A true, brilliant face of justice stepped out into the streets of Croatia and the world last Friday!
On 22 July 2016 Zagreb Country Court issued a judgment of great historical and political importance, announcing the complete annulment of the sentence against the archbishop of Zagreb, Aloysius Stepinac, passed by the politically rigged communist Yugoslav court 70 years ago, in October 1946.
The Zagreb County court in Croatia, a panel of judges presided over by Judge Ivan Turudic, annulled, quashed the 1946 communist Yugoslavia treason conviction against Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac, ruling that he did not receive a fair trial. Belgrade (Serbia) driven anti-Croat hoards, whose mission was to ensure that Croatia was the only Yugoslav federation state to be made responsible for the crimes of the holocaust on Yugoslav soil despite the fact that as a result of having exterminated 94% of Serbian Jews by mid-1942 Serbia’s WWII regime had been among the first European states “judenfrei” (Jew-free), had in 1946 charged and convicted Stepinac with crimes of collaboration with the pro-Nazi Ustashe regime.
“In less than a month from the indictment, the communist People’s Court of Croatia found him guilty on all counts, and the verdict was handed down on October 11, 1946. Stepinac was found guilty on all charges. He received a sentence of 16 years of hard labor.
In 1950 a group of American Senators made freedom for Archbishop Stepinac a condition for American aid to Yugoslavia. Tito (Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito), eager to improve his relationship with the West, agreed to the deal with one stipulation: Stepinac must leave the country. Similarly, requests were made also by Pavelic (Ante Pavelic, leader of WWII Independent State of Croatia), in both cases, Stepinac refused to leave arguing he would remain with his people unless they take him by force.
Finally, in December 1951, Josip Broz Tito ordered Stepinac’s release, but sentenced him to house arrest in his native village of Krasic. In 1953, when he was elevated to Cardinal by pope Pius XII, When reporters asked him whether he will leave for that occasion he replied: ‘As long as Croatia is not free, the whole country is my prison.’ ‘My place is in Croatia with my people, not in the Vatican,” Dr Esther Gitman quote at EU Parliament presentation from Nova Hrvatska (New Croatia), 30 Fleet Street, London E. C. 4, England, February 1960, p. 1. Dr Esther Gitman is a leading world researcher of WWII archive facts that indisputably place Archbishop Aloysius (Alojzije) Stepinac as one of the leading rescuers of Jews and all other persecuted ethnic groups such as Serbs and Roma in WWII Independent State of Croatia. Indeed, in June 2011 Pope Benedict XVI praised Cardinal Stepinac as a courageous defender of those oppressed in Croatia during WWII, including Serbs, Jews and gypsies/Roma.
In February 1992 the parliament of Croatia had passed a “declaration of condemnation of the political process and judgment against Cardinal Dr Aloysius Stepinac” (click on link for pdf of the Declaration), which states that he was convicted as an innocent person “for having rejected the communist powers’ orders to bring about a schism in the Church and bring about the separation of the Croatian Catholic Church from Rome and Vatican, which had the far-reaching goal of the destruction of the Catholic Church as the eternal keeper and protector of Croatian people’s identity and freedom.
He was convicted because he stood against aggression and crimes of the communist regime, just as, in the storm and cruelties of WWII, he acted to protect the persecuted, regardless of their ethnic origins or religious outlooks. Although the Croatian people and the Catholic Church had never accepted the judgment against Archbishop Stepinac, the Croatian Parliament, as the highest representative body of Croatia, by expressing its clear position towards the unjust judgment against Cardinal Stepinac now corrects an historic injustice and insult against the Croatian people.
By condemning the show-trial and judgment against Archbishop Stepinac, the Croatian Parliament does at the same time condemn the political trials against numerous innocent priests, monks and believers as well as condemning the communist regime.”
Having overturned the 1946 verdict against Stepinac, Judge Ivan Turudic read the court’s findings, which concluded that the 1946 trial had violated the right to a fair trial, prohibition of forced labour and the right to appeal. He said the goal of that verdict had been “revenge against Stepinac“.
The judge said that the rigged politically motivated trial against Stepinac, violated the right to a fair trial as well as rules of the law-based state.
Judge Turudic said that it was evident from the minutes of the 1946 trial that prosecution’s witnesses had been instructed how to charge the defendant.
“The fundamental crime Stepinac was charged with was the fact that he was at the time of NDH (WWII Independent State of Croatia) the Archbishop of Zagreb. He himself asked at the trial ‘Well, what was I supposed to do? Go into a forest or escape to London?’ He decided to remain with his people with whom he also remained during the Yugoslav Kingdom dictatorship and during Tito’s communist dictatorship,” Judge Turudic said. Turudic also said that while in prison Stepinac was offered to sign a pardon form issued by the communist authorities but that he refused the offer, instead, Stepinac asked for a re-trial before an independent court or the quashing of the verdict. Of course, such a request was refused.
Judge Turudic said the 1946 trial was a “rigged political process.”
“After 70 years his will is fulfilled by the Croatian court in a free Croatian state and that is why this judgment has profound importance not only for the individual but also for the history of the Croatian people,” Judge Turudic concluded.
“I’m very moved, I didn’t expect it would be resolved so quickly. I thank the Croatian judiciary for finally removing the stain which for years was not only put on the cardinal, but on the Catholic Church, the family, and the whole Croatian nation as well,” Cardinal Stepinac’s nephew who instigated the legal process for the review of the 1946 verdict, Boris Stepinac, told Croatian news media after the judgment was read out in the court. “Today, documents and arguments proved in a court that he was indeed a righteous man,” he added.
As expected the ruling fuelled protests and criticisms against Croatia, renewed false and hateful allegations that this ruling amounts to rehabilitation of the WWII Ustashe regime in Croatia. Such false allegations are concocted and propagated by the very top of Serbia’s leadership and its president Tomislav Nikolic stated that Stepinac was not tried and convicted in WWII Independent State of Croatia or today’s independent Croatia but in Yugoslavia, suggesting that Croatia had no jurisdiction to judge on judgment delivered in Yugoslav courts. This protest is enough to demonstrate how hopeless pursuits of truth and justice still are in Serbia. So, I choose to ignore any criticism on the matter coming from Serbia for Serbia’s leadership is evidently still incapable of separating true justice from political set-ups. Nikolic further stated that he relayed his opinion regarding Stepinac’s role in WWII to Pope Francis and I do trust that opinion has ended up where it came from: the dungeons of dangerous hatred against Croats Nikolic and his followers had demonstrated many a time, including during the genocidal Serb aggression against Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1990’s.
In 1998 the late Pope John Paul II beatified Stepinac – putting him on the road to sainthood – during a visit to Croatia. While Pope Francis seemingly procrastinates as to the date when Aloysius Stepinac will be canonised and declare a Saint of the Catholic Church, the majority of Croatian people already regard him as a Saint.
This Friday 22 July 2016 judgment from the Zagreb County Court clearly shows that justice is always reachable; that truth prevails in the end and justice wins. All we need is patience and persistence for the truth and in that spirit I would like to see a posthumous trial against Josip Broz Tito for all the crimes of his communism against innocent people and pray that somehow, in a brilliant world of the future, this will be judicially possible. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)