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October 11, 2007

The Phantom Menace


Behind the 'Serbian Nazis'

by Nebojsa Malic

Dozens of neo-Nazis were arrested in the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad on Sunday, as they rallied despite a government ban and clashed with a crowd of protesters. Western media hurried to make hay of the incident; the New York Times appended the two-paragraph report to the end of a story about the resurgent KLA, while the Associated Press could not resist the temptation to mention that Novi Sad was run by "a right-wing mayor with nationalist policies" and point out that the neo-Nazis marched against the secession of Kosovo.

Malicious reporting about Serbia is nothing new. However, the mayor of Novi Sad, Maja Gojkovic of the Serbian Radical Party, ought to sue the AP for libel. She was the one to ban the neo-Nazi demonstration in the first place, and the Radical Party has no connection to the group whatsoever. Nor is opposing the separation of Kosovo a Nazi-like sentiment – especially given that the Albanian separatists have a rich Nazi heritage themselves.

At issue as well was how many of these "neo-Nazis" were actually Serbian. Among the 56 people arrested in Novi Sad were eleven Slovak nationals, while eight Bulgarians were arrested in Belgrade. But to the Western mainstream, "Serb Nazis protest Kosovo freedom" is too good a cliché to pass up.

The truth, as usual, is far more complicated. There are racists and neo-Nazis in Serbia, but they are on the far outer margin of society. Their behavior is more Hollywood than Nuremberg: last year, several men at a soccer game in Cacak wore KKK hoods and waved Confederate flags while shouting insults at a black player – who was from Zimbabwe.

Serbian "Nazis" model their appearance, rhetoric and behavior on American skinheads of Stormfront and American History X, not the genuine article. Like "liberal democracy" (which is neither liberal nor democratic), these phenomena are Western imports, sound and fury devoid of substance in a society fighting for its identity after four decades of Communist repression and almost two decades of conflict.

Fitting The Narrative

None of this, however, fits the "narrative" embraced by the mainstream media, in which multi-culturalism is sacrosanct and traditional identities of any kind are evil. On Monday, the Washington Post carried a short AP report on the "Nazis" in Serbia, but featured a long story about "racism" in Switzerland, of all places. The placid Alpine republic has enjoyed centuries of prosperity thanks to its geography, a policy of neutrality, and a tradition-based, decentralized political system that allowed for peaceful coexistence of four linguistic groups. Now, however, 20% of Switzerland's residents are foreign-born, and Swiss identity is very much in question.

The Post defines the terms of the current Swiss debate thus: "to embrace an increasingly globalized, multicultural society or to retreat into social isolation in an effort to preserve eroding traditional identities."

Note the choice of words: either "embrace globalization" or "retreat into isolation"! Loaded language like this has been the butter of propaganda bread for years. The Post's reporter chooses to frame the article by a story of an immigrant from Angola, who was victim of a brutal chainsaw attack this May. The sympathy this man's plight rightly elicits is then used to derail any rational discussion of the Swiss People's Party and its policies, which are branded "racist."

Professional anti-racists get a lot of space in the Post article. But even the government Commission Against Racism acknowledges that "most people denied citizenship were Muslims and natives of the Balkans who were granted asylum during the ethnic wars of the 1990s."

Trouble is, both Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians are as white as Germans, Italians or Frenchmen. It appears "racism" – just like "genocide" – has a very flexible definition…

Family-Friendly Nazis

For example, Croatian pop singer Marko Perkovic "Thompson" held a concert at the Zagreb soccer stadium in June this year. His "patriotic" lyrics sing praises to the Ustasha – Croatian Nazis responsible for the mass murder of Serbs and Jews during WW2 – and his fans dress up in Ustasha uniforms and offer Nazi salutes.

Even though the Jewish community denounced the concert, Croatian public and the government saw nothing wrong with it. One former diplomat even showed up with his family in tow.

"Thompson" has recently announced a North American tour.

Fuehrers Of All Kinds

The recent events in Novi Sad, however, weren't just about a bunch of wannabe-Nazis aping Hollywood stereotypes to the great joy of Western media. Most of the media and political ruckus has actually been raised by the self-styled "social-democrats" and "liberals."

Djordje Vukadinovic, columnist of the daily Politika and editor of the journal New Serbian Political Thought (NSPM), examined the motives behind the vocal opposition to "fascism" by Nenad Canak, a controversial regional politician, and his supporters among the "liberal democrats." The key characteristic Canak shares with the neo-Nazi leader Goran Davidovic is "the disregard of democratic institutions and procedures, and the related reliance on verbal and physical violence as the means of political struggle."

Vukadinovic is convinced "there are no actual fascists in Serbia, but Davidovic and Canak come close – the former preferring the German variety, while the latter is more akin to Mussolini."

Slobodan Antonic, Vukadinovic's fellow editor and columnist, goes even further:

"If you want to be a great anti-fascist, you need a great fascist enemy. No one gives money or votes for a campaign against a score of bizarre and socially marginal misfits. But if you paint that organization as the striking fist of a mass movement… here come the votes of the scared and the confused, and a new grant for your NGO.

"The 'Serbian fascism' is like the emperor's clothes. If you don't see it everywhere and in everything, you are ridiculed. What can be seen is a pathetic attempt of a marginal group at self-promotion. But what one is expected to see – so as not to be branded stupid or evil – is 'Serb fascism'"

Antonic points out that Communists and Nazis in Weimar Germany both employed thugs to break up each others' rallies, and compared that to the rhetoric and the behavior in Serbia today.

Antonic didn't say it this time, because it is a well-known fact, that those who style themselves most vocally as "anti-fascists" today are political heirs of the old Communists, ousted by Milosevic 20 years ago. While Cedomir Jovanovic is their face, Latinka Perovic – a 1970s party boss– is their guru. If "National Rank" – the incongruously named neo-Nazi organization headed by Davidovic – did not exist, the "liberals" would have invented them.

Why?

Sith Politics

In loudly professing their "anti-fascism," Serbia's "liberal democrats" seem to have taken their cue from George Lucas's Star Wars prequels. For years, they have sought something against which they could define themselves as champions – but their attacks on the Orthodox church, the army, the Academy of Arts and Sciences, the intelligence agencies, and even the governing political parties have produced underwhelming results. It appears that in the "National Rank" they have finally found their "phantom menace."

 

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  • Gareth Porter is a historian. His latest book is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam (University of California Press).

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