Indictment for war crimes against against Josip Boljkovac (93) was confirmed by the District court in Zagreb at the end of October this year. It alleges that he committed war crimes against civilians after WWII in Karlovac area.
At the same time, representatives of Association of refugee Serbs from Croatia hold that Croatian authorities must first process Boljkovac for crimes and deportation of Serbs from Croatia during 1990’s!
The president of the Association of refugee Serbs from Croatia, Nikola Puzigaca, who is a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina, considers that it’s “unacceptable for Boljkovac to first answer in the Croatian court for crimes against civilians, who collaborated with the Ustashi regime, after WWII while nobody is answering for crimes against Serbs in the last war in Croatia”.
“Boljkovac must first answer for the deportation of Serbs from Croatia in 1990’s, and after that all other responsibilities pinned to him may be investigated,” Puzigaca thinks.
First of all it is absolutely not true that nobody has answered for crimes against Serbs in Croatia.
Secondly, Puzigaca, as many Serbs, still refuses to accept the ICTY Appeal Chamber decision in November 2012, in Gotovina and Markac case, that there was no forced deportation of Serbs from Croatia in 1990’s.
If anything, Croatian Serbs deported themselves when they went into voluntary exile upon orders issued by their own leaders in Belgrade, Serbia.
Thirdly, I wonder why Puzigaca says that the civilians murdered by the Communists after WWII were collaborators of the Ustashe regime when such is a false statement. Not all civilians were, but even if they were, does that mean that their mere political inclinations are a just reason for their murder?! Certainly not!
Puzigaca takes the view of Communist murderers in this and one must ask, therefore, whether he himself or members of his immediate family in fact collaborated with communist war criminals.
Or, is Puzigaca afraid that the trial against Josip Boljkovac could well reveal that there were quite a few Serb nationals active as communist crimes perpetrators against Croats during and after WWII?
Set to watch the development of this communist crimes case, I think this is a good moment to refresh our memories with the content of an exclusive interview with Michael Palaich in 2011, Published in HRsvijet. It is a lengthy interview, but so worth taking it in especially when we see that these current outbursts from Puzigaca seek to treat war crimes on ethnic rather than human victim basis. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)
The name of Michael (Mike) Palaich and his extensive activism on behalf of Croatian freedom has been well-known to the Croatians in America and beyond for a long time. In the 1980s, he was an eloquent spokesman for the Croatian cause in the Detroit area. At the same time, he had the vision and stamina of undertaking a major project, that of interviewing and recording eyewitnesses of the extradition of Croatian civilians and disarmed military forces by the British to Tito and his partisans in May of 1945. Most of the extradited were massacred by Tito’s communists and those who survived were taken via long and horrific routs to various labor camps located throughout the country, from Austria in the north to the borders of Greece in the south. During those marches tens of thousands more people lost their lives. In Croatian history this calamity is known as the “Bleiburg Tragedy and the Križni put/Way of the Cross”. (The extradition began near the town of Bleiburg in Austria.) The British authorities knew well what would happen to those who were forcibly handed over to the communists – certain death for most of them. Palaich’s documentaries have become an indispensable historical source for researchers of those tragic events in which hundreds of thousands of Croatians (and some others) were murdered and no one ever was charged for those horrific crimes.
In 1990, when Yugoslavia and its communist regime began to collapse, Mike wholeheartedly was involved in helping Croatians to gain freedom and to defend themselves from the Greater Serbian aggression. He was also providing help to the besieged Sarajevo and its people in various ways. During those hazardous times, his courage and resourcefulness was remarkable.
We are thankful to Mike for sharing with us the story of his work on behalf of the Croatian people. This time, we will focus on the interviews of eyewitnesses of the Bleiburg Tragedy and we hope to talk to Mike some time in the near future about his other contributions to the struggle for Croatian freedom and independence.
HRsvijet: Before we refer to the tragic events in the not so far past, would you please tell our readers who is Mike Palaich.
Palaich: My grandparents immigrated to the United States from Petrinja and Križ, Croatia, in the early 20th century. I was born 57 years ago in Detroit, Michigan. I graduated from the university with degrees in psychology and political science. Since retiring, my wife Sandra and I divide our time between the U.S. in the winter and Croatia in the summer. I have two grown children who both enjoy visiting us during the summer in Croatia.
HRsvijet: You are the author of a documentary dealing with the critical moments of the Bleiburg Tragedy. Being that you are a third generation American Croatian, what drew your attention to this subject?
Palaich: When I was young, my grandmother would talk about her four brothers who were hung by their necks from telephone poles by the partisans after WWII. I would like to think, however, that I would have taken on this video project even if Tito’s murder squads did not touch my family. The idea of interviewing people about the Bleiburg Tragedy came to me around 1985. Already in 1985, many of the survivors of Bleiburg and Križni Put were dying. When I first began the project, I felt compelled to simply record the memories of these aging survivors so that future generations could hear first hand the horrors experienced by the Croats who survived the massacres after they lost their own state.
HRsvijet: You have interviewed some of the British officers who were directly involved in the ext raditions of the Croatians in May of 1945. Their accounts are of tremendous value for piecing together those tragic events and for singling out those that are responsible for the crimes committed. You have also done research on the subject in the British archives as well. What do the British participants have to say about the Bleiburg Tragedy?
Palaich: The next phase of project’s development was when I realized I needed to document the testimony of British Army co-conspirators involved in Bleiburg and the repatriations of Croats. I knew that the Croat testimonies would be more powerful if I could get their stories corroborated by the British co-conspirators to the war crimes. I heard many stories from Croat survivors who talked about their attempt to surrender to the British. Other survivors talked about British Spitfire planes flying overhead filming them with movie cameras on the field at Bleiburg.
HRsvijet: Before your departure to interview the British officers, I recall you saying that you had major doubts about the Croatian accounts, for it was hard for you to believe that the British knowingly surrendered so many unarmed combatants and civilians to their deaths. Did you finally change your mind about the role of the British in the extraditions? Also, how did you convince those aging officers to talk to you?
Palaich: I was skeptical when I went into this British phase of my interviews. I suppose I had a pro-British bias and simply could not believe that the British were guilty of the same war crimes that prosecutors in Nuremburg had charged others with committing. Nikolai Tolstoy lived in Great Britain, but was visiting Toronto, Canada, around this time and Ante Beljo introduced me to him. Beljo was still living and working in Canada at this time. It was Tolstoy who eventually put me into contact with several former British 8th Army officers involved in Bleiburg and forced repatriations. I have to say at this point that none of the officers involved wanted to speak to me at first. All of them claimed that they had very little involvement with the Croatian handovers and they mostly dealt with the Cossacks. I told them that I would like to speak with them anyway. They all finally agreed, but I always felt that my American accent (as apposed to a Croatian accent) is what made them feel less defensive and guarded about talking about the events from their past. I was on a plane to England to interview them before they could change their mind.
HRsvijet: Besides interviewing the British officers, you went to England once again to do research on this subject in the London archives. Give as a short overview of what you have discovered and the places you visited.
Palaich: The third stage of the Bleiburg documentary involved seeking the actual British documents written extemporaneously in May and June of 1945 that would support Croatian and British eyewitness accounts. To accomplish this it was necessary to go once more to England where I sifted through mountains of documents in the British Public Records Office, the British Imperial War Museum in London and the Ministry of Defense in London.
HRsvijet: You are telling us that there is an immense amount of public documents that are probably dealing with the Bleiburg Tragedy? Have these documents been already examined or are they still waiting for historians to do their job?
Palaich: There is still a huge number of documents related to Bleiburg and the forced repatriations that have yet to be touched by researchers. What Tolstoy, and later myself, found barely scratches the surface of what is yet to be discovered by some Croat researcher that will pick up the baton.
HRsvijet: Luckily the Berlin Wall collapsed, the Yugo regime was shaken, and you had the chance of coming to Croatia and finishing your documentary. Give us a few words on that phase of your project.
Palaich: Finally, in 1990, the winds of freedom were blowing across Europe and those enslaved by communism were breaking the shackles of communist oppression. I was convinced that Yugoslavia was on the verge of dissolution. I was also convinced that Croats who never heard of Bleiburg and Croatian politicians needed to see, in documentary form, what happens to Croats who surrender their sovereignty to their oppressors, or to other nations that have only their own national interest in mind. It was my hope that when Croats saw the video they would also recognize that surrender was not an option once the first shot of freedom is fired. It was for these reasons that I asked Croatian survivors to speak to future generations of Croats at the end of their interviews. I asked them to address Croatian youth who did not know anything or very little about these horrific crimes.
HRsvijet: And what did they say?
Palaich: Although they did not know each other, they all responded in the same way: by telling the Croatian youth how important it was to never surrender their sovereignty. In short – to learn the lessons offered by the past.
HRsvijet: When and how did your bring your documentary to Croatia?
Palaich: It was in May of that year  that I smuggled four suitcases of my video into Croatia across the Austrian border as JNA soldiers patrolled the train between Klagenfurt and Jesenice. I knew what would happen if I was asked to open the suitcases, but the guards believed me when I told them there were only clothes inside.
HRsvijet: Where was the film shown for the first time in Croatia and what were the reactions to it at the time?
Palaich: The film was first shown at the Mimara Museum in Zagreb in May 1991. Yes, there were some in the back of the room at the Museum yelling: “Lies, Lies!”
HRsvijet: Where can British researchers find your documentary?
Palaich: Today many of the interviews can be found in the British Imperial War Museum’s video archive under the subject of forced repatriations. The museum also has transcripts of the interviews on file for researchers to view.
HRsvijet: Who was the highest ranking British officer that you talked to during the making of the documentary?
Palaich: That would be Prof. Gerald Draper, who at the end of World War II held the rank of Major. He was a prosecutor for the Allied War Crimes Trials. We are probably most familiar with the trials at Nuremburg, where he was also a prosecutor. He was, prior to his death, the leading expert on “war crimes”, “crimes against humanity”, and “crimes against the peace”. He is the chief author of the British Code of Conduct for the British Army. Draper was also invited annually by the Israeli government as one of the main speakers for the annual commemoration of the Holocaust in Israel.
HRsvijet: You were able to visit him and he opened up?
Palaich: The interview lasted almost one hour. It was conducted in Sussex, England in his home in 1989. Draper said two important things during the interview which are included in my full length DVD called Bleiburška tragedija.
HRsvijet: Being an authority on war crimes, how did Draper assess the role of Tito and his executors in the Bleiburg Tragedy? Could he, his military officers and communist party officials be charged for war crimes because of chain of command responsibility?
Palaich: Tito and his henchmen could be charged with war crimes, or crimes against humanity for killing in cold blood – women, men and surrendered combatants. The individuals who did the killing could be charged with war crimes. The officers up the chain of command could be charged with war crimes. Tito himself, in accordance with the international laws of war, could have been charged with war crimes. According to Draper, if Tito had been charged with war crimes and subsequently claimed, as his defense, that he did not know what those under him were doing, that would not have been a valid defense. Tito was in a position to know what his subordinates were doing and if he did not, he should have known. According to Draper, “Ignorance is not a defense against charges of war crimes.” There is, however, enough material evidence to conclude that Tito was fully aware of the war crimes (including elements of a genocide) perpetrated against the Croats.
HRsvijet: Draper was the chief author of the Code of Conduct for the British Army. What was his view of British responsibility in the Bleiburg Tragedy?
Palaich: According to Draper, any British soldier, or officer who knowingly sent women, children, or surrendered soldiers into the hands of Tito knowing that they were likely to be killed by Tito’s forces could be charged with war crimes. Draper also states in the film that British forces could be charged with war crimes, or crimes against humanity even if they “refused to accept [the Croats] into British control and protection in circumstances that were perfectly apparent that they would fall into the hands of Tito adherents who would likewise be known to decimate them.” In this case the British acknowledge that they knew Tito’s forces would butcher the Croats. In Nigel Nicholson’s case he admits telling Croats that if they got into cattle cars, the trains would take them to Italy. He admits that he knew they were being killed when they got into Yugoslavia. He further admits that he had to deceive them by telling them that they were going to Italy, because if they thought they were going to Yugoslavia, they would not go onto the trains of death voluntarily.
HRsvijet: You have talked to Captain Colin Gunner who was directly involved in extraditions of Croatians to their deaths and a key witness to the British involvement in the Bleiburg Tragedy. Tell us about your interview with him.
Palaich: I interviewed Colin Gunner at his home in Bradbury, England in 1989. Gunner was in the Royal Irish Fusiliers in the British 8th Army. Captain Colin Gunner continued forcing Croats across the bridge in Lavamund, Austria even after watching them being killed and thrown over the bridge. He admits watching these murders for three days and three nights, because the procession of Croats passing over the bridge lasted that long. The murders he saw included women and children. He states: “Tito slaughtered. Tito didn’t have time for people in his way. The bastard slaughtered.”
HRsvijet: Where was Captain Gunner positioned in order to see how Tito’s partisans were executing the extradited at Lavamund bridge?
Palaich: Gunner states that he sat in a military vehicle just at the foot of the bridge at Lavamund, as the Croats were being forced across and murdered by the partisans on the other side of the bridge while he was watching.
HRsvijet: While watching your conversation with Colin Gunner about the killings, one can observe certain emotional expressions on his part. Could you tell us a little more about this man?
Palaich: Colin Gunner was a very unusual man. He joined the British Army as an enlisted man with little education. He became an officer as a result of a military commission, which I understand is quite rare. He told me that he had come to enjoy the war, the “barrage” as he referred to it. He turned out to be somewhat of a drinker in his old age. He tried to pretend that the memories of taking part in the handover of Croats and their subsequent deaths did not bother him, but it obviously weighed on his conscience for decades. I interviewed him in 1989, forty-four years after Bleiburg and the guilt still caused him remorse. One interesting point concerning the end when he cries: I sensed he was guarded while talking to me on tape. Before the interview he was emotional. When I tuned on the camera he became more serious and less open with me. I learned after many interviews that no two subjects react the same to the camera. Therefore, at the end of the interview, I pretended to shut the camera off. I began to put things away and act as if we were done. I believe this helped him relax and all the emotion he wanted to release during the interview just came out, because he thought he was off camera at that point. Just a little side story.
I felt no sympathy for any of these old Brits. They were talking freely about committing war crimes like you and I talk about a memorable basketball game. By 1989, I was very active in the Croatian liberation struggle and had to restrain myself in order to get the story from these old guys.
HRsvijet: You have already mentioned Captain Nigel Nicholson. What did he have to say about the Bleiburg Tragedy and the role of the British in it?
Palaich: I interviewed Nigel Nicholson at his home in Cranbrook, England in 1989. Nigel Nicholson was a Captain and intelligence officer for the British 8th Army. He later became a member of parliament in Great Britain. Many people are not aware that after Bleiburg there were still tens of thousands of Croat men, women and children forced back to Yugoslavia and Tito forces in what is called forced repatriations.
HRsvijet: What was this deception about?
Palaich: Nicholson admits knowing that the Croats would resist if they knew they would be sent back to Yugoslavia to a known fate of murder. Therefore, he designed a plan of deception to tell the Croats they were going to Italy. He told them they would be used in the future for the eventual war against communism. At one point in his diaries, which I secretly filmed and which I will release shortly, he wrote, “The victims do not know where they are going.” Notice he refers to the men, women and children being sent back as “victims.” Like in a scene reminiscent of people being shipped to Nazi concentration camps, 60-80 people were forced into the cattle cars; the doors were locked from the outside and would not be opened until they reached their destination in Yugoslavia. It was on that side of the border that those who were not slaughtered were forced into the “Križni Put” (Way of the Cross).
HRsvijet: You have talked to Major-General Bredin. Did he have anything to say about the events in Austria in May of 1945.
Palaich: This interview was also conducted in 1989 at the home of General Bredin in Essex, England. A priest named Fr. Sean Quinlan gave his name and address to me. Fr. Quinlan was apparently a chaplain for the British 8th Army. Bredin was a Lieutenant Colonel in 1945. Being a senior officer, he did not get his hands dirty directly with the event at Bleiburg, or the forced repatriations of Croats. However, he did relate knowing of the forced repatriation of Croats using the method of deception ending in slaughter. He was more directly involved in the repatriations of Cossacks back to the Soviets, who ended up butchering the Cossacks.
HRsvijet: After interviewing the British officers, what were your personal thoughts and impressions?
Palaich: Some British participants in the war crimes, like Nigel Nicolson, describe their role in a very cold and calculating way with very little emotion. We have to remember in listening to these old gentlemen that while they may not have enjoyed their job, they obeyed their orders to the letter. In Nicholson’s case he designed the system of deception. In the case of Captain Colin Gunner, the viewer would think he agonizes over his role in 1945. However, he began his interview with me by telling me the following: “Listen, if I’m ordered, I’d shoot you like a dog, if I get the order, and I wouldn’t think anything.”
It is clear that even forty-five years after his role in massacres in 1945, he would still obey an unlawful order to send men, women, and children to a known death by murder. For Colin Gunner there is no distinction between lawful military orders and unlawful orders. But, in reality, it makes little difference if a war criminal is twenty, or eighty, if he feels remorse, or not for the crimes he committed. Those questions should only be discussed at the time of sentencing. They should not be factors in deciding whether or not to prosecute.
HRsvijet: What should be done?
In 1995, I was invited to take part in the fifty-year anniversary commemorating Bleiburg. This included touring Croatia and Hercegovina and giving lectures on the subject with Nikolai Tolstoy and two other British men who were workers in the refugee camps in Carinthia in 1945. I gave a short speech in the Croatian Parliament building in Zagreb. In that 1995 speech I stated that British officers involved in the handover of Croats in Bleiburg and in the forced repatriation of Croats from Carinthia should be charged with war crimes using the very same criteria that were used following post-WWII trials at Nuremburg.
Palaich: First, the British knew that the Croats were likely to be killed by Tito’s partisans. If they use the defense that they did not know it at the time, we have to ask why they referred to repatriated Croats as “victims”. Second, there are eyewitnesses like Captain Colin Gunner who admitted to me in 1989 that he witnessed women and children being “slaughtered” at Lavamund in 1945. It would be difficult to use the defense of ignorance if you admit to witnessing murder and still follow orders to hand over Croats. Third, according to WWII War Crimes Prosecutor Gerald Draper, a soldier is required to obey “lawful orders”, not orders that result in slaughter. Fourth, British officers, like Captain Nigel Nicholson, were intelligence officers operating around Klagenfurt, Viktring, Villach and Rosenbach. It was Nigel Nicholson (a former member of British Parliament) who admits designing the sadistic plan to deceive Croats by telling them to board trains to go to Italy and instead shipping them to their deaths at the hands of Tito and his killing squads in Yugoslavia.
HRsvijet: How did the British participants in the anniversary commemoration react to your calls for charges?
Palaich: After my speech, one of the British attendees who was also invited to the commemoration chastised me. He stated that Nigel Nicholson should not be prosecuted as a war criminal, because he had shown courage when he wrote in one of his intelligence reports in June 1945, that the average British soldier finds the forced repatriation process “unsavory”. My answer to him was that that defense can and should be used at the time of sentencing, as should his age. However, to my knowledge, there is not a statute of limitations on murder, or war crimes that resulted in murder.
HRsvijet: You are, therefore, an advocate of legal processing of all those who participated in the Bleiburg Tragedy and post-WW II communist crimes?
Palaich: In my opinion, if we used WWII criteria for determining whether people should be charged with war crimes, then Nigel Nicholson was a prime candidate, and so were many other British participants. The fact that a person is old, sick, remorseful, or a good citizen, has never been accepted as a reason not to prosecute for war crimes. I vividly recall the images of Dr. Andrija Artuković being carried on a stretcher into the criminal courts of Yugoslavia to face trial for war crimes after being extradited from the U.S. in 1986.
HRsvijet: What’s the number of victims in the Bleiburg Tragedy and Križni put? What do the witnesses say?
Palaich: All of the Croat survivors tell their story from their own individual perspective. When they are asked, for example, how many people were marched with you from Bleiburg, their answer is that they do not know. Why? There were so many thousands that if you were in the middle of the mass of people you could not see the end of the line. If you were in the back, or the front, you could not see the beginning, or the end. It is here that we need to talk about something very important – numbers. There is no way to estimate, using Croat survivor testimony, the number of Croats forced to return from Bleiburg, or later through forced repatriations at the hands of the British. We must, therefore, rely on official estimates of the British 8th Army from May and June 1945.
HRsvijet: What do the British documents say?
Palaich: British documents support claims that British Spitfires were used to fly over the masses of Croats in Bleiburg. Documents in the British Imperial War Museum also prove that the pilots of these airplanes were filming the Croats at Bleiburg. Official British 8th Army documents state that there were 200,000 Croat soldiers and 500,000 civilians at Bleiburg. Colin Gunner, British Army witness to the murders at Lavamund stated that the surrendered men, women and children were walking four abreast while crossing the bridge at Lavamund. He also stated that it took the Croat victims three days and three nights to cross the bridge. It would be easy enough for researchers to calculate the number of people crossing the bridge with those figures. We must remember, however, that only half the people went through Lavamund. According to Petar Miloš, another survivor and later President of Počasni Bleiburški Vod, the other half left the Bleiburg field and went the more direct route to Dravogard. We have no way of estimating that number. There are two roads that lead from Bleiburg to Dravogard and for some unexplained reason the Croats were split into two columns. In addition to these numbers, we have to add the number of Croat victims that the British 8th Army sent directly to their deaths using cattle cars, the same way the Nazis shipped their victims to concentration camps. Documents of the British army, that I have copied and which will be published in the near future, state that 60-80 people were forced into the cattle cars. People were told that they were going to Italy. However, after the cars were filled and locked from outside so that no one can escape, they were sent directly to Jesenice.
The victims only realized they were in the hands of Tito and going back to Yugoslavia when they arrived at the train station at Rosenbach and saw Tito’s partisan soldiers and the red star on their caps. Former British Intelligence Officer, Nigel Nicholson, stated that it was at Rosenbach that many Croats began committing suicide while still locked in the railroad cars. They could see through the wood slats of the cattle cars the partisans’ red stars. It was then that they realized the British had deceived them all. The British kept very good records concerning the number of victims who they forced onto the trains and to their subsequent deaths. One Croat witness was just a girl then, and she witnessed the trains being shipped to Yugoslavia full of Croat victims. “Where are you going?” she yelled at them from the railroad tracks. “We are going to Italy.” they answered.
HRsvijet: What do the surviving victims say about this tragic story?
Palaich: Each Croat solder had a horrendous story of their own. Some witnessed crazy murders by partisan women that only a lunatic could fabricate – if they were not true. Others escaped at night and hid for days in the same spot fearing any movement would mean their capture and murder. Many who were unknown to each other and interviewed in different countries related a period in the march when the brutality increased even more as special partisan killing squads were sent to take over the death columns. Some even recall partisans murdering innocent Croat peasant women who came out of their houses to offer raw potato peelings to some of the starving Croats being marched through their village. What they all experienced was mass murder, torture and slaughter being committed in the most degrading and humiliating way.
HRsvijet: How would you compare the Bleiburg crimes with those committed during the recent War of Independence in Croatia, as well as in Bosnia-Herzegovina?
Palaich: Interviewing Croatian survivors and British co-conspirators meant listening to hundreds of hours of peoples’ most horrendous memories. Unfortunately during Croatia’s war of liberation I was forced to listen to the same stories repeated by a new generation of victims. A convicted war criminal I interviewed in Sarajevo in 1993 recalled his involvement in a new series of recent war crimes. This time the Serbs, and later the rest of the world, would refer to the slaughter of innocents as ethnic cleansing. In Karlovac, I recorded survivors of the infamous death camp Omarska. They related to me the incredible acts of depravity committed by Serbian soldiers that shocked even the hardened listener like myself. So what is the point? Are we destined to experience the same thing every other generation? Why record interviews? Why gather supporting documentation? If we do not learn the lessons of history, are we really doomed to repeat the same mistakes? Are only some people held to the legal standards for war crimes? Is it true that the winners not only write history, but are also immune from war crimes prosecution?
HRsvijet: What’s your reaction to the glorification of the communist symbols in today’s Croatia?
Palaich: Croats have been lamenting the slaughter of hundreds-of-thousands of their people since 1945. Several books have been published on the subject. Movies and documentaries have been produced. Yet, still today not one former partisan from Tito’s murder machine has been prosecuted. In fact, today in Croatia there are people who are pictured proudly in photographs wearing a hat with a red star, while the mass graves of their WWII victims are being excavated. It may not be the same person who slaughtered Croats and it may not be the same hat on the same head of the same person who slaughtered Croats. But, the red star that they so proudly display even today, is the exact same symbol that was worn by those who murdered and slaughtered family members of people who share the streets of Croatia with them today. On a recent trip to Rovinj, I was appalled to find a cigarette tobacco called “Tito” being sold in a store. On the front of the package was a picture of Tito complete with a bright red star. When confronting the sales clerk, her only response was, “It comes from Belgium.” “Yes, but you sell it.” I replied.
In the past, the red star was the symbol of death that was displayed proudly by those representing the communist party and its ideology as the criminals slaughtered their way through their Croat victims in 1945. Today, ironically, it is again proudly displayed in public. A much bigger travesty is that the perpetrators of the war crimes of 1945 still walk the streets with the rest of us, without ever having seen the inside of a courtroom, let alone a jail cell.
HRsvijet: What is your view on the entire issue of investigating crimes committed by the communists?
Palaich: We would hope that if there is so much attention to war crimes in Croatia today, then it is good to document the crimes perpetrated against Croats in 1945 with eyewitness accounts, government documents and forensic evidence. This makes little sense, however, if the evidence is not used to bring the guilty to trial and give a sense of fulfilled justice to the Croatian people. Furthermore, the international community cannot systematically sift through war criminals and decide which ones to charge with crimes based on their nationality, and which ones to ignore. We cannot accept that some in the past have been charged with forcing men, women, and children onto cattle cars to a known fate of murder, while British officers who admit committing the same crime went on to become British members of parliament, never having been charged with a war crime. We cannot accept that the United States extradited eighty-year-old Dr. Andrija Artuković to Yugoslavia in 1986, but a Croat and former Tito partisan walked free in Mississauga, Canada most of his adult life despite the fact that he slaughtered countless Croats at Jazovka in 1945. We should not accept that streets and squares in Croatia are named after the same Josip Broz Tito that orchestrated the slaughter of a generation of Croats, while his disciples claim he was a hero for fighting fascism. Any person who embraces the concept of individual liberty and freedom must condemn both fascism and communism. Fascism and communism are the antithesis to individual liberty and freedom. Being opposed to fascism does not make you good if you are a communist who slaughtered in 1945. Conversely, being against communism does not make you good if you slaughtered on the other side in 1941.
HRsvijet: How can this painful and unresolved issue be solved ?
Palaich: The solution is simple. Let us not be selective when it comes to the prosecution of individuals for war crimes. We should not just ship Croats to The Hague for prosecution, while those who are guilty of war crimes in 1945 still walk the streets of Croatia – even if they walk the streets with a cane. We should not try to emulate the selective treatment of war criminals in countries like Great Britain, when the British have known for decades that some of their soldiers committed war crimes against Croats as defined by their own WWII prosecutors. The prosecution of war criminals is not a matter of vengeance. It is a matter of justice. Croatia will never be able to heal until this festering wound called Bleiburg is healed, and the only cure is justice for the victims.
Questions by Goran Majic Translated into English: Ante Chuvalo