There's been a bit of a fuzz around the JNA Genocide Parka and here's the reason why we sell it

Published 24.04.2017

Humour can be dark too. Sometimes pitch black.

How do you make a plumber cry? Kill his family. Works every time.

People usually laugh at this. It’s even an internet meme. Because it’s funny. We’re capable of laughing at the joke even without any intentions of killing any families, with plumbers or without. The funny in this case comes from the amount of atrocity in the sentences, which provokes a reaction. It’s safer to laugh than cry.

An army shop sells stuff that has seen war

There are army shops and there are army shops. 14 years ago when Varusteleka was set up, the previous army shops in Finland used to sell used German army camouflage uniforms as “NATO camouflage uniform.” Curiously, Chinese copies of South African M83 combat vest were also “NATO combat vest.” Any kind of used black military boot would be “US Army boot, used”, even though all the boots sold in Finland were Finnish, German or Swedish stock, no one in their right mind would ship a batch of used cheap footwear across the Atlantic. When we entered the business, we found a vivid world of standardized items, all of which had stories to tell. The suppliers wouldn’t tell them, they didn’t care, but if you knew your staff, had the appropriate literature and knew where to look in the internet, you could find out all the stories behind every item, no matter how insignificant it would seem.

Some of the stories were harmless, like how US Army makes pregnancy trousers in camouflage, even though the mothers-to-be would never be in hostile territory and in need to make themselves invisible. Some were chilling, like how West German combat webbing was very well made from very high quality materials, but the design was not exactly combat effective. This was because it didn’t make much sense to develop personal combat equipment for troops who would face tactical nuclear weapons. Then you sometimes get stuff that very likely have seen really nasty things, like anything that’s been in Africa, or stuff from the Yugoslav wars.

Uniformed units committing atrocities usually behave like any other unformed units - when the conflict is over or when the contract is up, they give out their uniforms and other issued equipment, which ends up in the same circulation with stuff from units that have adhered international laws and done their killing and maiming in a perfectly justifiable and nice, acceptable way.

This means that when you get stuff from the former Yugoslavian army originating from any which one of the contemporary countries, and if the item shows signs of wear, it might have seen just plain conscript use before or after the hostilities, or it might have been used in the bloodiest European conflict since Second World War. A jacket or a bayonet or an ammo pouch or a beret might have been worn at Srebrenica. You get kind of cynical holding an item that might have been part of something really bad. Selling this stuff, sometimes you just simply wonder how fucked up the human race is.

So what can you do? Start crying and quit the business? Or maybe deal with it, with the one positive way to deal with horror - humor.

The joke’s on the evil people

Calling a jacket that might have been used in a genocide a “genocide parka” is dark, dark humor and an effort to deal with something horrible. The action here is dealing with it, not glorifying it. You’ll never find the genocide makers boasting about it - actually they’ll do anything to deny the word genocide and cover up their work. A military jacket is not only a jacket, it’s part of an uniform, it has significance in the sense of making the group operating under the uniform an unit. If the unit commits genocide or other war crimes, the uniform becomes tarnished and carries the bad deeds with it, even if any single jacket just sat on the warehouse shelf throughout the whole conflict.

Calling the jacket a genocide jacket is waking people up to the fact that this has happened and it was real. The humor is not at the expense of the victims - they would want people to remember the crime - but at the expense of the perpetrators, those people who’d want nothing more than the whole genocide to be forgotten.

Being quiet about it isn’t far from saying it never happened

Dark humor comes naturally to people - just watch any stand up comic. You can see things like alcoholism or domestic violence being acceptable topics for humor in movies or other fiction. Some victims do not like this humour, other victims make dark humor a part of their coping methods. Humor doesn’t glorify, nor does it dilute something or make it more acceptable. It’s a way of processing Because of this, there is no line to cross for something to be too bad to be processed with humor. Even genocide isn’t too much.

The worst thing would be not to mention the genocide. Would you want to be informed that the jacket you are buying is also the uniform of a military group who committed genocide and other war crimes?

ASA (The Advertising Standards Authority) also gave us a friendly reminder via email - we'll see how that plays out. A few years back we received a notification about this very same thing from the Finnish equivalent for ASA, and they pretty much got our point regarding this matter.

Here's the whole conversation in social media.