Christmas for Croatia

A Reuters news article of a couple of days ago carried the title: ”Croat’s Christmas now comes with a million lights”.

In this season when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ the “million lights” touches the heart deeply – especially for Croatians whose Christmases have more often than not been in darkness for almost sixty years.

On Christmas Eve 1989, just weeks after the Berlin Wall came down, something  that had been unthinkable for decades happened in Croatia.

The Communist government expressed Christmas greetings to the citizens, but Christmas Day remained a working day.

From the end of WWII to 1952 in Croatia (Yugoslavia) Christmas was only mentioned quietly and then strict prohibition of any public mention of Christmas was introduced by the Communists. But tradition could not be completely eradicated – many families celebrated Christmas in the privacy of their own homes, in churches, but not without surveillance by disguised police agents though!

In 1989 Croatian TV broadcasted a mass from Zagreb Cathedral and that caused a real anger among the Communists.

It was the 1990 dawn of democracy that brought the long denial of freedom of religious expression to a stop. (HTV news 1989, in Croatian language)

It is said that Christmas among Christians is a time for giving.

Christmas of 1991 in Croatia saw thousands wounded. Hundreds killed, hundreds of thousands Croatian displaced from their homes by Serbian aggression.

Dubrovnik December 1991

By Christmas 1992 Croatia itself bled; it had very little to give and yet it found the strength and the heart to take hundreds of thousands of refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A humanitarian crisis had occurred and Croatia played a crucial role in managing it.

Systematic application of specially devised methods of ethnic cleansing by the Serbian aggressor and warfare, created this humanitarian crisis.

“The features of ethnic cleansing that resulted in the humanitarian crisis were as follows:

  • the creation of huge populations of displaced persons and refugees;
  • pervasive and terrifying effects on the population of non-combatants caused by indiscriminate shelling of civilian targets and similar abuses of military power (including maliciously planted land-mines and booby traps);
  • extrajudicial and arbitrary executions of innocent persons or helpless detainees; summary executions and massacres of unarmed civilians;
  • systematic, widespread, and ethnically motivated rapes;
  • deliberate obstruction of humanitarian corridors for endangered civilian populations; the creation of a number of ad hoc prisons and concentration camps;
  • systematic torture of detained civilians and prisoners of war;
  • and the wanton destruction and plundering of civilian property.

At the beginning, the humanitarian crisis was concentrated in the areas marked for ethnic cleansing within the framework of creating a “Greater Serbia” (such regions as “Krajina” in Croatia and “Republika Srpska” in Bosnia and Herzegovina), but its effects soon flooded the whole region.

The humanitarian and refugee crisis thus created was the largest in Europe since the World War II.

Croatian authorities and institutions were already fully and effectively involved in coping with crises in 1992, i.e., significantly before the international community managed to develop and introduce workable solutions and mechanisms (such as the creation of “safe heavens,” humanitarian corridors, extensive monitoring, and the continuous presence of UN forces and NGOs).

The first phase of the humanitarian crisis – the first wave of refugees and other consequences of ethnic cleansing:

In April 1992, the first waves of refugees from Bosnian cities arrived in Croatia. At that time, Croatia already had 330.000 of its own displaced persons settled in state-organized and private housing. The Croatian authorities and nation were already stretched to the limit in their efforts to secure the food and accommodation, health care, and social care for those displaced persons, as well as to preventing the collapse of the national economy and complete disorder in the social system.

In March 1992, the number of Bosnian refugees settled in Croatia was 16,579; in April 1992 it reached 193,415, in August 1992, it escalated to 363,270, and in December 1992, it peaked at 402,768.

663,493 refugees and displaced persons on December 1, 1992, compared to the four and half million total Croatian population!”

 (The Role of Croatia in the Management of the Humanitarian Crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ivica Kostović, Neven Henigsberg and Miloš Judaš, Center for Crisis Management, School of Medicine University of Zagreb, Zagreb, Republic of Croatia, 2000)

In 1992, the Yugoslav Army and Serbian paramilitary forces used in Bosnia and Herzegovina the same methods of ethnic cleansing they used in 1991 in Croatia.

But, in spite of Serbian aggression and war-related destruction within itself, Croatia spent the Christmas of 1992 helping, nursing, feeding and sheltering hundreds of thousands of Bosnian refugees without international government help (except for Germany) for taking in refugees.

Of course, the tremendously humanitarian Croatian émigrés living on all continents of the world fundraised tirelessly, sent food, medicine, clothes, money.

War wounded attend mass on Christmas Day 1992 at Dubrava Hospital, Zagreb

During 1992 Croatian musician/singer Marko Perkovic Thompson recorded a song called “Moli mala” (Pray Little One) that reflects the plight of Croatian people at the time and the song was sung alongside Christmas carols. The lyrics translated into English are:

Our Croatia suffers in devastation,

our soil, mother of all Croats,

they trample, demolish and burn our homes,

red grenades sow our death,

frightened is your little heart,

teary is your little face,

as I count the bandit’s last days,
I know my dear that you pray for me.
Pray little one, pray my dear for me,
God and mother love us Croatians,
they want us in this beautiful world,
in free Croatia to live.

We will chase them away with might,
bring peaceful sleep to our homeland,

they’ll run and curse the mother,
for even coming to our Croatia,
they can’t do anything to us,
with strength we will forever remain,
in Croatia create freedom,
for the whole of our Croatian nation.

Pray little one, pray my dear for me,
God and mother love us Croatians,
they want us in this beautiful world,
in free Croatia to live.

in free Croatia to live,

in free Croatia to live

A million lights for Christmas in Croatia 2011 – let some shine upon the Hague, upon Generals Gotovina and Markac, who despite the conviction for war crimes now on Appeal, have saved many tens of thousands of lives especially in 1995 when the town of Bihac (Bosnia and Hercegovina) was threatened to extinction by the Serbian aggression.

I’ll conclude this post with a traditional, ages old, Croatian Christmas carol and well wishes to all! (lyrics translated into English):

Rejoice the nations,

Jesus is born at a blessed moment,

All nations hear, hear,

and to Bethlehem approach,


All nations hear, hear,

and to Bethlehem approach,


See God’s sacrament in the ragged stable,

and who suffers prickling of that hard straw,

that sacrament hear, hear

and to manger approach!

Maria with Joseph rejoice watching,

the Angel flying above sings “Gloria”

and you the whole World,

greet the Saviour!


ŠOKCI ZA PET Radujte se narodi (Croatian Christmas Carol Rejoice, the Nations) ~ Live performance by Sokci children musical group, 2010.

A Croatian Licitar Heart for Christmas

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


  1. Esther Gitman says:

    Dear Ina,

    Your blog is a light to your people. I’ve followed the news in Croatia for a while now and have not seen such a wealth of information delivered with care and objectivity. May the light of your blog shine for years to come. All the best to you and yours this Christmas and a Joyous New Year 2012.

    With appreciations,

    Esther Gitman, Ph.D.

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