The consumption of history seems to be more widespread than ever: from general-interest history magazines and historical dramas and documentaries to historical fiction, popular history seems, well, unprecedentedly popular.
The evolution of the TV historian reflects this trend: where once real working historians who had written serious books hosted television programmes, these days they are as likely to be photogenic media presenters with minimal, if any, actual history qualifications.
The attraction of history and being a historian are not hard to work out. In the public imagination, historians are usually considered to be intelligent, objective people, if a little eccentric, who tell us fascinating facts about the past but also important things about the present too.
Existing at the intersection of social science, humanities and art, historians not only reconstruct the stories of ordinary people, but get to give their opinions about contemporary issues, above all national ones. What’s not to love?
Two events in recent weeks related to memory and the Holocaust in Croatia made me think about this again – what it means to be a historian and how perceptions of history have changed in recent years, particularly in the formerly socialist states of Central and Eastern Europe.
Kiev 2017: Celebration of the leaders of a Nazifascist movement of the WWII Ukraine
First, there was the controversy caused by the laudatory review of Igor Vukic’s revisionist study of Jasenovac concentration camp, ‘Radni logor Jasenovac’ (‘Jasenovac Labour Camp’) by the critic Milan Ivkosic in the mainstream Vecernji list.
In his book, Vukic denies that the Ustasa-run Jasenovac camp was a place of extermination. Instead, he insists that it was a re-education and labour camp in which only political enemies of the Ustasa regime were imprisoned and one which provided prisoners not only with opportunities to learn new skills but cultural and sporting activities too.
Elsewhere, members of Vukic’s revisionist Society for the Research of the Threefold Jasenovac Camp have repeatedly – and falsely – claimed that in the post-war era, under the Partisans, Jasenovac continued to operate, this time as a real extermination camp, for Croats.
What was most striking about Ivkosic’s review of the Jasenovac book was the language he used to describe its supposed qualities. He described Vukic as a “calm observer, completely devoted to the facts” and the book itself as making an “enormous contribution” to the research of the “truth” of Jasenovac, free of ideological bias and “Greater Serbian and Communist falsifications”.
This followed closely after the news that Vlatka Vukelic, a historian of medieval Croatia and classical civilisation who has endorsed revisionist claims about the existence of a post-war extermination camp as well as a number of other Ustasa nostalgic canards about wartime Croatia, had been contracted to teach the history of the Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia to undergraduate students at the University of Zagreb.
This is hardly the first time the University of Zagreb has hired academics with a problematic relationship to the Ustasa regime and the Holocaust. Nor, as illustrated by the example of Volodymyr Viatrovych, the director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, is this an exclusively Croatian problem.
Like Vukic’s book about Jasenovac, Viatrovych’s heavily-criticised studies of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army have been framed in the language of scholarly ‘objectivity’ and similarly relied on selective archival sources to build their revisionist arguments.
Today, the history of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe is characterised, to an unprecedented degree, by nationalist agendas: within that basic framework, the history of Ukraine and Croatia have become particularly poisonous.
While the experiences of Ukraine and Croatia were not identical, the impact of the occupation and the role of local collaborators for the Jews, Roma and other ‘undesired elements’ (in the case of Ukraine Poles and Russians, in the case of Croatia, Serbs) was similarly catastrophic.
Although the academic backgrounds of Vukic and Viatrovych are somewhat different – Vukic is a former journalist and self-described historian while Viatrovych holds the equivalent of a doctorate in history – their output is proving increasingly influential among a section of their respective audiences for a number of reasons.
First, individuals and organisations which want to believe that the Ustasa or the OUN were the ‘good guys’ in the story of the Second World War are naturally going to be receptive to the distorted version of history they are pedalling. More importantly, though, the archival approach taken by Vukic and Viatrovych looks superficially legitimate.
The fact that it isn’t since it invariably involves stripping archival sources of the context in which they were written, removing the bits which don’t fit with the story they want to tell and ignoring sources that undermine their narrative won’t be noticed by consumers of such books who will associate the use of archival sources with real knowledge and expertise.
Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović in Canada photographed with the flag of the WWII Nazifascist Independent State of Croatia
Although the popularisation of history has been a potentially positive development in many respects, it has failed to bring a greater understanding of how historical methodologies work. Historians of Eastern Europe and the Holocaust, with their fetishisation of the archives, haven’t helped in this regard, helping to reinforce the impression that archival research is inherently reliable research.
This is particularly the case in South-Eastern Europe where history and political science students are taught how to use archives from the moment they start their undergraduate studies and often even before this point.
But history always has been and always will be about far more than using archives. Archival sources are as contradictory, misleading and freighted with sleight of hand as any other kind of source. There is no mystery to them either: using them requires no special expertise.
There is also no guarantee that what comes out at the end of the process will be ‘history’ in any meaningful sense of the word. If you cherry-pick data, as Holocaust revisionists do, then what is produced will be basically worthless in empirical terms.
Nor is a Holocaust revisionist who uses archival sources suddenly transformed into a historian simply by virtue of using an archive no more than a person who likes reading books can be considered a novelist.
They remain a Holocaust denier who has simply used archival sources. The expertise lies in being able to interpret what is meant by the sources, avoiding bias and getting inside the mindset of those who wrote them. It’s why grad school exists.
If pseudo-historians certainly profit from the popularisation of history and the increasing view that anyone can be a historian, they have also been fortunate in operating in an extremely receptive climate.
While it is true that some Croatian historians have been outspoken in combatting the culture of lies promoted by the revisionists and in exposing their shoddy, amateurish methods, many of the most prominent critics are not actually historians of the Ustasa regime or the Holocaust.
Meanwhile, too many historians of the Independent State of Croatia elsewhere in Europe or the US – and here there is a striking contrast with Ukrainian Holocaust history – have not made any meaningful effort to push back against the mounting revisionism: in some cases, they have actually helped the revisionists’ cause by seeming to endorse some of their claims.
Of course, the rewriting of history could be stopped tomorrow if the government in Croatia wished to do it, but the toleration of Ustasa nostalgia is ruthlessly pragmatic and cynical.
All the main Croatian political parties believe, to a greater or lesser extent, that they need the electoral support of the far right hence their toleration of and even pandering to Holocaust denial. At the same time, they are aware of how damaging it is for Croatia’s image, thus explaining the current government’s scarcely credible insistence that no such problem with Holocaust revisionism exists.
If the introduction of the kind of anti-Holocaust and genocide denial laws that exist in Germany and certain other European states is unrealistic, counter-productive and likely to raise profound questions about the limits of free speech, historians can play their part by communicating complex ideas in an imaginative, accessible and above all emotionally-engaged form to the public.
Too much current history writing on the Ustasa regime in newspapers – for example, on the anniversary of the establishment of the state – is intellectually obscurantist, divorced from the experiences of the real individuals who suffered occupation and terror and not relatable to ordinary Croats.
They also need to make the public more aware of what history is and what it is not. What it certainly is not is deciding on an ideological viewpoint and then selecting evidence to support it.
Croatia today: A Croat family in the WWII Nazifascist Ustashi uniforms
History is multi-layered, complex and full of contradictions for the simple reason that history is the story of individuals, the circumstances in which they lived and died, the decisions they made and the ways in which they interacted with each other and society.
Historians do not and should not come with ideological frameworks: they undertake only to work with the traces of the lives individuals left behind – archives, newspapers and journals, personal artefacts, diaries, letters – and to tell their stories as completely as they can.
Writing history requires imagination, empathy, intellectual flexibility and an overriding commitment to go where the data lead you even when that doesn’t fit with your preconceptions, prejudices or research assumptions.
Holocaust revisionists in Croatia, like those in Ukraine and elsewhere, might be many things, including people who know how to order documents from archives, but what they are not is historians.
It is time that the media, commentators and, not least, academics stopped describing them as such.
Originally published on 2018-09-12
About the author: Rory Yeomans is a historian and member of the School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, and the author of the book Visions of Annihilation: The Ustasha Regime and the Cultural Politics of Fascism, 1941-1945.
Source: Balkan Insight
Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection & Pinterest.
Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!
Donate to Support Us
We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.
EuroMaidan Ukraine today: Azov Battalion with the Nazi insignia
America’s and its allies’ violation of the U.N. Charter, in regards to their recent actions to force a regime-change upon the sovereign nation of Venezuela, are baldly, and with unambiguous clarity, in violation of one of the seven founding “Principles” that are stated in the U.N. Charter.These violations are so severe as to demonstrate that the U.S. Government is an international rogue-regime — a blatant and unapologetic and repeated violator of the U.N. Charter, and of other major sources of international law.The U.N. Charter contains 19 “Chapters” or main divisions, and 111 “Articles” which include each subdivision within each “Chapter.” ...
Bijeljina, Bosnia in 1992: Serb Volunteer Guard (Arkan's Tigers) led by Željko Ražnjatović Arkan after the action of "cleaning the town from the Muslim jihadists" (official Arkan's explanation). The victims are local Muslim family members. The guard was composed by volunteers of all moral kinds being independent on the front line and in fact waging its own private war. Bosnia is a neighbouring republic to Serbia with 1/3 of Serbian population. Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and (Roman Catholic) Croats committed terrible crimes of genocide against the local (Orthodox) Serb population during the WWII (the so called Magnum Crimen) while during the ...
There is very bad news for the US’ policymakers: Russia is back!After the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia, both weakened and isolated, was becoming a less popular area of studying and dealing with in comparison before the end of the Cold War. Global imperialists in Washington strongly believed that after 1991 Russia was simply “finished” or, better to say, they “finished” the game with Russia as Moscow was not anymore the capital of a Great Power state which had an important influence in global politics and international relations. In other words, the American warmongers in Washington thought ...
The German occupation forces were those who have been the first to create and recognise a short-lived state’s independence of Ukraine in January 1918 during the time of their-own inspired and supported anti-Russian Bolshevik Revolution of 1917−1921. As reoccupied by the Bolshevik Red Army, the eastern and southern parts of the present-day territory of (a Greater) Ukraine joined in 1922 the USSR as a separate Soviet Socialist Republic (without Crimea). According to 1926 Soviet census of Crimea, the majority of its population were the Russians (382.645). The second largest ethnic group were the Tartars (179.094). Therefore, a Jew V. I. ...
North from Nazareth’s city limits, a mile or so as the crow flies, is an agricultural community by the name of Tzipori – Hebrew for “bird.” It is a place I visit regularly, often alongside groups of activists wanting to learn more about the political situation of the Palestinian minority living in Israel.
Tzipori helps to shed light on the core historic, legal and administrative principles underpinning a Jewish state, ones that reveal it to be firmly in a tradition of non-democratic political systems that can best be described as apartheid in nature.
More than a decade ago, former U.S. president Jimmy ...
A picture taken on July 4, 2018 from the Israeli-annexed Syrian Golan Heights shows displaced Syrians from the province of Daraa staging a protest (top L) calling for international protection, in the Syrian the village of al-Rafid, near the border fence with Israel. / AFP PHOTO / JALAA MAREYWith the recent failed bid by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Arab League at the UN security council, to try and end Israelis’ occupation of Palestinian land and to create a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders, it seems an appropriate moment to review the situation for Palestinians since 1915.What ...
The chemical poisoning of civilians in Syria has proved a boon and a blessing for the West’s militarists who energetically seek confrontation with Russia — and with China and any other countries that might pop up on their screens of raging aggression. Nobody doubts for an instant that chemical agents are vile and that anyone using them offensively should be severely punished. But the pseudo-sympathy of those who profess to be shocked — shocked! — by pictures of dead children, supposedly killed by chemical weapons, is obnoxious.
Trump declared “I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big ...
1. Catholic extermination camps
Surprisingly few know that Nazi extermination camps in World War II were by no means the only ones in Europe at the time. In the years 1942-1943 also in Croatia existed numerous extermination camps, run by Catholic Ustasha under their dictator Ante Pavelic, a practicing Catholic and regular visitor to the then pope. There were even concentration camps exclusively for children!
In these camps – the most notorious was Jasenovac, headed by a Franciscan friar – orthodox-Christian Serbians (and a substantial number of Jews) were murdered. Like the Nazis the Catholic Ustasha burned their victims in kilns, alive ...
A few months ago I received a message from a professor at the Khomeini Institute for Education and Research in Tehran, Iran, informing me that my 2010 book “War and Empire: The American Way of Life” (London, Pluto Press) had been translated into Farsi. He requested that I write an Introduction for Iranian readers. What follows is that Introduction. Two years ago the Xinhua Peoples’ Press in Beijing, China also published a translation in Mandarin.
In the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s 1991 attempt to annex Kuwait, the U.S. deliberately destroyed much of Iraq’s water and sewer infrastructure. The Pentagon even admitted ...
The grossest thing in American society is the reactionary sentimentality that fill our gossip infected hearts with a chemical reaction every time one of our supposed war heroes moves on to a more peaceful place. The carefully rehearsed statements from useless political figures numb our minds as all those who are sane must collectively wonder what on earth has a fusty bag of bones like John McCain ever done for us? Donald Trump was once new to the political scene and was still capable of burning bridges that were worth burning. It was Mr. Trump’s finest moment when he said ...
The current Ukrainian crisis and, in fact, a civil war which started at the very end of 2013 are grounded in for decades lasting internal interregional antagonisms between the western and the eastern regions of Ukraine. The crisis is fully fueled by the Western governments which armed far-right “European” Kiev regime giving to it a comprehensive political, financial and diplomatic support for the policy of brutal Ukrainization and even Nazification of the whole country but primarily at the expense of the Russian-speaking population at Ukraine’s East. A similar example we experienced in “European” Croatia in the 1990s when the same ...
The brutal destruction of ex-Yugoslav Federal state-system was in a form of the civil wars or, in another word, a chain of violent conflicts from 1991 to 1995. From the spring of 1992, the SFRY already did not exist as a state and, therefore, the conflicts were turned into the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession.The Yugoslav civil wars can be comprised of the three closely related armed conflicts:1) War in Slovenia in 1991.2) War in Croatia from 1991 to 1995.3) War in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995.[i]In the year of 1990, the real potential for the armed conflict became quite ...
Ema Miljkovic-Bojanic, M. A.
Institute of History of
Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts
Malcolm’s Apology of the “Pax Ottomana”
(Ab)using of historiography and historical facts for political ends is not a novelty introduced towards the end of the twentieth century. Its instances have been known throughout history, so that “practically there is not a single epoch of human history that was not controlled – by the Church, state, nation, party, leadership…” But precisely at a time when historiography seemed to be getting rid, at least partly, of the grip of “supervision” and when a critical approach was getting the upper hand, the ...
Throughout its long history, the Catholic Church has been rocked by scandals ranging from the dissolution of the Knights Templar to Galileo’s trial to Mother Theresa’s questionable donors. Over the course of the 20th century, many more scandals have come to light—no matter how much the Church would like to keep them secret.
10. The Duplessis Orphans
In the 1930s and 1940s, a conservative revolution ushered in an era in Quebec now known as “The Great Darkness.” Led by Premier Maurice Duplessis, the period was characterized by unprecedented corruption and repression, much of which involved the Catholic Church. After Duplessis received the ...
After Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo is a second ISIS in Europe today. From June 1999, when NATO troops occupied Kosovo and brought to power militant Muslim Albanian Jihad fighters, systematic destruction of (Serbian Orthodox) Christianity is visible on every corner.
The most disappointed fact in post-war Kosovo reality is an ethnic and cultural cleansing of all non-Albanians and not-Albanian cultural heritage. The proofs are evident and visible on every corner of Kosovo territory. For instance, on the arrival of KFOR (international but in fact NATO „Kosovo Forces“) and UNMIK („United Nations Mission in Kosovo“) to Kosovo in 1999, all the names of the ...
On January 2 [2019, editor] US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Brazil, and his Department noted that in discussions with Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo they “highlighted the importance of working together to address regional and global challenges, including supporting the people of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua in restoring their democratic governance and their human rights.” Pompeo declared that the US and Brazil “have an opportunity to work alongside each other against authoritarian regimes.”From this we gather that Pompeo is a strong advocate of democratic governance and will always make it clear that the United States supports unfortunate people living in countries having “authoritarian ...
After the division of Macedonia in 1913 (according to the Bucharest Peace Treaty) neither Serbia, Bulgaria nor Greece recognized the existence of a Macedonian ethnolinguistic nation and, therefore, an assimilation policy of Macedonia’s Slavs was carried out by the state’s authorities of all those three countries. Greece referred to Aegean Slavo-Macedonians as Slavophone Greeks or Macedoslavs (the region was and is today officially called as “North Greece”), Serbia referred to Vardar Slavo-Macedonians as Serbs from “South Serbia” while for Bulgaria Pirin Slavo-Macedonians were Bulgarians.
When the WWI started in 1914, Bulgaria sided with Central Powers and in the fall of 1915 ...
The Catholic pontiff does more than just spread the Vatican’s word across the world, as he also spreads the ‘gospel’ of Ukrainian nationalism and victimhood, too. Francis made headlines when he said the mass killing of ethnic Armenians in the last days of the Ottoman Empire was “the first genocide of the 20th century”. Largely lost amidst the ruckus is his previous statement that “the remaining two (genocides) were perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism”, which was a strong allusion to Ukrainian nationalists’ decades-long campaign to have the Golodomor recognized as genocide, to which the Vatican, and especially Francis himself, are ...
A Unified Europe: Born In the USA
While Brexit versus the continuation of the European Union is a hot news topic, few know the secret who and why of the EU’s creation.
The lead financial writer at the Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, wrote in 2000:
Declassified American government documents show that the US intelligence community ran a campaign in the Fifties and Sixties to build momentum for a united Europe.
The head of the Ford Foundation, ex-OSS officer Paul Hoffman, doubled as head of ACUE [below, we’ll explain who these players are] in the late Fifties. The State Department also played a role. A memo ...
For all the attention paid to the emergence of homegrown Islamist terrorists in Belgium, France and other European countries, one of the continent’s biggest radicalization problems is taking place on its fringes.
Kosovo, the tiny Muslim-majority Balkan nation of just 1.8 million, has produced more foreign fighters per capita than any other Western nation since ISIS declared its now-defunct caliphate in 2014. Some 413 Kosovo citizens, including women and children, have joined that group and other Islamist extremist factions since the war in Syria began in 2012.
As it attempts to join the European Union, Kosovo has been under pressure to stamp ...
Blatant Violation, by U.S. & its Allies against the U.N. Charter
Two War Photographs: Bosnia vs. Vietnam
Importance of Russia in Global Politics
On Which Principle Ukraine’s Borders are Formed?
The Harvesting of Palestine. The Zionist Project Prevails?
Western Hypocrisy About Airstrike Killings
(Only) Three Examples of the 20th Century the Roman Catholic Church Atrocities of Genocide
War and Empire: The American Way of Life
One Dead McCain, 2.5 Million Dead Iraqis
What is the Best Solution To the Ukrainian Crisis?
The Brutal Destruction of Yugoslavia (1991‒1995)
Noel Malcolm: “Kosovo – A Short History”, 1999. A History Written With an Attempt to Support Albanian Territorial Claims in the Balkans (Fourth Part)
Top 10 Dirty Secrets of Vatican
Crucified Kosovo With Photo Albums
Pompeo the Warmonger Supports Authoritarian Regimes
Greece and Slavo-Macedonians (1913-1993)
Vatican Clergy and Ukrainian Nazi-Nationalism
Brexit: A Challenge to America’s Domination of Europe
Kosovo: Home to Many ISIS Recruits