Once more on fascism knocking on the Balkan doors
There are a few reasons driving me to tackle for the second time in a year the phenomenon of increasing neo-fascist and neo-Nazi sentiment and activity in the southeastern parts of Europe.
The first was a very brave documentary film, called “Heated Blood” and produced by the Belgrade-based Arhitel company, which received considerable attention at last week's Sarajevo Film Festival. Exposing themselves to various kinds of threats and criticism, the producers of this film pointed out and warned against the expansion of fascism and neo-Nazism in Serbia over the last few years. Using as examples the brutal killing of a gypsy boy, the setting on fire of the Bajrakli Mosque in Belgrade and a bakery in Novi Sad, owned by an Albanian, and an anti-gay parade, they demonstrated the ruthlessness of organizations and groups following the fascist ideology of ethnic, religious and racial hatred. They were particularly merciless toward a priest of the Orthodox Christian Church who openly supported those demonstrating against homophobia, chanting, “Ubi, ubi pedera!” (Kill, kill the gay!) In the Balkans, “peder” is a slang word referring to homosexuals.
Although already lost for Serbia, Kosovo is for such people still one of the main targets. Their most favored slogan is, “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia.”Serbia has, however, recently undertaken some constructive and positive legal steps concerning any further escalation of fascist ideology rearing its ugly head. The Serbian parliament three months ago passed a law banning fascist and neo-Nazi organizations from gathering and using Nazi symbols. Nenad Canak, the leader of Vojvodina's Social Democrats Party, said the law is a “big step for democracy and for Serbia's path to Europe.” “Serbia is not a fascist country, but a country that has fascist organizations,” he added.
What makes that law different from similar legal acts in Europe and particularly the region of former Yugoslavia is that it also bars those convicted of war crimes by The Hague Tribunal or domestic courts from spreading their ideas. Such a direct reference to The Hague Tribunal was more than could be expected from Serbia's parliament, keeping in mind that there is a sizable number of delegates that openly or tacitly consider as heroes those Serbs convicted of war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. This could be a good guide for other regional countries, nudging them to include such an article in similar already-adopted or initiated laws because what can war crimes committed during the 1990s conflicts be than a glaring kind of fascism? The first public discussion on the working text of the law on prohibiting fascist and neo-fascist organizations and the use of their symbols started in Bosnia and Herzegovina only a few months ago. In that framework, the Imam Petlju Foundation (Having What It Takes!) organized in conjunction with the Norwegian Embassy in Sarajevo a roundtable on the proposed law. The curiosity of the said roundtable is that it was moderated by Svetlana Broz, the granddaughter of former Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito.
I doubt, however, that such a law in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the present constitutional structure, could contain an article on The Hague Tribunal. Any such legal move in the Bosnian parliament should have enough votes of delegates from the entity Republika Srpska, where many politicians and the public -- and especially Orthodox Church circles -- are extolling to the skies The Hague's suspects, some already sentenced or waiting trial such as Dr. Radovan Karadzic, others still at large, such as Gen. Ratko Mladic. It just happened on Aug. 17 that Serbian police detained a man in Belgrade who threatened to kill Zarko Korac, the leader of the opposition Social Democratic Union, and Milos Vasic, a liberal journalist from the Vreme weekly. The man, Sinisa Vucinic, is a self-proclaimed president of the Serb Cetnik Movement and freely used to move between Serbia and the half of Bosnia and Herzegovina called Republika Srpska. He organized gatherings of his cetniks in the town of Trebinje, undisturbed by Bosnian Serb authorities and police. Cetniks were Gen. Mladic's soldiers during the aggression on Bosnia in the 1990s, but before him they served Gen. Draza Mihajlovic as armed fighters who collaborated with the German Nazis during World War II.
It is generally considered that fascist and neo-Nazi organizations fuel national, religious and racial intolerance. This could also be extended to most far-right parties and organizations growing in many European countries, with some even gaining seats in the European Parliament. In the southeast of the continent recent times saw some warning incidents of such organizations, but it is also encouraging that some leading politicians are making efforts to prevent their further rise. For example, Hungarian police did not allow a planned march and concert in Budapest by a neo-fascist group aiming to commemorate the death of Adolf Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess, one of neo-Nazi followers' icons. President Laszlo Solyom said he was convinced the Hungarian public would reject Nazi ideology, and Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai called on Hungary to stop itself from becoming a “stomping ground” for international neo-fascist and skinhead groups. In June the promotion of the first Greek-Macedonian dictionary was disrupted in Athens by Greek ultranationalists belonging to the neo-fascist organization Chrysi Avyi (Golden Dawn).
I am not sure how much church-state tension in Croatia, which reached its peak in this hot month of August, belongs to this review, but it could be connected to a wider scope of religious tolerance or intolerance, as one of the accompanying factors of the permanent conflict between neo-fascism and anti-fascism. It could be connected as well to the forthcoming elections of the new Croat president, whom the church wishes to be more conservative and more Catholic than the current one.
President Stjepan Mesic again became a target of the Catholic Church's attacks, which are now stronger than ever. He was described by the official Catholic magazine Glas Koncila (Voice of the Council) as an “arch traitor” after his suggestion that religious symbols, crucifixes before all, should be taken out of public institutions, police stations and army barracks. “We cannot have symbols of only one faith in army barracks as there are also Jews, Muslims, Orthodox [Christians] as well as atheists [among us],” he said, adding that the “church itself should stress that Croatia is a secular state.” Instead of replying to the request of President Mesic that Church authorities distance themselves from accusing him of treachery, they have, again through the Church's leading voice, questioned his very personal qualities. Suggesting that the current head of state was an improper choice, they wrote that the next president should be a “healthy and psychologically well-balanced person.” A leading Croat theologian, Adalbert Rebic, commented on President Mesic's proposal, saying: “It reminds me of Stalin and his moves. The cross is not only a religious symbol, but a symbol of Western culture.”
President Mesic was supported by the Union of Croat Antifascists. They warn against the possible revival of the symbiosis between the church and state that caused great harm to Croats during World War II, when the crucifix was part of the oath the ustashe took. The ustashe are Croat Nazi collaborators and counterparts of the Serb cetniks. In any case, the Catholic Church will never forgive President Mesic and liberals like him for being part of Tito's communist system, which imprisoned Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac. Later pronounced a Catholic martyr by Pope Paul II, the cardinal was accused of “high treason” due to his alleged collaboration with the pro-Nazi Croat government and forced conversion of Orthodox Serbs to Catholicism.
I hope I was right in questioning in this same Today's Zaman at the end of October 2008 if fascism was knocking at the Balkan doors. Intolerance, racism and fascism, as a growing menace in the region, still exist. Although it has deeper roots, going to the unsolved national problems of the two world wars, that menace is finding a fertile ground in the already visible consequences of the global economic crisis. The rich will feel the signs of recovery, but the poor, whether in developed or undeveloped countries, will suffer for years. And the ideas and slogans of neo-fascism are especially attractive for the echelons of jobless and hopeless youth that were most hit by the world recession.
"Moreover, you scorned our people, and compared the Albanese to sheep, and according to your custom think of us with insults. Nor have you shown yourself to have any knowledge of my race. Our elders were Epirotes, where this Pirro came from, whose force could scarcely support the Romans. This Pirro, who Taranto and many other places of Italy held back with armies. I do not have to speak for the Epiroti. They are very much stronger men than your Tarantini, a species of wet men who are born only to fish. If you want to say that Albania is part of Macedonia I would concede that a lot more of our ancestors were nobles who went as far as India under Alexander the Great and defeated all those peoples with incredible difficulty. From those men come these who you called sheep. But the nature of things is not changed. Why do your men run away in the faces of sheep?"
Letter from Skanderbeg to the Prince of Taranto ▬ Skanderbeg, October 31 1460
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