Protest against rehabilitation of WW2-era general

BELGRADE, NOVI SAD -- Several dozen people protested in front of the Higher Court in Belgrade today against the possible rehabilitation of WW2-era Gen. Dragoljub Draža Mihailović.

Anti-Mihailović posters in Novi Sad (www.021.rs)
Anti-Mihailović posters in Novi Sad (www.021.rs)

They carried banners saying “Draža is a criminal”. There were no incidents.

As the court hearing proceeded on Friday, Slobodan Marković, historian and member of a commission tasked with determining facts surrounding Mihailović’s death, took the stand to testify.

The courtroom was full of reporters covering the proceeding, mainly from Croatia. The next hearing will be held on May 11.

Marković said that according to available documentation, there was no evidence that Mihailović had in any way collaborated with the occupying German Nazi forces.

Marković, who is also president of a state commission tasked with finding graves of people executed after the Second World War, produced several documents from the British embassy in Washington that he said also proved that Mihailović did not collaborate with the occupying forces in Serbia.

Mihailović - a high ranking officer in the pre-WW2 Yugoslav Kingdom army - was executed in 1946 by the communist authorities. From 1941 until 1945, while the country was under Nazi occupation, the communist Partisans and royalist Chetniks were also engaged in a civil war against each other.

Reviled as traitor and collaborator with the occupying forces in the post-war communist Yugoslavia, Mihailović was awarded the Legion of Merit after his death by U.S. President Harry S. Truman, for his role in the Chetnik efforts to rescue American airmen shot down over Serbia. The honor was presented to his daughter in 2005.

The ongoing court process in Serbia is aimed at appraising the trial that ended with a guilty verdict and execution of Mihailović.

Witness Marković repeated at today’s hearing that the evidence proved that the general had not cooperated with the occupying forces and that he had not supported anyone who had, adding that Mihailović considered them traitors.

The witness also stressed that not a single representative of countries that awarded Mihailović with medals during his life and posthumously had requested that he be stripped of those honors.

“General Mihailović was considered a German enemy from May 1941 until the breakdown of the German military forces in Serbia in the fall of 1944,” Marković claimed, quoting documents.

During today’s hearing, opponents of Mihailović's political rehabilitation protested in front of the court. Young Communist League of Yugoslavia (SKOJ) and Women in Black NGO activists were among the protesters, carrying banners reading, “Stop falsifying history”.

The Mihailović rehabilitation case has stirred up attention of the media, not only in Serbia, but in the countries of the former Yugoslavia as well.

Women in Black NGO activist Staša Zajević has said that Mihailović’s rehabilitation “represents general rehabilitation of the Chetnik movement’s criminal ideology and actions”.

She accused the Serbian authorities that they were "trying to annul achievements of the anti-fascist fight by rehabilitating a proven collaborator of the occupiers and humiliating numerous innocent victims of his units’ terror”.

Rex Cultural Center’s Nebojša Milikić stated that Mihailović is a “war criminal and a commander of an army that committed the most horrendous crimes against civilian population” and that his rehabilitation is “an attempt of the government to legitimize its own contemporary political views”.

Posters against Mihailović’s rehabilitation were also put up in Novi Sad this morning by the Anti-Fascist Action of Novi Sad NGO.

Justice Ministry State Secretary Slobodan Homen said earlier that the rehabilitation proceeding of the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland (JVO) commander was nearly finished.

He believes that "new interesting testimonies about the Communist International's influence on the trial will be heard" as the trial, which started in 2006, continues. According to him, testimonies should show that the indictment against Mihailović was written primarily "in (Communist) party corridors", then Communist Party of Yugoslavia top officials and the Russian authorities.

“The fact that the indictment was written in a political manner is a good basis to doubt the fairness of the trial but the final decision will be made by the court,” Homen stressed.

According to him, the search for Mihailović’s remains will be continued with inspection of another location on Ada Ciganlija river island in Belgrade, on a location that used to be a prison.