Serbian journalists’ organizations, politicians, Jewish community, NGOs and historians strongly reacted to an article in a children’s magazine, Politikin Zabavnik which portrayed a World War II military organization in Serbia, which collaborated with the Nazis, in a favourable light, claiming it was an attempt to rehabilitate its leader.
Politikin Zabavnik magazine, aimed at children and young people, has a tradition going back to before WW2 and is considered a source of information and learning. It was a favourite for families with children across the former Yugoslavia. It is published by the Politika newspaper publishing company which also has a century-old tradition.
The disputed article portrayed the leader of the collaborationist military formation Zbor, Dimitrije Ljotic as a man who wanted to bring order to Serbia and claimed that he condemned the persecution of Jews which a number of historians disputed over the past few days. Ljotic’s troops were known to have been engaged by the Wehrmacht in the mass executions of at least 300 school children and some 3,000 civilians in the town of Kragujevac in 1941.
The story first came to light on social media with a number of people publishing a photograph of the story and some saying that they would never buy a copy of Politikin Zabavnik ever again. Historian Srdjan Milosevic explained that the article was written under the guise of neutrality. “It’s like saying that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust but nowhere is said if that is good or bad,” he said.
The Serbian Jewish community demanded an apology from Politikin Zabavnik’s editor-in-chief,Zeferino Grasi. In a statement, the Jewish community says that “the Zbor military formation called Serbians to start the extermination of Jews”, and adds: “We have hard time believing that the author of this article doesn’t know that Ljotic’s Zbor is included the public anti-Semitism declaration as an openly racist policy,” the statement said, demanding that the magazine apologizes, publishes a redacted text and “not contaminate new generations with revisionist claims about the known Quisling”.
Grasi told later that “an explanation” for the disputed story would be published in the next edition of Politikin Zabavnik, adding that no one wanted to play down the role of criminal formations or Ljotic. “We apologize to everyone who saw our article in that light,” he said.
The article was also severely criticized by the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia and the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina which stated that the article contained “affirmative writing about the Nazi collaborator, Dimitrije Ljotic”, which constitutes “the most despicable of all media manipulation formats – manipulation of children”.
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