On the occasion of 20th anniversary of the end of the civil war on the territory of ex-Yugoslavia (1991−1995) it is necessary to reassess the real causes and cardinal causers of the process of Yugoslavia’s internal and external bloody destruction.
In the western scientific literature of the “liberal democracy” scholars (like by the journalists and policymakers as well) exists for the last 25 years a standard cliché on the issue of Yugoslavia’s ending as the only cause of its destruction are seen to be the Serbs as a nation and only Yugoslavia’s destroyer is considered to be Slobodan Miloshevic – a “Balkan butcher”. However, the same scholars (and journalists and policymakers) did not and are not pay any attention to other either internal or external causers and destroyers of the country, especially not to the case of Croatia and her authoritarian and neo-Nazi (Ustashi) regime of Dr. Franjo Tudjman’s Croatian Democratic Union (the HDZ) who, in fact are the alpha and omega of the killing of Yugoslavia. As a matter of illustration, for example, Franjo Tudjman is not included into the anthology of top-20th century South-East European strongmen, authoritarian rulers and dictators edited by Bernd J. Fischer but Slobodan Miloshevic is. This text is contribution to more accurate lightening of the reasons and causers of Yugoslavia’s death in 1991−1995 dealing with the phenomena of the authoritarian and dictatorial neo-Nazi (Ustashi) regime in Croatia established by Franjo Tudjman.
The HDZ in Power
The HDZ took power in Croatia after the spring parliamentary and presidential elections in 1990 according to the majoritarian electoral principle. Therefore, the party (est. in 1989) had an absolute majority in Croatia’s Parliament (Sabor) with Franjo Tudjman as both Croatia’s President and the party leader – a fact which allows the HDZ to establish a full scale of party’s dictatorship in Croatia for a decade (till 2000). A direct consequence of such electoral results in Croatia, inspired by the electoral results in Bosnia-Herzegovina too, there was election in Serbia of Slobodan Miloshevic and his Socialist Party of Serbia (the SPS) in December 1990 according to the same majoritarian electoral principle as in Croatia. In the other words, election of Miloshevic and his SPS in Serbia was in fact Serbia’s answer to the electoral results in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina – two Yugoslav republics in which the ultra-right political parties won power at the eve of the new civil war. It was clear for majority of the Serbs in ex-Yugoslavia that a neo-Nazi Croat Ustashi regime is established in Croatia followed by a regime of the Islamic fundamentalist Party of Democratic Action (the SDA) of Alija Izetbegovic in Bosnia-Herzegovina. That became the main reason for Serbia’s electorate to vote for its own strongman and nationalist who can above all protect their brethren Serbs in other Yugoslav republics (Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina) from the new Croat-Muslim-led holocaust as a continuation of the WWII Magnum Crimen against the Serbs. For Croatia’s Serbs (the “Survivors” of the WWII Ustashi-led holocaust), especially in the Krajina region, Franjo Tudjman was nothing else than a new Ante Pavelic (the WWII Nazi Croat leader) and the HDZ as democratically redressed the WWII Nazi Croat Ustashi movement.
A new HDZ’s authorities by using a propaganda pattern of creation of a Greater Serbia by Miloshevic’s regime, succeeded very soon to introduce a state-building construction that was in very odds to the idea of political liberal democracy and a society of multicultural and multiethnic coexistence. A state-building party’s policy was mainly based on traditional Croatian clerical right-wing nationalism what can be probably seen as the best in appropriation of the extreme Croat national movement’s insignia and rhetoric from the time of the 1941−1945 Independent State of Croatia (the NDH). A German Nazi NSDAP salutation, for instance, was used even in the Parliament in Zagreb by the HDZ’s members during the official parliamentary sessions. Nevertheless, in the HDZ’s Croatia a new political elite was much less interested in introducing of the western liberal model of political democracy based on the rights and role of the Parliament in the national political system and free media and speech than in continuation of the WWII policy of the “Final Solution” of the Serb Question in a Greater post-WWII Croatia with attempts to annex a greater part of Bosnia-Herzegovina as this Yugoslav republic was an integral part of Pavelic’s NDH. In such political atmosphere and based on traditional Croat Roman Catholic clericalism, the ultra-right and even Nazi ideologies found very proper ground in the post-socialist Croatia – a country directly supported by Vatican and western democracies but primarily by Germany. Among all ex-socialism East European countries, Croatia was the best example of transition from a state socialism to quasi-democracy by brutal nationalism and exclusivism.
It is known that creation of a new ideological foundation is essential in the process of making a new state. In the 1990s war time Croatia’s case, a new political leadership of the HDZ drawn an extreme nationalistic and ultra-right political-national ideology, fundamentally based on Serbophobia, in order to get a massive public support for their political goals. An ideological framework of anti-Serbism was the main ground on which the HDZ’s Government was building a new independent state of Croatia by creating a new army, security forces, institutional framework and normative order of a “democratic and pro-European Croatia”. It is of extreme importance to stress that an establishing of a new normative order was essential in the time of chaotic atmosphere during the process of final collapse of previous state socialism system with its own norms and values, Croatia’s declaration of state independence in June 1991 and the outbreak of the conflict against both the central authorities in Belgrade and Croatia’s Serb population who decisively opposed to live in any kind of independent Croatia taking primarily into account their extremely bloody experience from the time of the WWII NDH. Furthermore, an establishing of a new normative order was important to legitimize political actions of the new authorities and to mobilize the ethnic Croats for the state-building process and above all for the “Final Solution” of the Serb Question in Croatia. At such a way, the new Government succeeded to direct mass actions of the ethnic Croats in regime-approved ways: a war against the Yugoslav army and Croatia’s Serbs in the mid-1991 and finally the ethnic cleansing of majority of Croatia’s Serbs in the mid-1995. The fact was that ultra-right nationalistic ideology provided the biggest part of the content of the new Croatia’s normative order and values, with profound ethno-political consequences.
The Croat ultra-right nationalism and nationalistic ideologies are mainly based on the 19th century ideology of the Croat “state rights” favored and maintained by the pravashi (the rightists). They and their groups and political parties espouse the same ethno-political goals as the leader of the 19th century extremist and racist strand of the same Croat national movement and Croatian Party of Rights (the HSP, est. 1861), Ante Starchevic. They appropriated the very essential elements of the HSP national ideology:
1. A creation of a Greater Croatia with Bosnia-Herzegovina and some other South Slavic territories.
2. An extermination of all Orthodox Serbs from a Greater Croatia or their Croatization.
Ante Starchevic urged the creation of a Greater Croatia and not recognizing the existence of any other South Slavs except the Croats and Bulgarians. His ideology and the HSP party’s program and narrative were markedly colored by anti-Serb tone. Consequently, both of them became the main ideological framework for the extermination of the Serbs on the territory of the NDH, 1941−1945 and for the ethnic cleansing of the Serbs by Tudjman’s regime in 1995 (the “Flash” and “Storm” military-police operations in May and August). In 1895 it was established even more radical and nationalistic the Pure Party of Rights (the ČSP) headed by Josip Frank whose members and ideological followers took active participations in the pogroms against the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina during the WWI.
The post-Yugoslav HSP, as the largest and most influential the extreme Croat Nazi Ustashi party, was re-established in February 1990 by domestic and émigré Croat Nazi Ustashi fellows. The party became soon relatively popular that had a membership of approximately 100.000 by 1992 when the party received 7 percent of the vote for the national Parliament. However, the HSP became a “favorable opposition party” of the HDZ in the 1990s and as such, in fact, unofficial spokesman of the ruling HDZ. A coalition between these two ultra-right nationalistic parties is visible at least from the very fact that the HDZ violated the Croatian electoral law in 1995 in order to permit the HSP to cross the famous 5 percent threshold (5.1). After 1993 when the party leadership was changed, the HSP obviously became a tool of the ruling HDZ on political scene of Croatia. In February 1996 the HSP became cleansed from all party leadership who opposed informal HDZ-HSP coalition and cooperation.
Different factional struggles within the pravashi bloc led to the creation of several new ultra-right political parties in Croatia like the HSP-1861, the Croatian Pure Party of Rights, the National Democratic League or the Independent Party of Rights. All of them, including and those unofficial groups and movements of the Croat extremists, have been trying to propagate their nationalistic messages through almost totally controlled mass media by the governmental HDZ. In these media efforts only those groups who had been “approved” by the HDZ (firstly the HSP) succeeded to send their messages to the audience.
A “Herzegovinian lobby”
One of the most important features of Croatia’s political scene in the early 1990s was the fact that the HDZ itself was gradually passing to the hands of a “Herzegovinian lobby” (like Vladimir Sheks, Vice Vukojevic, Gojko Shushak) within the party leadership what meant that the WWII Ustashi ideology and practice ultimately won against all other options in both the Central Board of the HDZ and the Government of Croatia. However, the crucial point of such HDZ’s course was that in fact the party and state leadership became crucially depended on and even governed by the Croat (Ustashi) émigré groups with whom the HDZ “Herzegovinian lobby” had extremely close relations especially Gojko Shushak, a Minister of Defense, who was a manager and owner of several firms in Canada before returning to Croatia in 1990 to become a member of the Central Board of the HDZ. Franjo Tudjman favored Gojko Shushak exactly for the reason that he was a key figure in maintaining contacts with a Croat diaspora which was giving substantial financial support for the HDZ’s policy.
This “Herzegovinian lobby” succeeded to strengthen its own position within the HDZ primarily by using regional identity as a basis for establishing necessary networks of power, influence, and favors (for instance, a Herzegovinian extremist Ivic Pashalic). The HDZ’s “Herzegovinians” are usually seen as the cardinal factor which firmed Tudjman as a dictatorial strongman in the party and the state. Tudjman’s sympathy and support to the “Herzegovinian” extremists is for sure unquestionable, especially when it comes to authoritarianism on the domestic front and dealing with Croatia’s Serbs. He became firstly convinced of his own personal and his HDZ party’s “historic mission” to bring state independence for (a Greater) Croatia and finally to solve the Serbian Question within her borders. He shared the same standpoint of the traditional Croat nationalists that all aspects of the transition from state socialism to (quasi)liberal democracy and market economy have to be subordinated to the state-building process. Nonetheless, Tudjman was enough smart to project a positive “democratic” image abroad, and this has prevented many of foreign observers and politicians from getting a right picture of his ultra-right views and politics especially in dealing with Croatia’s Serbs.
A Rehabilitation of the WWII NDH
From the point of ideology of the extreme Croat nationalism, the cardinal goal of ultra-right nationalistic parties, groups, ideologists and politicians was to create for the first time after 1102 an independent, as much as a Greater and finally “Serben-frei” Croatia. In the 1990s it was exactly ultra-right nationalistic ideology that provided the main background for creation of a new normative order and values in the HDZ’s Croatia.
For all Croat ultranationalists a crucial political reference in regard with the state-building process is the 1941−1945 NDH. They finally succeeded with a great support by Tudjman and his HDZ to rehabilitate the NDH and even to recognize its contribution to the Croat state-building efforts. It was done chiefly by a brutal falsification of historical facts and self-interpretation of historical events and the role and deeds of the Croat Ustashi personalities. For the HDZ’s Croatia there were at least four reasons for praising the Ustashi WWII state:
a. The NDH gave a political-historical foundation for the post-Yugoslav Croatia’s statehood.
b. It annexed majority of a Croat claimed South-East European territories and as such became a kind of historical realization of a Greater Croatia projected by Pavao Ritter Vitezovic in 1700.
c. The Ustashi regime showed a way of solving the “Serb Question” and therefore in regard with this historical process became a blueprint for the coming generations of the Croat “patriots”.
d. The existence of the NDH provided a necessary link of a self-imagined “proof” of the so-called “Thousand-year-old” legal continuity of the Croatian statehood.
All political parties and organizations in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina of the “Croatian rights” profiles even openly propagated their direct connections with the NDH and its führer (poglavnik) Ante Pavelic who himself was a member of the “Croatian rights” party. Here is worth to notice that Franjo Tudjman was during the WWII fighting several months in the Ustashi uniform – a fact which gave a huge credibility to him in the eyes of any Croat extremist despite on Tudjman’s communist past. It is obvious that the ultimate ethno-political goals of both the pre- and WWII Ustashi movement and post-Yugoslav “Croat rights” fellows are absolutely identical including and the idea how to solve the “Serb Question” in a Greater Croatia. It was mostly the case with the re-established HSP in 1990 as originally this party defined its program exclusively in relation to the NDH and the WWII Ustashi movement using all kinds of the NDH symbols and iconography. Nevertheless, an original 1990 HSP’s leader, Dobroslav Paraga, never accepted any fascist or Nazi face of the NDH even claiming that this state was anti-fascist. For all Croat extremists, including Tudjman himself, the NDH represented democratic wishes of overwhelming majority of ethnic Croats for their own independent state (from Yugoslavia as a “Greater Serbia”) and was legitimate continuation of the independent Kingdom of Croatia which became incorporated into the Kingdom of Hungary in 1102. Furthermore, all of them negate any engagement of the NDH’s regime in any systematic and organized persecutions or genocide committed on the racial, confessional or ethnic grounds. Moreover, the HSP insists that the Ustashi terror against the Serbs in 1941−1945 was provoked by the Serbs themselves, i.e. by the Partisan uprising in July 1941 against the legitimate and internationally recognized NDH, neglecting the fact that the Ustashi genocide against the Serbs started three months before the outbreak of the Serb-(Partisan and non-Partisan) revolt in the NDH. A HSP’s political cynicism was going up to absurd claims that many of these massacred Serb civilians in fact have been killed by the Serb-Chetniks or Partisans dressed in the Ustashi uniforms. Nevertheless, a common issue among all Croat extremists regarding the “Serb Question” is the WWII practice of creation of an Autocephalous Croatian Orthodox Church as a bridge toward the final Catholization and Croatization of Croatia’s Serbs.
The excuse of the Ustashi regime violence in the NDH usually is followed by the claim that the Nazifascist feature and iconography of the NDH were forced upon the Ustashi authorities by Germany and Italy, that the Ustashi Government did as much as possible to protect the Jews within the NDH, and finally, and what is of the crucial importance, that the real number of murdered Croatia’s Serbs is very much overestimated by the pro-Serb Yugoslav authorities after the WWII. For instance, instead of 700.000 killed people in the death camp of Jasenovac (“Yugoslav Auschwitz”, of whom 500.000 were the Serbs) today official Croatia recognizes only 86.000. In the other words, Jasenovac is a great Serbian falsification and political propaganda: a myth projected by the supporters of an idea of a Greater Serbia. For the Croat extremists, among the victims of Jasenovac the largest number have been the ethnic Croats but not the Serbs. The Croat rightists as apologists for the Ustashi movement and their Nazi racist regime claim that the NDH is falsely represented for pure political reasons and therefore the picture of the NDH has to be repainted. However, such repainting or rewriting of the NDH’s history is in a pure odd to historical sources and scientific account of non-partisan historiography. Finally, Dr. Franjo Tudjman himself, as a professional historian, in his most important book (Wastelands of Historical Reality) sought to minimize the crimes of the Ustashi regime in the WWII against both the Serbs and the Jews.
A rehabilitation of the legacy of the NDH and Ustashi ideology with the NDH’s iconography was, however, only a formal problem for Franjo Tudjman and his HDZ who have been officially ambivalent toward it. Tudjman knew very well that any close association with the NDH and Ustashi ideology and iconography will cause many problems for Croatia’s image abroad especially among the cluster of the Jewish communities and political lobbies. However, on the other hand, for Tudjman the NDH was giving the state-building example as Croatia for the centuries did not have any experience of a real and internationally recognized statehood. For that reason, for the HDZ’s ideologists the NDH became a crucial element for completing the main party’s task – to unify within the umbrella of the HDZ all different strands of Croatness. In addition, the NDH was giving a link to Vatican as the main supporter of both the Ustashi and the HDZ regimes and ideology. Subsequently, the HDZ’s authorities did not and do not openly endorse the Ustashi movement and the NDH, as it is the case with of “Croat rightists”, but on the other hand both Tudjman and his HDZ had avoided any clear denunciation of the NDH’ Nazi, totalitarian, genocidal and above all Serbocide aspects. Moreover, the HDZ’s Croatia adopted all important symbolic and iconographic aspects of the WWII NDH (like kuna currency, state insignias, etc.) and dedicated streets, squares and monuments in Croatia to the Ustashi WWII officials. Tudjman himself as a President of Croatia nominated, for instance, two ex-WWII Ustashi officials to high state posts: Ivo Rojnic – Ustashi commander in Dubrovnik who became Croatia’s ambassador in Argentina and Vinko Nikolic – an official in the Ministry of Education of the NDH who got a seat in the Parliament. Alongside with the rehabilitation of the Nazi NDH, in Tudjman’s Croatia it was rehabilitated and the WWII Croatian Roman Catholic Church with its head a Archbishop of Alojzije Stepinac who directly collaborated with the Ustashi regime.
A linguistic nationalism or purification of the official standardized Croat language in the public usage but mainly from the Serb language based lexemes was on the very agenda of the Croatization of Croatia by Tudjman regime. However, a lexical purification of the Croatian language in Tudjman’s Croatia was done basically according to the NDH’s pattern. One of the first steps in the process of Croatization and purification of the Croat language by the new HDZ’s authorities was to make a clear difference between the Croat and Serb languages from lexical, orthographic and grammar points of view. It was done by a set of scientific editions by the linguists and philologists who have been at the same time trying to present and a “proper” history of the Croat language with the cardinal political goal to show that the Croat and the Serb always have been two different ethnonational languages and what is of the most importance that the Shtokavian dialect was all the time and the Croat national language but not only the Serb. As a final ethno-political consequence of the HDZ’s policy of linguistic nationalism was that the Serb ethnic name was expelled from the official name of the standardized language and its orthography in Croatia likewise everything what was in connection with the Serbs in regard to the Croat language.
Nevertheless, as the best mean to hide its de facto support for the Nazi Ustashi ideology and the WWII NDH’s legacy, Tudjman’s regime officially and rhetorically supported the “anti-fascist” Josip Broz Tito’s Partisans from the WWII with the manifestation of political option that the post-Yugoslav Croatia is building her own statehood on the “anti-fascist” People’s/Socialist Republic of Croatia legitimacy after 1945. However, at the same time, the HDZ created a clear atmosphere in Croatia in which the victims of the Ustashi terror (primarily the Serbs) are regarded as the national enemies. For the matter of illustration, up to January 1996 around 3.000 “Partisan” monuments were destroyed or removed in Croatia. Tudjman launched an initiative to transform a death camp of Jasenovac’s memorial center (on the Sava River on Croatia’s side) from the “victims of fascism” to the “victims of the civil war” – an initiative that was in fact just camouflaged association with the NDH which pleased all Croat extremists. The Croat security forces even before the beginning of the civil war in Croatia in 1991 heavily structurally damaged the museum building of Jasenovac when a bigger part of documentation and torture evidence simply disappeared but the monument itself was not destroyed or damaged for the very reason as the monument is in fact composed by four Ustashi “U” letter-symbols.
Franjo Tudjman, a Ph.D. in history, ran in conflict with the Yugoslav communist authorities in the mid-1960s when he started to refute the official number of murdered ethnic Serbs in Jasenovac as too high, accusing at the same time the Yugoslav communists for deliberately falsifying the truth on Jasenovac. It cost him dismissal from the post of a head of the Institute for the History of the Workers Movement in Croatia (in Zagreb) but this action marked the beginning of the process of Tudjman’s transformation from a Partisan General to the Croat nationalist and extremist. Nonetheless, his cosmetic political moves like removing a prominent Ustashi extremist Tomislav Merchep from the HDZ’s Executive Committee at the Third General Convention of the HDZ in October 1995 could not hide the HDZ’s infatuation with the Ustashi iconography, ideology, legacy and ethno-political goals.
Tudjman’s and HDZ’s preoccupation with Croatia’s state-building and solving the “Serb Question” rather than establishing liberal-democratic political system and institutions meant that the NDH’s legacy continued to play very important role in the HDZ’s strategy and policy of creation of the new normative order and values. In the other words, the political-ideological mainstream of the HDZ’s Croatia was and is grounded on appropriation of the NDH’s legacy.
Today, as a result of the HDZ’s policy of extreme ethno-confessional nationalism, Croatia is, since mid-1995, “more ethnically homogeneous than ever was in the historic past”. The Serb population on the present-day territory of Croatia fell from 24 percent in 1940 to 12 percent in 1990 and 4 percent in 1996 with the practice of its everyday assimilation (Croatization) and emigration from Croatia.
Vladislav B. Sotirovic
© Vladislav B. Sotirovic 2015
Reprinted at: http://www.globalresearch.ca/extremist-ideological-background-of-croatias-role-in-the-destruction-of-yugoslavia/5457387