The council of Jewish municipalities received an invitation for the first exhibition in the National Theatre Museum. We accepted the invitation. Our pleasure lasted until we reached the tenth page of the catalogue, where we read that the street in which the Jewish synagogue is located, and which used to be called Kosmajska Street, then Marsal Birjuzov Street, is now called Milan Nedic Street. We were shocked, and I called the competent commission of the Municipal Assembly to ask whether this information was correct. They told me that there was never such a request, nor was this issue discussed at all. However, I believed that this could not have been an accidental error or oversight. If you write that a street is named after Milan Nedic, it must be some kind of message. I wrote a letter to the Director of the National Theatre Museum, in which I demanded, on the behalf of the Jewish community, that this be erased from the catalogue, because it was incorrect. I also demanded that this untruth be removed both from their website and the poster. Milan Nedic was not rehabilitated, and no one has the right to name a street after him, curator and art historians included. The fact that the synagogue is located in this street made things even worse and we believe it to be a finger in the eye of the Jewish community.
In my letter, I reminded the Director of the Museum who Mr. Milan Nedic, a man honored by a part of Serbian citizens as “the mother of Serbs”, really was. We don’t deny this – maybe he was like a mother to Serbs, but to the Jews he was not even a bad stepmother – under Milan Nedic’s regime, 84% of Jews did not survive the war. They perished in gas chambers or were killed in other ways. And people should know that all of this happened between August 1941 and May 1942 in Serbia. They were very efficient. Mr. Milan Nedic, who was at the head of the Council of Ministers (that was the name of the quisling government) signed in October 1942, together with other members of the Council of Ministers, a decree donating all the property seized from Jews to the Serbian people. It was to be used to compensate the Third Reich for the expenses it had in the war waged against Serbia. A very small number of Serbs are aware of this fact.
I am convinced that the incident that happened with the National Theatre Museum was no accidental error, but, instead, a message – why shouldn’t a street be named after Milan Nedic, and why not precisely the street where the synagogue is located. As for the director – I could accept the explanation that it was an oversight; maybe he did not read the catalogue. But in any case, I am expecting an answer from him. What I do not expect from him is to remain silent and refuse to answer, because his position obliges him to remove this text from the permanent exhibition, the catalogue and the website. We will be grateful to him, and we will take it as an extended hand of friendship. If, for any reason, he is unable to do this, we shall find a way to enable him to do it. As a citizen of Serbia, I am ashamed this is happening in my country. My statement that Serbia is not a fascist country, but that there is fascism in Serbia, is already worn out. As long as there is fascism in Serbia, I will fight against it. It is not becoming for Serbia to be a fascist state, so why should it be? This country suffered so much. The fact that so many years after the war, we are not able to clearly decide to be antifascists is a different issue. You should know that Serbia is waiting to become a member of AHO, the Association of Holocaust Organization. And our membership awaits approval by Estonia or Latvia, countries infamous for killing Jews. Why are we so late to react, why were we not present at the Auschwitz commemoration? And we always give flimsy excuses. You probably remember that the president had a cold at the time and that he was not able to go, back when we were still FRY.
We waited a long time for this government to make a stand, but now we have decided to organize an international roundtable about Staro Sajmiste. There is a monument there, but we know that this monument was not designed for that spot. Ex President of the FRY, Zoran Lilic, acted in response to a political need, and erected that monument. However, we were the victims who perished there, that camp was initially meant for exterminating Jews. It was called the Zemun Jewish Camp, and 6800 Jewish women and children perished there. Mothers held their children in their arms while they suffocated to death in truck Dushegupka, operating as gas chamber. Nobody speaks about this, it is something we hide. I was asked why, and I answered that it had nothing to do with ideology. In 1945, communists were in power, followed by Milosevic, and now by democrats. Not one of these governments even considered dealing with this issue. This is why I concluded it had nothing to do with ideology, but, instead, it was about mentality: we in Serbia do not have the proper attitude towards innocent victims, which is a problem, and children should learn about this in school. If we learned in school about Staro Sajmiste and what took place there, many young citizens of Serbia would be alive today – I refer to the wars in the 1990s Serbia “never participated in”, because young people would have known they were being told lies and sent to war for no good reason.
On several occasions, we filed charges against authors of explicitly anti-Semitic books. There are many such books. We have a list containing 118 titles. These books regularly appear at the Belgrade Book Fair. What does this mean? It means that the state fails to react. We filed over 20 charges and no one reacted. More precisely, we have two rulings, and one of them is a disaster. It literally says – that such and such book with its anti-Semitic contents did not increase the level of anti-Semitism that already exists. Which means – there is a level of anti-Semitism that is normal, and the only issue is not to exceed it. I told President Tadic about this. He said that he was surprised, that he could not believe it happened. He reacted very quickly, and sent Mr. Vladimir Cvijan to visit me, who was, at the time, an advisor in the Cabinet of the President. We had a serious conversation and he initiated certain activities. I visited Mr. Homen, and I received a call from the Prosecutors’ Office. Mr. Jovan Krstic came here, phones were ringing off the hook, and then we were told not to file all 20 charges at the same time, but instead pick a few. With great pleasure I picked Dejan Lucic and his book Kraljevstvo Hazara (The Kingdom of Hazars).
Dejan Lucic even wrote that Jews do not exist. The people that exist now are not Jews, they are trash, and the ones who existed were Hazars, he said. And, according to Lucic, Hazars were thieves, puny merchants, etc. So I focused on Dejan Lucic, amongst other things because I have information that he is very close to certain state bodies. The proceedings were initiated, and then the Prosecution told us – you have to provide us with copies of those books. So now, I have to give money to an anti-Semite… But I said – Okay, I agree, I will find those books for you. So we went and bought all the books we could find. As to the ones we could not find – I paid a visit to Lucic and told him: Mr. Anti-Semite, I am a Jew and I want to sue you, can I have a copy of your book? And he replied: Of course. So I bought a copy of that book from him. So we provided the Prosecution with all of these books, and do you know how it all ended? I received a letter saying – the man who wrote those books is very old. And I replied: Fine, he is old now, but when we first filed charges he was ten years younger, what were you waiting for? Furthermore, not one of these charges asks for criminal persecution or the arrest of this man, we are just asking for the books to be withdrawn so that he can no longer profit from them. And then we were told: Oh, that is what you asked for. All right, then send us that. And so round and round it goes. We realized nothing will happen. They even told us they could not locate Lucic, that we needed to find his address. I told them I would give them the address, but that it was not my job. What I am trying to say is that it is very hard to find someone guilty if you share the same views as him. And this is the whole point.
For a long time, we fought for one thing – that the negation of Holocaust be treated as a criminal act. I wrote to everybody, asked Ministers to publicly state their opinions, to support our request. I received a lot of phone calls, everyone said: But you should know that we support you. And I replied that they should put that in writing. What they said was: It is inconvenient. This attitude of the state point to another issue – that someone is flirting with neo-Nazism, that these groups which riot and beat up people in Belgrade are financed and supported by certain parties or religious communities. It is high time for the state to start separating football fans from fascists, to start asking questions about who is organizing them, who is giving them logistical support, who is financing them. All of those who are flirting with them now, and who believe they are the puppet masters, are wrong if they believe that they will become the owners of these groups. When the critical mass is reached, they will be run over by these same groups.
This extends even to restitution of property. Many people now support Milan Nedic so that the people who were convicted of war crimes can receive amnesty, and that the assets seized from them as collaborators can be returned to their descendants. I have the right to demand that all of those who want to rehabilitate Milan Nedic appeal to the regular courts and prove he was not guilty, rather than doing it privately: Tom, Dick and Harry decided to name a street after Milan Nedic. And tomorrow, we will have the Adolph Hitler Square.
What is especially important here is the fact that the whole issue is related to the public institution. They are spending the money that we give them through taxes and VAT. I don’t mind if such a person decides to leave public service and open a private agency called Agency for rehabilitating Milan Nedic. He can do whatever he wants, but, in this case, he is using our money while fighting against us. Serbia went through so much, but I can only hope it has not fallen so far as to let those who have dishonored the name of this nation be rehabilitated.
Translated by Bojana Obradovic
Pescanik Radio Show, December 3, 2010