Christian Short Stories

Message From Bari
By Web Ruble

Web Ruble writes: Having once worked in military intelligence in Europe, and later as a newspaper reporter, I have often wondered why we allies turned out back on Mihailovic's Yugoslav guerrillas and supported the Partisans instead.

The other day I was in Sarajevo gazing upon the Bosnian monument dedicated to the 1914 assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

I am shocked it is so well preserved, considering the Bosnian civil war ended just 14 years ago. I am now 84, and even though “the shot” sounded a decade before I was born, I can almost hear it now.

This, near the Latin Bridge, is where that “shot heard around the world” barked that triggered World War I. And that war, of course, led to World War II.

History. Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip -- who lives in infamy even though he was the least of six conspirators – shot and killed the empire-touring duke and his wife, Sophie, in vague hopes it would force Bosnia out of the Austro-Hungarian empire and into the Serbian orbit. Well, it didn’t. Instead, it launched a world war.

The post-war formation of the Yugoslav union, then the second world war, and recent atrocities in the civil war that broke up the Yugoslav union, helped me understand why Bosnians disliked Serbs. Now the Bosnians almost a century later were venerating the archduke.

Why is Serbia -- supposedly a devout Christian nation -- always looking so bad?

Well, I had to search my own WWII experience some 65 years earlier -- our “orders” were probably in that British message from Bari.

All I -- Vladej Dragic -- knew is that soon after the message from Bari arrived -- Bari was the British intelligence headquarters for Allied operations in Yugoslavia -- we in Draza Mihailovic’s force were given a strange mission: Take the surrender of Italy’s Venezia Division as Italy had capitulated.

Huh? That’s right. The Italians who were part of the occupying Axis had overthrown their own dictator Benito Mussolini and were surrendering.

During WWII, Yugoslavia was under Axis occupation – Germans, Italians, Hungarians and Bulgarians. We -- in Mihailovic’s force -- were fighting a guerrilla war for the exiled Yugoslav monarchy in Britain and against the Axis. We also were fighting our own people: the Communist Partisans and the Croatian Ustache, a puppet army supporting the Germans. A miserable, confusing, untenable situation.

So, as to say who was really fighting who was always a question. All we knew is that we were supposed to move north out of intermountain Montenegro to take surrender of that Italian Division at Berane.

It was good news, mostly.

Just think. After grueling months of fighting with shoddy, old weapons – and not very many of them – we’d get the Italian artillery, warm clothing, machine guns, modern rifles, tons of ammunition. Then we’d be more able to handle the aggressive Germans -- especially their tough Prinz Eugen Division which was very good at suppressing rebellion -- but also the pesky, brutal Partisans who seemed more determined to eliminate us than the occupying Germans.

We had lost in recent encounters with the Partisans. However, with the added equipment, we determined we could again take the offensive against that growing red underground which was becoming more than a menace. It was multi-national -- that is, it was composed of Croats, Serbs, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Slovenes and all other disenchanted, communist-leaning Yugoslavs.

Until this moment, this grim situation had gripped us by the morale throat.

Now, it could well change. We felt perhaps delivered.

Plans were to take the Italian surrender before the Germans could react and take the Italians prisoner and acquire their armaments.

However, Germans occupied Prijepolje, a fortress town that lay between us and Berane. So we -- most of us Cetniks (Serbs) -- attacked the Germans. After a bloody battle, in which we thrashed the Nazis, we arrived in Berane Sept. 11, 1943, and met Italian Gen. Badaglio to accept his surrender of 8,000.

However, he in the meantime had made arrangements with the British that the Venezia Division would join allied forces and fight the Germans alongside . . . the (ugh) Partisans.

Good news for the Allies. Bad news for us Cetniks, as we would not inherit the guns, ammunition and warm clothing after all. Moreover, our position for the coming post-war era was seriously threatened.

Mihailovic, always the optimist and loyalist, told us to receive the Italians and to keep on fighting, even though Great Britain now recognized the Partisans as the top fighting force against the Axis in Yugoslavia. Most of the imported aid would go to them.

Not good. Partisan propaganda was that we -- Mihailovic’s guerrillas -- had collaborated with the enemy and therefore were traitors. Partisans claimed they represented all Yugoslav peoples, and said they would rule post-war Yugoslavia. They also promised they would not be kind to traitors.

We in Mihailovic’s army became less and less formidable. At the end in 1945 we were ragtag -- almost powerless -- and regarded traitors.

In 1946, Mihailovic and his followers were tried, convicted, and executed.

I escaped, but am one of the few Cetniks who did. The Partisans took about 400 of us into a field and shot us down with machine guns. Afterwards, a Partisan detail executed Cetniks one by one, with shots to the back of the head. Because I was face down – bloody and half in a muddy hole and half in a water puddle -- they didn’t bother shooting me in the head. Hours later I crawled out of that pigsty and crawled like a sleazy crocodile to a remote, hilly part of Serbia

Eventually, after some physical and emotional healing I ventured into Beograd (Belgrade, once Yugoslavia’s and now Serbia’s capital). Today I had a drink -- Slivovitza --with Pop Prego Popovic, an Eastern Orthodox priest I had befriended and learned to trust.

I said that even though Draza Mihailovic was far from perfect, he and many of us followers nevertheless were true Christians trying to do the right thing.

Why, I asked, had God deserted us? And why had God led the British to believe that the Partisans were the true “good guys” in fighting the Nazis?

Popovic, hunched over, and remained silent for a prolonged minute, appearing as a monk in deep meditation or prayer. Then he drew himself up and said, “The physical reason why Mihailovic was unsuccessful was because somebody -- obviously a communist operative in British forces -- convinced Winston Churchill that the true anti-German force in Yugoslavia was Marshal (Josip Broz) Tito and his Partisans.

“God knew it wasn’t true, of course. However, you will notice that almost nobody today mentions Tito nor do they talk much about the Partisans. Tito is dead. Yugoslavia no longer exists. Most Balkan people would just like to forget Yugoslavia and the Partisans.

“God had to set up the Partisans before the world. Tito would win and after his death in 1980, his eager followers would become cutthroats.”

“Why is all of this happening to Serbia?” I asked. “The civil war, then those genocidal massacres by the Serbian Bosnians, and then the Kosovo muddle where the Americans bombed us out of our underwear. We look like such morons, yay monsters. It makes Serbs appear as thugs and lousy fighters. Yet I know many God-fearing, determined Serbs exist and they do not deserve the rap they have before the world.”

“You will see in time,” Pop Tropovic said. “I believe Mihailovic and his leaders are now in God’s loving embrace, and the time will come when God’s grace again will shine upon all of Christ’s followers, including us.

“God is with us Christians. Believe.”

(© 2011 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)

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