Anti-fascists in Serbia slam bid to rehabilitate notorious Chetnik commander 

A Serbian court in Valjevo has ruled in favor of a petition to rehabilitate Chetnik commander Nikola Kalabić, who perpetrated gruesome acts of violence against Croats, Bosniaks and communists during World War II

August 13, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Serbia Chetnik commander Nikola Kalabić
A file photo of Draza Mihailovic and Nikola Kalabić along with a Chetnik regiment. (Photo: via Masina)

Communists and other anti-fascist sections in Serbia have denounced the bid to rehabilitate Nikola Kalabić, a notorious Chetnik commander of World War II. Last week, in a lawsuit seeking to rehabilitate the Chetnik leader, the High Court in Valjevo ruled in favor of  Kalabić’s rehabilitation. On Wednesday, August 10, the New Communist Party of Yugoslavia (NKPJ) and the Union of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia (SKOJ) in a statement denounced the court’s ruling to give recognition to ultra-nationalist criminals who committed horrific crimes during World War II. The NKPJ has also decided to challenge the ruling of the Valjevo High Court in the Court of Appeals. The group Serbian Communist also raised strong objections to the rehabilitation of Kalabić.

Kalabić was a commander of the Serbian nationalist, pro-royalist Chetnik militia which committed notorious crimes including mass murders, ethnocide and arson in the territories of former Yugoslavia during World War II. Even though the Chetnik militia under the leadership of Draza Mihailovic organized resistance to the Axis occupation of the region in the initial days of World War II, they soon changed their strategy and went for tactical collaboration with the Axis forces which included Nazi Germany, the Italian fascists, and the Ustasha. In the ensuing years of war and occupation, Chetnik collaborated with the Axis forces and committed gruesome atrocities against the Croats, Bosniaks and communist partisans across occupied Yugoslavia. Kalabić was the commander of the Mountain Guard Corps of the Chetniks. On November 26, 1943, Kalabić and Chetnik Colonel Simic agreed a formal collaboration agreement with the Nazi German forces.

The horrific crimes committed by Chetnik units led by Kalabić in the villages of Sumadija, Kopljari, Vranic and Drugovac are still present in the memory of the people in the region. By the end of World War II, Kalabić and his remaining troops went underground fearing execution by the communists. According to some reports, while underground, a desperate Kalabić even agreed to collaborate with the Department for People’s Protection (OZNA), the security agency in Communist Yugoslavia, to capture other Chetnik leaders like Draza Mihalovic in return for his immunity. However, Kalabić was arrested by the OZNA in 1945 and reportedly executed by Yugoslav partisans in November 1946. The communist-led Yugoslavian state had also declared Kalabić an enemy of the people and confiscated his property.

Following the disintegration of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992, right-wing governments in many post-Yugoslav Republics started the rehabilitation of many Nazi collaborators, including the Chetniks, Ustasha, and others, as victims of ‘communist terror’ and icons of their ethnic nationalism. The request for rehabilitation of Kalabić was filed by his granddaughter 10 years ago. Even though a Valjevo court ruled in favor of Kalabić’s rehabilitation in 2017, the ruling was annulled on an appeal in 2018. But by the end of 2018, a retrial on Kalabić’s rehabilitation request was started at the High Court in Valjevo.

Sanja Petrovic Todosijevic from the Institute for Recent History of Serbia (INIS) has opined that the rehabilitation of Kalabić, who is a criminal and Nazi collaborator, is not surprising. “The rehabilitation of the Chetnik commander is based on the ubiquitous relativism of historical facts. Such relativism enables the current relationship of political forces in society and the disparagement of history; at the same time, it has a reversing effect, the strengthening of the right, and defeat of history,” she said.

Regarding the ruling of the Valjevo High Court on August 5, the NKPJ stated, “this is another in a series of attempts to revise history, in order to hide the cooperation of Chetniks with the occupier during World War II.”

Earlier, on July 11, the NKPJ, SKOJ, Party of the Radical Left (PRL), and Anti-fascist Front had protested the decision of the Novi Sad city authorities to build a monument to the ‘innocent victims’ of World War II. According to the protesters, the city administration’s list of ‘innocent victims’ mainly include war criminals, Nazis, and the fascists from Ustasha.