Heroic struggle and resistance: Anti-fascist spirit in Banat 1941–1945

National liberation struggle, organized resistance and courage: A look at the anti-fascist movement in Banat during the Second World War. An investigation of the geographical, political and social conditions that shaped the struggle against the Nazi occupation, with an emphasis on the role of partisan units, local cooperation and the challenges of the lack of war materials. A depiction of the heroism and sacrifices of young fighters in the fight for freedom and justice.

Explore the complexities of historical revisionism in the former Yugoslavia

Airing Historical Perspectives: Examining the Layers of Revisionism

Historical revisionism is a multifaceted concept. It can be viewed as both a positive and negative tendency in science, depending on its motives. Historical science requires constant revision, and events from the past become clearer and more objectively examined over time. However, revision can have ideological or political motives, posing a threat to the scientific community and society as a whole in that form. Reassessing the past and presenting it in a completely different light is connected to many social aspects related to individuals as well as collectives.

Education may be the most crucial sphere in which revisionism operates, and if we understand education as a broader process that lasts throughout an individual's life, then revisionism has much wider scopes. Traces of this phenomenon can be found in many epochs, especially during the Romantic and Modern periods, when nations were being formed and it was necessary to delineate territories and separate oneself from usually hostile foreigners by one's own virtue and goodness. However, identity is a fluid category and constantly changes, so even in the contemporary era, revisionism progresses strongly. With every change in identity in the present, a change in our past is needed, both on an individual and collective level. This is precisely the goal of contemporary revisionism: to present our past as more favorable and adaptable to what we currently aspire to. The greater the shift in identity, the stronger and more radical the revisionist tendencies, and consequently, the methods employed by revisionists are also radical.

The most radical measures were carried out by the National Socialists, publicly burning books and persecuting anyone with different ideological views, with the ultimate goal of eradicating non-Aryan past and wiping it out from library catalogs and the minds of the inhabitants of the Third Reich. The concept of revisionism entered usage in historiography during the interwar period, when Germany tried desperately to rid itself of the burden of guilt for the First World War. Although not always as radical as was the case in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, the methods of revisionist work are often brutal and ruthless. Nevertheless, when we use the term historical revisionism today, it mostly refers to the period after the Second World War and attempts to change the culprit for the outbreak of the war and, more often, to relativize or deny the Holocaust.

For instance, American historian Harry Elmer Barnes blamed Great Britain for the war and vehemently denounced the idea of systematic persecution of Jews by Nazi Germany and its allies. In the 1980s, there was a new turn, when some historians proudly referred to themselves as revisionists or, more narrowly, Holocaust revisionists, who under the banner of defending critical thinking downplayed the Jewish suffering to a figure of several thousand dead and displaced. Holocaust analyst Giorgio Antonucci expressed his views on revisionism as follows: "Revisionism is certainly one of the most controversial terms in social sciences. The cliché in most works on this term is that at the beginning, the author claims that the process of revisionism is inherent in historical analysis. Then suddenly, a however follows, the analysis continues by pointing out Holocaust denial and the denial trend that has resulted in the term revision being viewed extremely negatively, thus concluding that the term revision is permanently damaged by this usage to the point where it can no longer be considered an analytical or at least descriptive term in social sciences." What we will discuss in the following pages is primarily related to contemporary revisionism, i.e., the question of the role of anti-fascists in World War II. Although the theme of this edition is Banat and the anti-fascist struggle in Banat, we will also look at the concept of revisionism and its role in contemporary society throughout the former Yugoslavia, as only in this way can we understand the deviation of contemporary culture and historiography from the glorious past of the time of World War II. This is how the complexity of the concept of revisionism could be briefly presented, with the conclusion that, except in rare cases, we cannot determine with complete certainty whether it is a necessary step forward that advances science or whether it is a toxin that contaminates a methodologically well-composed discipline.

There are many examples of revisionism, but it is clear that in the contemporary era, this negative phenomenon is more easily achievable and thus more present in less transparent and less democratic societies. For a complete revision of history, a well-developed repressive apparatus and as much control over information systems as possible are necessary, hence a higher degree of authoritarianism is desirable to enable these important prerequisites in which revisionism flourishes. This phenomenon is not only related to the scientific sphere; its manifestations can also be seen in culture, memory, media, and everyday life. Monuments and public events are particularly significant for the implementation of the revisionist agenda. An interesting and very relevant example is the memory of World War II and the Holocaust, which is changing and adapting throughout Europe. Regarding Western countries, revision is carried out with the aim of constantly demonstrating the unity and stability that the European Union should embody. Thus, since the mid-1980s, we can witness the relativization of the relationship between victims and perpetrators, which are increasingly viewed through the prism of collective victimization by unfortunate historical circumstances. This process can be put in the context of the necessary rehabilitation of Germany as the core for the new European integration. The described tendency is implemented very subtly, considering the strong emotions that fill the memory of the old continent about the events that took place during the 1930s and 1940s. On the other hand, there is the East and Southeast Europe, where revisionism takes much more drastic forms. Russia is an interesting example, especially when considering the necessity to remove the Soviet Union from collective memory, but without forgetting its glorious achievements in the anti-fascist struggle. Thus, the successes of the Red Army are attributed to Russia, and the resistance of all peoples of the former USSR is attributed to the historical resilience of the Russians. In this way, by applying Stalinist pro-Russian viewpoints and putting Russia at the forefront, a connection was made between Peter the Great, Bagration, and Kutuzov as symbols of resistance to Napoleon and Zhukov and other commanders from the World War II era. They all served Russia in different historical epochs. Russia is, therefore, eternal and greater than all ideologies and state structures, and its historical destiny is to rule over vast territories and many peoples under firm leadership.

It is known that some European historians referred to Russia as the "Eastern Empire" or the "Power in the East," but those who were Russophobic journalists and historians typically referred to it as the

"Northern Despotism" due to the despotic nature and northern location of the center of Russian power. The current image that Russia creates about itself through its culture of remembrance is largely in line with these views, which we could consider quite paradoxical.

The Balkans, despite everything, are the most interesting. What has been happening in this region from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the present day is truly fascinating for experts in the social sciences and bewildering to the point of madness for the inhabitants of this area. Namely, before 1989, history in the Balkans was written according to a certain key, with the glorification of communist leadership and the expression of national unity in the anti-fascist struggle. The resurgence of nationalism in the territory of the former Yugoslavia brings a new history. Although the old historiography had serious flaws and methodological shortcomings, what comes at the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century is completely shocking. The Yugoslav idea was based on the foundation of the anti-fascist struggle, which simultaneously represented reconciliation, revolutionary spirit, and the stability of the new order. International anti-fascism, as it was on these grounds, was momentarily removed from scientific and public discourse, almost entirely. Rapid changes began to take place, changes that once happened overnight. Although the leaders of the new national states in the Balkans were former communists, in some cases, even participants in the People's Liberation War, their rise to power would not have been possible without partial or complete severance from the past. Thus, on the stage, purposefully, revisionist forgetting comes into play. There is devastation or complete neglect of monuments that marked important places and events in the anti-fascist struggle. Public events and significant dates are suddenly removed from social life. Street names, settlements, and even entire cities change abruptly, almost vandalically. The conflicts that began across the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s required fuel, both physical and metaphorical. Old scars needed to be reopened, and questions from the past, which are declared unresolved and debatable, needed to be addressed. The narrative about the crimes committed by members of collaborationist armies during World War II serves as a catalyst for the reformation of armies bearing similar characteristics to the Ustasha, Chetnik, and other units from earlier times. What completes the Balkan paradox is certainly the arrival of democratic changes and aspirations for European integration.

Contrary to expectations, partial democratization of society has not led to the cessation of systematic suppression of memories of the anti-fascist struggle. On the contrary, these processes have been accelerated and intensified. Therefore, the conclusion is that the entire Europe struggles with articulating and organizing memories of the past, but changes occur subtly in the West of the old continent, with broad social dialogue, while in the East and Southeast, these changes happen very rapidly, and decisions about them are made by a limited number of individuals who usually take control of important cultural institutions, which serve as the main propaganda tool of different regimes.

When we consider the above claims, we can better understand the differences in semantics regarding the concept of historical revisionism. Moving further west, this term is increasingly understood in a positive light, culminating with American historiography, which sees any departure from the old methodology as a positive step. Every change in historical interpretation, especially if it departs from a dogmatic approach, is considered favorable for the further development of science. Unlike a good part of Western interpreters of this term, some authors believe that this term can be exclusively negative and applies only to an approach to interpreting the past that is not based on scientific evidence and is not in line with generally accepted ethical norms. This is, therefore, a direction of research that stands in opposition to everything that is the product of the natural expansion of scientific knowledge, and in fact, no one engaged in serious research work can oppose it.

Revision of the past begins with the deconstruction of memory. In this sense, it extends between two attitudes, the conscious one - "I did it," and the moral one that seeks to prevail and suppress - "I couldn't have done it." When there are favorable socio-political circumstances, society is able to overcome its past, and then revised history becomes a realistic collective memory. The relationship between fighters, victims, and perpetrators may be the most important for such kind of memory. Here it is convenient to take the example of the Spanish Civil War and the conflict between the fascist Francisco Franco and the communists - Republicans. The defeat of the latter was not only military but also ideological. During the next thirty years, until Franco's death in 1975, the fighters of the international brigades were completely suppressed and called by the worst names: "Red traitors," "Anti-state elements," and so on. The winners, therefore, wrote history according to their own memory, and the defeated were destroyed and banished, so they never had the opportunity to tell their side of the story.

The memory of the fighters of the international brigades and all those who ideologically remained on the side of the Republicans, inside and outside of Spain, moved on the margins of public discourse. It awaited what Walter Benjamin calls "the salvation of memory," or its opportunity to be told. Through this more understandable example, we can begin to shed light on the example of the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. This war did not bring such a clear division along the winner-loser line as in the previously mentioned example. It is clear, however, that the only definitively defeated side is the one that did not participate in the physical conflicts of the 1990s, the side of the partisans and anti-fascist fighters who resisted Nazi Germany and its allies from 1941 to 1945. This statement sounds paradoxical, but it actually explains well the situation in which the idea of the anti-fascist struggle and anti-fascism in general found themselves. Namely, all warring parties in the conflicts of the 1990s were divided in every sense, but they were united in their attitude towards the revision of their shared, Yugoslav past. Therefore, while accusing each other of horrendous crimes and while the armies and paramilitary forces of all warring parties passionately sought to destroy the enemy, the cultural and political elites of all nations of the former Yugoslavia could, if conditions were met, sit at the conference table and thoroughly deconstruct the past of the former state community and revise the memory of this state as well as the role that certain nations had in it. Although many peace negotiations ended unsuccessfully, such a pseudo-scientific conference would certainly end successfully and very quickly. Revision of history, therefore, can bring defeat years and decades after the conflict has ended and peace has been signed.

An important aspect of revisionism is revisionist forgetting. Unlike forgetting that occurs in the minds of individuals, this form of forgetting is always directed against someone. In essence, memory is not an exact storage of memories but a dynamic, living organ, which is why it is always capable of change, accepting new elements, and forgetting old ones. Forgetting is particularly interesting when viewed as a strategy and resource. The renowned historian Eric Hobsbawm said that extreme nationalism requires forgetting and neglecting many things. Similarly, one of the prominent theorists of forgetting from the 19th century, Ernst Renan, said: "The essence of a nation is that it is made up of a group of people who have many things in common and who have also forgotten much in common. (...) Forgetting, I would almost say historical error, plays a fundamentally important role in the creation of a nation, and therefore progress in historical sciences is often dangerous for the nation."

Friedrich Nietzsche expressed similar views earlier in his famous work "On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life," stating that limiting knowledge is important for correct orientation and action, as well as for creating and preserving a self-image. For him, forgetting is an ability that characterizes the strong. A nation, if it successfully forgets, is precisely the ideal victor described in Nietzsche's works. In order to achieve glory and grandeur, a nation does terrible things but immediately forgets them, aiming to preserve its image of virtue. Many philosophers and other humanists have touched on the theme of forgetting, including the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Burger. In his book "A Brief History of the Past," he said that "Forgetfulness is a healing tool." As always, Greek mythology provides us with a good insight into our minds and our nature. The River Lethe is actually a mythological river of forgetfulness that flows around the cave where the god of sleep, Hypnos, lives, and then sinks into the earth and flows through Hades' underworld. As it sinks deeper, its flow becomes wider, just like our forgetting of past events. Burger further writes: "It was a first-order civilizational achievement when Greek philosophy managed to break the mythical commandment of memory and to replace it with its negation – forgetting." As an argument in favor of forgetting, Burger mentions Borges' story about a mnemopath who is severely ill and unable to live because he suffers from the inability to forget. Although it may sound pessimistic at first glance, Burger's deconstruction and analysis of memory and forgetting largely make sense.

Let's take the example again of the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and the defeat of international, socialist anti-fascism fifty years after its victory in the Second World War. On the one hand, the role of individuals in the old social order is forgotten and erased, while on the other hand, what, according to Burger, should have been forgotten and should lead the civilization's course is revived. Indeed, when we analyze the currents of memory in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, it seems that there is actually no forgetting of certain myths and imaginary constructions. New layers and constructions are simply added to them, which on the one hand cause confusion and on the other a sense of triumph, as Nietzsche spoke of.

Silencing is also important for revisionists. During traumatic historical events, a certain degree of silencing is normal, as was the case with the silencing of the Holocaust in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. The memories of survivors then encountered a double wall. The first was erected by themselves, still unprepared to talk about the horrific scenes they witnessed during the war. After breaking through that wall, they encountered another, the wall that society erected around itself to protect itself from the terrible role their people played in the Second World War. Primo Levi, an Italian chemist and Holocaust survivor, gave an extensive report of the torture he endured. The report was published in 1947 in a limited edition and barely elicited any public reaction. It wasn't until 1958 that his account gained more attention. The real turning point regarding the role of Germany in the conflicts from 1939 to 1945 came with Fritz Fischer and his generation of cultural workers on one side, and with Willy Brandt and his generation of politicians on the other. Revisionist silencing can be described as the phenomenon when individuals, events, and historical processes are excluded from discourse. Such a phenomenon can be traced back to the early 1980s, at least regarding anti-fascism in Yugoslavia. Namely, in preparation for social-political, and perhaps territorial restructuring, the cultural and political elite increasingly silenced facts related to the People's Liberation Struggle, the victims of fascism, and the contribution of the socialist resistance movement to the defeat of the occupiers. Silencing is also a regular occurrence in attempts at reconciliation, which are not sincere, considering that every apology for committed crimes is accompanied by the word "but."

Historical revisionism in our region can be divided into five phases, from 1945 to the present day. The first phase can be observed in historiography and culture in 1948 when the rupture between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union occurred. Just as purges were taking place in the political arena, there was a brutal change in the style of describing the People's Liberation Struggle and the role the Red Army played in it. At a time when the Soviet army was on Yugoslav borders, it was necessary to portray it in a completely different light. An interesting example in the culture of memory is two monumental monuments in the territory of Vojvodina. One is the monument "Victory," dedicated to the Battle of Batina in which the partisans and the Red Army fought shoulder to shoulder in one of the toughest battles fought in our region from 1941 to 1945. The other is the monument "Freedom" on Fruska Gora (the largest monument in Vojvodina) where there are no members of the Red Army. There are only partisans who, together with the people, liberate the country from the occupiers. The message is clear. Partisans are the only army truly dedicated to liberation and fighting for Yugoslavia, and the people will support their army in the fight against any enemy, even if it is a former ally - the Soviet Union.

The second phase begins in 1980 when the leadership at the time realized that the country would soon undergo economic, ideological, and perhaps territorial restructuring. The phase starts with a change in the view of the personality and work of Josip Broz Tito. Even Tito's biographer, Vladimir Dedijer, published his "New Contributions to the Biography of Josip Broz Tito" in 1984, which was far less censored, which is why this work is still significant today when it comes to the biography of the Yugoslav president. The focus is slowly shifting from the anti-fascist struggle to the question of suffering in camps and interethnic tensions during the Second World War, and it is clear why. Yugoslavia was delegitimized as a state during the decade between 1980 and 1990, and in a way, the cultural and scientific elite of the country prepared the ground for its collapse.

The 1990s bring us to the next phase, during which there is a change in the names of cities and streets, and intensive silencing and meaningful forgetting of Yugoslav anti-fascism begin. The socialist model on which the former state operated was declared dysfunctional, and therefore everything related to this order should be eliminated from public discourse and the daily lives of citizens in all newly formed state entities. It can be said that in this phase, a period of collective personality disorder begins in the people of the former Yugoslavia. A kind of new, actually "old" identity is sought, which does not actually exist. In this context, ideas about "ancient Serbs, Croats, Macedonians," and all other nations can be understood.

What is surprising is that the third phase was actually milder than the fourth phase that began after 2000 and the opening of the European and Euro-Atlantic perspective of the region. There was no expected stabilization but rather an upsurge of revisionism that began a brutal reckoning with the past. Even the image of the greatest acts of heroism, which had never been questioned before, changed. Monuments disappear, which is characteristic of Croatia, while in Serbia, they are mostly simply left to oblivion. Library catalogs are crippled, and textbooks are changed beyond recognition.

The position of partisan fighters is reduced to the lowest level, and they are all categorized under the stereotype of a revolutionary adventurer who, without thinking about the broader plan, engages in a struggle aimed only at seizing power, plundering the people, and cooperating with any foreign factor if the opportunity arises. A good example of revisionist action in this phase is the equating of the Chetnik and Partisan movements in the legislation of the Republic of Serbia.

We can approach the fifth phase with caution and see it as both positive and negative, primarily related to the outbreak of the economic crisis in 2008. Therefore, it is a time of confusion in which victims and perpetrators, collaborationist and anti-fascist movements are equated, memories of the Holocaust are altered, but also some positive examples when it comes to remembering international anti-fascism. Namely, it is quite clear that the elites of society seized the opportunity to divert public attention from major economic problems to questions that have been declared open and unresolved again, such as the issue of the struggle against the occupiers during the Second World War. The positive side could be seen in the fact that such tendencies, even unintentionally, could lead to reconciliation in the region, but such assumptions will be left to the judgment of time.

When it comes to historical revisionism, the countries of the former Yugoslavia can be seen as a perfect example of intensive revisionism that harnesses all the means available to us in the modern era. Why is that so? All countries of the former SFRY have undergone a complex and comprehensive social transformation since the late 1980s and early 1990s, with different goals and achievements in each of the former republics. Although the situation has not yet crystallized enough, and we still do not have a completely clear perspective, we can conclude that Slovenia had the least traumatic transition. Regarding Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Macedonia, it is difficult to speak of the successes of the mentioned transformation. Namely, there is a noticeable improvement, e.g., Croatia's accession to the EU, as well as Serbia being granted candidate status for membership, but these successes, if we can even call them that, are quite limited. Namely, society in the republics of the former Yugoslavia is deeply divided and has a heightened attitude towards many issues. Poverty, corruption, and enrichment of privileged individuals form a vicious circle that drags the region to the bottom of the economic ladder of the old continent.

A slowed and constantly disrupted economy does not create conditions for further progress and deeper social reform. Instead, such an atmosphere breeds new conflicts and hostilities and constantly opens up new fronts against various, often invented or imagined enemies. Such conditions create an ideal terrain for rampant historical revisionism that knows no bounds. The view of important questions about the identity of the peoples and nationalities of the former Yugoslavia is often twisted to the point that its deviations are already difficult to follow. What began in the 1980s as a positive phenomenon of stabilization in socialist, primarily biographical literature full of praises, has now become notorious revisionism that adapts the past to contemporary political and cultural tendencies as it sees fit. The solution, as is always the case, can be found in the causes of historical revisionism. The consequences can be remedied through wide-ranging social dialogue and transformation as well as reconciliation in the region. Only through cooperation and compromise can the detrimental effects of revisionist historiography on culture and society as a whole be mitigated and eliminated. Until then, we must write without prejudice, truthfully, based on the historical sources available to us.

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