— Desanka Maksimovich (Maksimović)
from the poem “History Class”
Continuity and change are the two governing forces of history. When we consider what has happened in the past, the two most important questions are: “What has evolved and how?” and “What has remained the same and why?” Both forces are at play regarding the historical consciousness of a nation, especially a nation that has a past as turbulent as that of Serbia. It is a complex process to sort through the motivations behind various manipulations of historical consciousness, to find out whether it is a slight manipulation or a blatant attempt to revise history completely in the mind of the public. Those who “consume” history, the public, are fundamentally distinct from those who are in a position to affect, to whatever degree, the perception of history. In Serbia, the latter, the government, provides the foundation upon which historical consciousness is built, and the former, the public, functions collectively as an impressionable audience. Historical consciousness is the way in which a people who share a collective identity, whether that be religious, ethnic or national, relate to their past. Thus, in a narrow sense, historical consciousness in Serbia is a product of the public, but molded by the government.
Saul Friedlander, an accomplished, prolific, and well-respected scholar of Jewish history, employs a useful analogy to explain the nature of historical consciousness. Friedlander suggests we think of “the representation of a recent and relevant past” as a “continuum”. The “dispassionate” historical scholar, armed with objectivity, curiosity, and industriousness, tirelessly seeks truth at one pole, while the “constricts of public-collective memory” are found at the opposite pole, vulnerable to influence and prone to apathy. He defines historical consciousness as the “middle ground” between these two poles. Historiography and “public-collective” memory meet at this middle point and it is here that they are most “intertwined and interrelated”. Thus, “Historical consciousness is the necessary conjunction of both extremes in any significant attempt at understanding, explication, and representing the yesterday that affects the shaping of today”. This is a very concise definition of a very lofty and open-ended concept. There are many streams available to one who wishes to go wading in historical consciousness. It is, by definition, an interdisciplinary subject. I intend to apply Friedlander's definition of historical consciousness to Serbian history and I also propose to explore a few additional factors that have bearing upon the subject of historical consciousness, namely, government and individual subjectivity.
History can be understood collectively or subjectively. This is parallel to the way in which an individual perceives and interacts with his environment. One definition of history is, in fact, the environment of the past. The convictions of an individual are much more steadfast than the pliable mentality of the public. However, people engage their surroundings on both levels: as members of society and as individuals with finely measured tenets.
After beginning with an historical sketch of Yugoslavia, sufficient to offer a context for my two case studies, I will explore two foci of public memory in Serbia in an attempt to associate constancy with the individual's subjective viewpoint and change with the group, or public, mentality. The commemoration of the Kragujevac massacre and the death of Stjepan Filipovich (Filipović) has been used as a tool to manipulate the historical consciousness of the Serbian people regarding the Second World War. I will discuss the way in which the memorials commemorating the massacre at Kragujevac and the death of Stjepan Filipovich have been presented to the public. I will establish that the Communist government, which came to power during the Second World War, did in fact have a self-serving agenda in mind when it fashioned Memorial Park in Kragujevac. I will then investigate how the image of Stjepan Filipovich has been used as a symbol of Partisan heroism and victory, meant to glorify the Partisan war effort in the Second World War. The two case studies I have selected also reflect the individual, subjective view of an historical event. It is my contention that both subjective perception and government-sponsored orchestration are involved in the development of historical consciousness in Serbia.
It is the purpose of this paper to analyze the commemorative representation of the Kragujevac massacre and the image of Stjepan Filipovich in order to explicate the forging of Serbian historical consciousness. The conclusions of that inquiry will then be extrapolated to compare the subjective perception and the collective memory of these two case studies
Sacrifice and Spirit
On March 27, 1941, Adolf Hitler issued Directive No. 25, in which he unequivocally put to rest the torment of uncertainty and speculation regarding Yugoslavia's role in the Second World War. As the slogan “Bolje rat nego pakt” echoed through the streets of Kragujevac and Belgrade, signaling the absolute popular rejection of cooperation with Nazi Germany, Hitler's decree sealed Yugoslavia's fate: it was to “be destroyed as quickly as possible”.
April 6, 1941 opened a new chapter of history for the people of Yugoslavia as the German onslaught began. Without a declaration of war, the Luftwaffe unleashed their bombs on Belgrade, crippling Yugoslav air defenses and inciting shock in the urban population. Fifty-two divisions, consisting of German, Italian, and Hungarian troops, were deployed on the ground and within two weeks, the Royal Yugoslav Army had officially thrown in the towel. On April 17, 1941, an agreement of unconditional surrender was signed in Sarajevo.
The story leading up to the German attack on Yugoslavia is lively and intricate, a conflagration of assassination, desperation, and defiance in the name of dignity. In October, 1934, King Alexander of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was assassinated in Marseilles, France by members of an ultra-nationalist Croatian political movement, who were disgruntled at the king's display of dictatorship and his heavy-handed policies toward dissent of any nature. His only son was too young to take the throne, so a Regency was formed, headed by the heir's uncle, Prince Paul. As senior regent, Prince Paul ruled Yugoslavia during the years preceding the outbreak of the Second World War. Thus Prince Paul was left with the unpleasant task of smoothing over the national tensions between the Serbs and the Croats so that Yugoslavia could “present a united front to the outside world”. Even if such solidarity could be found amidst such deeply entrenched political rivalries, it could not stave off growing angst over Hitler's waxing military, political, and economic prowess. Hitler was becoming progressively bolder in his defiance of the Treaty of Versailles with the remilitarization of the Rhineland (March 1936), the Anschluss (March 1938), and the Munich Conference (September 1938).
The most disturbing aspect of Hitler's actions was the policy of appeasement with which France and Great Britain met his challenges. Yugoslavia was unable to find an ally among the Western Powers that would support it against the irredentist claims of Hungary, Austria and Italy. Of course, its greatest fear was the shadow of Hitler's Nazi Germany, which loomed over the troubled South Slavic nation while it floundered in inner turmoil. Yugoslavia's increasing political alienation, the economic hardships it incurred because of the German take-over of Czechoslovakia, and the pressure from Italy to relinquish coveted Yugoslav territories finally forced Prince Paul's hand. As Germany's conquests mounted, the Regent decided his attempt to walk a neutral line was unsustainable and Yugoslavia became a member of the Tripartite Pact on March 25, 1941. This turn of events had been anticipated and it triggered a coup d' etat in Belgrade, led by high-ranking army officers. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister were the two representatives of the royal government who signed the agreement, and they were thus arrested upon their return to Belgrade. Prince Paul abdicated and King Peter was left to pick up the pieces. Mass public demonstrations took place in major cities all over Yugoslavia, especially in Serbia, and defiant phrases like “Bolje grob nego rob!” came into being. Winston Churchill summarizes the Yugoslav position on the eve of the German invasion with the observation that with the coup, the Yugoslavs “may have saved the soul and the future of their country, but it was already too late to save their territory”. The Germans regarded the coup as reason enough for invasion, with which one phase of a multi-layered conflict began.
Behind Enemy Lines: Tito and Mihailovich
The German barrage and the swift capitulation of the Yugoslav Army caused a crisis among those who were free of direct German control in Serbia. Though the Germans had secured an unconditional surrender, not all parts of Yugoslavia had been subdued. The people had to decide what path to take. Aside from collaboration and flight, two options were available to the Serbs: the Communist resistance or the Chetnik resistance. Let us first discuss the Communists.
The Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY) had been formed in 1919 on the wave of Communist enthusiasm among leftist political parties, which followed the successful Bolshevik Revolution. Less than two years later, King Alexander declared the CPY illegal due to its subversive activities. Since the very nature of the Communist ideology was opposed to everything the King and his absolute monarchy stood for, their enmity was inevitable. The CPY was forced to move its operations underground and it continued to function as a loosely coordinated group of activists. The party had almost fizzled out when a shrewd, ambitious Communist, Josip Broz Tito, who had been educated in Moscow and inducted into the Comintern, became General Secretary of the CPY in 1939. His star had been rising slowly in the Comintern, as he quickly and efficiently completed the tasks given to him by his superiors in Moscow. Another factor contributing to his appointment was the fact that he was one of the handfull of Yugoslav Communists who survived Stalin's purges during the 1930s. Tito had kept a low, local profile whenever possible and though he was in Moscow during the height of Stalin's “selections”, he lived to become the leader of the Partisan resistance during World War II and, afterwards, Yugoslavia's most preeminent and beloved political leader.
Tito's political and military accomplishments, both during the war and in the post-war era, deserve an in-depth treatment, the likes of which would go beyond the scope of this study, though it would tantalize those hungry for a tale of initiative, political drama and power. Tito's reign is an excellent study in Machiavellian tactics and his command of Bismarck's “whip and sugar-plum” approach to politics is laudable. However, he will only be mentioned in the periphery of this work, as the commander of the Partisan, or Communist, forces in the Second World War, and later, as the architect and patriarch of post-war Yugoslavia.
The second option available to Serbs was the Chetniks. Nationalist in orientation, they staunchly supported the royal government, which had fled to London following the German invasion. Jozo Tomashevich describes the Chetniks as “...a resistance force [made up of] a small group of officers, noncommissioned officers, and men of the Yugoslav royal army, almost exclusively Serbs, who refused to surrender at their post near the town of Doboj in northern Bosnia at the time of the collapse of the Yugoslav army in mid-April 1941.” Drazha Mihailovich (Draža Mihajlović) and his particular group were later given legitimacy by the royal government, but many different Chetnik groups, without an established hierarchy, were operating on Yugoslav territory. Mihailoviж was only in command of the Serbian branch, the largest and most important of these.
The Chetniks and the Partisans were unable to overcome their ideological and political rivalries and a full-scale civil war was raging alongside of the conflict with the Germans by 1942. Thus, the first year of the German occupation ended with the de facto declaration of civil war between Drazha Mihailovich Chetnik forces and Tito's Partisans.
The Allies wavered in their decision regarding the delegation of supplies because they were unsure of the dimensions of the two opposing movements. The civil war itself was a matter of discovery for the Allies but the ultimate decision, in June 1943, was in favor of Tito, despite his Communist ideology. The events surrounding Mihailoviж's abandonment by the Allies is to this day an issue of intense debate. The bitterness of the civil war was vehement and many details of the war are still in dispute. Accusations of collaboration with the Germans have been leveled at each side by the other, and it seems that neither side can claim complete innocence on that count. The relations between the two factions are very complex and there are very few points upon which both sides in agree.
The dialogue on Chetnik-Partisan relations has been extensive, and the body of literature available is vast, each new rendition of facts differing a little from the last. Some sources overtly contradict each other, even on certain basic facts. The subject is a virtual quagmire of intrigue, possibility, and interpretation. There are very few sources that are not immediately identifiable as “pro-Partisan” or “pro-Chetnik”. The truth has been obscured by political agenda and ire at the outcome of the conflict. Drazha Mihailovich was captured by Partisans and, after a show-trial, executed in Belgrade on July 17, 1946. Many, justifiably, consider his execution to be a political maneuver meant to aid Tito's consolidation of power. My mention of Tito and Mihailovich will be restricted to the framework of this study.
The Allies' decision to grant Tito arms and equipment was instrumental in his final victory against the Germans (with the help of the Red Army); thus, Tito's post-war ascension to power was indirectly sponsored by the Allies. Of course, Tito's victory signaled the fall of the royal family and a new era was ushered in: Titoism.
The Massacre at Kragujevac
“For every dead German soldier, 100 residents have been executed, and for every wounded German soldier, 50 residents have been executed, and before all others, Communists, bandits, and their assistants were targeted, all totaling 2,300.”
— an excerpt from an announcement from the local (German) command office in Kragujevac on October 21, 1941.
Kragujevac: The Making of a Massacre
The medium-sized city of Kragujevac, in central Serbia, was the stage for one of the most brutal acts of German reprisal during the Second World War. From the excerpt above, it is clear that the Germans calculate the number of dead to be 2,300, but as is the case so often with internal Nazi sources, a post-war investigation proved the figure to be much higher. At the Nuremberg Trials in 1947, according to an eyewitness account from Zhivojin Jovanovich (Živojin Jovanović), the Germans executed nearly 7,000 people on October 20 and 21, 1941 at a site near Kragujevac. The number of victims was again revised to 5,000 in the mid-1960s with yet another investigation. Needless to say, complete consensus regarding the number of victims is not necessary to realize the tragic immensity of the 1941 massacre at Kragujevac.
The course of the events directly preceding the mass execution at Kragujevac in no way justifies the final bloody act itself. However, a discussion of the circumstances behind it is necessary to give the tragedy its proper historical context before we consider how the historical memory of Kragujevac has been preserved. The Kragujevac massacre was in line with a directive to the Werhmacht High Command, issued by Hitler himself on September 16, 1941, in which he established the 100 for 1 reprisal ratio. However, it was Franz Boehme, German commanding general in Serbia, who chose to implement Hitler's order in such a “draconian manner”. The Germans, of course, are ultimately responsible for the Kragujevac atrocity, but what was the reasoning behind Boehme's drastic action?
First, let us look to the summer of 1941 to see how things stood with Tito in Yugoslavia on the eve of the autumn tragedy in Kragujevac. Seeing an opportunity to bring the Communist Party of Yugoslavia into power with himself at the helm, Tito called a meeting of the Yugoslav Politburo in a suburb of Belgrade on July 3, 1941 in response to Stalin's call for Communist resistance in occupied areas after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. As a result of that meeting, a proclamation was issued on July 4, 1941 in which the Yugoslav Communists vowed to lead and sustain an uprising against the Germans. As the summer progressed, Tito was becoming more and more alarmed at the successful German press into the Soviet Union, and he became correspondingly more anxious to step up his efforts against the Germans in the Balkans. The siege of Leningrad began in late August, Kiev was taken on September 19, and the Germans began the drive toward Moscow in early October, hoping to overrun the Soviet capital and bring the Eastern Front to a successful conclusion. There was good reason for alarm among those struggling against Nazi Germany: if the Soviet Union had fallen under Nazi control, Hitler would then have even more troops to direct toward Western Europe.
Presumably, because of the German successes against the Red Army, Tito continued and intensified his military efforts against the Germans during late September 1941. Approximately a month later, 5,000 people, including a large number of students from the local high school, were massacred at Kragujevac. The October massacre at Kragujevac was, according to Tito's flattering biography by Phyllis Auty, “in retaliation for a nearby Partisan raid two days previously in which ten German soldiers had been killed and twenty wounded”. Mihailovich's distaste for direct conflict with the Germans is well documented and accepted by almost all sources and his resistance group would be the only other possible culprits. Thus, logic adds credence to Tito's assertion in his self-commissioned biography, as referenced above, that Partisan raids triggered the Kragujevac reprisal.
In a report from a representative of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs to his superiors, dated October 29, 1941, the reasoning behind the decision to execute people from Kragujevac is revealed: “The executions in Kragujevac occurred although there had been no attacks of the Wehrmacht in this city, for the reason that not enough hostages could be found elsewhere.” The fate of thousands of people from Kragujevac was sealed by simple geographic proximity to Partisan raiding targets and its population happened to be sufficient to supply the desired number of victims by the Germans.
All sources agree that Communists and their sympathizers were specifically targeted at Kragujevac. In fact, the German sources even indicate this fact explicitly. Tito's biography also emphasizes this fact and goes on to remark that Kragujevac was one of a “few industrial centres in Serbia”, thus explaining the concentration of Communists and their sympathizers there. Surely, the Germans calculated this fact into their decision to chose Kragujevac as the site for their reprisal measure, but the event, due to the sheer number of victims, can still be described as “insanely indiscriminate”.
The German definition of “sympathizer” was quite broad. It included teachers, women, men, schoolchildren, Jews, and any others who had the misfortune to be captured in the German round-up; all shared the same fate. Auty's biography of Tito further asserts that the children “were marched out of school to be shot”. This implies that the children were not arbitrary victims who died alongside their families, rather, the students were deliberately chosen because of their age and their innocence. Obviously, the Germans wanted to leave the resistance movements and their potential pool of participants with a tragedy of such immense proportions that they would either give up the struggle willingly or be forced out of action due to public pressure. The Germans certainly made a lasting impression at Kragujevac, and that impression would continue to permeate Yugoslav and Serbian national consciousness throughout the post-war era.
Once news of the tragedy had spread, the impact on the morale of the Partisan resistance must have been profound. The Partisans responded with rage and new, more pronounced resolutions to rid their homeland of the Fascist aggressors who would dare to find revenge at the expense of thousands of innocent lives. Thousands of partisans died either fighting the Germans directly or as victims of harsh reprisal measures. Kragujevac and the chaos of a many-sided military conflict, with the consequent enormous loss of life, had become narrowly, a part of Serbian history, and in a larger sense, of Yugoslav history.
A Memory Explored
“The deepest impression that a foreigner can walk away with from one country is the pain that he can feel in that country. That is what I experienced in Kragujevac. Nazi brutality vented its anger in full force on this docile city, turning it into an enormous grave with seven thousand murdered people. It is a difficult memory that I carry. But also a beautiful memory. When someone mentions Yugoslavia, I always remember Kragujevac and its students who were massacred by the enemy. It is then that I am reminded of the heroism of their people.”
— Jean-Paul Sartre
The park itself is a lovely tangle of wooded areas and winding, narrow walking- paths that impulsively open up into clearings. And more often than not, the clearing is dominated by one or more monuments, some reveling in their new, white glow, and others shrinking to ground in their relative dilapidation. Memorial Park, a two-acre expanse dedicated solely to the memory of the victims of the 1941 massacre at Kragujevac, lies on the edge of the city and hosts a large three-story museum on its western perimeter. The museum stands at the entrance to the park like a sentinel, guarding the stone monuments and the memory of the fallen within. There is a billboard-sized map near the museum outlining the layout of the park, directing visitors to the various monuments and park facilities: the library, the hotel, and the lecture hall [figure 2 and figure 3]. The more prominent monuments are drawn in miniature in their proper places. The grounds have a tousled look about them, as if the park is a popular attraction during the warmer seasons. I arrived on a beautiful spring day, early in March 1998. The grounds and the museum were both practically deserted. I found one sleepy attendant sitting just inside the entrance to the museum. He was rather displeased at my arrival, as he had intended to close up early due to the lack of visitors. However, after I had explained my business in my best Serbian, his Balkan sense of hospitality came out. He was amused at my attempt to use Serbian and that broke the ice. He gave me a guided tour of the museum and managed to find me a brochure, which was no easy feat considering the fact that my visit was in the off-off season. Thus began my excursion to Kragujevac's Memorial Park.
Kragujevac October, 1941 is a thin brochure, complete with color photographs of all the major monuments in the two-acre park. It contains a brief synopsis of the events in October 1941 and it also offers biographical information about some of the victims. The cover is graced with a photo of the most famous and poignant of all the monuments: Monument to the Dead Schoolchildren [figure 4]. This statue is a very large stone reproduction of the Roman numeral five. It is commonly accepted that the Roman numeral symbolizes both victory and the grade of the class to which most of the child-victims belonged. Every year, on October 21, “The Great School Class”, a musical and artistic extravaganza, is held in the area surrounding this monument [figure 5]. This is only one of many public events that take place at Memorial Park in Kragujevac each year. Other monuments throughout the park are titled One Hundred for One [figure 6], Against Evil [figure 7], Stone Sleeper [figure 8], and Monument of Pain and Defiance [figure 9]. The monuments characterize various aspects of the massacre. Some, like One-Hundred for One, are fierce and embody outrage at such a bestial crime. The ire is of course expressed in the monument itself: layer upon layer of dead rise high up into the sky on a thick pedestal. Monument of Friendship [figure 10] explores a different set of emotions evoked by the tragedy. It reflects the sentimental nostalgia that must accompany such a tragedy. Other monuments, Monument of Pain and Defiance, for example, commemorate the agony and grief the massacre spawned in those who fell in at Kragujevac, in those who carried on during the war in the shadow of Kragujevac, and in those who visit Kragujevac years later to remember.
It is interesting that a monument was erected to pain and defiance. “Defiance” is the usual element. The park stands in memorial to a massacre of massive proportions that was directly triggered by defiance. The very trigger of the massacre, excluding German complicity, is thus being commemorated. There is reason to memorialize the fallen, but it seems that those who commissioned the monument feel the need to justify their actions. Are the Partisans perhaps a little defensive about their role in the Kragujevac tragedy and the Second World War in general? Objectivity becomes very difficult, as many of the facts have been obscured by Tito's interpretation of historical events during the war.
The perspective and interpretation that have survived in the historical consciousness of the Serbian people are those of Tito and the Partisans. Schoolbooks, television programs, museums, monuments, all of these things serve first to shape and, later, to proliferate, a certain historical consciousness. The process at work is best defined by one popular cliche: History is written by the victors. A world of wisdom exists in that simple sentence. In this situation, conflict is at issue. When conflict occurs among people and a battle ensues, there is always a winner and a loser, even if the status is relative. There are always two (or three or four...) sides to every story and the “victor” will pick the “version” that is passed on to future generations. The victor will be, of course, tempted by the desire to justify all of his doubtful acts; thus, history with a distinct slant is handed down as absolute fact.
Such instances permeate our modern-day society to such an extent that we are barely aware of the slanted point of view being presented to us. Few people have the time to think critically about everything that touches our senses. We assume that CNN is adhering to the most important and rudimentary rule of journalism: just present the facts will minimal commentary. Tito and his supporters commissioned Memorial Park, and the erected monuments were carefully planned and considered. Which emotions in particular did Tito want to evoke in his public? How did he want them to remember Kragujevac? Of course such devastating loss of life must be lamented, but, Tito asks himself, is it possible to lament and defend the Partisan image at the same time? The monuments, inscriptions, and museum presentation all lead the discriminating person to the following conclusion: Tito decided to highlight the struggle at Kragujevac to remind the public of the anger and noble intentions that motivated the Partisans.
Memorial Park was most certainly meant to glorify and protect the Partisan image, even as it simultaneously offered a forum for the understandable grief felt by many visitors, testified to the barbarity and danger the resistance movement faced, and promoted historical awareness of the massacre. Memorial Park is a tribute to the fallen innocent, but its alter-agenda is to remind the public under whose banner so many died: Tito's hindsight, as demonstrated by numerous displays, quotes and arrangements throughout the park and the museum, would have us believe that the victims at Kragujevac were indeed innocent victims but they were also victims under a Communist, or Partisan, banner.
Of course, this does not imply that all the victims were Communists, but those who were Communists are certainly showcased in the museum. The tragedy of the children is also understandably prominent in Memorial Park; their tragedy is beyond political affiliation, but it does effectively demonstrate the depths of German hostility and bestiality during World War Two and it reminds the visiting public quietly that no matter the cost, the Partisan activities were absolutely necessary to halt the German war machine.
In essence, the post-war Communist movement, directed by Tito, adopted the tragic memory associated with the Kragujevac massacre, and while preserving the integrity of the tribute, it orchestrated a memorial that would claim some of the martyrdom of the victims as its own. The same is true of many other monuments that were erected under Tito's watchful eye. Is it a malicious attempt to distort the truth of the matter? It is meant to manipulate extensively public historical consciousness? It is fostered by the desire to taint the historical interpretation of a given event, here the Kragujevac tragedy?
I assert that the Communists followed a strict, subtle program regarding the interpretation of the history of the entire Second World War, and Memorial Park is an excellent example of this. It was a program meant to protect their image, to complement and further their power. Naturally, very few governments want to undermine their own image, historical or contemporary. The crucial points in determining the extent of the affect of the government's program are the scale and the severity of the manipulation. In post-World War Two Yugoslavia, every possible step was taken by the victorious Communists to stamp out controversy and possible unflattering speculation about Partisan conduct during the war. Due to the civil war and the conflict with Croatia during the German occupation, such measures were necessary to retain bratstvo and jedinstvo, or brotherhood and unity. Kragujevac, as a popular site for public events, offers the perfect stage for Partisan revisionism.
Toward the end of the war, Tito was still in the process of convincing the Allied powers to relinquish their support of the royal government, which had spent the war in England lobbying to insure their return to power after the war. Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt were naturally suspicious of Tito as a Communist. The balance of Allied power was definitely in Tito's favor with the Allied decision to support the Communists with supplies, but it was clear that England would reevaluate the situation after the conclusion of the war. At the urging of the English government, the king agreed to a coalition with Tito in July 1944. Essentially, the “coalition” was a victory for Tito, as all of his demands were met and the resolutions he had drawn up with other Communists throughout the war were upheld. The relationship between the two factions was redefined in a series of agreements between Tito and Prime Minister Subasic, the Prime Minister of the royal government. These negotiations extended into 1945, and Tito, who pragmatically held no real interest in sharing power with the king, astutely sidestepped any responsibility to the royal government and managed to draw up a government, with himself as Prime Minister, in which the royalists had minimal representation. The culminating point was reached when the Provisional Government of Democratic Federal Yugoslavia was established on March 7, 1945.
In post-war Yugoslavia, it was not only advisable for the Communists to keep a tight leash on dissent regarding their wartime activities; it was necessary for their political survival. Thus Tito had sufficient motivation to pursue a subtle campaign of “damage control” regarding Partisan wartime activities, and it is a certain fact that Tito's consolidation of power was anything but peaceful. On the political front, Tito executed his enemies, sometimes with little more than a show-trial, as in the case of his archrival in the civil war, Drazha Mihailovich. On the public-relations front, Tito demurely and almost indiscernibly manipulated public opinion one public display at a time. Kragujevac had its turn as the doors to Memorial Park opened. The process of manipulation itself is a passive process, but the political motivation behind it is definable and concrete. Each monument, museum, and street sign was carefully rationalized to glorify the Partisan efforts. A selection of interpretations exists for any given historical event, and one must be chosen for posterity. The Partisans chose the most flattering. Millions of people visited Kragujevac, a majority of them Yugoslavs, and the impression with which they walked away was certainly grief at the human tragedy, but it was grief filtered through the protective, though very subtle, veil of Titoism.
Thus, as time wore on, and objective memories faded, the people of Serbia were constantly reminded in subtle ways of the Partisan victory. The value of the Partisan war effort would be repeatedly emphasized so that the masses would be properly grateful and docile. The Partisans won the war, they would be the entity to celebrate victory and mourn the cost, dutifully, at sites like Kragujevac. It is a strange mixture of defiance, and defensiveness of that defiance, with pain and a-political, human tragedy. The struggle against the Germans cost lives but in Partisan ideology, the end justifies the means. The Chetniks would have had reason to commemorate suffering and struggling, both of which they certainly endured, but with their conservatism and caution in the struggle against the Germans, I doubt Memorial Park would have the same character if the Chetniks had won the civil war. There would be a slant, simply a different one.
Monument of Pain and Defiance is a graceful stone piece, with the unnatural and anguished postures of the miserable. A serene and peaceful flower garden is situated directly behind it. The message is clear: “We, as Partisans, suffered deeply, as did the victims of the Kragujevac massacre, but our fight was not in vain, we were victorious and now we have peace. Let us celebrate our victory, but never let us forget our pain.” Dutifully, there is expression of pain, but the element of “advertisement” is again present. There is no plaque or inscription, as so many other pieces have. In its Spartan simplicity, this statue speaks very loudly. The statue is, from an apolitical point of view, an appropriate memorial to a deeply disturbing and sad event, and if one looks a little deeper into the presentation, it is also an excellent example of party-line history.
Poetry As Memory
The poem “Krvava Bajka”, or “A Bloody Fairytale”, by Desanka Maksimovich, is an excellent illustration of how a historical incident like the Kragujevac tragedy can be commemorated apolitically . This poem focuses on the human tragedy itself and it speaks volumes without making a political statement, not even a subtle one. An understanding of the political and military intrigues in the Balkans during the Second World War is absolutely unnecessary to capture the essence of this poem. It chronicles the senseless and brutal deaths of hundreds of schoolchildren in the evocative, true language of poetry. “A Bloody Fairytale” is free of political agenda by its very subject: it speaks of the premature end of young lives, employing imagery from everyday life to vividly express the utter sadness of the Kragujevac massacre. The language is simple, the message straightforward. It is a classic lamentation, grief at its most basic level, packaged in flowing verses. It incorporates elements of style especially prominent in Balkan folk poetry, such as stanza repetition and other common poetic devices like rhyme — in Serbo-Croatian the rhyme scheme is abbab for the repeated stanza — and metaphor — “blue arch” of heaven is noted.
The dramatic framework of the poem “A Bloody Fairytale” is the element that makes it an exceptional poem. In this case, the event is the not the usual death by accident, ill health or old age. This poem memorializes the deaths of hundreds of schoolchildren, who were selected, with incomprehensible malice, especially because they were children and their deaths would punctuate more fully the German call to end resistance. The only allusion to something of a military nature in the poem is the use of the word “cheta” (cčeta). This word is usually used to describe a group of soldiers. With her line “a company of small ones”, referring to the children, Maksimovich makes a particularly ironic statement: the innocent children are being punished in a manner so brutal it is not fit for even the soldiers of the enemy. She compares the children's death to that of a martyr and she respectfully refrains from mentioning those responsible for their death, as it would ruin the forlorn and grief-stricken tone of the poem with anger. Rage will not bring the little martyrs back. All that remains is to immortalize them with an appropriate lamentation.
Desanka Maksimovich's poems share the characteristics of simplicity and deep-running emotion. Before the Second World War, her subjects ranged from childhood to nature but with the war came her transition into poems concerned with national, Yugoslav history, essentially poems commemorating the dead and lamenting the many tragedies Yugoslavia suffered during that time. Even though her later poems are concerned with her country, they, like “A Bloody Fairytale”, are thematically concerned with human suffering rather than who was fighting whom. Her poems deal with how history affects people, not how politics and history mingle.
Despite the apolitical bearings of “A Bloody Fairytale”, it became a standard part of the middle school curriculum of schools in Yugoslavia. It was first published as part of a series meant for use in the seventh grade. The poem gained a new dimension with its introduction into the school curriculum: it was now a tool, purposefully chosen by Tito's government. With its tender words and melodic repetitions, it appealed to most people, and it was also a useful means of reminding people to concentrate on the tragedy itself rather than the circumstances behind it. After 1950, the Communist Party was well established, but it continued to protect and glorify its wartime image. As soon as it was published, children started learning it in classrooms all over Yugoslavia, not just in Serbia. Every schoolchild learned of Kragujevac in conjunction with this poem and this further solidified the consensus that, though the victims were almost exclusively Serbian, it was a national tragedy for Yugoslavia. While in Yugoslavia, I asked everyone I met if they had learned the poem as a child. All of them except two, who were 10 and 11 years old, could recite pieces of it from memory. All of the people who were from the Valjevo area, Maksimovich's birthplace, could recite the poem by heart in its entirety.
I was once asked to present a lecture on Ireland while I was in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. I took the opportunity to ask the approximately 100 seventh grade students if they still taught “A Bloody Fairytale” in middle schools in Serbia. Their answer was unequivocally yes. Suddenly and simultaneously, various phrases from the poem were floating across the room. My inquiries certainly did not meet the standards of an official poll, but the results were telling. During my travels in the Balkans, I also went to Slovenia and Croatia, and there I made the same inquiries. My results were again affirmative. Children who had entered school since the civil war did not know the poem. Everyone else did. The poem, commemorating Kragujevac, was learned by almost every student in Yugoslavia for almost fifty years. Along with it, a certain perspective of the massacre was unwittingly internalized and historical consciousness was created: the Partisan actions that prompted the reprisal were minimized. Of course, the final guilt lies with the Germans, but the Yugoslav people, unless they were very alert “consumers” of information or from a Chetnik family, were never given the opportunity to assess the Partisan role for themselves.
I infer from its tone, style and specific diction that the poem was written with the purest of intentions. The author wanted to give the world a lamentation for the young lives lost at Kragujevac in 1941. And like so many other governments before, the Communist government of Yugoslavia utilized this piece of art and the massacre itself to further its own goals. “A Bloody Fairytale” incidentally had the effect the government desired and, true to its author's intentions, contributed greatly to the effort to raise public consciousness of this tragic loss of life and to lament it properly. This poem fostered solidarity and unity among the people of Yugoslavia; it gave the generations that came after the war a common point of reference; it educated them about their own history and the tragedies they must guard against; and it, not coincidentally, helped distance the Partisans from any responsibility for the massacre.
“A Bloody Fairytale” was also included in a book about Drazha Mihailovich, the leader of the Chetniks. It is a book sympathetic to the Chetnik movement. The poem is quoted in its entirety in the chapter entitled “The Kragujevac Tragedy”. Astonishingly, the author tries to implicate the Chetniks in the raids that triggered the bloody German reprisal. In this case, it has become an issue of shame for the Chetniks that they shied away from the German challenge. As we established above, it is the Partisans with whom at least some responsibility rests for the reprisal at Kragujevac. This is an example of struggle for tainted glory. The question still remains: was any measure of Partisan success worth all those lives?
“...That which our brothers-in-arms are doing in our homeland is worthy of the spirit that fills our folk songs. Our young boys are demonstrating so much spiritual strength, fearlessness and heroism when they bravely shouted, before the German guns:
‘We are Serbian children! Shoot!’
How all of us can be proud knowing that in the whole history of the world there is no such magnificent example. Those divine martyrs will live for centuries in our memory astonishing us with their immortal deeds...”
— Nikola Tesla on the Kragujevac massacre
Filipovich's Valiant last stand:
The Defiant One
— Milorad Mitrashinovich (Mitrašinović)
Stjepan Filipovich was born in southern Dalmatia on January 27, 1916 and he met his death by hanging as a Nazi prisoner of war on June 22, 1942. He was a Croat. His transgression was his participation in the Partisan resistance movement. After high school, at the tender age of 16, he moved away from his family in Srem and started a new life in Kragujevac. As the major industrial center in central Serbia, Kragujevac had many employment opportunities for a young man and Filipovich became a metal worker. In 1937 he joined the Worker's Revolutionary Movement, a Communist organization, and not long after, he was arrested for his activities in the Party. He was imprisoned for a year and upon release, he was warned to leave Kragujevac. He joined the Communist Party officially in 1940 before he left. With the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, he found himself back in Kragujevac volunteering for active duty in the Partisan struggle against the Germans. In Valjevo, he was responsible for organizing arms and gathering supporters for the Partisan cause. In his first battle, he preformed extraordinarily well and rose quickly in the ranks of the Partisan resistance. Filipovich eventually became commander of his own battalion. His good fortune came to an end when he was captured by the Nazis on February 24, 1942. Almost four months later he was hanged in the town square in Valjevo.
While I was in Belgrade, it was my pleasure to interview a woman, Mrs. Rakich (Rakić), who personally witnessed Filipovich's execution as a sixteen-year-old girl in Valjevo. Her recollections gave life to the material I had read about Filipovich. Her memory of that day is still very vivid, despite the fact that almost sixty years have passed. The Germans forced all of the students from the local high school into the square so that they could watch the execution and, presumably, the experience would intimidate them and deter them from any ideas they might have had about joining the resistance. Filipovich was described to me by Mrs. Rakich as man who was visibly tired, but still carried his shoulders square and with pride. He was alert and looking around at the crowd as they led him to the gallows, but he moved stiffly. She was unable to see any signs of torture in the distance but it is doubtful that the Nazis provided much entertainment for him during the four months of his captivity. Filipovich's biographical sketches in Enciklopedija Jugoslavije and Vojna Enciklopedija both assume “bestial torture” and “extended torture” respectively. In honor of his heroic last moments before the gallows, Filipovich was extended the honor of becoming a “national hero” on February 16, 1949, an title bestowed upon those who demonstrated heroism and bravery beyond the call of duty. Membership in the Communist Party was also a prerequisite. As with Filipovich, many people were proclaimed national heroes posthumously but many lived to receive their honors in person. Approximately 1,900 national heroes were proclaimed, but the memory of very few has been venerated with a statue standing twelve meters high. The Filipovich Monument dominates the southwestern ridge of Vidrak Hill, which overlooks the Valjevo town square on which Filipovich was hanged. What exactly did Filipovich do to bring such honor to his memory?
Filipovich was scheduled to be hanged at 11 a.m. on June 22, 1942, but he met his death a few minutes early. He somehow found the bravery to yell a few last, defiant words to the crowd as he was being led up to the gallows, despite the fact that a group of German officers were gathered nearby, awaiting his death. His words are recorded in the Enciklopedija Jugoslavije:
The most striking thing about the words the encyclopedia assigns to Filipovich is that he remembered to criticize the “traitors of the Serbian people”. He is referring to the those who collaborated with the Germans and the royalist Chetniks. This statement follows the Communist contention that anyone not contributing to the Partisan cause was, to some degree, a traitor. Mrs. Rakich could not comment on the exact words Filipovich uttered, as she was too far away to hear his comments. She was only able to discern a comment regarding Stalin, most likely some exclamation of praise, but nothing more. It is thus possible that some politically minded poetic license was taken, and the words attributed to Filipovich were composed without a solid source for the quotation. As a Partisan and an active Communist before the war, it is very likely that Filipovich would have spouted Communist slogans, but his alleged comment about “traitors” sounds contrived.
Naturally, a man who will be executed as a prisoner of war despises the Nazis as his executioners. Then, as a last and final scathing insult, he remembers to equate his opponents in the civil war with the Germans. If indeed the words attributed to Filipovich are not exact and the reference to the Chetniks as traitors of the Serbian people was “filled in” by the author of the text, we have again a fine example of the Partisans redressing history. The purpose in this is to proliferate a demeaning view of Chetnik wartime actions, while simultaneously building up their own image as the fearless protectors who would sacrifice everything in the name of freedom, as Filipovich was willing to do.
The text continues describing Filipovich's final moments:
“When the executioners stopped before the gallows with the condemned man, he began to shout, insulting even the leader of the Reich, praising the Communists and the Worker's struggle, and then one of the German officers present, of whom there were many, gave the order to carry out the death sentence even though it was not yet 11 a.m.”
We are left with a profound sense of heroism at its finest. Defiant to the end, Filipovich would not go quietly. One of the things that Mrs.Rakich recalls most clearly about the hanging was the conversation in the crowd after Filipovich had been silenced with the rope. The crowd was not allowed to disperse until the Germans decided they had seen enough to sicken and dissuade them from any resistance activities. The crowd was understandably restless and anxious and it was finally allowed to break up after waiting an hour. As people departed, many comments about Filipovich's bravery, fearlessness and heroism in the face of his own execution were mumbled. Many people were in shock to see that the condemned man's last words were so passionate and patriotic after four months in captivity. Filipovich's spirit had prevailed in the end and the effect could not be erased, even by the German demands that the crowd silently stare at the body of the young patriot for one hour.
Filipovich's stance as he stood ready for death, with a rope around his neck, his mouth open, no doubt shouting, was immortalized in a photograph [figure 11]. The picture surfaced after the war and his image became legendary. A bronze statue was later made in his memory by Vojin Bakich (Vojin Bakić). For many years, this statue graced the courtyard of the house Tito used as a meeting place, in a suburb of Belgrade, when he and the other Party members declared their intentions to fight the Germans tooth and nail on July 4, 1941 [figure 1]. It has since been moved to the Military Museum where it adorns the exhibit about the Second World War [figure 12]. The image of Filipovich is moving in any medium. An enlarged version of the original photograph is displayed near the statue in he Military Museum, Belgrade, and both are very evocative. The defiant stance and the expression on his face make his passion for his cause clear.
A View of His Own
There was finally a break in the snowy weather and the early morning of February 27, 1998 found me walking around the quaint, drowsy town of Valjevo, 90 kilometers south of Belgrade. During the cold months in Valjevo, you can taste wood with every breath because the air is so full of smoke from fireplaces. It was less so this day, the air was fresher and sweeter than usual, and it was clear that spring was near. I had arrived by bus the evening before, at dusk, and from my seat I could still faintly see the outline of the Filipovich statue on Vidrak Hill. The size if the statue is such that it is very hard to miss. Valjevo is nestled away in a shallow valley and Vidrak is the most prominent hill within sight. It is no wonder, then, that the sight was chosen as Filipovich's post.
The statue can be seen from most parts of the town, and I decided I would not need a map. The day was azure blue and, though there was still snow on the ground, it was too warm for a coat. Perfect hiking weather! I started in the center of town (which is not very far from the outskirts) and worked my way toward the statue. I finally hit the side of the hill, and I skirted the hill until I found a path upward. It was not a difficult feat; with a turn here and an ascent there, I wound my way up through a picturesque neighborhood. Filipovich's arms would poke out at me sporadically, teasingly, as I continued my walk. The terrain began to level out and Filipovich had been out of sight for a few minutes. Then I turned a corner and I was standing only a few yards away from him. It was very exhilarating. The grounds were extensive, a blend of latent emerald and snowy ivory. The park was littered with picnic tables and other signs that it was one of the main meeting places in the city. Many people were out and about that afternoon, strolling. I had waited so long to see Filipovich. I had read so much about him. I was not prepared for the sheer size of the monument, nor for the sharp angles of his statue, made even crisper by the lovely azure Serbian sky [figure 13 and figure 14]. My only complaint in regard to the statue itself: I was annoyed to find that his base had become a popular easel for graffiti, but I always enjoyed the challenge of trying to understand the Serbo-Croatian graffiti. This small amusement placated my ruffled spirits a little.
There was a little shack with a walk-up window from which you could buy chips, snacks, or shoestrings, but no one was inside. Looking through the window, I was dismayed to see that they did not have any Filipovich souvenirs! The only Filipovich morsel that was on display was a postcard from the seventies with a picture of a basketball team in the foreground, Filipovich proudly waving his metal arms in the sky in the backdrop. I had hoped for a miniature statue but I settled for the postcard, basketball team and all. I now cherish it, it is one of my most unusual souvenirs from Yugoslavia.
While I was appraising the merchandise, a little man came running from across a field and, breathless, he asked if he could help me. I inquire about a museum. No. An informational plaque? I had walked around the monument and I had not seen anything. No, sorry, he says. This is just a park. Is there anything you can tell me about the monument? Well, there is a little stone over there, under the bush and the snow. I was here when they dedicated this monument, he offers freely. I ask him about it. Stevan Filipovich is my personal hero, he retorts, almost defensively, as if I would challenge him. I admire him too, I say. I came a long way to visit him. I ask how he feels about the monument; for him, does the statue commemorate all the fallen Partisans who died in the war or just Filipovich himself and his defiant death? He answers me quickly, with a grave look on his face: Stevan deserves his own monument.
Although Filipovich was a Croat, and thus his name is properly spelled using the Croatian version of his name, Stjepan, many Serbs insist on using the Serbian version of his name: Stevan. All of the signs in Valjevo advertising the park and its main attraction use the Serbian version. All of the sources I found in Serbo-Croatian about Filipovich, not counting Enciklopedija Jugoslavije and Vojna Enciklopedija, used “Stevan”, and all were printed in Valjevo. It is as if Valjevo has adopted him as a native. There was another commemorative monument to Filipovich in Croatia, near his hometown, and it was torn down during the most recent civil war because it had come to symbolize Partisan heroism and Communism. There was no consideration given to the fact that he was a Croat. Conversely, people told me that during the war with Croatia, there was a lot of discussion in the town about tearing down the Valjevo monument of Filipovich. To some, Valjevo had outgrown Filipovich in two ways since the statue was dedicated on October 23, 1960. Stjepan Filipovich was a Croat and a Communist. In the 1990s, the star of Communism did not have the same mesmerizing glow to the Serbian people that it had had. Tito had been dead over 10 years and a wave of nationalism had overrun Serbia during the transitional late 1980s. Though the government had changed character, the Partisan twist was still to be found in almost all museums and monument sites that I visited. However, that fact was not the reason for the survival of the Filipovich monument in Valjevo. I think that Filipovich's historical memory had merged with Valjevo's historical concept of itself.
He Never Fell
Filipovich's triumphant last stand was an act of heroism and when he called for resistance and denounced the Germans, he was addressing a group, but his words touched individuals. Those present had to stand for one hour before his body, in silence, and it is only logical that some of them would reflect upon his words. He encouraged the masses and he affected the individual. However, the photograph of his last moment and the emotional bond, however slight, that each person has with the hero is the most convincing argument for the statue's survival during the war with Croatia. The casualties suffered by the Serbs during the Second World War were incalculably immense. Very few families were spared the loss of a loved one: a civil war, bloody conflicts with the Croat quisling-state, the German reprisals. It was a tumultuous time, a time of significant political and societal change in Yugoslavia. The country had been laid to waste by fighting and bombing. It was certainly a lean and desperate time for most, and there Filipovich stood, minutes before death, leaving his final words of faith and hope to his fellows: continue the struggle for freedom, don't give up, rebel, and if you are stopped in your tracks, make your last stand with glory and honor. Those are sentiments to which individuals can relate. Though a poem was not written about our young Partisan, his image and the myth that surrounds him are tribute enough.
On a collective level, apathy is another reason that Filipovich was not torn down. The war certainly taxed, yet again, the stamina of the Yugoslav people. Filipovich was an established part of their town and his memory was associated with another time. His story was not a contemporary one and, thus, not controversial.
The stone marker near the Filipovich monument is inscribed as follows:
“To the Partisans, the Communists, the Patriots and all who fell in the struggle against the Fascist occupant and traitors of the people (1941-1945) so that only the free might step on Yugoslav soil, so that a new world might be created, founded on heroism and Socialist ideals.” [figure 15]
Once again, the reference to the “traitors of the people” is included. It is an epithet that Partisan sources tend to use for Chetniks. We saw the exact same phrase in the encyclopedia's version of Filipovich's speech. Do we have here two parallel examples, that we may add to Memorial Park, of Partisan tampering? Yes. The deliberate and systematic, yet subtle, attempts do affect the development of historical consciousness. When people relate on a personnel level with a memory from the part, like those who witnessed Filipovich's execution, they are not so affected by subtle attempts to manipulate collective memory. On the other hand, when a carefully veiled attempt is made to influence historical consciousness, and that attempt is on-going and directed from all sides (education, monuments, television, brochures, and museums), the audience will be affected.
The inscription also brings up an important debate over the nature of Filipovich's memory and all of the special attention that has been paid to it. Did Filipovich do something extraordinary and thus, is deserving of his own statue? The inscription gently encourages us to see Filipovich as one of many who deserve commendation and commemoration, but that view erases his singularity. Is Filipovich a Partisan hero or a hero of humanity? The two points of view are not mutually exclusive. Filipovich has been embraced by Valjevo and by others who learned of him in school both as a heroic individual and as a part of the larger Partisan movement. As an individual, his courage is inspiring and as a Partisan, his valiant last stand and defiant words lend justification and honor to his movement. The statue will continue to keep Filipovich's legacy alive, but that legacy is only one of many other stories of honor, virtue, martyrdom and triumph, and some tales may be even more touching than Filipovich's. The difference is the degree to which Filipovich's memory has permeated the historical consciousness of the people, his statue(s) being the vehicle for this process. Perhaps a Valjevan feels a particular bond to Filipovich because he was present at the execution. Perhaps another in Belgrade is inspired by the heroism of the Partisan resistance against the Germans, of which Filipovich is a symbol. Filipovich's statue certainly served as a rallying point for the Communist movement; however, for some people, at least for one fine, old gentleman from Valjevo with whom I spoke and for Mrs. Rakich, Filipovich was simply a hero, not a Partisan hero.
Memorial Park in Kragujevac has been visited by millions of people in the last two decades. Annual events are held there every year and many schoolchildren take excursions to the park to learn about their country's history [figure 5 and figure 16]. Memorial Park and its monuments were even featured as main attractions in travel brochures for Kragujevac [figure 17]. Thus the messages inherent in the monuments and inscriptions at Kragujevac have reached many. Stjepan Filipovich's image, his arms outstretched in a victorious “V”, is one of the most familiar in Yugoslavia and has graced many museum walls and publications about the war [figure 18]. The presentation of these two events does have a powerful impact on the public synthesis and formation of historical consciousness; however, the perception of the beholder must also be taken into consideration. A person's perception of the past may be manipulated to some extent but loyalty, grief and other basic human emotions are less susceptible to outside influence.
Now, in contemporary Yugoslavia, geographically truncated by another civil war in 1991, the political tide has shifted. Communism, though still nominally present in Yugoslav politics, has faded. In its place, nationalism has arisen and, though all of the parks I visited (most of which are not discussed in this paper) are still cared for and open, there are many indications that Tito's “program” and the preservation of a pure Partisan memory is no longer a priority. Many museums that I intended to visit were closed, especially those concerned with Tito specifically. The museum of the “revolution”, as the Second World War is called in Yugoslavia, had been closed indefinitely due to lack of funding. “Eternal Flames” had been dedicated at Kragujevac and Valjevo under Tito, but these have long since been neglected. They sit, somber, their flames long since forgotten [figure 19]. This testifies to the fact that Serbia is in a state of transition and her monuments reflect this. The monuments and museums that once played such a crucial role in preserving and flattering the Partisan legacy are slowly becoming expendable. Propaganda, no matter the degree of subtle finesse invested, has a short shelf life.
The massacre at Kragujevac illustrates both continuity and change very well. The fifty years following the massacre have not altered the gravity or the cruelty of the event. In fact, most people have difficulty even comprehending such a tragedy because they lack a frame of reference for a massacre of that magnitude. Before World War II, there was no precedent for such a massive slaughter and now, two generations removed from the tragedy, we again lack the memories to comprehend such an act. The unalienable fact is that we all acknowledge the tragedy and, as we are restricted by mortality ourselves, to even try and imagine such an inane event forces us to draw a sharp breath and ponder our fragility as humans. And for most, it is simply impossible to understand what madness was behind such a disastrous event. What were the gunmen thinking as the spent all day murdering? What prompted Boehme to order such a harsh reprisal? Did he have any concept of what his order would mean? We are all together asking these questions. As individual humans, stripped of all sense of military or political affiliation, we respond similarly to the Kragujevac October. We all feel the loss that pervaded “A Bloody Fairytale”. And this sense of sadness is timeless and indiscriminate. The continuity of Kragujevac is in its timeless tragedy; the change can be found in our fleeting ability to truly comprehend the execution of 5,000 in two short days and in Tito's passive manipulation of Memorial Park.
The emphasis on victory in the name of Socialism and the glorification of defiance present in the monuments at the park speak to the masses to remind them to whom they should be grateful. Critically considering the latent messages in the park is not denying the Partisan contribution to the war effort; it is simply recognizing the Partisan program to create a glowing picture of their bravery. Tito dutifully showed his respects to the fallen innocent, yet he managed to advertise himself and his political party as well.
History can be understood on several levels: on the individual level, and on the group level. The picture changes drastically when one considers how people respond as a group. Government is simply a synonym for the phrase “collective mentality, with rules”. Here, agendas, power intrigues, and loyalties are in transition and all of them interact with each other on an abstract level. The result is often a multi-tiered maze with many dimensions. The historical memories of the Kragujevac massacre and Filipovich's hanging have many dimensions and demonstrate concretely the government's attempt to change historical consciousness. Collectively, people are vulnerable. And yet, Kragujevac, in its tragedy, and Filipovich, in his bravery, exemplify constancy as well. The tragedy of 5,001 deaths will not be lessened over time: it is a constant.
When a person is acting as an individual instead of a member of a group, the poem “Krvava Bajka” is touching and sad, and Filiopvic's story is inspiring. The danger comes when one group has the power to persuade, slowly but surely, a public audience into believing something that is just few shades away from the truth. Lies that are close to the truth are those with potency, because they are more readily accepted.
Continuity, as I have demonstrated, is in the case of the Kragujevac massacre and the Filipovich statue, primarily associated with the individual. A discriminating, rational person has fewer tendencies to shift and less complexity than a group. A personal historical consciousness, once defined, is hard to disturb if a strong emotion or reaction has cauterized it permanently. However, people in groups are much more fluid and likely to shift. In large groups, emotion, the very thing that ties us together, is blunted and so we are more susceptible to half-truths. Naturally, if something very important is in question, the individual is alert and on guard. However, if the subject in question is not considered a “sacred cow”, the individual loses definition and blends into the group, where he can be influenced. Thus, change is associated with the group.
A close examination of two case studies has given us insight into the dynamic relationship between the Serbian people, their collective memory, and Tito's government, which played such an active role in the formation of the historical consciousness in Serbia. The individual, in tandem with the state and its political agenda, define historical consciousness.
Yugoslavia is a crossroads, culturally and geographically, and many influences have come to bear on its people. Many agendas have been served on its soil. As in any country, caveat emptor is a necessary precaution. Critical thinking is a dying skill in our modern society; our individuality and sense of truth are easily lost in this age of technology. Looking into the past gives us the opportunity to learn and history, as well as the way we choose to interact with it, can affect our lives in the present. The truth is worth effort, trial, and tribulation.
“Truth will ultimately prevail
when there is pain taken
to bring it to life.”
— George Washington
Saul Friedlander on “Historical Conciousness”
“Indeed the process involved in the molding of public memory is, theoretically at least, antithetical to that involved in the writing of history. Nonetheless, the representation of a recent and relevant past has to be imagined as a continuum: the constricts of public-collective memory find their place at one pole, and the dispassionate historical inquiries at the opposite pole. The closer one moves to the middle ground, that is to an attempt at general interpretation of the group's past, the more the two areas — distinct in their extreme forms become intertwined and interrelated. This middle ground may be defined as a specific category, that of historical consciousness. Public-collective memory manifests itself essentially in set commemorative rituals and dominant symbolic systems referring to the past of the group (street names, monuments, museums, etc.) and “dispassionate” historiography is restricted to periods distant in time or to those eras that have not lost immediate existential and ideological relevance to the present. Historical consciousness is the necessary conjunction of both extremes in any significant attempt at understanding, explicating, and representing the yesterday that affects the shaping of today. Incremental knowledge acquired by historical research is usually integrated within the general framework of the prevailing historical consciousness of a group and molded according to one of its extant frameworks of interpretation.”
Friedlander, Saul. Memory, History, and the Extermination of the Jews of Europe. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993. (VIII)
“Krvava Bajka” By Desanka Maksimovich, translation by Sarah O’Keeffe
A Bloody Fairytale
It was in a land of peasants
in the mountainous Balkans,
a company of schoolchildren
died a martyr's death
in one day.
They were all born
in the same year
their school days passed the same
to the same festivities,
vaccinated against the same diseases,
and all died on the same day.
It was in a land of peasants
in the mountainous Balkans,
a company schoolchildren
died a martyr's death
in one day.
And fifty-five minutes
before the moment of death
the company of small ones
sat at its desk
and the same difficult assignments
they solved: how far can a
traveler go if he is on foot...
and so on.
Their thoughts were full
of the same numbers
and throughout their notebooks in school bags
lay an infinite number
of senseless A's and F's.
A pile of the same dreams
and the same secrets
patriotic and romantic
they clenched in the depths of their pockets.
and it seemed to everyone
that they will run
for a long time beneath the blue arch
until all the assignments in the world
It was in a land of peasants
in the mountainous Balkans,
a company of small ones
died a martyr's death
in one day.
Whole rows of boys
took each other by the hand
and from their last class
went peacefully to slaughter
as if death was nothing.
Whole lines of friends
ascended at the same moment
to their eternal residence.
My first exposure to the Balkans came to me in the form of a young man in my mathematics class during my senior year of high school. Borah High was not an overly populated school, and I immediately noticed the new face sitting next to me. Vladimir was introduced to us as an exchange student and Mr. Wilde, despite his best efforts, obviously slaughtered the pronunciation of Vladimir's last name and the name of his hometown. My curiosity got of the best of me and I had soon drawn this aloof stranger into a reluctant conversation. It took me several days to gain his full confidence, as he was struggling with English and his proud bearing could not stand the embarrassment of speaking in extended phrases. I finally convinced him that I was non-judgmental and in fact willing to help him with his language skills. With his acceptance that I was sincerely interested in his background, his spiel was lengthy and involved. I understood almost nothing of what he was saying. The problem was not with his English nor with mine, rather, sadly enough, I lacked the geography and worldly frame of reference that would allow me to grasp his story. I learned that he was a refugee from Sarajevo and I had no idea where that was or what had started the war that drove him from his home. I admit that I had a vague idea of where Sarajevo was: I knew it was somewhere between Germany and Israel. I had honestly never even heard of his language; I knew of no writers or artists from his country. I simply knew who Tito was and that Yugoslavia had been somewhere in between the Soviet Block and Our Block during the Cold War. I was frustrated at every attempt to find some tidbit of information that I had in common with him. He had plenty in common with me, as culture is America's largest export. My lofty notion that I was an educated senior, one year too far away from being unleashed into the big world, was mortally wounded.
Vladimir and I, nonetheless, became fast friends and I was true to my word: I helped him with his English. I tried to persuade him to teach me some Serbo-Croatian, but he seemed to be trying to forget Yugoslavia completely and my success was limited. Our friendship was able to weather my lack of knowledge of current events in the Balkans, but our personal experiences could not have been more vastly different. I had no means of understanding what war and flight were like. He was in a foreign country, his parents and all he had known his entire life locked up in a nasty siege thousands of miles away, and the nightly news was his only link to the disintegration of his hometown...
It made me angry that there was a whole world east of Germany and west of Israel that I knew so little about. Over the course of our senior year, I did what I could to catch up on current events in the Balkans so that I could have an intelligent conversation with Vladimir and other refugees that ended up in my little high school, but the complexity of the situation was daunting. I knew my European history, but somehow, Europe had never included Eastern Europe. Those were the countries that had been little pawns throughout history, always on the periphery if they were mentioned at all. Later, they had all been under the kind and tender guidance of the Soviet Union, so they never became nations with their own character to me. Then I met a person from the most intriguing country among these pawns; my meeting with Vladimir was a watershed.
I had discovered early in junior high school that I had a passion for languages and I knew that it was just a matter of selecting which language to concentrate on in college. During my senior year my mind turned to Serbo-Croatian as a possibility, and later it became a challenge that I was determined to meet. The more I learned about the Balkans and the republics of former Yugoslavia, the more questions I had. By the time I graduated high school, I was absolutely certain in my mind: I would study Serbo-Croatian and the history and culture of former Yugoslavia. I selected a university and began my studies, including Russian area studies as a secondary interest, as one must diversify these days to optimize your market value as a worker.
The next phase of my journey seemed hopeless at first. I was in search of an interdisciplinary program that would offer me the opportunity to focus on Russia and South Slavic nations (namely those of former Yugoslavia). The Individualized Major Program came to my attention at an academic fair during my third semester at IU, and I jumped at the chance to choose my own adventure, because the other options available to me were simply unsatisfactorily narrow. I must remark on the vital importance the IMP had in my successful bid to fill my academic dreams. During my first year at Indiana University, it seemed too much to ask to approach the object of my interest in an interdisciplinary manner. I was foiled on two counts: one, I had chosen an obscure area (for an undergraduate at least) and two, I wanted to explore Yugoslavia and Russia with a “whole country” approach. To me, it seemed most effective to investigate language, history, and culture together, as these elements are inextricably interdependent and interlaced. The IMP allowed me the freedom to structure my own program, and to fulfil my own quirks and hopes. Yet it also offered me the guidance to sculpt the very best program possible, with my committee members and the faculty of the IMP bringing the voice of experience to my program. They suggested changes and pointed out shortcomings when I was too busy wearing rose-colored glasses (excited at the mere prospect of doing exactly what I wanted to do) to see them myself. I can say with full confidence that the IMP not only saved my academic career at IU, it also brightened it and brought it to new heights that I had scarcely thought possible. Here I am referring to my seven month stay in Belgrade, Serbia.
Once it had occurred to me that the sky was the limit with the IMP, as long as my aspirations were logically connected to my course of study and in good taste, the dream of studying in Serbia became a reality. I formulated a plan to go to Serbia to do research for my final IMP project. Rima Merriman was my savior throughout the grueling process of making arrangements for the trip. Though my desire to go to Serbia never wavered, a plethora of tiny crises and several large, lumbering crises threatened my success. I would appear unannounced, weary and discouraged, in Rima's office and often she would drop her own projects and listen to my problem du jour. When I would run into something seemingly insurmountable, she would usually solve it in minutes, always with a smile and a kind word of encouragement. She was always rooting for me and she took care of every request and problem with grace. Nancy was also invaluable to me. She never complained when she had to send me a certain message repeatedly because I couldn't figure out my new electronic mail account and she followed up on each and every detail with perseverance and politeness. Ray Hedin came to the IMP toward the end of my program but I can tell you I was immediately impressed by his open, friendly manner. He hosted a luncheon at his beautiful home for all the students of the IMP the spring before I went to Belgrade and it was exciting to finally have a forum with other student like myself. He opened the lines of communication among students in the IMP and made it possible, with this and other programs, for us to feel a sense of solidarity.
With this personable and dedicated group of people supporting me, I found funding for my trip, I meticulously planned my academic pursuits during my stay in Serbia, and I arranged to receive credit for my studies in Serbia. My sponsors, Drs. Rakich and Cooper, went that extra mile in every instance. The are most deserving of my gratefulness and my thanks for their patience as I struggled to define my academic program in Serbia and for their kind attention to every signature, letter, and conference I asked of them. Most importantly, I am grateful for the knowledge they shared with me. They are the two of the finest teachers I have ever had the pleasure studying with and I can only hope to find fraction of such quality scholarship and dedication in my graduate studies.
Finally, with all of my little ducks in a row and most of my coursework completed, I bought my plane ticket in August 1998. I was on my way. I landed in Belgrade, Yugoslavia on September 30, 1998 in the late afternoon. I had postponed my trip due to the escalating trouble in a southern region of Serbia, due to a little flash point called Kosovo. Finally, I decided to go despite the troubles in Kosovo, my argument being that Kosovo was not Belgrade and that NATO, being the lovely collection of the most civilized, intelligent and advanced nations on earth that it is, would ever condescend to bomb Yugoslavia.
My host family was absolutely marvelous! The were funny, thoughtful and very accepting. The mother spoke only Serbian, so my language skills quickly sharpened in conversation with her. However, the two “kids” in the family (both of them near my age) spoke perfect English so I never felt isolated as I had feared. They were a refugee family from Croatia living in Belgrade and the seven years since the war had been very hard ones for them economically, emotionally, and politically. They lived in a suburb of Belgrade, about two hours by bus from the center of the city. Their neighborhood was essentially populated by refugee families and Gypsies. It was semi-rural and many people kept animals and gardens on their small plots. The streets were not paved and huge mud bogs would develop with the rains. The plumbing was questionable and the heat was from a single wood stove in the main sitting room. One street over from ours there was a Gypsy street, a very unusual experience for a girl from Idaho. My two months in Borca were very charming and educational. Borca had character and is was indicative of the real economic and spiritual status of the country: the people were struggling to survive and they had been doing so for almost a decade. That constant struggle can tax morale and sap even the strongest. The people worked hard and had very little in return. I concede that perhaps my impressions of Borca were “charming” because I knew had the means to leave at any time. The rest of the people were there because their circumstances dictated it. When local children would talk to me, their first question was always “Is everyone in America rich?" It was sobering and it made me appreciate what I have even more. Post-Belgrade, I spend a lot less time lamenting what I do not have. In Borca, I got to see a side of Serbian life that is very real and very different from the cosmopolitan atmosphere in Belgrade itself, but I also learned something about myself.
In late November we moved downtown. It was only after we searched for a month and a half that we found something suitable. It was during this hunt, using the over-crowded and sporadic bus system, that I realized exactly how huge Belgrade really was. We took an apartment ten minuets by foot from the center of Belgrade, Trg Republike. Despite the rent increase, it was still very cheap for me. From Borca to the center of Belgrade, the difference was like night and day. We lived on the eleventh floor of a high rise apartment complex. The view was beautiful and we were so close to everything! There was a large (by Serbian standards) grocery store on the bottom floor of the apartment building and my favorite restaurant was five minutes away. The theatre was close, the university was in our backyard, everything was at our fingertips. In the suburb, the two-hour bus ride into town was a definite deterrent if your business wasn't pressing, so I found that I didn't visit the city very often.
My language was improving rapidly, but I still felt a lot of hesitation and reservation when I spoke. I decided to travel to the monument sites I had selected for my thesis that were out of the Belgrade in the spring, so that I would have a chance to better my language skills in the meantime. In the fall I did a lot of reading, I scoured book stores for useful sources for my final project, and I met with my language tutor, translating and practicing spoken Serbian. I also visited the sites relevant to my final project that were in Belgrade. In the end, I narrowed the scope of my IMP final project considerably because I was so overwhelmed by the sheer number of sources on the topics I first proposed to cover. I decided to focus on the Filipovich statue and Memorial Park because they illustrated my thesis best and there was a wealth of information available on those two subjects that was easily accessible and navigable. I had originally planned to include many more monuments and museums in my discussion of Serbian historical consciousness, but as my research unfolded, I realized I had bitten off more than I could chew. My original planned study would have made an excellent book, but my time and skills were more geared toward a modest research paper. I struggled with the fact that I had so many sources and so little time. I came up with several versions of my final project before I left Belgrade, none of which I was overly fond, and finally, I gave up graduation in the spring of 1999 in lieu of taking a little more time to wade through the material I had collected and to produce a thesis I was truly proud of. My plans to graduate in May 1999 were also damaged by a loss of concentration and depression brought on by some rather unpleasant developments in Serbia toward the end of my stay, but let us not pull ahead of ourselves.
My time in Belgrade was magical. I was untouched by the desperate economic situation and I had a few special opportunities presented to me because I was American. My host sister taught English in a junior high school and she invited me several times to her classes, as did other teachers. I did little talks about Halloween in America, Ireland (my father was born in Ireland), and I answered questions and gave the children a chance to practice their English. I also spent a lot of time with Vladimir's parents. They are well off and live in a lovely neighborhood in the hills to the south of the city. Vladimir's father has a job with a film production company and one of the highlights of my time in Belgrade was my attendance of the world premier of Emir Kusturica's most recent film Black Cat, White Cat at the Sava Center on October 16, 1998. I first learned of Kusturica from Vladimir but in high school his films did not impress me to any great degree. It was at IU, in Professor Kizeria's course on Eastern European cinema, that I first fell in love with Kustirica's work. He quickly became one of my favorite directors and I was in heaven at the premier. As the film came to an end, I was speechless and stunned (it is his best to date). Then came the real treat! I almost missed the gist of my surprise because I wasn't concentrating on the Serbian around me, I was still thinking about the film. We were to attend the post-premier dinner to be held in Kusturica's honor! Kusturica was actually a personal friend of Vladimir's parents! It was only after we passed the bridge that would take us back into the city that I realized we weren't going home. I started asking questions and discovered our destination. (They had already told me about my surprise and were a little shocked when I didn't react. We all laughed about it later.) I sat in quiet awe for the rest of the forty-five minute car ride. The dinner was fabulous and I met Kusturica; I sat a few feet away from him for eight hours. It was great! The Gypsy band that preformed in his popular movie Underground played various pieces from his films all night long and everyone was singing and dancing. I only wish I had been a little less in shock so I could have said something fairly intelligent when he addressed me...
I spent my winter break travelling through Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. It was fascinating to see how the former republics of Yugoslavia compared to each other and to hear the differences in language. Slovenian is a completely distinct language from Serbo-Croatian and hearing it tickled me. It sounded to me like a Frenchman speaking grammatically poor Serbo-Croatian. Figuring out the road signs in Slovenia was like doing a crossword puzzle and jumble at the same time, as it does have many characteristics in common with Serbo-Croatian. Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, was breathtaking. I was also delighted to see that it was decorated for the Christmas holiday and that stores were selling Christmas goods. This was not the case in Serbia, where the religious holidays are still calculated using the Julian calendar and Christmas falls in January. There is also very little, if any, commercial fuss over Christmas in Serbia. In fact, the favorite pastime of the mischievous in Belgrade during the holidays is to light firecrackers under the feet of unsuspecting poor souls waiting for the bus. A rather morbid occupation for a country that just emerged from a civil war, but I admit it drew a few good laughs from me. I thought the lack of the American commercial avalanche around Christmas in Serbia would be refreshing, and it was, but I was still touched by Zagreb's subdued and flattering decorations.
The train deposited me in Padua, Italy at 11:25 p.m. on Christmas Eve and I was able to make my way to a church for midnight Mass in fulfillment of my promise to my father before I left. He was very excited that I would be so close to Italy during my stay in Serbia that he extracted a promise from me that I would attend midnight Mass in Rome. I called him from Slovenia and begged him to amend his wishes because I had decided I didn't want to waste three days (roundtrip) on a train. A good Catholic he is, but he is an even better father and he graciously granted my request. Italy exceeded all my expectations. It was an unforgettable experience and it only strengthened my resolve to spend a good chunk of time there before I see the end of my golden years. I did not know one word of Italian and every time I wanted to express myself, Serbian would come out. I guess that my little brain thought that if it did not know this Italian language that any old foreign language would suffice. It was in this manner that I discovered I had learned a lot more Serbian than I thought.
On my return trip to Serbia, I stayed a few days in Vukovar, my host family's hometown. The images I saw there are burned into my memory and they affected me deeply. I felt like I had swallowed a quart of acid as I walked through the ruins of what was once a city. My stomach churned and I spent a lot of time just watching the pace of everyday life. The people were trying to move on but it seemed that their stubborn surroundings would not cooperate. One of the most poignant pictures I have ever taken was of a woman in Vukovar who had set up an extensive display of gorgeous flowers to sell on the sidewalk in front of a bombed-out, charred, wreck of a building. To balance out this grave experience, I came to a long-awaited turning point in Vukovar while playing cards with a group of elderly young ladies (one of whom was my host grandmother). I found my Serbian tongue! I was not able to speak overnight, but that afternoon of cards certainly opened a new channel in my brain. Perhaps I just found my courage, perhaps I was lulled into comfort by the fact the no one in the lovely company I was keeping that afternoon used complete, grammatical sentence. These ladies had developed a “shorthand” over the years and full sentences were not necessary. In any case, something clicked in my head, and everyone noticed a significant improvement in my Serbian when I returned to Belgrade and the trend continued until I left. I had finally found a semblance of fluency.
There was also a darker side to my time in Belgrade and those experiences shaped me just as much as, if not more than, the academic and social pursuits I have described so far. On October 1, 1998, late in the afternoon, NATO first seriously threatened to bomb Yugoslavia. This was two days after I arrived. For about thirty hours, my life was chaos. I still couldn't understand the Serbian language on the radio at that early point (they spoke too quickly) and I got all of my news secondhand. The members of my host family were long-time veterans of political upheaval, having escaped Vukovar, Croatia a few days before the Serbian and Croatian armies laid it to waste in 1991. They explained the gravity of the situation to me. I realized with their words that the trip I had put so much energy and hope into might end before it began. They told me that I would be welcome to flee with them back to Vukovar if bombing began. It seemed bitterly ironic to me, a family making plans to return to their destroyed city, to an apartment without electricity and only occasionally running water, to be “safe” from bombs. Heavy artillery had left its ugly scars on their apartment in Vukovar. It was as if no matter where these people ran, they were in danger from one nation or another. I agreed that I would go to Croatia with them if bombing began, but I wanted so badly to stay in Serbia. My research and all my plans had been structured around my presence in Serbia. Every hour we listened to the radio news and we all spent an uneasy night.
We awoke the next day and my host mother and sister went to work as usual, though the two of us left at home made plans to call our host mother hourly to update her on the news. As the day wore on, the threat seemed to be more and more of a certainty. Things were not going well at the negotiation table. With every impasse the negotiations reached, a new meeting was announced or a new time set for the attempt to resume talks. But this was encouraging, because we knew that when they failed to announce another resumption of talks that we would really be in trouble. Our hearts sank a little with each moment. Things were happening every minute. I was used to thinking of negotiations in terms of days, weeks or months, but the situation in Serbia was shifting every minute. Finally, at 1 p.m. we received a call from our host mother. She told us to pack our things. She had called Croatia from work and had decided we were leaving. She was very pleased to find that we already had packed. There was nothing else useful to do that morning while we listened for news.
We were to be ready to go at 2:30 p.m. It would take her that long to get home from work because we were still living in the suburb. We were to pack her a bag as well and she gave her son a list of things to take. At 2:30 p.m. she would arrive and we would take a taxi to the bus station, for which I volunteered to pay because they did not have that kind of money. Taxis are ridiculously expensive in Belgrade for anyone who is paid in dinars, or even Deutsche marks. The last bus for Croatia was leaving at 3:30 p.m. We would have an hour to make the trip downtown.
It all happened so fast that it is hard to remember which emotions were most prominent at the time. I was angry, afraid, and I felt helpless, but all of my emotions were heightened. Packing my suitcase was the thing I remember agonizing over the most. My host brother had lost everything once already, so for him what to take was not really an issue. He was thinking practically, along the lines of a toothbrush, a towel, a little pillow, a flashlight, matches...etc. On the other hand, I am very sentimental and I had brought many photographs, books, and other memorabilia with me and I was heart-sick about the fact that whatever I didn't squeeze into my suitcase might be lost to me forever. I was thinking of all the stories I'd heard from refugees about how they left with only the clothes on their backs while the rest of their things fell to the looters, bombs and other wartime evils. I was thinking about how to fit my pictures into my suitcase, how to save the gifts Vladimir had sent with me for his parents, how to keep the newspapers I had purchased in Serbia during my first two days... At one point, my host brother sat me down and explained that I was being unreasonable. I already knew this, I was just unable to help myself. I felt almost like it would have been easier to leave with just the clothes on my back. I wanted all or nothing.
Finally, after trying and crying all morning, I had managed to pack so when my host mother called we were already ready. My host sister was due home between 2:30 and 3:00 p.m. and we were hoping that it would be earlier than later. She called around 2:00 p.m. and we let her know our plans. She said she would leave work immediately. All of our plans were foiled because my host sister did not arrive home until near 5:00 p.m. and the last bus to Croatia had already left. She also had a long bus ride home from work and one of her busses was drastically off schedule. We all agreed not to go without her, and the news was still changing every minute, so there was still hope. With her delayed arrival home, our decision was made for us and we settled in for another anxious evening.
The situation slowly diffused over the next few days and I was able to explore the city and get into a routine. NATO would threaten to bomb Yugoslavia three other times during my seven month stay in Belgrade, but I can say with complete certainty that the first threat was the scariest and most disturbing for me. The other two close calls were no picnic; I was nervous and attentive to the news, but I somehow felt much more prepared to withstand any crisis. With each renewal of the threat, followed by a last-minute negotiation breakthrough that prevented bombing, I came to think of NATO's antics as simply empty threats. This was not simply delusion, as I really didn't think that it would happen. Logic was against it. At least, my logic was against it.
Spring came and I visited Kragujevac, Valjevo, (home to the Filipovich statue) and other cities in Serbia. My most bitter regret is that I did not visit any monasteries while I was in Serbia. Those in the south were a bit to close to Kosovo for comfort and those in the north were not easily accessible without a car. Toward the end of my time in Serbia, things started to look ugly in Kosovo again and the attempt to bring a solution to the crisis in Rambouillet had failed miserable. Nevertheless, I was still going about my business and on March 19, 1999 I made a trip up to Novi Sad, a city in the northern region of Serbia, to visit a museum. My friend picked me up at the bus station and decided to stop for some groceries at the small kiosk she and her husband own on the way home. She popped out of the car. After a moment, I thought it would be nice to have a picture of her standing in front of her kiosk with her husband so I bungled out of the car and started across the road. Who knows exactly what the culprit was; it was probably a combination of my own clumsiness, a long coat, black ice on the road, and panic over a car that had appeared out of nowhere that was headed towards me. I fell hard to the ground and my concern was more for my life than for anything else. I sprang up and bolted across the street to safety. I took a picture of my friend in front of her store and she took one of me waving at the camera as well. This picture will forever be a reminder of my luck. I noticed that my little finger on my left hand had started hurting as we returned to the car and by the time we got home, it was throbbing terribly. We thought it was sprained and put some ice on it. An hour later, we examined it again. It had tripled in size and had interesting blue-green swirls covering it. It was then that I noticed the peculiar angle of the finger and it hurt like crazy.
My friends finally convinced me to go to the hospital. I had to present myself to a secretary whose job it was to scrutinize the documents of each patient. When she saw my American passport, she just gaped. She had no idea what to do with me. So she asked her usual set of questions. She asked me if I was from Serbia. I said no. She asked if I lived in Serbia. I said yes. Then she asked me what my complaint was. I showed her my finger. She stood up and sat down several times, shuffled some papers and finally seemed decided. She handed me a piece of paper that stated that I was not from Novi Sad and that I was to be treated as a resident of Belgrade.
After a long, exhausting and painful wait in a dingy hallway with very dim light (no chairs), a very disheveled man appeared and asked me to follow him. They did not want to let my host brother come with me but I insisted. The doctor poked and pulled on my finger and after I explained to him with my most vivid threats that he was not going to successfully “straighten” my finger while I was conscious, he shrugged and ordered an X ray. My finger was shattered. It had been broken in six places and all of the breaks were complete; three of them intersected the knuckle. When he saw my X ray he told me that he would set my finger and put a temporary cast on my hand until the swelling went down. Then, he said, I would have to see a doctor in Belgrade to receive a more permanent cast. No problem, I thought. I had only broken one bone before and it was also a finger. I have experience here, I thought. I kept waiting for the shot of painkiller that would deaden my finger to the pain, but it never came. He tried once to set my finger and I screamed like a banshee and he asked me what the problem was. I explained my reluctance to have my finger set without some painkillers. He laughed and said that was not procedure. Two more times he tried to set my finger but I pulled it away at the last minute. Finally, exasperated, he asked me if I wanted his help or not. I asked him for some whiskey. He had a hearty laugh at that and it seemed to soften him toward my plight. He kneeled down and addressed me like a child. He convinced me that what he was going to do was necessary for my health. I was scared out of my wits. The hospital did not look like a hospital to me. It was not clean, the system was completely different, sick people were just mulling around, bleeding and wandering around our large open examination room. I was beyond tense but I told him to do what he had to do.
My host brother held my good arm down and blocked my view of the “action area” with his body so I could not see when “it” would be coming. One doctor forced my finger back into place with a gradual grinding pressure and the other covered it with the cast material. It was dreadful. I lived through it and a few minutes later the doctor came over and asked me if I had forgiven him yet. I said that I supposed I had. He then presented me with a lollypop and sent me on my way. The total bill came to eighteen dinars, or about $1.80. My Advil was in Belgrade so we stopped in a pharmacy to purchase some something to kill the sharp ache. I was very dazed and I didn't read the label of the drug very carefully, I just trusted my host brother and the fact that our purchase was an over the counter product. I took two tablets and they were so strong that I barely made it home before I collapsed. I did not pass out, I was just drowsy and relaxed. It was then that I speculated that the reason they do not give you painkillers at the hospital is because you are supposed to pick up your own on the way to the hospital!
My hand proved to be only one of my problems during my last week in Serbia. By the time we returned to Belgrade on Sunday, March 21, there were rumors all over the city that the airlines operating in Belgrade would shut down operations in fear of NATO bombing. I was due to leave Belgrade Thursday, March 25, 1999 and the rumors intensified Monday morning with the news that Richard Holbrooke had broken off negotiations with Slobodan Milosevic and was preparing to leave the city. I spent all of Monday (March 22) packing and saying my goodbyes and no one was particularly uneasy. The same fiasco had been played out several times before and there was a sense of resignation in the air: if NATO did bomb, the civilians in Serbia would be trapped, as none of the surrounding countries would accept refugees. I called the airline Monday afternoon to confirm that they would maintain operations, expecting a resounding “Yes! Of course madam!” Instead, the lady told me she did not know the answer to my question and that I would have to call back at noon on Tuesday. That concerned me a bit. I continued to pack and sort. The process was awfully slow with one hand and my heart was not in it. I went to sleep with my packing chore less than halfway done.
I never got to make my phone call at noon on Tuesday because the major airlines, including mine, announced bright and early Tuesday morning that they were “suspending service” to Belgrade until further notice. My host brother did not go to work that day so he could escort me around town and help me make other arrangements out of town. We went to my airline first and a nice lady gave me a voucher and wished me good luck in finding a bus or minivan out of the city to the airport in Budapest, Hungary. From there, she assured me, I could continue on as planned. If I was unable to make my flight in Budapest, my ticket would remain open and useable whenever I arrived. This was early Tuesday morning and my flight was scheduled to leave Budapest for Frankfurt at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday. Obviously, we went looking for a travel agency that could book me a place on a bus to Budapest. Many other people in Belgrade had the same idea. The first place we tried was scheduled to capacity. I panicked a little at this but the pain in my hand had me preoccupied enough to keep it from sinking in that I might be trapped. Fortunately, the second place we came upon had two seats left on a minivan that was to leave the city at 10 p.m. the following evening. The estimated arrival time in Budapest was 6 a.m. Thursday, plenty early for my flight. After some serious thought and debate, I convinced my host brother to come with me and I used my last forty American dollars to buy him a seat. He had friends in Budapest and I needed someone's help with all my luggage. That was my excuse to get him out of there. I knew he was in danger of being drafted in Serbia even though he had a Croatian passport, whereas the women in the family could go come and go as they pleased. They would be safe in Croatia if necessary. If my host brother planned to leave Serbia, I knew instinctively that he had better do it before the Serbs tightened border control to contain their pool of army-age men in the country. By the time we returned home that evening, I had accepted the fact that things were worse than they had ever been before, but I still did not think that NATO would really bomb Yugoslavia. I packed late into the night on Tuesday and I went to sleep with a sick heart and an aching hand.
The next day, we all sat around the apartment, staring at each other, not knowing what to say. My host mother and host sister were relieved to find out that my host brother would be leaving, but it was still a very morose day. The family of three had been through many hardships together and it would be their first extended separation. Our closest group of friends came over to say goodbye to us and a few of them who were musically inclined decided to record a tape for me on our last day together. The guitars came out and they sang while I puttered around the apartment making final adjustments.
Around 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 24, 1999, the air raid sirens went off in downtown Belgrade. They were very loud in our area and it was a very foreign noise to me. The first thing that my mind turned to was a tornado or hurricane siren, then it occurred to me that they were probably testing the air defense system in case bombing occurred. Surely they were being overcareful. NATO, even if it did attack Yugoslavia, would never attack anywhere near Belgrade. It is a city of 3 million people.
A half hour later I was kneeling over the stereo, fiddling with my new cassette when I heard a loud noise in the distance. It sounded like thunder. I stood up and noticed everyone on the balcony, which commanded quite a view of the city. My host brother started toward me, and drew my attention to something else in the room but the thunder came again, this time even louder. I actually asked him if there was thunderstorm because we had watched a few together off of the balcony before. The thunder came yet again. This time I was across the room and out on the balcony before he could stop me and I stood there for a moment looking around the city for the cause of the sound. A minute later the whole western horizon lit up as if the sun were setting and we heard the thunder again simultaneously. Bombs were falling about twenty miles outside the city limits of Belgrade, a military barrack was the target. I was watching the making of history up close but the aspiring historian in me was asleep at that moment, I was in absolute shock. Other ominous sounds could also be heard coming from the hills south of Belgrade. Our little minivan was due to arrive in two hours and I was standing on the balcony watching my own country bomb me. People started to come out onto our street with drinks in their hands, looking up at the sky like it was a fireworks display. I was totally flabbergasted and incredulous. I felt only anger, shock and shame at the NATO aggression.
We moved my luggage down to the curb so that it would be easy to load into the minivan. My host brother had only a plastic shopping bag with a toothbrush, a CD and a book in it. He still had it in his head to return to his mother and sister after he had seen me to safety, but the main reason he left with so little is because he had to claim some of my luggage as his own because I had so much. We were only allowed two pieces each. As we all stood there waiting for our minivan, we were all in agreement that the bombing wouldn't last long. It was simply unthinkable to all of us to imagine more than a few days of bombing. When the bombing continued and even intensified, my host brother decided to stay in Budapest with only his toothbrush, his CD and his book to keep him company. He again had to start all over again. I feel guilt over his sacrifice to this very day.
As our minivan pulled away at midnight Wednesday March 24, 1999 from the corner that held all of our friends, I thought that I would break, not just my heart. I was going back to my comfortable American life, and despite the fact that we would be driving for five hours through territory the was being bombed, I would soon enough be safe and sound back home. These people, whom I had grown to love, had so little and they deserved so much. As we drove north, I thought about them and what their lives might be like for the next few days and it stung me. The night around us was pitch black and loud. A half hour after we left our apartment I saw a bright, blazing fire that seemed to stretch for miles and miles off to the west of the highway. My host brother told me that was the remains of the military base we had seen bombed from our balcony.
The border crossing was long and it involved a lot of waiting but it went surprisingly smoothly considering that there was an American, a Croat, and a Serb of military age in the minivan. The Serbs gave us no trouble at all and the Hungarians were stuffy, gruff and they searched everything carefully but they grudgingly let us enter. I made it to the airport with two hours to spare. The lady who checked my luggage should have charged me a extra hundred dollars for excess baggage like they did on my way to Yugoslavia, but she did not. I guess I looked quite pathetic with my dirty cast and my American passport.
I arrived home safe and sound and unable to sleep a wink despite my exhaustion. I stayed awake waiting for it to end. On my first day back home in Idaho, one of the local news stations called and asked for an interview. I wanted to talk about the absurdity of the bombing and the reporter wanted to talk about my hand and whether or not I had found love with my host brother. I was disgusted with the final product and so began my well-nurtured bitter disdain for the media coverage of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. I had see the movie Wag the Dog in Belgrade and I felt that I was in the midst of a performance of it. The coverage was selective at best. I spent my first month back in the U.S. glued to the television, quivering with rage. Oddly enough, I found a hero in the strangest public personality: Oliver North was the only dissenting voice in the media. Or better said, the only dissenting voice whose owner had a daily television show. North was taking the words right out of my mouth. “Vietnam!” “Two wrongs do not make a right!” “NATO is only strengthening support for Milosevic!” It was an unhealthy and fuzzy thirty days. I felt guilty and when I saw that it would be an extended campaign, I just wanted to shrivel up. All I could think about was how Vukovar had looked. Now, the city and the people I had fallen in love with were being damaged, and they would never be the same. Would they look like Vukovar in the end?
As I recovered, I began to realize that I had also been fundamentally changed as a person. After I had shed my hate, anger and disgust, I was left with an acute sense of sadness. I became a more careful consumer in every sense. I no longer felt sorry for myself because I did not have the money for this or that, I appreciated those who love me even more, I considered everything around me with a more critical eye. I learned how to function with a crushing worry hanging over my head: would anyone I love or know become a “collateral damage” statistic? I groveled in my own sorrow for a month but thenh a good friend reminded me that I was not benefiting anything or anyone by destroying everything positive inside myself. I was active in several anti-bombing campaigns in Indiana. I was one of only nine people who met on the steps of the Terre Haute courthouse to protest the bombing, and our group had heavily advertised the protest. It did irk me that no one seemed to care about the actions of our government. Most people couldn't even find Yugoslavia on a map. It was unacceptable to me for my government and its supra-national protege to continue bombing Yugoslavia.
Now, a little more than one year later, I am a little more cynical and jaded, but I have tried to walk away with only positive lessons. My thesis was completed in December 1999 and I and living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I intend to begin work on a book about my experiences in Belgrade this summer and in the dead of winter 2000 I am set to return to Belgrade and Vukovar to begin research on another project, a more academic endeavor, on the history of Vukovar. In the meantime, I am a language editor for a small journal on Serbian studies and I translate articles when necessary. I am also an English and reading tutor. I have private students who are charged for my time but I also volunteer at an educational center for refugees from around the world here in Baton Rouge.
All in all, my experience in Yugoslavia made me firmer in my resolution to better myself and to bring as many positive things into the world as possible. I am more aware of the people around me, I think more, I feel more, and I feel I am a stronger person for it. I honestly think I am more alive. I am looking forward to weaving all that I have learned into a book; I feel I have a lot to say. I can only say thank you so very much to all of you who helped make my program at IU and its extension, my trip to Serbia, possible and so fulfilling.
“...figuring out the histories,
tripping on the mysteries — liberty!”
— Mike Watt: “Liberty Call”, 1997
Sarah O’Keeffe, Fall 1999
Serbia, Belgrade (IMP Senior Project)
Gallery of all Kragujevac Figures
12) When persecution of the Serbs by the quisling-state of Croatia is added into the equation, the confrontation in the Balkans becomes four-sided, and it must be emphasized that not all Cetniks operating in Yugoslavia answered to Drazha Mihailovich, so the somplexity increases. [back]
16) Jozo Tomashevich, “Yugoslavia During the Second World War, Contemporary Yugoslavia: Twenty Years of Socialist Experiment”. ed. Wayne Vuchinich, (Berkley: University of California Press, 1969) 90. [back]
21) Auty, pg. 189. Our hero Stjepan Filipovich, to be discussed in the next case study, in fact made Kragujevac home for a time before he was sent off to active duty with the resistance in Valjevo. [back]
38) This poem was taken out of the curriculum in all coutries of the former Yugoslavia due to the nationalistic tensions that finally erupted into civil war in the early 1990s. It is only taught in Serbia and Vojvodina today. However, it is interesting that a monument entitled Monument of the Croatian people still stands today in Memorial Park in Kragujevac. [back]
50) As an interesting sidelight, Filipovich's memory also honored outside Yugoslavia: the Bakich's statue of Filipovich is also featured on the cover of a book entitled The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of Socialist Literature of All Time by Upton Sinclair. Sinclair credits Filipovich with a short biography on the inside flap of the book cover, explaining who the young Partisan was, and upon what his claim to heroism was based. [figure 12] [back]
52) None of the secondary sources in English that I utilized even mentioned Filipovich. His image is very well known to Yugoslavs, but he seems to have been ignored by scholars outside his country. [back]
Copyright © 1999, Sarah O’Keeffe
Case Studies in Serbian Historical Consciousness: “The Kragujevac Massacre and Stjepan Filipovich's Valiant Last Stand”
Advising: Dr Rakich and Dr Cooper