CHAPTER FIVE: A VICIOUS CIRCLE OF LIES AND FEARS
Fictional Data and Real HatredsThe previous chapter covered the revived Serbian Kingdom, and pre-Communist Yugoslavia. This chapter picks up the story from there, and begins with this paragraph:
"Yugoslavia would have been less susceptible to violent disintegration if, at the end of World War II, there had been a reconciliation between the nations and factions that had fought one another. All of them, and especially the two most guilty ones, Croats and Serbs, should have admitted the mistakes and crimes committed since they entered the Yugoslav union and taken the steps necessary to prevent another conflict in the future. The enormity of the crimes committed by various parties made such action urgent. The reconciliation of France and Germany was a good model, but it could not be followed because one basic condition was missing: freedom, including the very important freedom of information."
I could not have said it better myself; this concise observation serves as an effective rebuttal to the "Tito was the only guy who could keep the hatreds in Yugoslavia in check" revisionists.
Much of this section is concerned with numbers--specifically, different estimates of the total number of Yugoslav war dead from World War II as well as the casualties for each individual national and ethnic group. The government, for years, continued to maintain the lie that 1.7 million Yugoslavs had perished in the war, a number that was based on shoddy demographics and which continued to be the official line long after independent analysis and study refuted this high number. In fact, the government itself had produced a comprehensive list of war victims (not including victims of the Partisans, since the list was for the West German government in regards to a reparations settlement) from 1964-1966; the total number was just below 600,000. Yet official history stuck with the obviously inflated 1.7 million figure.
Two independent Yugoslavs--Montenegrin Serb Bogoljub Kocovic in 1985, and Croat Vladimir Zerjavic in 1989--separately came up with nearly identical figures of just slightly over 1 million total war victims. The fact that Kocovic, the Serb, actually came up with lower subtotals for Serbs killed in Croatia than the Croat Zerjavic was just one testimony to the impartiality both these men brought to their work.
One would think that the discrepancy between their data and the long-accepted official total would have dampened the use of competing statistics by nationalist parties; sadly, the result was instead that propagandists and demagogues from all ethnic groups laid claim to large numbers of these 700,000 "uncounted" phantom dead. Such activities were carried out by all ethnic groups, mostly being published overseas; however, the domination of the Federal government by Serbia meant that Serb nationalist claims were able to be widely disseminated.
While Tito was aware that this situation was threatening to Yugoslavia's stability, he was simply unwilling to consider the one real solution--total freedom of information. His death in 1980 loosened controls over publication, but this mostly opened the doors to competing nationalist propaganda and outright lies--before long, Serb academics and intellectuals were claiming there were well over a million Serbs killed at Jasenovac alone (the real number of Serb victims was probably around 50,000). Other researchers have validated Kocovic and Zerjavic, to no avail.
Another myth of the post-World War II was the demonization of the Roman Catholic Church, which was outside of the control of the Belgrade regime; the campaign against Cardinal Stepinac is the most infamous aspect of this extensive effort, which began in the immediate postwar period and never really ended. False stories of Church complicity with, and support for, the Ustashe and the NDH were projected onto the Croats as a whole, even though only a tiny minority of Croats supported the quisling regime. Catholicism was being portrayed as an implacable enemy of Orthodoxy, and Croatians as fundamentally fascist and anti-Serb in orientation.
Other hatreds being nurtured in the postwar era:
"Belgrade propagandists avoided mentioning such facts as carefully as they hid the extent of the Serbs' collaboration with the Nazi, including their participation in the Holocaust. Instead, they directed particular effort at portraying the Serbs as traditional friends and protectors of the Jews."
[He then quotes Philip J. Cohen, author of Serbia's Secret War, on the subject; I will be reviewing this book in the very near future.]
"...ethnic Albanians were always a major target of defamation."
"The fear of the "Muslim Threat" was also used in the effort to mobilize Serbs in a nationalist front.."
And so on. Anzulovic wisely concludes this section with this depressing summary:
"The falsehoods spread by the Belgrade3 propaganda machine did not benefit anybody. The intention to obtain higher war reparation payments by means of inflated numbers of Yugoslav war victims failed; the tensions among various Yugoslav nationalities, caused by this and other lies, made life in the common state more difficult and contributed to its violent disintegration."