Antifascism in Montenegro – a fundamental value or a pre-election trick?

When reading about the events regarding the relationship towards Antifascist values in former Yugoslav countries, we can reach the conclusion, probably rightly so, that in Montenegro the situation is not that bad. The uprising of July 3 1941, a symbol of the Antifascist struggle in Yugoslavia, had become the Statehood Day of Montenegro. Still, this was aided by the fact that Montenegro gained international recognition on the same day in 1878 at the Berlin Congress, so there was no dilemma that July 13 would get its proper treatment.

The revision stemming from the early 1990s started symbolically at a suspicious referendum to change the name of the capital of Titograd to Podgorica, with the Partisan movement being left peripheral streets and a „national“ character. Lenin became Saint Peter of Cetinje, but Montenegrin Antifascist symbols – fighters, famous brigades and important dates – survived somehow. Attempts to build monuments to Četnik commander and war criminal Pavle Đurišić had failed, the project was prohibited by the Government of Montenegro and the foundations were torn down.

Most Montenegrin politicians often mention our Antifascist history in their speeches, dubbing it “a pillar of the Montenegrin state” and “an eternal good for Montenegro”. Not a single parliamentary party is opposed to Montenegro’s EU membership or the EU’s values, an all of them celebrate 9th May – the EU’s Europe Day.

All of these are positive and worthy examples of the Montenegrin Antifascist heritage. They, even if only formally, affirm the historical and political circumstances that Montenegrins of all religious and national identities have created together. However, what happens when we examine these forms and try to establish in what ways the state, its institutions, political parties, religious communities and media promote Antifascist values?

Promoters of Antifascism

A substantial part of state functionaries promote Antifascism as “a pillar of the Montenegrin state” at the level of politics. Also, ruling parties and a smaller part of the opposition (encompassing a total of 65 per cent of the voter body) advocate Antifascism as a value, though mostly in pre-election campaigns and in speeches, and these values are included in their party programs. They are predominantly responsible for the mentioned affirmation of Antifascist values in Montenegro.

The most complete and honest promotion of Antifascism is carried by NGOs and individuals on social networks. Among the most pronounced of these are the defenders of LGBT rights, whose messages and appearances include the hallmarks of modern-day Antifascism. Darko Rundek’s version of the Spanish Republican song Ay Carmela has become the unofficial anthem of Montenegro Pride, as a means of spiting the Fascists and their supporters on the other side of the police line. Also notable are women’s’ NGOs, led by the feminists and Antifascists who were among the loudest anti-war voices in Montenegro in the early 1990s. The individuals worth mentioning here are the activists who are aware that someone needs to counter the growing Fascist tendencies, including those on social networks. They are the people who believe that something needs to be done when the state, i.e. state institutions are failing to do so; these individuals are the exponents of true Antifascism in Montenegro today. An important part of activities promoting Antifascism is fostered by SUBNOR, the organization of WWII Antifascist fighters.

Another face of the promoters – Antifascism as a value or a tool for gaining votes?

However, the promotion of Antifascism, just as any other Montenegrin story, has its flipside. Quote the President of the State Filip Vujanović: “We have had the pleasure of sending a message to the world on that great July 13 that Fascism is neither eternal nor invincible and that, in the name of lasting peace, Fascism must be defeated. This is why the message of Montenegrin Antifascism is an eternal message of Montenegro itself”. Since Vujanović is in office for the third consecutive term – obviously knowing what he is doing – it is necessary that he carry out his role of “the President of all the people” by giving speeches at religious manifestations, too.

At the opening of a religious centre in Podgorica, he said: “This holy temple will be entered by all those who wish to promote peace and agreement to say that all people are equal, no matter their names, religions or nations”. All of this would be well within the limits of decent discourse if not for the publication of frescoes from the newly opened temple, with one depicting Hell displaying Josip Broz Tito, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, but also Vujanović’s coalition partner, head of the Social Democratic Party Ranko Krivokapić. This too is how the President of Montenegro sees “the equality of all people” and “the universal message of Antifascism”.

source: DK

But these things never go alone: a relief in the same temple depicts a well-known face. The artist (who is obviously not so naïve as his works are) was quoted as saying: “the picture depicts the philanthropist who had made a donation to the temple”. Can you spot the philanthropist?

source: DK 

Although he had played a significant role against Milošević since 1996 and contributed to the reduction of regional tensions, not even Montenegro’s most influential promoter of Antifascism, Prime Minister since the “Dubrovnik operation” Milo Đukanović, is free of statements that would seriously compromise his sincerity in promoting these values. Let us remind of some of his “early works” that no Antifascist could be proud of: “This war was imposed on us and we will win it, just as we have defeated all such enemies throughout our history. This time, we will end our life together and cease all contact with them, hopefully forever. I hope that this division will enable us to form new states for us to live in, and this time with the borders to Croatia drawn more justly and more logically that the makeshift Bolshevik cartographers had done, apparently with the main goal of establishing a Croatian protectorate over the Montenegrins in parts of Boka”.

Also interesting is the approach of Speaker of Parliament and President of the Social Democratic Party Ranko Krivokapić, who said the following: “Antifascism is one of the main pillars of Montenegro. Montenegro confirmed its belonging to a modern Europe with its uprising on July 13, 1941 with a popular rebellion on the territory of then-enslaved Europe”. However, the “Green” wing of Krivokapić’s party, himself included, also tends to extoll a person who had never participated in the July 13 uprising – Krsto Popović. Popović, an officer of the Montenegro Army, led a local army formation supported by the Italians, and later the Germans too. Although he is a “people’s hero” of sorts due to his role prior to WWII and is not burdened by accusations of war crimes, Popović was formally a Fascist collaborator and no previous “credit to the nation” can erase this fact. Many of those close to Krivokapić tend to say that, due to “a mild occupation of Montenegro by Italy”, the July 13 uprising was an act of pure hazard and adventure.

Finally, serious doubt is cast over the work of SUBNOR by the fact that it had never given an award to any Antifascist from “the opposition circles”. Medals, placards and acknowledgements were given to president Vujanović, Speaker Krivokapić, Prime Ministers Lukšić and Đukanović, as well as many other ministers and Government officials. According to SUBNOR, no deserving Antifascist apparently ever came from outside the ruling structures.

Watching these two faces of Antifascism in Montenegro, the logical question to ask is: which is true? An earnest promotion of Antifascist values or political manipulations and the fight for votes? Or is the truth, as usual, between these two extremes?

Religious communities – “Saints and criminals”

Religious communities, by virtue of their conservative nature and adherence to anti-Communism, are often at the front of what literature has dubbed “anti-Antifascism”. The focus is often placed upon “Communist crimes”, which often serves to deny the entire Partisan movement its Antifascist character and proclaim it to be criminal in nature, due to well-known “Left aberrations in Montenegro”.

In Montenegro, this role is played very ardently by the Serbian Orthodox Church. Its leader Amfilohije earned a name for himself when, in 1991, he had brought Željko Ražnatović Arkan and his “Tigers” to defend the Monastery of Cetinje from the people of Cetinje themselves. To this day, he is well-known for statements that promote hate, especially towards the LGBT population. His relationships with the ruling politicians have had their ups and downs: from siding with Đukanović in his conflict with Milošević in 1997, over his resistance to Montenegrin autonomy in 2006, to work with prominent representatives of the Government in promoting the Serbian Orthodox Church and receiving financial aid from the state, to opposing the accession to NATO.

source: DK

Since 2000, the Serbian Orthodox Church has been involved in a process of “political canonizations”, i.e. sanctifying the priests who have, through their ties with the Četnik movement, propagated and realized open collaboration with Italian and later also German Nazi-Fascists. Not one clergyman who had supported the National Liberation movement had received this distinction. All of this culminated in 2005, when the Synod of Episcopes of the Serbian Orthodox Church sanctified Milorad Vukojičić, known as pop (priest) Maca or pop Butcher, member of the “Black Three”, and Slobodan Šiljak, attested Fascist collaborator and inspiration to many crimes against proponents of the National Liberation movement. The Synod’s explanation was that they are “newly recognized martyrs for the living faith, victimized by the godless Communists”. Pop Maca was tried and convicted for 57 counts of direct participation in or assistance to the killings. These sanctifications have caused energetic protestations by Montenegrin Antifascists and family members of the killed, but the decision was not repealed to his day.

Also interesting is Amfilohije’s assessment of the newly sanctified Nikolaj Velimirović as possessing “a golden mouth” and being “the greatest Serb after Saint Sava”. Here we would like to point to this “greatest Serb’s” assessment of Adolf Hitler in his book The nationalism of Saint Sava: “still, acknowledgement is in order to the current German leader Adolf Hitler who, as a simple man, has seen the truth that nationalism without faith is an anomaly, a cold and insecure mechanism. And here has he, in the 20th century, reached the same idea as Saint Sava and undertaken in his people the work fit for a saint, a genius, a hero. With us, the work had been done by Saint Sava. Hence is Serbian nationalism truly the oldest in Europe”.

Many members of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro publicly promote the Četnik movement, although there is no historical evidence that this movement, apart from its earlier insurgent phase, ever clashed with the Italian or German occupiers. On the other hand, there are thousands of documents about their close collaboration and crimes.

By advocating “the reconciliation of graves” and a fight against the “harmful divisions”, the Church is constantly creating “icons of the struggle against Communism”, thereby directly implementing the ideology of those who understood this struggle as a political and military collaboration with the Fascists. This concept of “homogenization”, “gathering” and “reconciliation of brothers” has been transferred almost to the entirety of political and public life in Montenegro.

Promoters of “gathering” and neutralizing “harmful divisions”

There is virtually no actor in the Montenegrin public scene that would not at least occasionally use a version of the “national reconciliation” mantra as a supposed precondition for social development, democratization or economic prosperity. The public is constantly served a concept that would completely homogenize the Montenegrin society in the spirit of the Orthodox teaching that when we are “gathered” and think the same, nobody will be able to harm us. The Government sees this as the prerequisite for development and “a better life” and the opposition as a necessary prerequisite for Montenegro to get a Government not run by Milo Đukanović for the first time in 25 years. The system is set in such a way that the minority that does not prefer homogenization desires diversity or simply does not accept the rhetoric becomes accused of “destabilizing the state” from one side or being “pro-regime” from the other. Anyone attempting to resist this vicious ruse runs the risk of being declared a Communist, pro-NATO, gay, anti-Montenegrin or something else.

Therefore, there is a very small number of public personalities who are, due to this concept, willing to openly say that they advocate divisions along the Antifascist and pro-Fascist line, i.e. present-day Partisans and Četniks. One of these people, historian Šerbo Rastoder, said in an interview to Radio Free Europe: “…this political platitude about reconciliation is pulled straight out of the dictionary of daily politics and essentially, is historically meaningless. What happened in history cannot be replicated. Fascism and Antifascism cannot be reconciled, except as a new-fangled surrogate”. This “meaninglessness”, then, seems to be the dominant mode of thought in Montenegro today.

source: DK 

Cut/paste Antifascist journalism

The political situation has also conditioned the way these issues are treated in Montenegrin media. Although almost all media employ people who find these subjects to be important, there is almost no single mainstream media outlet with a clear editorial policy on the issue.

Media are extremely politicized, so it is commonplace to turn a blind eye to pro-Fascist attitudes expressed by “our players” to support their pre-election efforts. The explanation for this tolerance can be found in the assessment that focusing attention to them would “cause harm”, to who knows what and whom. This approach causes news and statements to be relayed uncritically, with more controversial ones meaning more views and more clicks; this makes it easy for pro-Fascist statements to make it in the media. Authors and columnists contributing regularly to most daily newspapers in Montenegro are inspired by the “blood and soil” ideology and opposed to diversity and minority rights, especially LGBT rights.

This leads to editorial boards trying and failing to distance themselves from the authors’ attitudes, which is pointless once the pro-Fascist messages had already influenced public opinion.

How to counter Fascism?

Montenegro is missing a “movement” that would, regardless of the current political situation or alignment of political forces, promote the ideas of Antifascism. There is no organized group of people who would not be driven by “medals and acknowledgements” to do something they fundamentally believe in. A movement that would spring from these values and would not be engineered by either the Government or the opposition. One that would promote Antifascism without giving thought to whether it will mean they have “taken sides” in the political struggle. The worst thing for Montenegro would be to side with Fascism through sheer inaction.

Antifascist action in Montenegro must hava not only a national character, it must be open to cooperation and communication with all those who subscribe to similar values and whose countries face similar problems. By exchanging experiences and raising the issue to an at least regional level, the effect could be multiplied too. A “Partisan mentality”, in the modern sense, must be the driving force and link between all who suffer injustices. Only when it is established in this way will this action become a serious actor in the fight against Fascism.

And whether it will be possible to form such a movement in Montenegro is up to us…

Death to Fascism!

This article was published thanks to co-funding from the Europe for Citizens Programme.