Some members of the Serbian public expressed astonishment after the popular Belgrade weekly magazine Politikin Zabavnik published an article which many readers felt glossed over the war crimes of local Nazi collaborators.
Titled “Who were Ljotićevci?” (“Who were Ljotić's men?”) and published on the January 18 edition, the article presents the Serbian Volunteer Corps, a local associate of the Nazi regime during the Second World War, in a rather positive light.
With its name roughly translating as “Politika's Fun Paper” or “Politika's Entertainer,” the publication is targeted at “all ages from 7 to 107″ and is widely perceived as family fare. Founded in 1939, it enjoyed a cult status all over Yugoslavia as the epitome of high-quality edutainment, providing an encyclopedic mix of general knowledge, trivia, short stories, history, science, travel, and music, with about 50 percent of its pages devoted to quality comics.
Both media professionals and readers decried what they saw as the magazine's betrayal of its cosmopolitan and progressive values. They considered the article an act of final submission by the paper to Serbia's right-wing populist government, which has been rehabilitating the legacies of World War II Nazi collaborators.
On January 20, 2019, the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS) and the Independent Society of Journalists of Vojvodina (NDNV) called the article “the most pitiful of all kinds of media manipulations — manipulating children.” They noted that the magazine spreads “gruesome praises” about Dimitrije Ljotić, a Holocaust perpetrator, misinforming that “he condemned the pogrom of Jews.”
Istorijski revizionizam odavno je postao deo naše svakodnevice, a fašističke, nacističke i druge kvislinške i kolaboracionističke snage se na sve načine trude da falsifikuju istoriju.
Historical revisionism has become part of our daily existence, and the Fascist, Nazi and other quisling and collaborationist forces are investing enormous efforts to promote historical forgeries.
Some social media users reacted by providing documentary evidence from that period:
Evo, na ovoj fotografiji se vidi pomoć Romima. Ljotićevci ih vode na streljanje pic.twitter.com/lP8M9rUOcD
— Stefan Marković (@SMarkovic018) January 20, 2019
This photograph shows their help for Roma people. Ljotić's men take them to be executed by shooting.
Meanwhile, Belgrade's Jewish community published an open letter to Politikin Zabavnik editor on January 21, expressing their dismay and pointing facts related to the Second World War.
Dimitrije Ljotić JE BIO lokalni nacista i organizovao je vojsku, Srpski dobrovoljački korpus (nem: Serbischer SS-Freiwilligen Korps) koja je bila u službi Vermahta.
Ideologija ovog korpusa je bila identična nacističkoj: istrebljenje Jevreja, komunista i zapadnjačkog kapitalizma. Korpus je bio zloglasan po zločinima nad stanovništvom, posebno Jevrejima i Romima, partizanskim ustanicima i pripadnicima pokreta otpora. Ljotićeve jedinice su učestvovale u streljanju đaka u Kragujevcu u oktobru 1941. Dan nakon ovog masakra u organizaciji ZBOR otvorena je najveća antisemitska izložba u Beogradu tzv. “Antimasonska izložba” koja je bila usmerena ka “razotkrivanju judeokomunističke zavere” a u proljotićevskim novinama su se pojavile reči “Srbi ne bi trebalo da čekaju Nemce da počnu istrebljenje Jevreja”.
The ideology of this corps was identical to the Nazis: extermination of Jews, Communists and Western capitalism. The corps became infamous for crimes against civilians, especially against Jews and Roma, against the partisans and other members of the resistance movement. Ljotić's units participated in the killing of students during October 1941 Kragujevac Massacre. A day after this massacre, his organization ZBOR opened the biggest anti-semitic exhibition in Belgrade, the so-called ‘Anti-masonic exibition’, aimed at ‘revealing the Judaeo-Communist plot’, while pro-Ljotić newspapers suggested that ‘Serbs should not wait for the Germans to start the extermination of Jews’.
Why is Politikin Zabavnik so important to so many?
Unlike the countries of the Soviet Bloc, the publishing industry in independent socialist Yugoslavia enjoyed a higher degree of freedom and imported much of its contents from the West. By the 1970s, publishers of magazines on a wide range of general interest topics, comics, pulp fiction, music, and even erotica/porn became self-sustainable by catering to the sizable middle class.
Politikin Zabavnik's circulation surpassed 300,000 in the “golden days” of the 1970s and early 1980s. Its mission was to build a “cultural infrastructure,” “develop ethical values” and nurture integrative Yugoslav patriotism.
The paper was published in Cyrillic (Serbian) and Latin (Croatian) versions, as well as in the Slovenian language. Its history sections would promote the anti-fascist values of the People's Liberation War, as well as the heritage of all peoples comprising the federation.
After the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, most of the Serbian media conformed with Slobodan Milošević‘s nationalist ideologies. Over time Politikin Zabavnik adapted to this new market reality by including more topics about narrow Serbian history and tradition.
Foreign observers have been warning that the publication increasingly promotes nationalism and extreme right-wing values, but this had little resonance with the Serbian public until the current scandal:
This is how politikin zabavnik illustrates story about family in Israel! Der Stürmer? pic.twitter.com/YsQx4Jedld
— Florian Bieber (@fbieber) August 14, 2016
This time, large numbers of social media users expressed their outrage, such as TV screenwriter Bane Raičević:
Nedeljom ujutru odem u prodavnicu, kupim Carnex jetrenu paštetu i Coca Colu. U povratku kupim Politikin Zabavnik. Dodjem kući, sednem u kuhinju, jedem ‘leba, paštete i CC i čitam Politikin zabavnik. Tako mi se svidjalo. To su moje '80-te. E to ste ukaljali, smrdljiva stoko.
— Bane Raičević (@baneraicevic) January 21, 2019
On Sunday morning I would go to the local shop, buy Carnex pork liver pate and Coca Cola. On the way back I would buy Politikin Zabavnik. I would come home, sit in the kitchen, eat the pate with bread and the CC and read Politikin Zabavnik. It was my indulgence as a kid. Those were my 1980s. These are the memories that you managed to soil, you stinky animals.
Another user tweeted an image of the paper's well-known logo – Donald Duck as newspaper seller — replaced with the Disney character's presentation on the Oscar-winning cartoon Der Fuehrer’s Face:
I tako se sjebao Politikin Zabavnik… pic.twitter.com/3PoGQaWxNn
— D.M (@DaGrimBo) January 19, 2019
And this is how Politikin Zabavnik screwed itself…
An apology — and a new article
The magazine's following edition, published on January 26, run a new article titled “Who Ljotićevci [Ljotić's men] really were”, along with an introduction that was also posted on the magazine's Facebook page:
„Политикин Забавник” није желео да релативизује улогу злочиначких јединица организације „Збор”, као ни Димитрија Љотића, и њихових недела током Другог светског рата!
Извињавамо се свима који су наш текст тако схватили, а посебно јеврејској и ромској заједници!
Politikin Zabavnik didn't intend to relativize the role of the criminal units of the ZBOR organization, nor the role of Dimitrije Ljotić and their crimes during the Second World War!
We apologize to all who understood our text in that manner, and in particular to the Jewish and Roma communities!
This new version was a more factual account about the fascist nature of Ljotić's movement, and even included the photo of them leading Roma to slaughter that had been widely shared on Twitter.
NUNS and NDNV reacted again, saying that while the new article condemned Ljotić's men, it also rehabilitated other domestic traitors who collaborated with the Nazi occupiers (this time the Chetniks), and soiled the reputation of communists, supposedly using the excuse “for the promotion of anti-anti-fascism.”
The Politikin Zabavnik scandal exposes the deep polarization of Serbian society, the result of the use of nationalism as a tool to exploit the divisions between liberal citizens and their compatriots persuaded to consider ethnic identity as a key factor in determining if someone should be praised or condemned.