Long distance nationalism, diaspora politics and statues of Nazi collaborators

In Blacktown, western Sydney, there is an unassuming yet significant statue, which deserves examination. On the grounds of a Serbian Orthodox Church, there is a statue honouring wartime Serbian General Dragoliub ‘Drazha’ Mihailovic. Commander of the Serbian Chetniks, it is flanked by the Australian, Serbian and Chetnik flags.

What is the significance of this statue of wartime Serbian Chetnik commander Mihailovic? The fact that he was a Nazi collaborator and war criminal, under whose command Chetnik units massacred thousands of Bosnians, Croats and non-Serb ethnicities. Building a statue to commemorate the career of a Nazi collaborator helps to revive the doctrines of white supremacy and racial inequalities in the current era.

Mihailovic’s Chetnik movement, while theoretically opposing the 1941 German invasion of Yugoslavia, ended up collaborating with the invading Nazi and Italian fascist forces. Mihailovic concluded that the Yugoslav resistance, headed by the Communist Partisans under Josip Tito, were a threat to his authority in any post-occupation Yugoslavia. Chetnik commanders actively worked with German and Italian military units.

Committed to the cause of conservative royalism and extreme Serb nationalism, the Chetniks committed numerous acts of homicidal ethnic cleansing to ensure the creation of an ethnically pure ‘Greater Serbia.’ As the tide of the war turned against Nazi Germany after their defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad, the Chetnik leadership began to make secret overtures to the western Allies. Their acts of resistance to the Axis powers was always minimal and driven by opportunistic considerations – their ideological affinity was with the fanatical anti communist and fascist powers.

This statue is not an isolated example; across the Anglo-centric world, statues of fascist accomplices have risen, and with them a dangerous rewriting of history to absolve them of their heinous crimes. Forward magazine has compiled extensive evidence of the spread of monuments to Nazi collaborators around the world.

Since the early 1990s, these antisemitic killers and racists have gained importance in their countries of origin as nationalist and anticommunist heroes. Their corresponding diaspora communities, many dating from the end of World War 2, helped to create ultranationalist histories which rationalised and justified their Nazi collaboration.

Ukrainian nationalism

In the immediate aftermath of WW2, Canada provided sanctuary for thousands of ultranationalist Ukrainians, fleeing Eastern Europe. They established their presence in their adopted nation, and immediately began constructing a cult of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), and its leader Stepan Bandera. The OUN, and its associated armed wing, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) were the main antisemitic and Nazi collaborator organisations which assisted the invading Germans in the 1940s.

Structured as a fascistic and racist organisation modelled on the Croatian Ustasha, the OUN set about creating an ethnically cleansed Ukraine, massacring Jews, Poles, Russians – all the while helping the German military. After the Soviets scored major victories against Germany, the OUN militants made overtures to Britain and the United States. The OUN’s followers have disingenuously claimed ‘the Germans forced us to do it’ – a hollow lie which does not stand up to scrutiny.

Finding refuge in Canada, the Ukrainian ultranationalist diaspora built monuments to their former OUN leaders. The cult-like worship of the OUN has served as a social cement, forging a distinctive ethnic identity for the Ukrainian newcomers in the new Canada. The OUN and Bandera worship has been conducted under the rubric of multiculturalism, the latter policy ostensibly encouraging respect for multiethnic diversity.

Canada’s Nazi monuments may seem like a narrow issue, but they have wider implications. Upholding war criminals and killers as heroes not only distorts Eastern European history, but is a steppingstone towards Holocaust obfuscation. Shifting blame away from the shoulders of those Eastern European groups who actively participated in antisemitic killings absolves the perpetrators of their culpability.

As statues of Confederate white supremacists and colonisers are coming down, it is high time question why statues of fascism’s foot soldiers still stand.

The underbelly of multiculturalism – historical mythologising

When constructing an ethnic identity amidst an Anglo-majority, there are better role models than fascist collaborators and war criminals. Cultivating a fanatical devotion – a cult – of Bandera, or Mihailovic, or Pavelic, or other Nazi accomplices – is not a healthy basis on which to build an ethnic identity. Of course Australia is a multicultural nation, and every ethnicity has the right to be respected. However, this does not mean that the ideology of imported white supremacists – the bulk of Eastern European collaborators – should go unchallenged.

The history of Ukrainian nationalism is being revamped in an ultranationalist direction under the tutelage of the current Maidan regime in Kiev. These developments have repercussions for the corresponding diaspora communities. Professor Rudling calls this long-distance nationalism, a rereading of history to serve narrow nationalistic ends. The mythologising of the OUN is an important part of diaspora politics, and feeds into the current historical revisionism sweeping through Eastern Europe.

The underbelly of Australian nationalism is the provision of sanctuary for those fascist collaborators seeking to escape justice. The doctrines of antisemitism and racial inequality are revived when we venerate the practitioners of those lethal ideas.

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