People who have not personally experienced the blighting devastation oppression of totalitarian regimes cause to human lives may find it difficult to understand acts of extreme determination by individuals in efforts to right the terrible wrongs impaled by such regimes. By large numbers, Croatian émigrés, who or whose family fled the communist regime of former Yugoslavia, with which they did not agree, understand only too well the personal sacrifices individuals make in their efforts to keep the hope of freedom and self-determination alive – to help make the hope into reality.
Love for ones country is sublime, but also like a painful disease that grows ever so insufferable as oppression flourishes, and must find a release.
So please, don’t call it nationalism – call it patriotism. But whatever you call it, examine your soul and see how much love for your country you hold in your chest – you will find that whatever you call this love, it is a great love; it is the place from whence the word “home” arose; it is a place where you are safe and you are – you.
Even though communism in former Yugoslavia had flourished for decades after WWII – much due to “western” admiration of Tito who stood against Stalin in late 1940’s, I dare say – 1970’s was still the time when the oppressive communist state regime of former Yugoslavia engaged in war against Croatian nationals at home and those living abroad. The regime was determined to obliterate Croatian national pride, even if it did pretend to offer crumbs of “ freedom” along the way – e.g. abolishing the mandatory Serbo-Croatian language in official use during 1970’s and introducing Croatian or Serbian languages to be used as one pleased, one or the other.
And now I come to the reason for this post. Zvonko Busic, a Croatian emigrant whose boundless love for Croatian freedom and freedom from oppression has earned him both fame and infamy on an international scale.
Zvonko Busic used fake explosives in 1976 to hijack a TWA plane out of La Guardia Airport, New York, and planted a bomb beneath the Grand Central Terminal in New York which, upon efforts to detonate it at a bomb disposal polygon well away from where it was left a police officer was killed. Hijackings for political reasons were quite common during 1960’s and 1970’s – especially when such drastic and desperate measures had the aim of exposing brutality and oppression by a state, a government …
Zvonko Busic, who was 30 at the time and living in Manhattan, said at the time he wanted to draw attention to Croatia’s struggle for independence from Tito’s Yugoslavia.
He and his American wife Julienne Eden Schultz, as well as three Croatian men (Frane Pesut, Petar Matanic and Mark Vlasic) who had also been living in the USA, boarded the flight on the evening of Friday, Sept. 10. The plane, a Boeing 727, was carrying more than 80 passengers and crew members bound for Chicago.
Today, The New York Times writes:
During the flight Zvonko Busic handed a note to a flight attendant, who delivered it to the pilot. The note said that he and his co-conspirators had five bombs on board and were commandeering the plane, and that another had been planted in a subway station locker under Grand Central. Implicit in the note was that they would detonate the devices if their demands were not met.
The hijackers demanded that a declaration of Croatian independence be published in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and The International Herald Tribune in Paris, the next morning. They also demanded that authorities drop leaflets printed with the declaration over London, Paris, Montreal, Chicago and New York.
Their demands were largely met: all the newspapers except The Herald Tribune printed the declaration, and leaflets fluttered over all five cities, some from an escort plane, some from helicopters.
But what the hijackers had displayed as one of their bombs was actually a metal pot with wires and clay cobbled together to look like the real thing. The hijackers had smuggled the components through security and assembled them on board. Only the one below Grand Central was real, as the New York City police discovered after being directed there while the hijacking was in progress.
In his note, Mr. Busic explained where the bomb was hidden and how to remove it safely. He never intended to detonate it, he said later; it was a ruse, to convince the authorities that he had real bombs on the plane.
The police officers took the device to a bomb squad demolition range in the Bronx. There, as officers tried to defuse the bomb, it detonated, killing Officer Brian J. Murray, partly blinding Sgt. Terrence McTigue and wounding Officer Hank Dworkin and Deputy Inspector Fritz O. Behr.
Meanwhile, the plane was heading for Europe under the escort of a Boeing 707, making four stops to refuel; the 727 was not designed for trans-Atlantic flight. In one stop, in Gander, Newfoundland, 35 hostages were released.
The French government allowed the plane to land in Paris when it became clear that it was low on fuel. Surrounding it at Charles de Gaulle airport, the French police shot out its wheels during a 12-hour standoff that ended with the hijackers’ surrender at 8 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 12.
None of the hostages were harmed.
“I wish them well,” one passenger, Warren Benson, told The New York Times. “They had nothing against us, but wanted only to get a story across. They were concerned for our welfare, and we were treated well during most of it.”
Returned to New York, the hijackers were charged with air piracy resulting in a death and conspiracy. Croatian partisans helped pay for their defense, and the defendants had $4,000 converted into a trust fund for Officer Murray’s two young children. The officer’s widow, Kathleen Murray, later said she regretted accepting it.
All five were convicted in 1977. Mr. Busic and his wife received mandatory life sentences, while the others — Frane Pesut, Petar Matanic and Mark Vlasic — received 30-year sentences”.
Julienne Eden Busic was released on parole in 1989 after serving thirteen years in the minimum security Federal Correctional Institution at Pleasanton, California. She remained dedicated to her husband Zvonko Busic and their deep and purest love for each other as well as for Croatia. She initiated and maintained contact with police officer Brian Murray’s widow Kathleen for a number of years afterwards. Julienne also wrote a bestselling account of the plane hijacking and political activism for Croatian independence at the time in her book “LOVERS AND MADMEN: A TRUE STORY OF PASSION, POLITICS, AND AIR PIRACY”
Finally, after serving 32 years of prison of his life sentence in USA Zvonko Busic was released on parole in 2008 and, with is wife Julienne, made his way back to his beloved Croatia – the Croatia – the free and democratic Croatia – he dreamed about but for which he committed unthinkable and desperate acts of air piracy and planting a bomb with which it’s said there was no intention of hurting anyone.
When in 1977 the US court pronounced his criminal conviction he said to the court: “I did not do this act out of adventuristic or terroristic impulses, it was simply the scream of a disenfranchised and persecuted man.”
Last Sunday, 1st September 2013, Zvonko Busic was found dead by his wife Julienne. He had taken his own life with a gun. He was 67 years old and evidently crushed by the current caustic political state of the very beloved independent Croatia he fought so hard for.
According to Croatian news Zvonko left two farewell letters. To his wife Julienne, to his family and friends as well as to Croatians in which he asks for forgiveness for taking his own life, but he could endure no more. He beseeches Croats to continue fighting for Croatianess and for Croatia. In one paragraph of his letter to his wife Julienne he wrote that he could live no longer in Plato’s cave. That’s a picture that tells us how Zvonko may have been experiencing today’s circumstances and how there is a large difference between the picture of Croatia he carried with him, and because of which he faced a tragic life, and the circumstances in which he found himself in.
On Wednesday 4 September 2013, in Zagreb, prominent Croatian politicians joined thousands of others in giving him a hero’s funeral. For, despite the terrible acts of air piracy and planting a bomb – which cannot easily, if at all, be justified, his selfless sacrifice for Croatian independence, freedom and democracy is the marrow of which heroes are made. Personal, willingly, and beyond any call of duty bar duty to ones own convictions for freedom.
Many in Croatia (including many government agents – whose political predecessors by the way were the communists Zvonko Busic acted against) only see the acts of terrorism he had committed, viz. hijacking a plane and leaving a bomb. And when writing about Zvonko Busic this matter cannot be ignored. I dare say, even if I did not know Zvonko Busic personally, he too would not want it ignored for it had seized most of his life on this earth.
Those who only see these acts of terrorism in the full context they arose from they also do not bother to understand them. One does not need to condone while understanding, but understanding certainly brings things into perspective (especially in case of Croatia when we know that in 1990 the overwhelming majority voted to secede from communist Yugoslavia).
And so, whether or not certain acts are terrorism is, I believe, very much dependent on the observer’s political/moral bias. However, while expounding no moral judgment whatsoever, let’s remind ourselves here of some instances where (by definition) terrorism was used and brought about a greater good for the society.
• The American Revolution – prior and during the War the colonists used terrorist tactics to incite fear into British tax collectors, British loyalists, and those who weren’t on the side of their revolution.
• The struggles of the Maoists in Tibet; using tactics that the West have labelled “terrorism” against an oppressive monarch.
• The French Revolution has often been cited as being plagued with terrorism yet brought about the end to absolute monarchy in France (until Napoleon).
• Examples throughout history where individuals who acted against an oppressive government and were then, even if only for a while, labelled terrorists – and are heroes of today – Nelson Mandela comes to mind and there are many…
Were the individuals who participated in these events “terrorists?” This is a highly debatable issue, for the apparent success rate of these movements is apparent in history today.
Zvonko Busic was buried in Zagreb’s Mirogoj cemetery; his grave is next to Bruno Busic’s – the Croatian political dissident, fighter for freedom from communist Yugoslavia who was slain in Paris in 1978 by agents of Yugoslav secret police UDBA. Bruno Busic’s mission in life was to “fight for freedom, equality and the formation of a free Croatia based on democratic principles”. Same as Zvonko Busic’s. On the other side of Zvonko Busic’s grave is the grave of Gojko Susak. Gojko Susak returned to Croatia from Canada to join Franjo Tudjman’s political initiative in late 1980’s for a free, independent and democratic Croatia; he was Croatia’s wartime minister of defence and died in 1998.
These three graves in Croatia’s capital Zagreb are a proud reminder of the Croatian diaspora, that second Croatia which, I freely say, will never rest until the last breaths of communism and oppression are extinguished in Croatia. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)