Friday, 9 April 2010

Where they failed

Today, 9th April, is the 70th anniversary of Operation WeserĂ¼bung, the nazi occupation of Denmark and Norway.

Of the battlefronts of the Second World War, the one in northern Europe is perhaps the most disregarded. Compared to virtually all other theatres, very little happened here. German occupation of Denmark and Norway was swift, and soon lost its global importance when the war was waged by Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States. But that does not mean that there was no war at all here. French and British troops fought German invaders at Narvik, a Norwegian port of key strategic importance, and during and after the invasion, at least in Norway resistance was fierce, heroic and effective. The only reason why the situation in Norway remained stable from a German point of view was because Hitler kept an unproportionally large amount of troops in the country to the very end of the war, no less than 370,000. Had these men been at the Rhine or in Berlin in 1945, maybe the outcome of the war would have been significantly different. Against them stood 50,000 members of the resistance - the Milorg. Both numbers are impressive when considering the total population of Norway was around 3 Million.

There is a lot one could write about the Milorg, about Quisling, the Tyskerbarna or Kaj Munk, but the point I am trying to make is a different one. While nazi occupation of Norway was militarily effective, it was in fact a grand failure on another level. Norway played an important role for nazi ideology. As was proved by the Lebensborn project, nazi ideologists believed that the people of Norway were pure members of the Aryan race, only politically divided from their German(ic) kin. The blending of German and Norwegian population was a primary goal for nazi ideologists, to create a pure race that was fit for world domination. From that point of view, there was quite a lot of honour in it for the Norwegians, as they were held to be even higher than the Germans themselves by the nazis.

The Norwegians however would have none of this. The bulk of them would not let the enemies (ab)use them for such perverted ideas, and instead of joining the nazis for their cause, they chose to fight against it. More than three times the number of Norwegians who enlisted to join the German army joined the armed resistance. The propaganda effect the nazis had been hoping for remained ineffective.

Personally, I believe that the relentless resistance of the Norwegians in the war against an occupying force that tried to convince them of their genetic duty of fighting for their cause, is a great contribution to the downfall of Hitler's ideology. It revealed the ethical bankruptcy of national socialism to those looking closely and confirmed that there was nothing, and absolutely nothing right about it.

Check out this great tribute to the Norwegian resistance:

Thursday, 1 April 2010

The Triumph of Reason

Today, the Serb parliament passed a resolution which accepted Serbian responsibility over the Srebrenica massacre, and offered an apology to the victims and their relatives. This is a great day for civilisation, for it marks a triumph of humanity over bigotry. The path of reason has gained a majority in Serbia, and the distance to Europe has gotten significantly smaller. Official recognition of the misdeeds in a country’s past is the first step to a true public discussion of the events, and the transformation of a society. Who knows, perhaps one day the Serbs will be known for their advocacy of peace rather than brutal suppression of neighbouring people.
It may sound difficult to believe to some, especially those who have suffered from Serbia’s ways in the past… but unlikely as it may be, the possibility is there. Germany proved it.

Granted, there are significant differences between the countries of Germany and Serbia, not to mention between the nazi terror over Europe and the disintegration of Yugoslavia. But there are also striking similarities. Serbia, based on a totalitarian dictatorship fueled by extreme nationalism, attempted to create a political body that encompassed all Serb people, the definition of which lay with the powers that be. Other ethnic groups living in the same territory were to be removed or, at best, treated as second-class citizens. The Serbs, an educated and distinguished people, followed their leaders in hope of a promised utopia that contrasted with the harsh reality of a crumbling Communist Yugoslavia. The enemy was easy to make out. If there was ever one group of people on the Balkan that stuck out compared to the others, it was the Muslims, whether they were Bosnian or Albanian. Remnants of the long Turkish reign over the territory, they were marked as foreigners and alien elements, and a six-hundred-year old grudge was dug out, with catastrophic consequences.

These developments are similar to nazi Germany, without wanting to provoke unsound or needless comparisons. The differences are big and major, but when it comes down to massacre – or genocide – the outcome is the same. The psychology behind such tragedies is often the same anyway.

There is some big disappointment with the resolution, such as the missing of the word “genocide” (the word was removed to get the ever so slim majority) or the lack of symbolic actions. Many critics point out the swift progress the German government has made after the war. The policy of Wiedergutmachung was initiated by (West) German payments to Israel in 1953, only eight years after the war had ended. But this is where the major differences between Germany and Serbia kick in: By 1953, the process of westernisation and integration to the European community had already started, and was already gaining its first momentum. The ECSC was founded in 1951, a joint western European defence pact that included Germany was being discussed, and in 1955, West Germany was admitted to the NATO. It was clear that there was to be a close transatlantic alliance between Germany and the US, and so on… Serbia has none of this. The best prospect is a vague possibility of joining the European Union some time in the future. In that sense, the initiative came from within Serbia. Certainly, the motivation at least in some parts is plain political, and the integrity of some people supporting the resolution is questionable. It will take years before a broad public debate will take place, but then again, was it any different in Germany? The country’s nazi past was not openly discussed until the Auschwitz trials of 1965, and a popular preoccupation with the topic was actually not achieved until 1979, when the American miniseries “Holocaust” aired in the country. The first symbolic gestures came from Chancellor Willy Brandt, who visited Israel, Poland (where he fell to his knees at the memorial of the Warsaw Ghetto) and Czechoslovakia in the late sixties and early seventies. Even he had to face harsh criticism in the parliament, and up to that point, no German politician in the Federal Republic had been so controversial. It took a lot of personal courage, and he was rewarded with no less than the Nobel Peace Prize.

Of course, it would be great if the Serbs could achieve more in less time. But for now, let’s be realistic and focus on what they are doing instead of what they could also be doing.

Read more about the resolution at BBC World.