Better Grave Than Slave

2011 is nearing to its end and it would be remiss of a commentary on Croatia’s key events of the 20th Century if it did not pay respects to the slogan of the “Croatian Spring” December 1971 student’s and citizens’ mass demonstrations and appeals:

“Bolje Grob Nego Rob”

          “Better Grave Than Slave”

December 1971 "Better Grave Than Slave" (Bolje Grob Nego Rob) police and army use force to stop mass demostrations as part of "Croatian Spring" in Zagreb, Croatia

40 years ago the people’s mass- movement in Croatia known as the “Croatian Spring” ended as 1971 drew to its close. “Croatian Silence” followed. Tito, the president of communist Yugoslavia with his strong army quashed any Croatian freedom, even the singing of traditional folksongs.

He reintroduced a nasty, repressive regime in Croatia based on the power of UDBA, Yugoslavia’s despised secret police.

In the 1950s, the Yugoslav regime attempted to create a one unique language for both Serbs and Croats: Serbo-Croatian. The two variants were respectively distinguishable by accent and pronunciation (ijekavski and ekavski), and by scripts (Latin and Cyrillic), as well as numerous words. In March 1967, several most influential cultural and scientific institutions in Croatia published a Declaration on the Name and Position of the Croatian Literary Language, demanding that Croatian and Serbian variant be treated as two separated languages. They regarded the Croatian variant was discriminated against as opposed to the Serbian one.

Croatia sought more autonomy within Yugoslavia especially within the banking and proportional fairness in the distribution of earned wealth, to have the Croatian rather than the unnatural Serbo-Croatian language constructed in Belgrade (Serbia) during 1950’s, to freely express Croatian national pride through literature, arts and song, to have more civil freedom … to retain a Croatian identity within Yugoslavia.

The Yugoslav leadership evilly labelled the whole affair as a restoration of Croatian nationalism and had the police and the army suppress the student and other demonstrators.

Army tanks, armed soldiers, police vans and cars stood on the streets of Zagreb for months after the December 1971 demonstrations.

Police patrols circled the streets at night, interrogating, beating, taking to the police stations anyone whom they pleased; young or old. More than two persons gathering as a group in public places was prohibited.

In 1971, Soviet Union leadership applied additional pressure on Tito directly by Leonid Brezhnev and indirectly by its ambassadors to Yugoslavia, to assert control of the Communist party within Yugoslavia, ostensibly adhering to the Brezhnev Doctrine.   (How the Russians Pressured Tito and Broke Croatia/article in the Croatian language)

After the calls to the student strike, in December 1971 Tito persuaded to resign some unreliable, in his view, public figures and made a sweep in Croatian communist party and local administration. Many student activists were detained and some were sentenced to years of prison.

Some estimate that up to two thousand people were criminally prosecuted for participation in these events.

Among those arrested at this time were future president of Croatia Franjo Tudjman and dissident journalist Bruno Busic (assassinated in Paris 1978 by Yugoslav UDBA secret police). There were several other notable political prisoners in Croatia from this period;  Drazen Budisa, Marko Veselica, Redomir Pejic and others.

All convicted of  “felonies against the people and the state”, “verbal offense against the state” etc–

In 2002 the confidential correspondence from the British Embassy office in Zagreb & Belgrade became available to the public. From these, Sir Dugald Stewart who was the British Ambassador to Yugoslavia 1971 – 1977, felt that the events from December 1971, Croatian Spring, will be marked as historical key events in Croatia’s flight from Serbian overbearing power.

And indeed Stewart’s hunch was right – Croatia freed itself twenty years later/1991 (sadly for total freedom it had to endure a terrible war of Serbian aggression that lasted to August 1995). article in the Croatian language.

Croatian Cross

This December also marks the 12th anniversary of the death of dr Franjo Tudjman who lived and breathed for Croatian freedom from oppression and for democracy and self-determination in Croatia.

Dr Franjo Tudjman (Franjo Tuđman) died on 10 December 1999.

In public life he was a historian, a writer, a politician, a prisoner for Croatian Spring 1971/72, sentenced to 3 years prison and 5 year public activity ban by the communist Yugoslavia in1981 for giving an interview to Swedish and German TV favouring democracy, the first President of the Republic of Croatia, 1992 – 1999.

He was a Tall Poppy that many tried to bring down, many still do. But he still stands tall in memory as a man of firm belief in Croatian people and steel courage in his battles for Croatian self-determination and truth.

Behold, we know not anything;

Dr Franjo Tuđman

I can but trust that good will fall

At last – far off – at last, to all,

And every winter change to spring.


 So runs my dream: but what am I?

An infant crying in the night:

An infant crying for the light:

And with no language but a cry.”

(In Memoriam, Canto 53 [on humanity], Alfred Lord Tennyson)

Ina Vukic, Prof.(Zgb), B.A.,M.A.Ps.(Syd)


  1. tanja milatić says:

    Bravo, teško je to razumjeti ako nisi Hrvat i živio u “Jugoslaviji”!

    • Translation of comment for English only readers: “Bravo, it’s hard to understand unless you’re a Croat and lived in “Yugoslavia”

  2. Esther Gitman says:

    Dear Ina,
    Just a minor addition to your recent article: where you state that: “it would be remiss of a commentary on Croatia’s key events of the 20th Century if it did not pay respects to the slogan of the “Croatian Spring” December 1971 student’s and citizens’ mass demonstrations and appeals:

    “Bolje Grob Nego Rob” “Better Grave Than Slave”

    This slogan is much older than the 1971 ”Croatian Spring”. The historical background goes back to March 26, 1941, when the Yugoslav Prime Minister Dragiša Cvetković and Foreign Minister Cincar Marković departed for Vienna to sign an agreement to join the Axis Powers. Immediately upon the conclusion of this agreement, German Foreign Minister Von Ribbentrop and his Italian counterpart Ciano gave their governments’ guarantees to their new ally’s foreign minister that they would respect the sovereignty and integrity of Yugoslavia. Nonetheless, vocal objections to Yugoslavia’s joining this pact arose from all strata of the society.
    Devastated by news of the alliance, Great Britain and the United States urged the Yugoslavs to “save their souls” by defying Hitler. On March 27, 1941, Belgrade awakened to news of a coup d’état initiated by military officers and politicians opposed to the pact. The Belgrade citizens responded by parading through the streets shouting slogans such as: “Better grave than slave” and “Better war than pact.”
    Serbian military officers overthrew Prince Regent Pavel’s government and declared the minor Prince Peter the rightful king of Yugoslavia.
    I think that it is important for a blog like yours to bring an accurate chain of events of the slogan you quoted.
    Sincerely yours,

    Esther Gitman, Ph.D.

    • Thank you Esther, I was in no way suggesting that the slogan was used in 1971 Croatia for the first time, the slogan was used then to symbolise Croatia’s powerlessness under Serbian/Yugoslav overbearing pressures to be the most influential ethnic group in Yugoslavia. Yes the Belgrade powers wanted it both ways it seems – to be allied with Nazi as well as Allies in the beginning for some time into early 1940’s. There are reports that in the first 18 months of the war Belgrade or individuals especially the Serbian royalist Chetniks worked with both Nazi and the Allies. Some historical accounts suggest that it took relatively quite a bit of time for the Allies (led by the British at this instance) to awaken to the fact and transfer their support from Serbian Chetniks to communist Partisans. They did commence the support in that war by going along the lines of Serbian royalists whose Prince Peter and family fled to London from Serbia.

  3. Esther Gitman says:

    Dear Ina,
    I’m not an expert on what went on in Serbia during WWII but from my research and to my great surprise, I’ve found the truth about the despicable conduct of the Serbian appointed government towards the Jews. For years I believed that the Serbian people protected them and the entire culpable were the Ustase. This is how Tito’s propaganda worked when he placed the entire blame on the Croatian people while exonerating the Serbs and the Muslims. Thus, Serbian propagandists have omitted important aspects of the Serbian role and record vis-a-vis the Jews. Under the pro-Nazi government of Milan Nedić, Serbs collaborated with the Nazis in disseminating anti-Jewish propaganda, in plundering Jewish property, in delivering Jews for execution, and in murdering Jews in concentration camps.
    Milan Nedić, much like Ante Pavelić in Croatia, played a decisive role in the persecution Serbia’s Jews. On September 2, I94I, Nedić promised that he “will act in the strongest way against the Jews who should be removed from all public service and gathered in concentration camps. Also prominent Serbian clerics within the Serbian Orthodox Church, by openly supporting the Nazis and espousing theological justification for the persecution of the Jews, also bear responsibility for the Holocaust in Serbia. On July 7, I94I, three months after the German occupation of Serbia-and the day the Partisan uprising commenced the Serbian Orthodox Church’s Holy Episcopal Synod declared that it “will loyally carry out the laws and orders of the occupying and local authorities, and it will use its influence through its organs to the complete maintenance of order, peace. In the eighth month of the German occupation, with the murder of the Jews well underway in Serbia and with anti-Jewish measures well publicized, Serbian economic minister Mihailo Olčan proclaimed that “the Jews have met the fate they deserved.
    Ultimately, about I5,000 Jews perished in Nedić’s Serbia. This was 94 percent of the Jewish population covering an area that included Serbia proper (11,240), the formerly Hungarian region of Banat (3,800), the Sandžak region (260), and Kosovo (210). Most of these people had been exterminated by the middle of 1942. Harald Turner, a German official, proudly had announced that the “Jewish question” in Serbia had been resolved, and Serbia had become the first country in Europe declared judenrein (free of Jews).
    Esther Gitman, Ph.D.

    • Hallelujah, Esther. Another person of great intelligence and factual insight. Thank you for this reply. It is true what you say regarding persecution of Jews in Serbia WWII and cleansing Serbia of Jews. It would seem from some historical accounts that proportionally more Jews perished in Serbia than in Croatia. But keeping to a numbers game is irrelevant as even one person is too many. Serbia had the knack and still does in concealing their own dark past by blaming others and inflating the misdeeds of others. Truth does prevail in the end. There’s an old “Croatian” saying: “Zaklela se zemlja Raju, da se sve tajna saznaju” = “The Earth has vowed to Heavens, that all secrets will be revealed”. Thank you on your commentary.

  4. dobar članak


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