AskDefine | Define Chetnik

Extensive Definition

The Chetnik movement or the Chetniks (Serbian: Četnici, cyrillic: Четници) were a royalist paramilitary formation operating in the Balkans before and during World Wars. During World War II, the Chetniks were known officially as the "Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland" (Jugoslovenska vojska u otadžbini, Југословенска војска у отаџбини; JVUO, ЈВУО) and consisted mostly of radical nationalist Serbs loyal to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia's government in exile. The name "Chetnik" was also used by some guerrilla squads active in the wars in the Balkans prior to World War I. The name, "chetnik", is derived from the Serbian word "četa" (чета) which means "military company", itself derived from Turkish "çete", gang or band (e.g., of brigands). In modern times, especially during and after Yugoslav Wars, the term "chetnik" came to be used as an ethnic slur against Serbs. However, some Serb nationalist and paramilitary organizations self-identified with the term.

Early chetniks in Macedonia

see also Balkan Wars The word "chetnik" was first used in early 20th century Macedonia by the IMRO freedom fighters against the Ottoman Empire. Soon, most ethnic groups in the Balkans had their own chetnik detachments: Serbs, Bulgarians, Greek Andartes and Albanian Kacak. Part of the IMRO members that fought till 1903 as pro-Bulgarian Macedonians, in 1903 started fighting as pro-Serbian Macedonians. This was due the offers made by Serb officials vis-a-vis the new policy of the Serbian kingdom towards Macedonia. In Vranje in 1904 the organization known as the "Serb Chetnik Movement" (Српски Четнички Покрет) was formed by the members of the St Sava organization, by members of the army and representatives of the ministry of foreign affairs. Besides the autonomist IMRO chetniks that already existed in Macedonia, Serbia started equipping and sending pro-Serbian Macedonian chetniks which started attacking both the autonomist and the pro-Bulgarian chetniks. The Serb chetniks were fighting against the Macedonian liberation movement and were conducting Belgrade's plans of force Serbisation of the Slavic population of Macedonia. This started the begging of the so-called "Macedonian struggle". The Macedonian pro-Serbian chetniks from 1904 till 1908 created strongholds in Skopje and Prilep (Porech) regions after several battles against the Turks and the IMRO, but could not extend their territory due to the IMRO presence in the other parts of Macedonia. The most prominent Serbian chetniks from Macedonia were Jovan Babunski and Gligor Sokolovic. After the proclamation of the Young Turk revolution in 1908 and the proclamation of the constitution, all of the brigands in Macedonia, including the pro-Serbian chetniks put down their weapons. This period lasted till 1912, when the Balkan countries once again started arming guerrilla bands in Macedonia in order to help them in operations against the Ottoman army. At the start of the Balkan wars there were 110 Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), 108 Greek, 30 Serbian, and 5 Vlach detachments. They fought against the Turks in the First Balkan War, while in World War I they fought against Austria-Hungary.

World War I and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia

In World War I bands of chetniks fought against the Bulgarian Army and organized the Topličko insurrection, which was quickly crushed by the Bulgarians with assistance of the Ottoman Empire.
After the formation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later Kingdom of Yugoslavia) and the arrival of peacetime, the Chetnik movement experienced a transition from merely a guerrila force. In 1921 the 'Organization of Chetniks for the Freedom and Honor of the Fatherland' (Udruženje Četnika za slobodu i čast Otadžbine) was formed, and in 1924 the 'Organization of Serbian Chetniks for King and Fatherland' (Udruženje srpskih četnika za Kralja i Otadžbinu), while the formation of the 'Organization of Serbian Chetniks Petar Mrkonjić' (Udruženje srpskih četnika Petar Mrkonjić) also followed. These latter two merged together the following year as the 'Organization of Serbian Chetniks Petar Mrkonjić'.
After King Alexander I of Yugoslavia proclaimed a dictatorship in 1929, the 'Organization of Serbian Chetniks Petar Mrkonjić' was banned while the 'Organization of Chetniks for Freedom and Honour of the Fatherland' was allowed to continue operating. Kosta Pećanac was the organization's leader from 1932 up to the occupation of Yugoslavia in 1941.

World War II

Formation and ideology

In 1941 The Yugoslav resistance forces consisted of two factions: the communist-led Yugoslav Partisans (or simply the "Partisans"), and the royalist Chetniks. The Chetniks were founded as a Royalist movement, but increasingly evolved into a Serb nationalist militia. The movement was reactivated under the form of the 'Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland' by Colonel Draža Mihailović in the Serbia's Ravna Gora province after the invasion of Yugoslavia. Although an overwhelming majority of its members were Serbs and Montenegrins, the movement also included a number of Croats, Slovenes, and Bosnian Muslims. Most of the non-Serbs were monarchists and/or anti-communists. In the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), Chetniks were under the command of Momčilo Đujić, in the Krajina region of modern-day Croatia, they organized themselves in response to Ustaša attacks on Serbian villages.
The Chetnik salute was: "For King and Fatherland" (Za kralja i otadžbinu, За краља и отаџбину). Many Chetniks started to grow elaborate beards during the war, as growing beards is traditional in Orthodox Christian mourning, with the intent to keep them until their King returned. However, Chetnik units had a clear Serbian nationalist ideology and aimed towards the creation of a Serb-dominated Yugoslavia or Greater Serbia. During the course of the war, Mihailović increasingly changed his position from Yugoslavian unitarianist to Serbian nationalist. As his international support eroded, however, and the Partisans received Allied recognition and support, he decided to convene the "Congress of St Sava" (the patron saint of Serbia) which was organized by Živko Topalović, and held at Ba in the Suvobor Mountains, Serbia. It was attended by a number of delegates from all over Yugoslavia. In his statement at the opening, he said: The Congress brought forth seven resolutions, these called for a federal state with political and cultural rights for all citizens. Petar Karadjordjevic was to be the constitutional monarch until such time as a freely elected national assembly chose to remove him. This move came too late to result in a shift of Allied support from Marshal Tito's Partisans.

Early activities

Upon their formation, Mihailović directed his units to arm themselves and await his attack orders. However, he avoided actions which he judged were of low strategic importance, which meant not engaging the Axis in any major attack. According to him, the reason was humanitarian: the prevention of German reprisals against Serbs. The Chetniks, as a royalist force, quickly gained the support of Winston Churchill and the western Allies. In 1942, TIME Magazine even featured an article which described Mihailović's Chetniks. TIME heralded Mihailović as the "sole defender of freedom in Nazi-occupied Europe". Josip Broz Tito's Partisans, however, did not remain relatively passive and harassed Axis forces since June 22, establishing the first large liberated piece of Yugoslav territory, the "Republic of Užice". The Partisans and Chetniks attempted to cooperate, but this quickly fell apart. After fruitless negotiations, Mihailović turned against the Partisans as his main enemy. Chetnik units attacked the Partisans in November 1941, while increasingly receiving supplies and cooperating with the Germans and Italians in this. The British liaison to Mihajlović advised London to stop supplying the Chetniks after their assistance in the German attack on Užice (see First anti-Partisan offensive), but Britain continued to do so. In the beginning, however, the Germans did not officially negotiate with the Chetniks and offered a bounty of 100,000 Reichsmarks on both Tito and Mihailović. They introduced exacting punitive measures for guerrilla activities. For example, 100 civilians were to be executed for every German soldier killed, 50 civilians for each German wounded. After the German offensive in the area of Užice, the bulk of the Chetnik forces retreated into eastern Bosnia and Sandžak. There they came into conflict with several formations of the Independent State of Croatia, a Nazi puppet state controlled by the fascist and anti-Serbian Ustaše and the Germans.

Axis offensives

Later during the War, the Allies were seriously considering an invasion of the Balkans, so the Yugoslav resistance movements increased in strategic importance, and there was a need to determine which of the two factions was fighting the Germans. A number of Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents were sent to Yugoslavia to determine the facts on the ground. In the meantime, the Germans, also aware of the growing importance of Yugoslavia, decided to wipe out the Partisans with determined offensives. The Chetniks, by this time, had agreed to provide support for the German operations, and were in turn granted supplies and munitions to increase their effectiveness.
The first of these large anti-Partisan offensives was Fall Weiss, also known as the Battle of Neretva. The Chetniks participated with a significant, 20,000-strong, force providing assistance to the German and Italian encirclement from the east (the far bank of the river Neretva). However, Tito's Partisans managed to break through the encirclement, cross the river, and engage the Chetniks. The conflict resulted in a near-total Partisan victory, after which the Chetniks were almost entirely incapacitated in the area west of the Drina river. The Partisans continued on, and later again escaped the Germans in the Battle of Sutjeska. In the meantime, the Allies stopped planning an invasion of the Balkans and finally rescinded their support for the Chetniks and instead supplied the Partisans. At the Teheran Conference of 1943 and the Yalta Conference of 1945, Stalin and Churchill decided to split their influence in Yugoslavia in half.

Loss of support and final war years

To gather intelligence, agents of the western Allies were infiltrated into both the Partisans and the Chetniks. The intelligence gathered by liaisons to the resistance groups was crucial to the success of supply missions and was the primary influence on Allied strategy in Yugoslavia. The search for intelligence ultimately resulted in the demise of the Chetniks and their eclipse by Tito’s Partisans. In 1942, though supplies were limited, token support was sent equally to each. The new year would bring a change. The Germans were executing Operation Schwarz (the Battle of Sutjeska, i.e. the Fifth anti-Partisan offensive), one of a series of offensives aimed at the resistance fighters, when F.W.D. Deakin was sent by the British to gather information. His reports contained two important observations. The first was that the Partisans were courageous and aggressive in battling the German 1st Mountain and 104th Light Division, had suffered significant casualties, and required support. The second observation was that the entire German 1st Mountain Division had transited from Russia on rail lines through Chetnik-controlled territory. British intercepts (ULTRA) of German message traffic confirmed Chetnik timidity. All in all, intelligence reports resulted in increased Allied interest in Yugoslavia air operations, and a shift in policy. In September 1943, at Churchill’s request, Brigadier General Fitzroy Maclean was parachuted to Tito’s headquarters near Drvar to serve as a permanent, formal liaison to the Partisans. While the Chetniks were still occasionally supplied, the Partisans received the bulk of all future support. Thus, after the Tehran Conference the Partisans received official recognition as the legitimate national liberation force by the Allies, who subsequently set-up the RAF Balkan Air Force (under the influence and suggestion of Brigadier-General Fitzroy MacLean) with the aim to provide increased supplies and tactical air support for Marshal Tito's Partisan forces.
On 14 August 1944, the Tito-Šubašić agreement between Partisans and the Government in exile was signed on the island of Vis. The document called on all Croats, Slovenes, and Serbs to join the Partisans. Mihailović and the Chetniks refused to accept the Royal Government's agreement and continued to engage the Partisans, by now the official Yugoslav Allied force. Consequently on August 29, 1944, King Peter II dismissed Mihailović as Chief-of-Staff of the Yugoslav Army and on September 12 appointed Marshal Josip Broz Tito in his place. In late 1944, the leader of the Serbian fifth column, Milan Nedić, transferred all fascist Serbian troops under his command to Mihailović. Finally, in April and May 1945, as the victorious Partisans took possession of the country's territory, many Chetniks retreated toward Italy and a smaller group toward Austria. Many were captured by the Partisans or returned to Yugoslavia by British forces while a number were killed afterwards at Bleiburg. Some were tried for treason and were sentenced to prison terms or death. Many were summarily executed, especially in the first months after the end of the war. Mihailović and his few remaining followers tried to fight their way back to the Ravna Gora, but he was captured by Partisan forces. In March 1946, Mihailović was brought to Belgrade, where he was tried and executed on charges of treason in July.
During the closing years of World War II, many Chetniks defected from their units, as the Partisan commander-in-chief, Marshal Tito, proclaimed a general amnesty to all defecting forces for a time. Many Chetniks took up the offer. The amnesty was also offered to the Croatian Home Guard, but was not extended to the Ustaše.

Axis collaboration

see also Serbian Military Administration
Throughout the War, the Chetnik movement remained relatively inactive against the occupation forces, and increasingly collaborated with the Axis, losing its international recognition as the Yugoslav resistance force. After a brief initial period of cooperation, the two factions quickly started fighting against each-other. Gradually, the Chetniks ended up primarily fighting the Partisans instead of the occupation forces, and started cooperating with the Axis in their struggle to destroy the resistance, receiving increasing amounts of logistical assistance (in particular, from Italy).
At the start of the conflict, Chetnik forces were merely relatively inactive towards the occupation, and negotiated with the Partisans. This changed when these talks broke down, and they proceeded to attack the latter (who were actively fighting the Germans), while continuing to engage the Axis only in minor skirmishes. Attacking the Germans provoked strong retaliation, and the Chetniks increasingly negotiated with them. Negotiations were aided by their mutual goal of destroying athe Partisans. This collaboration first appeared during the attack on the Partisan "Užice Republic", where Chetniks played a part in the general Axis attack. In Italian-controlled Dalmatia and Montenegro, the Chetniks made deals with occupation forces to gain munitions and support in their bid to destroy the Partisans. During this time, the Chetnik movement continued to receive support from the western Allies, against the better judgment of the British liaison to Mihailović.
The cooperation and support between the Axis forces and the Chetniks deepened as Yugoslavia's strategic importance increased. Anticipating an Allied invasion in the Balkans, the Germans acquired all available assistance in destroying the Partisans. An agreement was reached by which Chetnik forces would collaborate in the coming operation, known as Fall Weiss. A Chetnik force of 20,000 coordinated with the Axis in the offensive, but was badly beaten when the Partisans managed to escape. The subsequent Partisan strategic victory at the Battle of Sutjeska increased the numbers and reputation of the Partisans. This, along with favorable reports by Brigadier General Fitzroy Maclean and F.W.D. Deakin, caused the Allies to officially and fully support the Partisans, which was announced later that year (1943) at the Tehran Conference.
The loss of Allied support caused the Chetniks to lean more than ever towards the Germans for assistance against the Partisans. On 14 August, 1944, the Tito-Šubašić agreement between the Partisans and the Government in exile was signed on the island of Vis. The document called on all Croats, Slovenes, and Serbs to join the Partisans. Mihailović and the Chetniks refused to accept the Royal Government's agreement and continued to engage the Partisans, by now the official Yugoslav Allied force. Consequently on August 29, 1944, King Peter II dismissed Mihailović as Chief-of-Staff of the Yugoslav Army and on September 12 appointed Marshal Josip Broz Tito in his place. In occupied Serbia, the Germans installed Milan Aćimović as leader, and later the former Minister of War, General Milan Nedić, who governed until 1944. Nedić formed his own troops, the Serbian State Guard, comprised of ex-members of the Royal Yugoslav Army. However, his forces were also augmented by several formations of Chetniks, one under the pre-war leader Kosta Pećanac, and another under Dimitrije Ljotić. The former led a force of around 3,000 men in southern Serbia, and felt that he, as a man with 40 years of service, was senior to Mihailović. In 1944, having lost all Allied recognition, Mihailović was granted command over the entire military force of Nedić's Serbia, including the Serbian State Guard. The commanding officer of the Abwehr (German intelligence) in Split commented: According to German General Edmund Glaise von Horstenau: As the war drew to a close, Chetnik forces continued to fight the Partisans and later the Red Army alongside German forces. The movement was by this time, though commanded by Mihailović, plagued with a lack of discipline. Splinter factions emerged, one of which was the Montenegrin People's Army led by Pavle Đurišić which, in a belated bid for Allied recognition, unsuccessfully attacked Ustaše formations in what is known as the Battle on Lijevča field.

SFR Yugoslavia

After the end of World War II, the Chetniks were banned in the new SFR Yugoslavia. On 29 November, 1945, King Peter II of Yugoslavia was deposed by the Yugoslav Constituent Assembly after an overwhelming referendum result. Chetnik leaders either escaped the country or were arrested by the authorities. On March 13, 1946, Draža Mihailović was captured by the Yugoslav security agency, the OZNA (Organ Zaštite Naroda (Armije), OZNA). He was put to trial, found guilty of high treason against Yugoslavia, sentenced to death he was duly executed on July 18. Later, Momčilo Đujić formed the 'Movement of Serbian Chetniks of Ravna Gora' in the United States and Canada.

Rescues of Allied airmen

see also Operation Halyard The Chetniks often rescued U.S. airmen who crashed over Yugoslavia. Due to the efforts of Major Richard L. Felman, President Harry S. Truman, on the recommendation of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, posthumously awarded Mihailović the "Legion of Merit", for the rescue of American Airmen (Operation Airbridge). For the first time in history, this high award and the story of the rescue was classified secret by the State Department so as not to offend the government of Yugoslavia. Such a display of appreciation for the Chetniks would not be welcomed, as they switched during the War.

Recent history

Yugoslav Wars

main article Yugoslav Wars During the Yugoslav wars, Serb paramilitaries often self-identified as Chetniks. Vojislav Šešelj's Serbian Radical Party formed the White Eagles which was identified as Chetniks. Vuk Drašković's Serbian Renewal Movement was closely associated with the Serbian Guard, which was also associated with Chetniks and monarchism.
During the war five Serb soldiers received the title of Chetnik voivodes from World War II veteran Momčilo Đujić: Rade Čubrilo, Slavko Aleksić, Branislav Gavrilović, Rade Radović, and Mitar Mandić. Rade Čubrilo became the flag-bearer of Đujić's former unit, the Dinara Chetnik Division.

Contemporary period

In late 2004, the National Assembly of Serbia passed a new law that equalized the rights of the former Chetnik members with those of the former Partisans, including the right to war pensions. Rights were granted on the basis that both were anti-fascist movements that fought occupiers, and this formulation has entered the law. The vote was 176 for, 24 against and 4 abstained. The Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) of Slobodan Milošević was the one voting against the decision.
There have been varying reactions to the law in Serbian public opinion. Many have praised it as just and long overdue, including Prince Alexander Karađorđević (son of Peter II, the last Yugoslav king), as well as most political parties (with the most notable exception of SPS). Others protested the decision, including the Serbian Association of Former Partisans, the Serbian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, the Croatian Anti-Fascist Movement, and the President and Prime Minister of Croatia. Since 1992, the Serbian Renewal Movement has annually organized the "Ravna Gora Parliament". In 2005, Croatian president Stipe Mesić cancelled a planned visit to Serbia as it coincided with the gathering, officially supported by the Serbian government, and attended by Vuk Drašković. People who attend the Parliament wear Chetnik-World War II insignia.
Today Chetnik activity is seriously restricted or banned in all neighbouring countries other than Serbia and Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Milorad Pupovac of the Independent Democratic Serbian Party in Croatia, has called the organization "fascist collaborators". In 2003, the Montenegrin government forbade the building of a statue of Pavle Đurišić near Berane.
The Serbian basketball player Milan Gurović has a tattoo of World War II Chetnik Draža Mihailović on his left arm which has resulted in a ban since 2004 in playing in Croatia under its anti-fascist laws. Turkey has also threatened to enact such a ban. Serbian rocker Bora Đorđević is also a declared Chetnik.
Modern Chetnik movements include:



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Chetnik in Bosnian: Četnici
Chetnik in German: Tschetnik
Chetnik in French: Tchetnik
Chetnik in Croatian: Četnici
Chetnik in Japanese: チェトニック
Chetnik in Dutch: Četniks
Chetnik in Norwegian: Tsjetnikere
Chetnik in Romanian: Cetnici
Chetnik in Russian: Четники
Chetnik in Slovenian: Četnici
Chetnik in Serbian: Четници
Chetnik in Swedish: Tjetniker
Chetnik in Turkish: Çetnikler
Chetnik in Chinese: 切特尼克
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