Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Wehrmacht - Positive Rose Model?!

Only few days ago I described Kostelić family as a one of the few success stories of contemporary Croatia. Today I hear about one of the Kostelićs doing something that would compromise his status of positive role model. Ivica Kostelić in Croatian sports daily Sportske novosti has just offered this recipe for sport success:

You should stand on the start line and say ‘Now I’ll beat them all’, you must be as certain as… German soldier was certain of his victory on June 22nd 1941.

Many Croatians who surf the Net can’t avoid situations in which any mention of their country is accompanied with the word “Nazi” and other reminders of dark WW2 past. Some of those Croatians are often forced to waste precious hours of their on-line time defending the reputation of their country and pointing out that more Croatians fought on the side of the Allies than on the side of Axis in 1941-45. Kostelić did those people little service and played right into the hands of Serbian propagandists who paint modern Croatia as “neo-Nazi” state.

I don’t believe that Kostelić in any way tried to associate himself with Nazism, but his statement might easily be interpreted that way. The date he mentioned is remembered in history books as the start of German invasion of USSR – event that led to the biggest carnage in human history and has been directly caused and inspired by Nazi ideology. To see inspiration in the hordes that had started war with unambiguous intention to bring genocide and mass slavery over half of continent is poor taste, and that is understatement.

On the other hand, Kostelić’s use of Wehrmacht as positive role model could be explained with the sense of awe that institution manages to create more than fifty years after its demise. German army (ground forces, to be exact) was arguably the best fighting force of WW2, and its conquests in the early period of the war are examples of military skill still unsurpassed. “Cool” uniforms, “cool” military songs and other elements of iconography, morbid curiosity and romanticising of the distant past create probably the same effect as the one seen in USA among Civil War enthusiasts who prefer Confederate side in battle re-enactements. This perverse fondness for vanished evil empires of the past usually doesn’t have anything to do with present-day politics. Just like weekend Confederates in USA hardly dream of armed uprising against US government and re-instatement of slavery, majority of present-day Rommel fans would undoubtedly oppose any attempt to resurrect Third Reich. And some of those people often have political views diametrically opposed to the ideology associated with the object of their affection. One of the examples is one of Croatian wargaming celebrities, man who publicly describes his admiration for Hitler’s war machine with equal vigour as he expresses his deep conviction that the people of former Yugoslavia used to be better-off under Tito’s Communist regime than under democratically elected nationalists.

Kostelić could have very easily been enchanted by Wehrmacht myth, but his example in this particular case was not only in poor taste, but also the wrong one. If he used dates like “September 1st 1939” (invasion of Poland), “April 9th 1940” (invasion of Denmark and Norway) or “May 10th 1940” (invasion of Low Countries and France) the comparison could have been much better. In those cases German success was far from certain and most of the outside observers didn’t believe that Germans would be able to overcome numerical superiority of their opponents and their bad geostrategic situation. Even Germans themselves were far from being convinced in their success. When German armies began to march into Poland there weren’t cheering crowds on Berlin streets. Few months later some of top German generals even contemplated coup against Hitler in order to prevent military fiasco in the upcoming offensive against France.

But few of those doubts existed when “Barbarossa” started. Almost anyone in Germany, from Hitler to the lowest infantryman, believed that this campaign would end in quick triumph. This kind of confidence might have helped Germans in their previous campaign, but this time it was their doom. Utterly convinced of their own invincibility, Germans tragically underestimated Russia – both the vastness of the country and resilience of its people – and instead of quick triumph came the long slugging match Germany could only lose at the end.

If Kostelić indeed takes the example of German soldiers in “Barbarossa”, his chances of finishing the next race are smaller rather than bigger.


Post a Comment

<< Home