Lustrating And Decommunising Croatia – The Only Way Forward

Zadar, Croatia, 22.01.2018.
Procession of military units
that participated in Operation Maslenica 1993
Photo HINA/ ml

Finally! I said, as I watched the televised January 22nd 2018 jubilant celebration of January 1993 Operation Maslenica victory over the Serb/Yugoslav aggressor and occupier of one-third of Croatian territory. Finally, the celebrations have predominantly taken the shape of jubilation and pride, despite the fact that multitudes lost their lives in this liberating operation. The joy of military victory is what feeds the resolve of most to build the nation after the gunfire ceases. That joy for military victory had been smothered, poisoned and killed in the two and a half decades after the Homeland War by both internal (communists who didn’t want a free Croatian state) and international like-minded political forces who went about equating the aggressor with the victim, setting up the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague, packing it with all sorts of imagined and false indictments, devising the so-called doctrine of Joint Criminal Enterprise that would see decent human beings, who committed no war crimes, being pushed down the black pit of no return.

Had it not been for the doctrine of Joint Criminal Enterprise suffocating an innocent nation such as Croatia, full democracy and lustration would have surely evolved much sooner. After all, establishing democracy, free of communist heritage in its operations and functionality, is the natural next step after winning the war that was fought to establish a free, self-determined Croatian state. Perhaps the jubilant mood felt in the city of Zadar last Monday will ignite new optimism and energy to finally finish the job started in 1990 – to completely secede from communism, get rid of it.

Faced with so many false indictments in relation to its defensive war, faced with governments and presidents (especially post-2000) who worked against the interests of a free Croatian state to the point where concocting stories of Croatian aggression (as opposed to defence that it employed), giving away to anyone that asked state secrets and classified those few progressive politicians had no chance in hell to kick-off with lustration or decommunisation. Croatia, if it wants to complete the job of being a free and fully democratic country like all other former communist countries has to figure out what to do with the people who led or collaborated with the former communist regime. Most Eastern European countries have made significant progress with lustration, not Croatia, though. It’s like dealing with a torturer problem for the communist regime post-WWII was the torturer, the murderer of hundreds of thousands of innocent Croatians; for the Yugoslav communist system and mindset also left a terrible legacy of corruption and bureaucratic swamplands that stifle any significant process on all fronts.

With great multitudes associated with the regime as party members, tens of thousands being ex functionaries and others operatives of the Yugoslav Secret Service UDBA and, hence, no wonder that the society is politically divided to ‘them’ and ‘us’; the problem is important, emotional and politically sensitive. But it must be solved! Government has to find a way that both: suits the democratic regime and grants justice to society. The options may vary from prosecute and punish to forgive and forget. Lustration has been the most popular method of dealing with the communist past so far in Eastern European countries. Lustration, generally refers to the process of screening groups of people for previous acts of collaboration, activity, under the communist regime (especially activities of the secret services UDBA) and in turn disqualifying members of these groups from holding high level positions in the public sector.

Critics often claim that lustration violates the rule of law and human rights (by denying groups access to certain jobs). The most salient dilemma concerns the evidence of collaboration with secret services. Mostly, evidence relies on secret security service files, which cannot be relied upon in a number of instances. Rumours and sayings have made their rounds mentioning some files were corrupted, or missing. Furthermore, some informants might have been providing the secret office with false information, only to show their effectiveness. Another lustration dilemma is the automatic assumption of guilt rather than innocence and, hence, a process of screening prior to individual lustration must be tight and reliable. Lustration is argued to be easily politicised, as it targets broad groups of people and can be used as a tool to remove large number of opponents from the political stage – this too lends itself to the obligatory tight screening of evidence. Regardless of labelling lustration a political tool the removal of a politician must occur once solid proof of collaboration is found. No doubt about that in my mind and in the minds of many others. Other arguments against lustration say that it, in itself, can reduce state capacity as it eliminates people with the needed skills/experience and some individuals refuse to run in this controversial process.

The Czech Republic had adopted the most radical lustration while Hungary adopted a mild version. Why did the Czech Republic deal with the past more harshly? According to Williams, Fowler and Szczerbiak (2005) ‘Explaining Lustration in Central Europe: a ‘Post-Communist Politics’ Approach’, Democratisation, Vol. 12, No. 1, 22-43): ‘Czech Republic fit the explanations that focus on the nature of the communist regime, mode of exit and outcome of the first democratic elections’. The previous regime in Czechoslovakia was harsh and orthodox, it collapsed under the pressure of popular fronts in 1989 and in the first free elections opposition scored an overwhelming victory. Therefore, there is no wonder why the government adopted lustration so early and preferred a radical version of it, yielding positive democracy development results along the way despite harsh criticism among some international circles.

Croatia failed to introduce any kind of lustration after the Homeland War ended fully in late 1990’s and the reason behind that is, without any doubt, its government and power-brokering circles were riddled with old communist operatives and collaborators of UDBA. Their strength, if we can call it that, it seems, was much greater than the mighty strength and resolve for a sovereign Croatian state of Croatia’s defenders was. The latter were simply denied power after the war and many army generals forcefully retired by the leftist governments/Presidents that came onto the scene after Franjo Tudjman’s death in 1999.

Many countries have decided to open secret files, though access conditions to the files differs greatly and Croatia is still struggling with the question of access to all past regime’s files at the same time when much of such archival material is still held in Belgrade, Serbia (which was the capital of former Yugoslavia). Without full access to files and archives lustration has no firm leg to stand on, really. It is dependent upon evidence. Lustration law has not been passed in Croatia although there are indications that this is the way things might move forward in the foreseeable future.

From what we know about the implementation of lustration so far in former communist countries every country had to make its own decisions, and there was no perfect model to follow. There were many options, and until now only two have been mentioned: trials and lustration. Other options include: decommunization, file opening, forgive and forget and truth and reconciliation commissions. ‘Decommunisation’ and ‘lustration’ are often used interchangeably, but they have slightly different meanings:

Lustration is understood as ascertaining whether an occupant of or candidate for a particular post in public service/administration worked for or collaborated with the communist security services. Decommunisation, on the other hand, refers to the wider removal and exclusion of people from office for having been functionaries of the Communist party or related institutions.

It is argued that overall decommunisation failed, with the exception of former East Germany, where many former informers of the Stasi (Ministry of State Security) have been fired. And it’s working rather well there.

Croatian economy has been on its knees, buckling down unsuccessfully and sporadically to raise itself to a standard where unemployment and poor wage see tens of thousands of people leaving the country for a productive life elsewhere. It seems a month hasn’t gone past in the last two decades that some government owned or controlled company hasn’t reached the list of those who cannot pay a wage to their workers; threatening their livelihood. At all levels and in all sectors of society, former members of the Communist Party are employed, many of whom acted as agents of the notorious secret police. In the current situation in Croatia, where the economy is more or less dominated by state enterprises, they have enormous power.

During the transformation from Communism to a democratic system, when former social structures were being replaced by new institutions, these people have used their positions and the information they have been privy to for so many years for two purposes: to enrich themselves and to maintain their dominance as long as possible. They know that in a democratic, market system, they will have fewer occasions for their extralegal activities and that positions of responsibility will be filled on the basis of competency, not membership in the Communist Party. Clearly they have no interest in assisting the transformation process.

Germany after World War II experienced a salutary denazification process, and so it is necessary for Croatia to undergo a process of decommunisation. Lustration is merely an instrument to accelerate this process. It goes without saying that any lustration law would attract criticisms rubbing at human rights but one thing that must be considered is that lustration law is a law dealing with an exceptional situation in a society as whole and every exceptional situation demands exceptional measures. Transition from communist regime, which still has within it powerful people resisting transition, must indeed employ exceptional measures just as the Homeland War saw exceptional patriotic dedication to win freedom from communism.

Any country that has experienced the ravages of a Communism that for 45 years ruined its economy, demoralised much of the nation, saw almost half population flee the country and consigned an entire generation to emptiness, would perhaps be utterly understanding of Croatia’s need for lustration and decommunisation. Operation Maslenica and all other many battles fought against the aggressor in Croatia’s Homeland was “not our choice, but our need”, said retired General Ante Gotovina, on Monday in Zadar at the 25th anniversary of the Maslenica liberation operation. And, so, lustration and decommunisation are not Croatia’s choices but needs, to complete its secession from Yugoslavia and communism. Ina Vukic

Comments

  1. I hope Croatia’s needs are satisfied sooner rather than later. It has a great future when not bogged down by the past and the Communists still in Government. They are holding Croatia back.
    xxx Huge Hugs Ina xxx

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  2. Onward with the purge! Personally I would rather see a truth and reconciliation process, but assumes that the communists would cooperate and truly want reconciliation. But, they have repeatedly shown a remarkable disregard for Croatia. Communists are freedom loving, truth seeking and fair justice minded group, said no one.

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    • I don’t think communists want reconciliation either, Sunman – it would mean they’d have to shed power and that is almost impossible. So: short and sweet: lustracija

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  3. Your blogs are my insight to Croatia

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  4. Ma’am, this is an excellent history lesson, I am going to reblog this article for you.

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  5. Reblogged this on Truth Troubles.

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  6. Ina, I’m not sure if you saw that you are one of the winners on my blog A Random Harvest – WordPress.com). Did you get an email from me? If not, let me know and I’ll re-send it. my email is maelinne (at) hotmail (dot) com Once I hear from you, I will begin creating your ornament. Love and Light to you. ~ Linne

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