Remembering the Holocaust in Serbia

March 4 2016

In 1995, when Serbia was still at war with its neighbors and engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Croats and Bosnian Muslims, its government established a memorial at the Staro Sajmište concentration camp in Belgrade, which had been established by the Nazis in 1942. The inscription notes that its “victims were mostly Serbs, Jews, and Roma,” although in fact the vast majority of those put to death there came from the latter two groups. As Liam Hoare writes, this detail reveals much about the way the Holocaust is remembered in Serbia—a country where many fought against the Nazis, but that also produced numerous collaborators:

“The narrative in Serbia is that we were an anti-Nazi country, which in part is right. But we had a Nazi-Serbian government in Belgrade and concentration camps. Children don’t really learn about that,” [said the head of an organization trying to expand Holocaust education in Serbia]. . . . In Serbian textbooks, “Jews are mentioned but not as the focal point of the Nazi regime.” . . .

Serbian schoolchildren are far more likely to know about the Jasenovac concentration camp, established by the fascist Ustaše movement [in] Croatia in August 1941, than about Staro Sajmište. Present estimates . . . show that between 77,000 and 99,000 people were put to death in Jasenovac between 1941 and 1945, around half of whom were Serbs . . . .

The emphasis on Jasenovac . . . serves an ulterior purpose. In electing to emphasize Serbian suffering at Croatian hands over Jewish and Roma suffering in Serbia, the government has been attempting to construct a national identity that places victimhood at the heart of the Serbian narrative [while emphasizing the wrongdoing of its enemies], in this case Croatia.

Read more at eJewish Philanthropy

More about: History & Ideas, Holocaust, Serbia, World War II, Yugoslavia


Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy