Old habits die very, very hard, as the news reminds us every day, but change begins with illumination — attention, pointing, identifying and generally shining lights in dark places. However the president of Croatia, Ivo Josipovic, Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic and Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Predrag Matic through their public comments continue to deride and belittle the group of protesting war invalids in Zagreb one thing is emerging as clear: the rally by the war veterans, which seems profoundly taxing on the already frail health of the war invalids, points very clearly to the fact that the Croatian Homeland War Veterans have not been afforded their rightful place as the nation’s heroes that they deserve. The current Social Democrat government and the current President of Croatia (the ideological heirs to the fallen communist Yugoslavia) have more often than not raised the value of WWII communist partisans for today’s Croatia far above the actual Homeland War veterans, who in fact were the ones that ushered today’s Croatia into the free and democratic world, sacrificing life and limb.
Monday, 3 November 2014 will mark the end of full two weeks since Croatian war invalids, Homeland War veterans took to the street in front of the War Veterans ministry building in Zagreb, setting up camp, staying determined in their demands for the protection of their rights, for the removal of the Minister for Veterans Affairs Predrag Matic and two of his closest aides and for certain legislative changes that would see veterans’ rights and plights for freedom and democracy included in constitutional law.
Indeed, the Homeland War invalids and veterans were born in Croatia when it was part of Yugoslavia under the dictatorship of Marshal Josip Broz Tito. They have worked and lived there ever since, experiencing firsthand the tumultuous history, including the repressions and then the fall of Communism, the disintegration of Yugoslavia through freedom loving plebiscites (in every state of former Yugoslavia bar Serbia), which resulted into hostile Serb aggression and the catastrophic violence.
The danger that the 1990’s Homeland War figures and real events disappear from memory, or their importance for today’s Croatian state, has been an ever-present concern among multitudes of Croats. Croatia’s so-called antifascists, those who still hold the WWII fighters for a new communist Yugoslavia as heroes have turned every political trick in the book to ensure that the meaning of the Homeland War events become distorted and manipulated by their political agendas. The pro-communist/socialist Yugoslavia left-wing governments and presidents (including the current ones), that the independent and democratic Croatia has had the misfortune of having, have consistently promoted a type of amnesia, which – if allowed to continue undisturbed – erases national Homeland War heroes and heroines from public consciousness. There was the era of de-Tudjmanisation, which commenced particularly after 1995 (after Croatia won the war of Serb aggression against it) headed by Stjepan Mesic, the Croatian president after Franjo Tudjman’s death, whose mission in life appeared to be nothing except the propagation of cruel lies against Croatian first president Tudjman and equating the aggressor with the victim in the Croatian Homeland War. The attempts by many a prominent politician, academics and leaders to reconcile Croatia’s WWII and post- WWII history as part of transitioning from communist totalitarian regime into a democratic one, based on individual freedom and responsibility, have been thwarted by the left-wing politicians every time the truth about communist crimes had stuck its head out into the public arena. Franjo Tudjman’s and Homeland War veterans’ struggles against the communist Yugoslavia and the 1990’s Serb aggression have in many important aspects evaporated from the public conscience; the fight to prevent the total and effective evaporation of the importance of Franjo Tudjman and Croatia’s Homeland War veterans for freedom and democracy has and is resting in the hands of the brave veterans and their supporters.
The current young generation in Croatia are quite ignorant of the Homeland War heroes. They don’t seem to fully understand what democracy means, how much has been sacrificed for their freedom, how much has been achieved and how much needs to be done. The livelihood and life’s advancement opportunities of an overwhelming number of Croatian young has been reduced by the incompetent government and the country’s presidential office to existential anxiety; poverty is sweeping away the courage to fight for the truth and it is left to the veteran few and their supporters, who still have fighting courage, to ensure Croatia of today does not lose its true identity amidst the communist lot.
Indeed, it was yesterday, Saturday 1 November, that the representatives of the Croatian network for combat against poverty, the Pulse of the People (Bilo Naroda), arrived at the protest site offering the war-invalids/veterans their absolute support. A joint statement by the network and the veterans’ association included that “the Croatian government representatives and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs publicly impose the idea of guilt sharing for the war in Croatia, and that one of their new tactics is the equating of the Croatian Homeland War with the Greater Serbian aggression and occupation through the manipulation of facts within the strategic documents towards the EU,” reports Vecernji List.
They say that they had noticed this manipulation in the draft of the operational plan “Competition and Cohesion” in which the government labels Croatia’s Homeland War as destructive. The Croatian veterans’ associations and the Pulse of the People association say that this document was only until recently written in the English language, therefore not transparent to the Croatian population, and that it describes the countless minefields in Croatia as the result of the Homeland War and not, as the facts are, as the result of the Serb aggression and occupation of a third of Croatia’s territory in early 1990’s.
“It is through these and similar practices towards the Homeland War and its veterans that the Croatian government ignores the foundations of the Croatian state it governs, it does not engage in thorough solutions for problems that arose during the Homeland War and it manipulates the Croatian and worldwide public and it does not assist the veteran population to turn to the future. This is one of the reasons why we seek the replacement of minister Predrag Matic, his deputy and his aide,” said Ante Deur, president of the Assembly of the veterans of Croatian guard units.
“The public talks of veterans’ privileges,” said Ante Deur on Friday 29 October, “and, yet, the children of communists enjoy privileges in Croatia.” He said that veterans’ rights must be part of the Constitution “so that no one could touch them any more”.
And indeed, the support for the war-invalids’ veterans is amazing; so many organisations and citizens are rallying behind them and also making sure they are fed and warm at the “camp” outside the Veterans’ Affairs building. And the light their protest is directing to expose the dark place of communism that still exists in Croatian politics becomes even more relevant when we come across the statement made last week in the city of Split by president Ivo Josipovic at the 70th anniversary of liberation of Split from German/Italian occupation: “Those who want some other Croatia, Croatia in which Kevo’s Pits are returned, Croatia in which the Partisans are declared criminals, Croatia in which history is not understood, are not doing Croatia any good.”
The reader needs to know that the “Kevo’s Pits” referred to by president Josipovic is a synonym for hundreds of mass graves and pits (close to 900) where hundreds of thousands of innocent victims of Partisan and communist crimes lie; still to this day without justice!
Evidently, Croatia’s president Ivo Josipovic fails miserably to accept the Croatia created as a result widespread rejection by the Croatian people (1991) of the “Partisans’ Yugoslavia” and through defending of the idea of free Croatia from brutal Serb aggression. So who else but the veterans must persist in defending free and democratic Croatia from communist onslaught!? And as Djuro Glogoski, the president of Croatia’s 100% Military War-Invalids Association, said: the veterans are not placing their monetary payments or rights in the first place but their priority lies in their determination not to ever again permit the putting down of those who had participated in the creation of Croatia. “You shall never again trample on our dignity, and we shall be together in this to the end,” is Glogoski’s message to the Croatian government and leaders.
I say: Good on you – Croatian Homeland War veterans! Do not let the WWII past and communism that followed define Croatia’s present and future; make sure that Homeland War truth and the fight for freedom and democracy are! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)