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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 15, April 13, 2024

A Note about the Collective Memory of Anti-fascism since World War Two and its Revision | Bozo Repe

Friday 12 April 2024


The historical revisionism that attempts to reshape the collective memory of anti-fascism in Slovenia and in the territory of the former Yugoslavia is only a part of historical revisionism. The other part relates to the dissolution of Yugoslavia and Slovenia’s attainment of independence.

Historians from the area of the former Yugoslavia, have a great deal of experience with historical revisionism as one of the key pillars of today’s authoritarian and fascistic regimes. Recently, we pointed out via the international project of the non-governmental organization Krokodil from Belgrade, “Historians against Revisionism,” which ended with the declaration entitled “Defend History,” that historical revisionism is an abuse of history. It deliberately and tendentiously misrepresents the past and adapts it to contemporary political demands. It eliminates and emphasizes the desired information, produces non-existent information, singles out historical sources and ignores anything that does not comply with the prevailing political ideas and programs. We also pointed out that the purpose of historical revisionism is to preserve old myths and create new ones, to strengthen stereotypes, and to incite prejudice and hatred. “We” are always the victims and “others” are to blame for everything. “We” are the heroes, others are “traitors.” Through self-victimization a nation or a specific political group within it becomes homogenized, closes its ranks, and destroys plurality, while forcing individuals and social groups to drown in an imagined “biological” or “spiritual” collective. The role of victims “cements” us in the past and hinders progress. [1]

However, things should be viewed in a much wider context, in which neither the Balkans nor Slovenia is unusual, although some want to portray them that way. The European Union is doing the same thing and with just as much distortion. Ever since the East European member states joined the EU in 2004, the memory of anti-fascism—sometimes contrary to the basic historical facts—is being adapted to current geo-strategic alliances. Especially due to pressure from the East European member states, various resolutions are attempting to equate Nazism with Communism. Just as the Cominform claimed that the start of World War Two was the fault of both imperialist camps, that is, Germany and the West, the European Union now claims that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were equally to blame. The European Parliament resolution on the importance of European remembrance for the future of Eu- rope, which was adopted in 2019, says, among other things: “...80 years ago on 23 August 1939, the communist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a Treaty of Non-Aggression, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and its secret protocols, dividing Europe and the territories of in- dependent states between the two totalitarian regimes and grouping them into spheres of interest, which paved the way for the outbreak of the Second World War.” [2] Of course, this is not the first such resolution; European authorities have adopted many on this topic, whose purpose is to condemn all totalitarianisms and, simultaneously, to equate them. The part of the European political mythologizing of history before the aforementioned resolution was the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, which is commemorated on 23 August. It is to symbolize the rejection of “extremism, intolerance and oppression”. Besides Europe Day, which celebrates “peace and unity in Eu- rope” on 5 May (Council of Europe) and 9 May (European Union), the Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism is the only “official” holiday of the European Union. By celebrating the humble beginning of its integrations on 9 May 1950 (the so-called Schuman Declaration), the EU elegantly integrated the victory over Fascism and Nazism in 1945 into the holiday, turning it into a remembrance of the end of World War Two. The unification of Europe was undoubtedly founded on the experience of totalitarianisms, especially of the Fascism and Nazism of the 1930s and later of World War Two, and certainly both Nazism and Stalin- ism or the Communist regimes produced many casualties, but that doesn’t mean they should be equated by means of an ideological interpretation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. We know that Hitler had planned to conquer the East even before assuming power, and that in the Thirties Germany was very committed to doing just that. Stalin saw the pact as a maneuver to protect the Soviet Union, which was isolated in terms of international relations. Of course, for the present-day EU such an ideological spin on the interpretation is convenient, especially because it covers up all the previous dirty deals the West struck with Hitler, including the Munich Pact of 1938, and pushes the Soviet Union out of the victors’ circle, even though it had shouldered the weight of the war in Europe. This has gone so far that, for example, without any sense of history, not to mention the victims—for whom the European resolutions are allegedly intended—commemorations of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp have been held without Russia, the suc- cessor of the Soviet Union which had liberated the camp. Much the same can be said for victory celebrations throughout Europe, and especially in CEE countries.

Through the canonisation of the theory of twin—Nazi and Soviet-totalitarianism in particular, CEE representatives and their allies have managed to dethrone the anti-fascist consensus that was so characteristic of the Western European mainstream until the early 21st century and reshape the European Union’s understanding of the recent past. [3] In Slovenia, today’s views on the period of World War and on anti-fascism—among individuals and political groups and parties—differ greatly. Most of the revisionism of anti-fascism is taking place in politics, a part of it in the judiciary and in the “grey zone” between historiography and politics. In the latter case, a kind of semi-scientific revision is taking place. It is interfering greatly with the part of the profession that is directly or indirectly related to politics. Of course, the most powerful weapon in the political and ideological interpretation of World War Two is social networks.

Until the second half of the Eighties, judgments about World War Two were almost exclusively unambiguous. In politics, the National Liberation Struggle was uncritically glorified and was also equated with carrying out a revolution. In general, anniversaries and figures from the time of the Liberation Struggle were highlighted much more than other historical events; moreover, special importance was placed on events connected directly with the role of the Communist Party. The political emigration advocated the hypothesis that a civil war had been taking place during World War Two in Slovenia and that the Communist Party had taken advantage of the occupation to seize power, in the process abusing the liberation tendencies of the Slovene nation. The emigration viewed collaborationist units as a Slovene army fighting against Communism. They were referring to Milizia Volontaria Anticomunista under the Italians and the Slovene Home Guard—Landeswehr—under the Germans. The Home Guard swore allegiance to Hitler; a part of it was under the aegis of the Wehrmacht, while the other part was led directly by the SS. This interpretation of history either did not acknowledge collaborationism or considered it necessary. With the pluralization in the Eighties, and even more so after the first multi-party elections and the attainment of independence, it spread across Slovenia with full political, ecclesiastical, and media force.

The history of World War Two in Slovenia became an important element of political polarization before the first multi-party elections in the spring of 1990; this polarization is still present today. Some parties, especially right-wing ones, and social groups adopted an entirely negative stance toward the National Liberation Struggle because the Communist Party had emerged from it as the victor and then held onto power for the next forty-five years. They did not acknowledge the legitimacy of the post-war socialist system that was built on the power of the people created during the war; or they labelled it a criminal system due to the killings of Home Guard members and the repression in the first few years after the war. This was about establishing the dominance of the cult of the dead over the cult of the living, where death and the right of burial somehow cover up and blur what those people did while alive. Other parties and politicians tried to distinguish between the “pure” National Liberation Struggle and the actions they considered revolutionary. [4] In some places Partisan monuments and monuments to the revolution were removed after 1990 by order of the local authorities, or were damaged or destroyed by unknown vandals. They renamed streets and schools, and changed holidays. Similar processes took place in other Yugoslav successor states. [5] Memorials dedicated to the Home Guard and other “victims of communist violence” began to appear. The Church was actively involved in this, even though, in principle, it strives for reconciliation—the “truth” was to liberate us from conflict. This “truth” takes the side of the Home Guard, viewing it as a Catholic army fighting against communism. Acceptance of this “truth” is the Church’s precondition for reconciliation. It bases its argument on the view that the Home Guard fought for their country and religion, even though most Partisans were also religious. The Church was actively involved in propaganda in the religious press, in consecrating monuments to the Home Guard, and in holding services for the killed members of the Home Guard, and, above all, in the politicization of the post-war killings.

The parliamentary parties managed to agree to keep the day the Liberation Front was founded—called Resistance Day—a national holiday, but that was about it. As regards celebrations, individual politicians act almost exclusively according to their personal beliefs and political gain, attending celebrations that often contradict the function they perform. The main efforts of the right-wing parties up to now have always aimed at abolishing the Day of Resistance against the Occupiers.

The process of revision, which is relativizing anti-fascism, has also penetrated the judiciary. In 2009, the Catholic Church succeeded in legally rehabilitating Bishop Rožman, one of the chief collaborators with both occupiers, the Italians and the Germans. In 2019, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Slovenia annulled the verdict against General Leon Rupnik, who had been a sort of Slovene mini-Pétain. Rupnik had pleaded guilty at the post-war trial. The courts are carrying out such rehabilitations—which aren’t really rehabilitations—by abusing judicial proceedings. Indeed, they grant a request in the interest of the law claiming that the post-war trial was not held properly in one way or another, and refer the case to a retrial. By doing so, the judges are well aware that trying the dead or holding trials without the presence of the defendant is not permitted under Slovene legislation. And that is the end of the matter. That hasn’t happened yet in Rupnik’s case because he is an undisputed war criminal, which is why the Constitutional Court in 2020 has suspended the rehabilitation, but we do not know how it will rule in the end.


Slovenia gained republican statehood in Yugoslavia in 1945 based on the anti-fascist struggle. Thanks to its participation in the anti-fascist coalition, it was able to change its western border and secure access to the sea. In addition to the socialist revolution, anti-fascism was also a fundamental value until the death of Josip Broz Tito in 1980. The generation of the Partisans based the legitimacy of their rule on both the anti-fascist struggle and the socialist revolution. In the 1980s, with the Yugoslav crisis, anti-fascism as a value began to disappear, and the “historical truth” of the defeated collaborators began to come to the forefront of public debate. Since the independence of Slovenia, this “truth” has gained a strong and in certain periods of right-wing governments even the predominant influence. Its foundation was to equate the Partisan struggle with fascism, with the explanation that resistance was not really resistance, but a communist revolution. In the period of the last far-right government of Janez Janša, who is closely associated with Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán, the matter escalated to a point where the honor guard of the Slovenian Armed Forces was laying wreaths at the monument to the members of collaborationist Home Guard, but not at the Partisan monuments. This domestic neo-fascism, called “Janšism,” met with resistance from the majority of the population. Anti-fascism is once again becoming a value, and the red star is one of the main symbols at the weekly protests, which have been taking place regularly in several Slovenian cities since the beginning of 2020, when the current government took power and immediately began to corrupt the state’s institutions. The red star as a symbol of anti-fascism and freedom was revived by the well-known poet, composer and singer, 82 years old Svet- lana Makarovič with the song “I will wear a red star” and organization of mass concerts with the same title, featuring Partisan choirs and young, rebellious generation of artists.

In response, the Janša government employed police force and tried to pass a law that would have made criticism of the government illegal, and in particular, in addition to the red star, would have banned the word “Janshism” and the greeting “Death to Janshism,” which is an updated version of the Partisan greeting “Death to Fascism!” (The response was “Freedom to the Nation!”). Slovenia thus—in terms of fascism and the fight against it—has returned to the 1930s. A series of mass protests, called “bicycle protests” because they began with bicycling due to the ban on gathering, that lasted 105 weeks brought down the Janša regime. In the 2022 elections, the newly formed Svoboda movement won, and the government now consists of three left-liberal parties. Thus, at the national level, attitudes toward anti-fascism and the national liberation struggle have changed, but division, alternative celebrations, and other forms of revisionism live on.

[Reproduced from ’Anti-Fascism in European History From the 1920s to Today’ Edited by JOŽE PIRJEVEC, EGON PELIKAN, SABRINA P. RAMET (Central European University Press - 202), under a Creative Commons license]

[1“Defend History”, Krokodil at [accessed on 24. October 2021].

[2European Parliament resolution of 19 September 2019 on the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe, at TA-9-2019-0021_EN.html [accessed on 24 October 2021].

[3Ferenc Laczó, “Revisionism instead of reinvention. How CEE countries have impacted Eu- ropean remembrance and vice versa,” New Eastern Europe (18 December 2019), https://ne-

[4Božo Repe, “Zakaj revizionizem? O prevrednotenju zgodovine v Evropi in Sloveniji / Why revisionism? On the revaluation of history in Europe and Slovenia”, in Koroški vestnik: Osrednjega odbora Skupnosti koroških partizanov v Ljubljani, Zveze koroških partizanov v Celov-cu in klubov koroških Slovencev v Ljubljani in Mariboru, Vol. 40, No. 1 (2006): 21–33.

[5Božidar Flajšman and Božo Repe, “Politika brisanja spomina in pot do nje / The politics of Erasing Remeberance and the path to it”, in Retrospektive. Znanstvena revija za zgodovino- pisje in sorodna področja Vol. III, No. 2–3 (2020): 207, at content/uploads/2021/02/Retrospektive-III_23-06_recenzij.pdf [accessed on 2 November 2021].

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