By Biljana Pekusic
Serbia’s Commission for Uncovering Secret Graves may have located the place where Chetnik commander Dragoljub “Draza” Mihailovic was killed and buried. The apparent discovery has sparked renewed debate over his role in the Second World War.
The site is located near a former prison on Ada Ciganlija, an island-turned-peninsula on the Sava River that has since become a favorite vacation spot for Belgraders.
“Human bones were found within only a metre of depth, in a place where vacationers pass by every day,” Commission member Miladin Gavrilovic told SETimes.
“There are graves even in Belgrade’s very centre,” said Blazo Djurovic, the director of Monitor Holding, whose equipment was used in the discovery.
The circumstances under which the death sentence was carried out has long been a closely guarded secret. No official documents exist from the former Yugoslavia about how Mihailovic met his end.
The Commission wants to solve the mystery behind Mihajlovic, Justice Ministry State Secretary Slobodan Homen told SETimes, but it “does not want to take sides concerning his role in the Second World War”.
“The discoveries that will be arrived at should enable us to place that open question dating from the Second World War in the history textbooks, and stop it being part of the political debate,” Homen said.
Many across the region regard Mihailovic, leader of the nationalist Chetnik movement, as a notorious war criminal who was responsible for killing thousands of Croats, Bosniaks and others.
To some Serbs, however, he is a protector and symbol of the first armed resistance to the Nazis in Europe. Mihailovic initially fought the Nazis, though he later collaborated with them against the Yugoslav communist Partisans.
The Yugoslav communist government executed Mihailovic in 1946 after trying him quickly on charges of co-operating with the Nazis and perpetrating crimes against the people.
Serbian historians estimate the Partisans killed 80,000 members and supporters of the Chetnik movement in the immediate post-war period. The Commission has tallied 25,000 of the killed and 200 places that possibly contain mass graves.
“The post-war liquidations in Serbia and in all the communist countries is a huge topic for science to deal with,” historian Srdjan Cvetkovic told SETimes.
Cvetkovic and likeminded historians argue that the anti-fascist movement was abused by some to kill people because of their views or class background.
But other historians take issue with those claims, saying uncertain facts are being manipulated for political ends.
“The people making these [claims] do not have serious information, no serious scientific research is behind it” Dubravka Stojanovic told SETimes.
The allegations that tens of thousands people were killed after 1945 are based on unconfirmed stories, she said.
A phony view of the Chetniks as patriots has been forming over the past decade, to the detriment of history and anti-fascism, Stojanovic added.
A veterans’ rights law adopted in 2005 by the Serbian parliament gave participants to the Chetnik movement the right to a pension. Meanwhile, the government has changed the content of history textbooks, disassociating Mihailovic from the Nazis and stating instead that he was leader of one of the two anti-fascist movements during the Second World War.