Interview by Nataša Jovanović
A historian of the Hebrew University in Israel explains how the Jews, and how the Serbs preserve the memory of genocide committed over them in the Second World War, who conducts revisions of historical facts, why America has double standards for Islam in the Balkans and in the Middle east, and what is his interpretation of the same attitude towards Republika Srpska by the Islamic states and Europe.
“Marking the Holocaust anniversary in remembrance of six million Jews that died in the Second World War is the number one topic in Israel and a way of thinking. On that day we call Shoah five out of six million names of Jews that died are read out. On the other hand the world public knows a lot about Jasenovac camp, but although I am a historian, I only found out about execution sites in Jadovno when I was invited to this conference. Before than the word Jadovno meant nothing to me. Not at least a crime. And every crime demands to be revealed so that it would not be repeated”, says Raphael Israeli, a historian of the Hebrew University in Israel in an interview for Pečat.
How do you interpret the fact that in Serbia and Republika Srpska there is no established remembrance day for the Balkan Holocaust?
That was my final remark. Such things must be remembered and perpetuated, and the best way to do it is by educating younger generations and familiarising them with the topic. However, political circumstances in Israel and Yugoslavia were completely different. While we have presidents of dozens of states coming to the ceremonies marking the genocide, the communist regimes in Yugoslavia wanted to deny the genocide over Serbs in order to create a false platform for equalising rights of Serbs and Croats. It was a big mistake. The future can be built only if we have firm roots in the past.
What is your view on the attempts of revision of the history of this part of the Balkans? Do you think that removing torture tools from the museum exhibition in Jasenovac is one of such attempts?
In Israel, research is conducted on a much higher level. In Jasenovac we have a case of politicisation by the state of Croatia and attempt to impose new truth. The assumption is that in this concentration camp died over 700,000 Serbs, but instead of determining the number precisely based on research and getting the definite history, we are witnessing the battle of numbers.
On the other hand in Israel, each year on the Holocaust Remembrance Day we stand next to the eternal fire and read out names, the date of birth and death of five out of six million died. The same happens in the Parliament. Almost everybody has several relatives who were killed in various concentration camps.
How problematic is the definition of genocide itself? Do you think that what the Hague Tribunal is doing is rendering the true meaning of that word senseless?
I think that the Hague Tribunal should try individuals, and not peoples and states. They are trying to identify mass murders and call it genocide, instead of dealing with each crime separately. With generalising crime the true meaning and significance of committed genocides is lost, because we have a situation that anyone who experienced a tragedy can call it genocide. Suffering of millions, such as the Holocaust, must not be identified with crimes that are being called genocide and that were committed during the war in 1990-ties in the former Yugoslavia. The only proven genocide is the Holocaust. It was an attempt of systematic extermination of a whole people. The Turks never said they wanted to destroy the Armenian people. They wanted to eliminate only Armenians in their country. On the other hand, the Germans wanted to exterminate all Jews in the whole of Europe. I look at all crimes committed during the wars in the Balkan area with horror. One part of the media deceived the public turning their attention to the other side. In that way, the public has been permanently confused.
Anti-Semitism is older than Nazism, and it is succeeded by anti-Israelism. How do you interpret this genesis of hatred?
There is one thing that has been proven more or less in Europe. It is what happened in 1144 in Great Britain, when it was said that Jews are capturing Christian children before Passover in order to drink their blood. In 19th century such stories were also present in Ukraine, and the Islamic world still holds such monstrous belief. This anti-Semitism was later on taken over by Nazis. The conspiracy against the Jews which is being conducted by 30 million Muslim emigrants in political demonstrations at European town squares against Israel is identical to the one in Great Britain and Ukraine. So, now anti-Semitism is expressed as anti-Israelism.
Is the wave of events in the Middle East endangering Israel?
Not necessarily. Democratic states usually do not start wars, because they cannot do it without the support of the people. Dictators are ones who start wars. Some dictators favour Muslims quite a lot and they are ready to support them against Israel. In Syria, the regime was afraid of an American intervention, so Bush forced Assad to get out of Syria and put it under a military, economic and diplomatic siege. Obama is to blame for the things happening in Syria now.
Recently an Orthodox bishop called the independent Kosovo – a Jamahiriya in the heart of Europe. What is your comment on this?
I do not think that these were too harsh words. The Prime Minister of this Jamahiriya, i.e. so-called “Republic of Kosovo” is a criminal and a gangster, and to support such people is just as unacceptable as the bombing of Serbia was.
It seems that America has double standards in relation to the Muslim factor in the Balkans and the Middle East. What is your opinion on this?
Such policy started during Bill Clinton’s administration, and continued during George Bush Junior’s. It is a wrong concept. The Turkish Islam was a model which would make an Islamic country both pro-western, pro-American and a member of NATO. The Americans wanted to apply the same model in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Tajikistan and some other former USSR countries. They wanted to use modern Turkey and Israel to draw other Islamic countries, in order to create a modern and pro-western environment. The intention was similar with Kosovo. Already in 2002, when fundamentalist options started to dominate Islamic countries, it was clear that the dream of modern Islam is shattered. The Islam in Europe is radical and the USA instead of being on the side of the Serbs, who guaranteed the continuity of Christianity, we as historians are facing the fact that this continuity has been severed and that Islam is entering the heart of Europe. This is a suicide of Christianity. I am against it. I think that the Americans realised they had made a mistake, but the USA are too large a ship to change the course easily. A lot of time needs to pass in order to have a turn in those relations.
Do you recognize a neo-Ottoman idea in the foreign policy of Turkey?
Of course it is obvious. Turkey has turned its back to Europe. First they waited for years to enter Europe, and now in their desire to regain dominance they create alliances with Iran and Syria. The ideology of the Ottoman Empire was not nationalism, but Islam. If they strengthen their position in the Balkans, they will again turn their eyes towards Vienna. Anyone can ask the right for its historical territory, but this is not possible in all cases. I wrote four books on Islam in Europe.
What is your comment on the fact that the attitude of Islamic states and Europe towards Republika Srpska is identical?
These are two elements signifying the importance of Europe for the fate of Serbia and Republika Srpska. Europe’s attitude towards the Islamic element is often wrong. Just like the American strategy. Muslims support their people all over the world, as well as candidates for presidents of states. Europe should have this in mind.
How much understanding do Jewish circles in the world, which are very powerful, have for Serbia’s struggle to preserve territorial integrity?
We can hold lectures, but this is not enough. One part of Jewish circles has understanding to the Serbian issue. But it is also true that some circles do not favour Serbia and its struggle. Propaganda was the crucial factor for such stands.
Do you agree that lessons learned in the Second World War prevented similar crimes from happening in the 1990-ties?
Yes, to an extent. The difference is that after the Second World War there was a federal idea of Yugoslavia, and now it does not exist anymore. After Tito’s death everything fell apart and you found out that the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was a time bomb. Nobody now thinks about Yugoslavia. They only speak about Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia… This division of the former Yugoslav countries is against current events in the world. We should ask ourselves what is going to happen next in BH, to define borders between religion and nation.
What is the view of the Israeli public on the arrest of General Ratko Mladic?
I can speak for myself, and not for Israel. My opinion is that we again have a confirmation that there are two sides of truth. On many websites I saw that the people see Mladić as a hero, on others that he was accused of some crimes. I can conclude that those who are against Serbia think that Mladić is a criminal and those who are on the side of the Serbs call him a hero.
Should Serbia join the EU and NATO?
This is a question for Serbia. If there is a moment in time that Serbia needs to join the EU, then NATO is just another step forward on the same path. I believe that when Serbia’s President Boris Tadić decided to deliver Mladić, he probably did it for that purpose. We should not forget the bombing of Serbia by NATO, as well as the use of bombs with depleted uranium.