The Jasenovac myth

Tudjman indicates that in the third chapter of the December 26, 1945 Report of the Yugoslav State Commission for the establishment of war crimes delivered to the International Military Court in Nuremberg, the Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia is mentioned only in third place, after two concentration camps in Serbia: "The crimes in camps (internment and maltreatment, Banjica, Sajmiste near Belgrade, Jasenovac, other camps (Wilderness, p. 91).

Tudjman demonstrates how the number of victims of Jasenovac increased "slowly but surely." At the beginning of the 1950's the UDB (the Yugoslav secret police) wrote a four-volume survey of the Ustashe movement. The survey was written "for internal use," that is, for the introduction of UDB functionaries and for "teaching in [Communist] Party schools." It states, within the context of a description of Ante Pavelic"s hypocritical Christianity, that "he shot thousands and thousands of innocent people" in Jasenovac (Wilderness, p. 323).

In the minutes of the court proceedings against Ljubo Milos (Ustashe officer of the Jasenovac camp) is written that the president of the court council asked Milos how many people were liquidated in Jasenovac and "whether a number [of victims] could stand" like the one mentioned in the bill of indictment. And "the indictment says from 40,000 to 60,000" victims. First, Milos says that he cannot say, and then he agrees that "he can say."

In the course of the later interrogation, one judge (Dr. M.) and the president of the council ask Milos about the total number of victims in Jasenovac. This time without any explanation, they raise the number of victims by 50% to 100%, to eighty thousand. Milos answers "Perhaps more or perhaps less" (Wilderness, p. 324).

"Even that was not enough. The minutes were later altered by hand with ink, and the statement that in "Jasenovac a few hundred thousand" people were liquidated is put into Milos"s mouth. Later that alteration is once again altered to read "several hundred thousand" people. Such handwritten alterations in judicial minutes are not permitted, writes Tudjman: "It is legally prescribed that each error or change in the deposition must be individually stated and introduced in a continuation of the text, in the same manner, in this case by typewriter, along with the statement which is to be corrected" (Wilderness, pp. 324, 325).

It is interesting that Klara Mandic writes in 1992 in an American Jewish newspaper about "the infamous Croatian concentration camp, Jasenovac, where tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies were exterminated during World War II". (K. Ma[n]dic, "Fascism Reawakens in Croatia Charges Jewish Leader," The Jewish Advocate, January 24-30, 1992.)

In 1953, the Serbian historian, Vladimir Dedijer, writes that "during the war more than 200 thousand persons were massacred" in Jasenovac (Wilderness, p. 321). In 1984, the same Vladimir Dedijer writes that "more than a million people passed, and between 480,000 and 800,000 were killed" in the Jasenovac camp (Wilderness, p. 94). Dedijer, evidently, had not read what he himself wrote in 1953.

Miodrag Djukic read neither Dedijer's data from 1953, nor the newer, increased numbers from 1984. And if he had read Dedijer, he probably would not have believed him: how can one believe a researcher who raises the number of victims by 140% to 400% over thirty years? In the same year, 1984, Djukic thus brings out the newest, exactly rounded number, in the official publication of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Pravoslavlje: "In Jasenovac alone, from a small-area, in less than four years a million Serbian men, women and children were tortured and killed in the most brutal manner" (Wilderness, p. 98). Other Serbian investigators would raise the number of Serbian victims in Jasenovac to one million, two hundred thousand (Wilderness, p. 98).

Serbian scholar Dr. Bogoljub Kocovic writes in 1985 about the increase in numbers of Serbian victims: "Many [Serbs] in their anti-Croatianism [antihrvatstvo] search for spiritual food for their viewpoints. There is a deeply-rooted opinion, I would say a myth, that at least one million, if not more, Serbs were killed [...], that the Serbs were practically the only ones who suffered real losses" (Wilderness, p. 340).

However, even a number greater than a million, though it is large, is nonetheless limited, finite. The myth, nonetheless, is not limited either by reality or by anything else other than the intentions of the mythmakers themselves. And since the mythmakers decided that the Jasenovac myth should state the truth about the unforgivable crime of the Croats, there would also appear a perfected version of the myth. The final version, produced by two Serbs, Dragoljub Zivojinovic and Dejan V. Lucic, states that "Jasenovac is the greatest torture chamber in the history of humanity" (Wilderness, p. 409).

Thus the myth finally returns to the place where it really belongs: to eternity.

The process of mythmaking is more interesting than the myth itself. Unlike the myth, which expresses unquestioned, eternal truth, the process of mythmaking itself is temporal, subject to alterations. Thus one of the mythmakers, Milan Basta, in a text written in 1963, wrote that "about 800,000 people were killed" on the territory of the Independent State of Croatia (1941-1945, the short period of existence of Fascist puppet state). Some twenty years later (in 1984) the same mythmaker would write that in Jasenovac alone more than 700,000" people were killed (Wilderness, p. 100). Here one sees two versions of the same myth. Milan Basta's myth has a message: as far as the number of (Serbian) victims is concerned, there can never be enough (in Italian, basta).

Naturally, the problem is not what Tudjman has shown that the myth is a myth. Many scholars never did believe in this myth, and one can never dissuade the mythmakers and myth-believers that the myth and reality are connected only through real mythmakers.

The problem is that the myth has also been sold beyond the borders of former Yugoslavia. Starting from the fact that some of Tudjman's previous books were translated into English and German abroad, the mythmakers correctly foresaw that Wilderness of Historical Reality would also be translated into major languages. Therefore, they decided to counterattack: they made their own selection of quotations from the book, translated it into English and offered it through Yugoslav embassies to the world at large. The outcome of this undertaking and its repercussions will be the topic of this survey of anti-Tudjman texts in the worldwide press. (Here we must limit ourselves to only a few of these texts, but they are representative examples.)

The most interesting aspect of all this is that Tudjman's book gives the answers to almost all the accusations made against him.