Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/May 2014/Op-ed

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Developing and maintaining Featured Articles involving Yugoslavia in World War II

By Peacemaker67

I have been thinking about how to frame this article for some time, pretty much since I joined WikProject Military History in November 2011, certainly since the first article I had made major contributions to was promoted to FA in August 2012. By choosing this topic, I am not denigrating the work done by many editors who work in relatively uncontentious areas of Military History, but sometimes I wish that my interest lay in similar areas. I certainly don't intend to offend those that work in uncontroversial areas. I say good luck to them, and thank them for what they do. Hopefully, we all do what we do for good reasons. Call it unfortunate (or otherwise), but my personal experiences in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990's have been a driving force behind my choice of subjects since I joined WP, and it seems unlikely to change, despite my natural interest in Australian military history.

My first FA was a biography of a Montenegrin nationalist/Chetnik commander, Pavle Đurišić, which User:Potočnik (formerly User:PRODUCER) and I developed from B-Class to FA over the period 10 May to 28 August 2012. For the uninitiated, Yugoslavia in WWII is highly controversial, and this bloke is probably right up there at the top end. He was a regular officer of the Royal Yugoslav Army who was involved in the popular uprising against the Italian occupation forces in what is now Montenegro in July 1941, alongside communist forces. He subsequently fell in with the controversial WWII Chetnik leader Draža Mihailović, and collaborated with the Italian occupiers, the Nazi-sponsored Serbian puppet regime, and the Germans themselves between 1942 and 1944. He met his end in Bosnia as he tried to withdraw to areas controlled by the Western Allies at the end of WWII. During the development of this article from B-class to FA, there were 168 edits on the talk page of the article. Since this article was promoted, there have been 830 edits on the talk page. Of all the edits on the talk page, More than half have been made by one editor who has only made a total of 38 edits in the article space of the article, against 147 by Potočnik/PRODUCER and 260 of mine. I have mentioned these stats to underline the difficulties of editing in this space. There are always those that seek to bring WP down, to nitpick about pretty insignificant issues, and use dubious sources to criticise our work, to try to cut down articles that have met WP's highest standards. Those that are keen to criticise are often unwilling to put their money where their mouth is and edit in article space, lest their point of view be exposed for what it is. What I (and Potočnik/PRODUCER) have faced in developing (and maintaining) this article is WWII Balkan editing writ small, believe it or not. It is sometimes frustrating, almost beyond belief, for what is a "virtual" pastime. I never knew that was what I would face when I started editing WP two and a half years ago, and I have sometimes wondered if it is worth it.

But I really believe that WP is fundamentally about the dissemination of distilled academic knowledge, not one-sided propaganda. About balanced treatment of a subject using a wide range of academic sources, not the development of an article that conveniently evades the crimes committed, or blames those crimes on others, thereby whitewashing history. It is hard to maintain neutrality and maintain an assumption of good faith in the face of an implacable and highly persistent point of view, but I consider that Potočnik/PRODUCER and I have achieved that and maintained it in the pretty tough area in which we edit. I don't read Serbian Cyrillic or even Serbo-Croat, Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin, Macedonian, or Slovenian (fortunately Potočnik/PRODUCER does), but I doubt these topics get the balanced, nuanced treatment on those WP that they get on en WP. We need more editors that are willing to edit in tough areas, areas like the SS, Nazi Party, concentration camps and Holocaust, Rwandan and Cambodian genocides, Klu Klux Klan etc. So if this article achieves anything, I hope it is that, to encourage editors to step into controversial areas, to gather sources across the spectrum and develop articles of real quality. As Shakespeare wrote, "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so."

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+ Add a commentDiscuss this story
  • Thank you for contributing this thoughtful article. I agree that getting involved in topics which are targeted by POV-pushers is pretty grating, and like you I've found that the payoff from providing readers with an unbiased view is generally worth the effort. From my involvement in articles on Nazi Germany, it's depressing how many Holocaust deniers and Hitler groupies attempt to use Wikipedia to present their nutty views as being factual. Nick-D (talk) 01:13, 24 May 2014 (UTC)
  • I've found the effort to present balanced views of Second World War events, particularly those of the Russo-German War, often seemingly more trouble than it is worth. While I agree that Wikipedia should disseminate information from reliable sources, at times academic notions can approach the absurd but have powerful traction on Wikipedia because they are considered reliable. I sympathize with the difficulty of writing balanced articles on recent history in the Balkans -- dealing with partisan warfare in the editing sphere is quite frustrating. W. B. Wilson (talk) 16:00, 29 May 2014 (UTC)
  • I guess this is really a matter of point of view. A bunch of edits to a talk page is a mere nuisance. Edits to the actual article are problematic. If the POV-warriors would just stick to the talk pages I'd be a happy camper. I think you also have to consider the fact that whatever it says on Wikipedia is what really happened. Those are pretty high stakes. I also know how hard it is to rest when someone's wrong on the internet. The phrase that I find most useful is the old adage, "anything that happened after 1850 isn't history, it's journalism." WWII is still a very recent event to attempt to write about. We're still in prime time to examine the Napoleonic Wars and cooler heads can prevail about the Second World War sometime in the mid-22nd Century. Chris Troutman (talk) 23:46, 29 June 2014 (UTC)