Friday, July 10, 2009

1941, the year that keeps returning

in the ny review of books i read a review of a powerful book, not yet in english, by a croatian editor and journalist. goldstein wrote about the events of 1941, when croatia was taken, with nazi german help, by a fascist ultra-nationalist movement called the 'ustasha.' they put into motion a bloody plan that disturbed even the SS and the italians who were their allies, to wipe out the 1.8 million serbs in their midst. they 'only' got to 400,000 of them (this number includes many jews and gypsies as well); their insane brutality collapsed on itself when serbs and jews simply began fleeing for their lives, and joining up with geurilla movements that fought the regime.

his father was imprisoned and killed. for me, this story is how easily states can sway 'normal' people to engage in, or at least tolerate, murder. previously, serbs and croats had lived alongside each other. but this evil regime, a tiny number of people, was able to recruit thugs willing to go into towns and villages and drag non-croats out of their homes and march them off to killing camps in the woods. even though most of the perpetrators were not killing their own neighbors, these acts destroyed existing relations as those wiped out, the survivors anyhow, carried a grudge that would be satisfied afterwards. so, 1941 kept returning because: it stimulated an ethnic serb nationalist movement aiming at revenge against croats, the chetnik, and in the early 1990s, its memory fuelled ethnic cleansing of first croats and then serbs from the two countries' respective borderlands (i forget which happened first). the communists to their credit did not exploit national hatreds, aiming not at croats in general, but the ustasha, hence allowing non-implicated croats to join the national (or transnational) movement.

the lid came off in the 90s. the review also quotes a very moving letter from the father to the son before the father was killed. he writes about the lessons of prison life and his hopes for his son.

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