There is no better way to describe the main event in Serbia in December 2021 except by paraphrasing the famous words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. For the Serbian nation, this month was a moral Pearl Harbour.
To appreciate the magnitude of what occurred, try to imagine the Armenian parliament voting down a resolution to condemn the Ottoman genocide or Israeli Knesset refusing to acknowledge the Holocaust and rejecting a bill to set up a memorial centre for Jews exterminated by Nazis during World War II.
Such things simply could not happen in either of those self-respecting countries. Not a single legislator would agree to betray his nation by holding its innocent victims in contempt, and if by chance any did, they would unfailingly be lynched by the outraged public.
But in Serbia, such a scandal happened twice during the month of December, with hardly a stir amongst the general public and without any reaction in the media or by major social institutions.
One of the few independent members of the Serbian parliament, Mrs. Smilja Tishma, a lady almost ninety years of age and a survivor of the Croatian Ustashi Jasenovac concentration camp during World War II, filed a motion to set aside grounds in Belgrade for the construction of a memorial centre for the victims of the Wold War II Croatian genocide of the Serbian people, estimated at several hundred thousands. She filed a separate bill for the Serbian parliament to adopt a declaration condemning the slaughter of fellow Serbs in the Nazi puppet state, “Independent State of Croatia”, 1941 – 1945.
In every normal country such bills would have been passed routinely, accompanied by expressions of great respect for the victims. But not in semi-colonial Serbia, where the agenda of the government and its subservient legislature is not to promote the interests of the people but to act as obedient satraps to its foreign masters and not to make waves.
On December 14, the Serbian parliament met to vote on Mrs. Tishma’s proposal to establish a memorial centre for Serbian World War II genocide victims. The unicameral parliament has 250 members, of which about four-fifths belong to the ruling party and entities allied to it. It was “elected” in June 2020 under widely contested conditions and is not perceived as enjoying any substantive legitimacy. Out of its 250 deputies, only 13 voted in favor of the memorial, while the rest either abstained or did not even bother to attend the session for their vote to be recorded.
A few days later, on December 22, when the Declaration to condemn the slaughter of Serbs in the wartime Ustashi state came up for a vote, only 20 deputies voted in favor of it, while the rest abstained or did not take part in the proceedings.
Can a more shocking dereliction of civic duty be imagined? As a result, both bills failed. Consequently, Serbia will not be on record as acknowledging the genocidal suffering of its own people or establishing a permanent facility where their memory would be respectfully cultivated.
How and why could this happen? Two major factors are mentioned in political circles in Belgrade as determining this outcome. The first is the pact concluded by the Serbian regime with its Croatian counterparts not to criticize Croatia for its shameful wartime past if, in return, the Croats would refrain from raising the issue of Srebrenica. The absurdity of such a “deal” is obvious at first glance. Between Jasenovac and Srebrenica there is no valid comparison. The genocidal slaughter of Serbs caught up in the wartime pro-Nazi Croat state was an event involving hundreds of thousands of victims and is acknowledged by competent historians as well as shocked German and Italian eyewitnesses. Srebrenica was a rogue operation, forensic evidence supports a victim count of about a thousand, and it is not linked to either Serbian government or military structures. It was raised to the status of “genocide,” with 8,000 alleged victims, by the illegitimate Hague Tribunal in the context of its political reinterpretation of 1990s Balkan history.
The second motive has to do with Croatia’s threat to block Serbia’s accession to the European Union if it were to make an issue of Croatia’s wartime crimes and the genocide inflicted on the Serbian people on territory under its control. As a member of the EU, where new member decisions are taken unanimously, Croatia has that power. However, instead of inviting the Croat government to do Serbia a favor by exercising it, the Serbian regime has been effectively intimidated by the threat. It has put membership in disintegrating EU, to which Serbia most likely will never be admitted anyway, ahead of the moral duty to acknowledge and honour the genocidal suffering of its own people.
To advance such opportunistic political calculations, the regime used its absolute control of the legislature to squash long overdue recognition of the enormous suffering of the Serbian people in Croatia during the Second World War. It banned the media under its control from even mentioning these parliamentary activities or reporting on the result of the voting. Most “alternative” media were also silent, as well as “opposition” politicians. The Serbian Orthodox Church has not uttered a single word in condemnation of the egregious disrespect to hundreds of thousands of its communicants slaughtered at the hands of the Croats.
While outwardly in Serbia the rituals of democracy appear to be practiced, the system is a low-grade Balkan kabuki theatre where everyone knows their part and, most importantly, is keenly aware of the regime’s red lines, which under threat of severe repercussions none dare cross.
The Serbian regime has shown that in its forlorn backwater domain it effectively controls not just the flow of information but also largely the consciences of its miserable and intimidated subjects. It has demonstrated its contemptuous alienation from the impoverished, manipulated and overwhelmingly duped nation that it rules as the ruthless agent of unforgiving foreign masters.
But unfortunately they so far seem to have gotten away with it. Shame and anathema on all who organized and facilitated this sordid neo-colonial farce! May their names, as President Roosevelt would rightly say, forever live in infamy.