As Serbia continues on its path to joining the European Union and breaking from
its Yugoslav Communist past, it is also embarking on one final and controversial
process in that transformation.
In Belgrade, the government has appointed
a Commission for the Rehabilitation of Gen. Draza Mihailovich, the World War II
Serbian guerrilla leader who was executed by the Communists in 1946 for treason
and collaboration with the enemy.
For more than 60 years, the Tito-led
Yugoslav Communist regime wrote its own version of Yugoslavia’s complex WII past
which cast Mihailovich and his Chetnik guerrillas as little more than Nazi
collaborators who murdered their own people.
Nothing could be further
from the truth.
What the regime Communists and their numerous supporters
throughout all the new republics in former Yugoslavia and around the world fail
to mention in their narrative of that terrible war is the following version,
much of which was carefully edited and concealed from the people of Yugoslavia
by the Communist Party.
In March 1941 when the Yugoslavia’s then-Regent
Prince Paul agreed to sign a non-aggression pact with Hitler’s Germany, the
Serbian people expressed their outrage by protesting in the thousands on the
streets of Belgrade shouting, “Better a grave than a slave.” “Better war than
They were soon to get their wish.
Two days later,
Serbian staff officers mounted a bloodless coup and replaced Regent Prince Paul
with the young King Peter and immediately renounced the pact.
its Axis allies invaded Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941, and within two weeks had
quickly overwhelmed the thin Yugoslav defenses.
During those early days
of Yugoslavia’s fall, a few staff officers with the army refused to accept and
recognize the capitulation and regrouped in the hills of Ravna Gora, 80 km.
southwest of Belgrade, and raised the first banner of large-scale resistance in
all of Europe. Their leader was then-Staff Col. Dragoljub (Draza) Mihailovich, a
career officer who embarked on his ultimately tragic mission to protect and
defend his people.
In those early days of May 1941, Tito’s Communist
partisans were still not active, only organizing months later after Germany’s
invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.
soon began small-scale attacks against German forces in Serbia that quickly
increased in scope and scale. British and American liaison officers who were
parachuted into enemy territory to work with and support Mihailovich’s Chetniks
sent back thousands of radio transmissions, many now declassified after more
than 60 years of secrecy, which document the scale of the Serb guerrilla
Hitler ordered Mihailovich’s capture and posters offering
100,000 Reichsmarks for Mihailovich, dead or alive, were posted across Serbia.
Those same posters showed pictures of both Mihailovich and the Communist leader
Tito. But following the Communist victory, only the Tito portion of that poster
was ever reproduced for the Yugoslav history books.
By 1944 the British,
who had influence over the Balkans, made the decision to stop all support to
Mihailovich and to support Tito’s partisans on the premise that he was “killing
Despite losing British military aid, Mihailovich’s actions
continued to serve the Allied cause in Europe, organizing rescues of downed
American and British air crew who had been shot down over Yugoslavia during
bombing runs over the Ploesti oil fields in Romania.
By 1944, the Serbian
Chetniks were harboring hundreds of downed pilots all over Serbia, providing
shelter and succour under incredibly difficult conditions.
officers working with the OSS, the precursor to today’s CIA, organized with
Mihailovich’s support Operation Halyard, which today stands as the largest
rescue in United States Air Force history of downed airmen from behind enemy
lines. In the summer of 1944, from a makeshift airfield in Pranjane, Serbia,
Mihailovich’s Chetniks helped almost 500 airmen return back to safety so that
they could fight another day.
Convicted in a Communist trial, Mihailovich
was executed by firing squad on July 17, 1946. Unlike the Communist Serbs in
Belgrade who tried to erase his legacy and dishonored his name, the free world
never forgot just who Mihailovich was after he was condemned.
Mihailovich’s picture hangs in the British Special Forces Club in London
alongside France’s great patriot, Gen. Charles DeGaulle, who was one of
Mihailovich’s great supporters.
In 1948, president Harry Truman awarded
Mihailovich the Legion of Merit Medal. The citation states, “General Mihailovich
and his forces, although lacking adequate supplies, and fighting under extreme
hardships, contributed materially to the Allied cause and were instrumental in
obtaining a final Allied victory.”
President Ronald Reagan was evocative
in his admiration of Mihailovich, writing in 1979 that “the tragedy of Draza
Mihailovich cannot erase the memory of his heroic and often lonely struggle
against the twin tyrannies that afflicted his people, Nazism and
On the 66th anniversary of his death this year, it’s time the
Serbian people complete their break from their Communist Yugoslav past and
rehabilitate Mihailovich to his proper and rightful place in history as a man
who gave his life for the Allied cause against tyranny in Europe during
The writer is a mining industry executive in Toronto and past
president of the Canadian Serbian Council.