Michael Palaich – Up Close And Personal For Croatia’s Freedom: “For Baka’s Homeland” A Book Review

Michael Palaich
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“For Baka’s Homeland”/Michael Palaich – a book review by Ina Vukic

Up close and personal – for freedom of Croatia!

Michael Palaich’s “For Baka’s Homeland” is a soothingly powerful, reinvigorating and captivating book about roots of the invincible patriotism for his grandmother’s (baka’s) homeland lovingly cultivated far away from that homeland, in America. The object of that patriotism, patriotic love, devotion and pride – Croatia, while geographically far away and often scarcely visited during the childhood years of growing up in the diaspora is a spiritual anchor that embeds itself into the hearts and minds of multitudes born and/or living away from the parental homeland. It is also a book about the intrinsic, steadfast driving resolve within that patriotic love thriving outside Croatia for decades, nurtured within the Croatian emigrant community outside of Croatia, becoming a driving force of help and support in times of need when that Croatian nation had no alternative, nor choice, but to defend its life from brutal aggression by the former communist Yugoslavia and Serb forces; to fight for its freedom and self-preservation.

“For Baka’s Homeland” presents the reader with a personal account, memoirs, the author’s account, an insider account of Croatia’s 1990’s horrendous struggles to secede from communist Yugoslavia and become a democratic, independent State. Insider account by a member of the Croatian diaspora, whose contribution to Croatia’s independence struggle and its ultimate success was crucial! The particularly valuable contribution this book makes to the factual history of struggles and sufferings Croatian people had endured, particularly after World War II, is the fact that, overall, it provides the reader as to how, through what activities, personal risks and adventures, a person of Croatian origins born and living abroad put himself through so that his grandmother’s (baka’s) homeland could one day call itself free and independent – just as “baka” yearned for all her life.

This is a book about strong loyalty to the love of and for family, the love of and for grandparents. Reading this book, the reader may indeed conclude: there is no more magical way to validate one’s love for family than through actions that protect and embrace the values for which that family stands and, in that, place one’s own life at disposal for achieving those values in tangible forms; in this case – Croatia’s freedom.

The captivating nature of this book is particularly carried through many intriguing stories, accounts, explorations of issues associated with a nation’s struggle for independence.  Palaich’s personal undertakings and experiences on the long and hard road to Croatia’s independence provide the reader with “an ordinary man’s” insight into political, ideological and practical milestones to independence and the creation of a new State during the late 20th century.  The fact that these accounts come from one patriotic individual living and born in the suburbia of an American city, part of Croatian diaspora, is of particular significance and value especially to those keen to take a “microscopic” look into how it was possible for ordinary people to contribute so crucially to the independence of Croatia in such harsh and unforgiving times that lasted for decades (and, indeed, centuries).

The self-sacrifice fuelled by patriotic love is the backbone of this book; its spine. “For Baka’s Homeland” is very much a book whose contents could also aptly describe multitudes of “ordinary” men and women in the Croatian diaspora who have during the 1990’s practically stopped living their own private lives to the fullest and gave those lives as moral and material surety for the success of an independent Croatia. Michael Palaich, though, is the one who openly and sincerely put pen to paper and this book is the delightful product even with its vignettes of absolute horror Croats have had to endure during their struggles to exit communist Yugoslavia. The delight of the latter is not in the content of those vignettes of horror but in the fact that they now are particles in the food for thought and gratitude as Croats celebrate Croatia’s victory in the 1990’s Homeland War and say “Lest we forget”!

“For Baka’s Homeland” Front Cover
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The book opens with the author’s examination of and pondering upon influences of nurture versus nature in shaping a character, in predisposing us for how we react in life to various environmental/social triggers and influences. He offers the reader a look into his Croatian grandmother and grandfather, struggling to create a new life in a foreign land after coming to America at the turn of the 20th century. He takes the reader into the migrant reality where patriotic love and loyalties for the original homeland (Croatia) are nurtured and lovingly cultivated through generations – firstly his father’s, then his and ultimately his children’s, all of whom were born and raised in America. To bring closer to the reader the reality of such upbringing that essentially means living parallel lives, Palaich says in the First chapter of his book:

I have come to accept the reality that I will never be fully accepted as a Croatian in Croatia. I am always referred to as ‘The American’ when in Croatia…I have also accepted the reality that I will never be fully assimilated into American Anglo-Saxon culture either. My father was born in America and served in the U.S. Army Air corps during WWII. I am a veteran of the U.S. Navy. I have lived and worked in America my entire life. Still, there is much of the Anglo-Saxon culture in America that I just don’t understand. In my youth I believed that I was unique in this way. But after making friends with many first- and second-generation Croats living in Canada, Australia, Germany and Argentina, I find that many of us born outside Croatia share this sense of straddling two cultures.”

The book continues as it takes the reader into decades of Croatian patriotic, political, cultural and other activism and activities that thrived within the Croatian communities in the diaspora. Invariably, these were towards the goals of nurturing the Croatian identity and its plight for freedom and, hence, patriotism throughout the world that was outside the former communist Yugoslavia, which, without fail and with cruel vigour always brutally and to the point of mass murders and assassinations oppressed the Croatian national being. It is a matter of recorded history that much of the former communist Yugoslavia Secret Police (UDBa) had, after WWII, cunningly infiltrated even the tightest of “Western” societies’ institutions and national security corridors with only one aim in mind – to assassinate, destroy, vilify and brand as dangerous extremists, if not terrorists, all nationally conscious and patriotic Croats living outside Yugoslavia. This unsavoury and utterly cruel backdrop had given rise to many clandestine, covert and risky activities Croatian patriots living outside former Yugoslavia had entered into in the quest for Croatian freedom, risking own lives and those of their families. And so, it is very meaningful for quests for freedom generally to read Palaich’s accounts of the Croatian organisations that operated in America prior to Croatia’s Homeland War. How the love for Croatia built in him particularly through his grandmother’s loving care transformed into political activities crowned with patriotism and ultimately love of all Croatian people.

My political journey began in 1978, and each step in that journey would result in a psychological change. Normal feelings of fear would gradually be replaced with a sense of over-confidence and defiance. The idealistic political activity that was originally rooted in the belief that the Croatian people had a right to be free, slowly morphed into illegal activity in an attempt to realize that political objective…” says Palaich in his book as he delves into stories of Croatian diaspora political activism and activities while at the same time fighting, hiding from, ducking, crawling and stalking in efforts not to be caught by local authorities or, even worse, by the murderous agents of the communist Yugoslavia UDBa operatives who had infiltrated the Croatian community in the diaspora.

The reader is served with a series of moving stories of heroism, of brilliant attempts and ways in trying to get “Western” media houses interested in the plight of Croats for freedom from communist oppression, of background operations – small and large – in organising public protests and catching the attention of prominent politicians in the “West”. Frequently in this thread of the book we come across moving vignettes of true and absolute camaraderie based on patriotism and quest for freedom. Reading these accounts, a reader finds himself asking: why? Why would anyone give up and risk a safe and relatively financially prosperous life for this? For patriotic love!

Michael Palaich offers answers to those questions throughout his well-written book.

To this end, an extract from the book about Croatian political activists in the diaspora goes “…Their politics had consumed their lives and developed into an almost religion-like devotion. Almost immediately, I saw a similarity between their commitment to freeing the Croatian people from the slavery of Communism and the Christian missionaries evangelizing the Good News of the Bible. They were unwavering and focused fanatics. I intentionally choose to use the word fanatic, because I have come to appreciate the purpose-driven life of fanatics in combination with a worthy cause…”

Reading this book one can easily find that history is not merely about memorising dates, memorising significant events, it is more about seeing the undercurrent of thoughts which were determinant in making those significant dates, in making those significant events in the history of a nation, of Croatian freedom in this case. In “For Baka’s Homeland” the reader almost finds himself or herself privileged to be able to enter into that undercurrent of thoughts and, as if by epiphany nudged by the rich accounts in the book, come to know what extraordinary people and activities it took to contribute to that history of creation and delivery to the people of a free Croatia.

When it came to deal with, or rather disposing of Croatian people who wanted freedom from communist Yugoslavia, the Serb aggressor was particularly vicious and a deranged beast by anyone’s standards. Genocide, mass murders, mass rapes, massacres, depraved tortures – sheer and viciously revengeful hatred for freedom-fighting Croats of either military or civilian description. As Palaich’s stories and vignettes from the 1990’s war zones in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he found himself in his efforts to help the freedom fight in whichever way he could (smuggling guns and night-vision equipment to at least help a little the ill-equipped Croatian soldiers fighting the huge enemy Yugoslav/Serb Army; working on foreign media representatives desperately trying to secure an outcome in which the World will know the truth [as opposed to the Serb-led propaganda and lies the “Western” media seemed so ready to embrace]; engage in political plots and strategies that would assist Croatia in its quest for freedom…) tell the reader, it was a time when the strength of patriotism tested the majority of Croats in efforts to save own lives and the lives of those one loved. The intrigue in the political ingenuity and the sheer courage of many Croats we meet in this book, as Palaich focuses on events with detailed accounts, are particularly eye-opening, powerful moments the author delivers to his readers. It was a most dangerous time for Croats – 1990’s – and an extract from the book says “This time I was standing in the middle of a war zone controlled by the enemy, being questioned by an officer of that enemy’s army. This time the Serbian officer standing before me had the power to take my life if he wanted to. There were no rules in this war – not with the enemy…”!

But, as this book evidences, there were rules the Croats followed and those rules were much about ways and tactics every individual would employ to save Croatian people from continued oppression. These tactics did indeed at times require a Croat from the diaspora to engage in activities that were considered illegal by the country he/she came to help Croatia from. Michael Talaich spent several years defending himself in the legal and other related activities against him by the US Federal Police, Federal Agents and the U.S. courts – the scavenging for evidence against him that ended with a Grand Jury indictment for six counts of violating the U.S. Arms Export Control Act. It took the author several years to clear this and his indictments were all dismissed by a US State Attorney in 1999. This blessing did not happen without the care that free Croatia extended to its loyal activists for freedom.

Would the author, Michael Palaich, go through all the trials and tribulations that followed his steps in his fight for free Croatia again? Would he do the same things for Croatia and its people if the situation was the same again? If the desperate need arose again? Those are the questions and answers addressed in the final part of his book. To know and understand the answers to these questions one must read “For Baka’s Homeland”. The patriotically minded reader is in for a gallant treat!


Croatian language version of this book is due to be released in June 2020

“For Baka’s Homeland” in the English language is available in major online bookshops including America-based Amazon as well as all international Amazon online bookshops; Thriftbooks,  Barnes & Noble 

 

Comments

  1. Looks really interesting. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. a tough history, everyone hoped that world war two would be the lesson, but as you find out the hard way, those who covet power, never give up the seat for a better cause, sounds like an interesting read. be blessed

    Like

  3. Excellent review!

    Like

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