeland', the declared goal of the Chetnik movement was for a 'greater Serbia, ethnically clean' to be achieved by 'cleansing the Muslim population from the Sandjak and the Muslim and Croat populations from Bosnia-Herzegovina.' Chetnik leader Draza Mihailovic was executed as a war criminal in 1946. Following the Dayton peace settlement in 1995 Milos Minic, one of the most senior Serbian Partisans and public prosecutor at Mihailovic's trial, denounced the fact that 'in Serbia notorious war-criminals who carried out or ordered mass killings of the civilian population in Croatia and Bosnia are able to move freely' and called for pressure from the Serbian public and the international community to force the Serbian government to extradite them to the Hague.14

The fascist legacy
In 1994, the assembly of Karadzic's Serb Republic annulled all decisions of the 'National Antifascist Council for the People's Liberation of Bosnia-Herzegovina' (ZAVNOBiH) established through the Partisan movement during World War II, on the grounds that they had been reached without the presence of Serb representatives, even though the largest number of its delegates were in fact Serbs. In 1996 the splendid memorial to the Partisan war-dead and victims of fascism at the Vraca Memorial Park in Sarajevo was systematically destroyed by Serbian forces as they withdrew from Vraca under the terms of the Dayton Agreement. The 1996 law on the rights of veterans in the Serb Republic explicitly covers former Chetniks, but makes no direct mention of Partisans.15

In 1998 Biljana Plavsic, President of the Serb Republic, presented an honorary award to Momcilo Dujic, a notorious Chetnik war-criminal who collaborated with the Italians and Germans against the Partisans, whose forces carried out large-scale atrocities against Muslims, Croats and anti-fascist Serbs, and who today lives in the USA.

But it is not only the authorities of the Serb entity who deride the legacy of the Partisans. In the Bosnian Federation too, HDZ leaders openly identify with the pro-Nazi Ustasha movement; Partisan monuments have been systematically vandalized; HVO units were named after the Ustasha war-criminals Slavko Kvaternik and Jure Francetic; and a street in West Mostar bears the name 'Lorkovic-Vokic', after two Ustasha ministers who attempted to rescue the quisling Croatian state from defeat in 1944 by an anti-Axis coup.

The SDA's attitude to the Partisan legacy has been more ambivalent: the anniversary of the first session of ZAVNOBiH is still celebrated as the day of Bosnian statehood; the main street in Sarajevo still bears the name of Marshal Tito and is still dominated by the monument to the Partisan liberation of Sarajevo in 1945. On the oÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ ther hand, approximately three-quarters of the well over two hundred streets and squares in Sarajevo named after Partisans or Partisan military units have been renamed. It is true that the philistine Communist policy of indiscriminately littering a city with street-names such as 'Socialist Revolution Boulevard' or 'Heroes of Socialist Labour Square' definitely required correcting. Nevertheless it is ironic that the streets named after the Bosnian Serb Dragica Pravica, KPJ secretary in eastern Herzegovina, or the Bosnian Croat Ivan Markovic-Irac, commander of the Majevica Partisan detachment, both of whom were murdered by the Chetniks in 1942 while campaigning under the banner of a multi-national Bosnia-Herzegovina, should have been renamed even as Serbian fascists were raining shells on the capital city. The Serbian aggression of 1991-95 cannot obscure the fact that fifty years earlier Bosnian Serbs, as much as Bosniaks and Croats, fought for the land and people of Bosnia-Herzegovina and played a central role in the establishment of the Bosnian Republic. Serbian nationalists in the 1990s made much of the Ustasha genocide of the Serbs to justify their aggression against Bosnia-Herzegovina; yet the Serbs who actually led the resistance to the Croat fascist genocide in 1941 overwhelmingly stood against the Serb fascist genocide in 1992. Great Serbian nationalism motivates not the resistance but the subjugation of Bosnia's Serbs; the genocide of the 1990s in Bosnia - organized by Milosevic, Karadzic and Mladic - not only involved the extermination of tens of thousands of Bosniaks and Croats, but ultimately forced tens of thousands of Serbs to leave their ancestral homes. In the 1940s the resistance of the Serb communities of the Drvar and Podgrmec regions could not be broken by four years of Nazi and Ustasha terror, mobilized as they were in a resistance movement inspired by Bosnian patriotism and multi-national coexistence. In 1995 the same communities, having fallen under Great Serbian nationalist leadership, abandoned their homes en masse with little effort at resistance to the advancing Croatian and Bosnian armies. Indeed, the Serbs of Vogosca, Grbavica and other areas abandoned by the Serb Republic at Dayton were forced by the Pale regime to abandon their homes in 1996 without even having been militarily defeated. The Serb communities of south-west Bosnia and the Sarajevo region were sacrificed at Dayton by Belgrade, which was unwilling to fight for territories considered expendable.

That more Bosnian Serbs did not fight in defence of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1991-95 was the result not of any innate nationalism or ethnic hatred on their part, but of a failure of political leadership. The Izetbegovic regime, pursuing a political strategy that rested essentially upon its support among the Bosniak nation, made minimal effort to mobilize support among Bosnian Serbs or Croats. It thus effectively abandoned over half of Bosnia-Herzegovina's population to the exclusive influence of Belgrade and Zagreb. But a liberation struggle based upon only one of Bosnia-Herzegovina's three nations was doomed to failure.

Footnotes
1.'Apel za mir i zajednicki zivot naroda BiH', Politika, 30 April - 2 May 1992.
2.Tuzla u radnickom pokretu i revoluciji, Vol. 3, Tuzla, 1987, p. 485.
3.Enes Cengic, S Krlezom iz dana u dan (1989-1990) - Post mortem II, Svjetlost, Sarajevo, 1990, p. 140
4.'Apel multinacionalnog udruzenja Bosanaca i Hercegovaca stalnim clanicama Saveta Bezbednosti', Belgrade, 8 February 1994.
5.Raniji gradonacelnici za Sarajevo 1992-1996, Klub ranijih gradonacelnika Sarajeva, Sarajevo, 1997, p. 30.
6.Ibid., p. 31.
7.Author's interview with Dragutin KÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ osovac, 5 May 1998.
8.Author's interview with Dane Olbina, 5 May 1998.
9.Author's interview with Ugljesa Danilovic, 7 July 1998.
10.'Doprinos starih i novih antifasista', Glas antifasista, March 1998, p. 13.
11.Interview with Jovanka Covic, Glas antifasista, March 1998, p. 15.
12.Interview with Ilija Materic, Glas antifasista, July 1997, p. 6.
13.Fadil Ademovic, Beznade zla, Medunarodni centar za mir, Sarajevo, 1997, p. 247.
14.Ademovic, p. 56.
15.'Zakon o pravima boraca, bojnih invalida i porodica poginulih boraca', Sluzbeni glasnik Republike Srpske, 22 July 1996, p. 675.

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