Cetniks: Heroes or Villains?

Mike Pavasovic puts in a word for Serbia's wartime Cetniks.

'I wanted nothing for myself. I never wanted the old Yugoslavia back, but I had a difficult legacy'. These were the words of Draza Mihailovic, speaking at his trial in 1946. After his execution, which followed, it was assumed that the last had been heard of the Cetniks. By killing their leader, Tito had completed the total destruction of the Yugoslav royalists.

Almost fifty years on, people are again talking of 'cetniks', but now, as then, the use of the term is erroneous. A cetnik is nothing more than a guerrilla, but the word has become an umbrella, covering every type of Serb nationalist.

Since 1944, it has been generally accepted that Mihailovic and his followers were collaborators, men who preferred co-operation with the Axis to joining Tito's fight against occupation. It is ironic that just as so much has been done to rehabilitate them – thanks largely to Michael Lees' book The Rape of Serbia, in which he describes how useful the royalists were to the allies, and how reports of their collaboration were falsified – the term cetnik is coming to be associated with fanatical nationalism.

Contrary to general belief, Mihailovic was not a Serb nationalist. He was commander-in-chief of the Yugoslav army, fighting to establish a constitutional monarchy. Today's cetniks are a separate group, battling to protect Serb interests as Yugoslavia falls apart.

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