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The Missing Balkan History Puzzle Piece: The Silent Cries of Serbia

And God is not the God of the dead, but of the living; because to Him all are alive – Dara of Jasenovac: Historical drama about the horrors of concentration camp Jasenovac.

Author: Angela Radić

At the beginning of the winter month February, indeed a very chilling but influential Serbian historical film was released – Dara of Jasenovac (Дара из Јасеновца) by director Predrag Antonijević. It covers only partially the horrors that the Serbian people, Romas and Jews had to endure, as there are not enough words in the world to describe such atrocities. Agreeing with Dragoslav Bokan when he notes: Jews had Anne Frank, Dara serves as a similar face.

The film covers the journey of a little girl named Dara with her younger brother. At the very beginning of the film, a clear distinction is made between Croatians and Ustaše. The NDH (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska; The Independent State of Croatia) was a puppet state of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during World War II. Its primary purpose was to commit genocide to establish a ‘Greater Croatia’: “killing one third, expelling the other third and assimilating the remaining third” (Mile Budak), thereby referring to Serbs, Romas and Jews. Consequently, it was a lethal regime led by Ante Pavelić as it committed unimaginable crimes to mostly Serbian children, who even had their own concentration camp. In essence, what this film manages to produce is a haunting retelling of these events: Antonijević’s bravery exceeds all limits considering the amounts of times Western media outlets have tried to unjustly discredit the massacres of over a million Serbs, because to them, Serbs are never the victims, and cannot possibly be so.

The film presents the children who saw hell on earth and who faced the dark abyss of Ustaše, the horrors that they had to endure, yet there remain ‘authors’ like Robert Abele (LA Times) and Jay Weissberg (Variety) who claim that this film is nothing but an exaggeration of manipulative and nationalistic Serbian historical reality. One could imagine such narratives get rather tiring – I have disallowed them to hurt me, but I would be lying if I said that those words did not bother me. As the situation in the Balkan has not been steady since the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, many people have formed an uninformed opinion.

Being an English Language and Culture student, specializing in the fields of Linguistics, I have yet to find the word to express my utter disgust and shock that I experienced when reading such articles trying to silence the truth. Many agree when arguing that such ‘authors’ [and yes, I deliberately put quotation marks as they do not have the rights to call themselves as such, more so than somebody who tries to discredit war victims] should be held accountable for silencing the true Serbian war victims, the many innocent lives taken by the power of aggression, and for propagating a narrative that resembles fascist ideologies and propaganda. Dismaying the fact that children had their own concentration camp, such Western media outlets show nothing short of ignorance and misinformation on such matters. If this - LA Times and Variety - is how you want to be represented, be my guest, but bear in mind that the Forgotten 500 (when Serbs saved 500+ American pilots in WWII) proves that we will always forgive - but we will not forget.

It seems as if only one event has remained in the collective memory: Srebrenica, for which it seems that Serbs will forever have to pay. Why do some people have the tendency to think that X excludes Y: all I see and hear is Srebrenica, and while this is a horrible historical event too, there are many inaccuracies in the retelling of the event itself, but it seems as if Serbian people are not allowed to speak at all, when they clearly have a voice as well, be that about Kravica, Oluja, or Jasenovac. There is a lack of empathy and understanding for the remaining victims, as certain narratives get spread around, rehearsed, and believed upon. It is difficult when war criminals like Ante Gotovina, responsible for Operation Storm [ethnic cleansing of Serbs in Krajina], get to walk around freely when Serbian commanders seem to get punished extra hard. It is time for the people who want to have a say in such unresolved sensitive conflicts to open their eyes and make up their mind. I encourage everybody to watch this film, as the truth shall not be forgotten, as justice should serve those who demand it. Truth never damages a cause that is just.

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