A Moving Memorial Mass Tribute In Sydney Australia To Mile Nekic – One Of „Croatian Six“

From Left: Barry Lowe, Marijana Rudan, Vesna Krizmanic, Marko Franovic, Ina Vukic, Cecile Lowe. Inset: Mile Nekic

On a busy, working day, Friday 20th January 2023, a Memorial Mass was held at the St Anthony’s Church, Croatian Catholic Centre, Summer Hill, Sydney, Australia. It was a holy mass honouring the memory of a Croatian selfless patriot who walked and lived with the Croatian Community in Sydney for many years and passed away at the age of 75 in Osijek Croatia on 10 December 2022. After immigrating to Australia in 1969 Mile Nekic lived a peaceful productive life until 1979 when along with five other Croatian immigrants’ lives known as Croatian Six took a deeply tragic turn. The six men were arrested on allegations of planning terrorist attacks in Sydney area, tried and convicted to 15 years of prison each. They always maintained their innocence to be released from prison in 1991 on good behaviour around the same time when the Australian television investigative journalist Chris Masters tracked down their accuser, Vico Virkez, who confessed that his testimony against the Croatian Six was false and that he was a Serb national Vitomir Misimovic on Communist Yugoslavia Secret Services UDBa assignment to blacken Croatians as extremist terrorists. Almost immediately after being released from prison in Australia Nekic packed his meagre belongings and headed back to war-torn Croatia to help defend it from the brutal, genocidal Serb and Yugoslavia Army aggression. His life’s dream had always been to see Croatia free from communist Yugoslavia. He died as a retired Croatian Army Officer; a hero of oppressed people by anyone’s definition. He died yearning for final justice for him and all the Croatian Six; he was not meant to see the day when the outcome of the Supreme Court of NSW in Australia would deliver the findings of the late 2022 ordered Judicial Review into convictions for planning terrorist attacks from 1981 against the Croatian Six.

Ina Vukic, Readings from the Bible, Mile Nekic Memorial Mass Sydney

Today, there are several sources that indicate that the Yugoslav UDB set up the case against the Croatian Six, and these sources include the declassification in 2016 of the relevant National Archives of the Commonwealth of Australia, the publication in 2019 of the book “Reasonable Doubt: Spies, Police and the Croatian Six” by Hamish McDonald, McDonald’s interview with American national security professor John Schindler, publication of the book “The Secret Cold War, The Official History of ASIO, 1975-1989.” by John Blaxland and Rhys Crawley, 2017, Hamish McDonald’s 2012 book “Framed”, which succinctly contextualises the circumstances under which the Croatian Six were charged and convicted of conspiring to bomb or attempt terrorist attacks on Sydney, and interview by Vice Virkez with ABC journalist Chris Masters, in which Virkez (Misimovic) clearly admits, among other things, that he lied in his statements to the police and the court against the Croatian six.

Fra Davor Filko , St Anthony’s Church, Croatian Catholic Centre Summer Hill, Sydney, Australia

After the Memorial Mass on Friday 20 January 2023 delivered by Fra Davor Filko touching memories of and tributes to Mile Nekic were shared by Mr Barry Lowe, a prominent former Australian journalist and Ms Marijana Rudan, a journalist, documentary film producer and a former television presenter.

“It’s a bit painful reflecting on a life that was as difficult as the life Mile lead. 10 years in some of the worst prisons in Australia, the whole time knowing you’re innocent. Then the rest of your life waiting and hoping for that wrong to be righted,” Barry Lowe said, continuing:

“I think some of the people like me who tried to get the Croatian Six verdict over-turned – and there were many of us, some of them in this church today – have carried a sense of guilt that we couldn’t have done more. For me the Croatian Six campaign had a personal element, Mile was my friend and my starting point in wanting to see justice prevailing.

But I think the remarkable thing about Mile was that he managed live a full and productive life despite the bad hand of cards that he had been dealt. He was a patriot who made a significant contribution to Croatia’s struggle for independence – and he was awarded the medals for bravery that prove it. His role in leading a military intelligence unit that worked behind enemy lines, is an important chapter in the history of the Croatian resistance in eastern Slavonia.

Barry Lowe delivering his speech at Memorial Mass for Mile Nekic, Sydney

But this productive life also included the warmth and generosity and total commitment of loyalty that he gave to his friends. An anecdote from the time soon after I got to know Mile – which started when I interviewed him about his success as an artist while serving time in Long Bay jail: My wife Cecile and I had just moved into a small terrace house in Marrickville – a bit of wreck, in dire need of some major renovation. But I barely knew which end of a hammer you’re meant to hold. Mile dropped in one day, had a look around and said ‘I can help with this’. The next day, a Saturday, 6 o’clock in the morning we’re woken by a knock on the door and Mile walks in with a couple of mates, a cement mixer, bags of cement, timber, power tools, you name it. All the weekend they’re pulling up floors, stripping down walls and in a couple of days we’ve got a reasonably presentable house. I couldn’t get Mile to take a cent for the work or supplies, he even insisted on buying the beer for the post-job celebration.

We kept in touch, and we spent time together when the war was on, often sitting in the bar that used to operate in the underground shopping mall beneath the central square in Osijek, a safe haven when the city was being shelled.

Then there was a couple of decades when we didn’t have much contact until I heard about the new effort to reopen the Croatian Six case. I tracked Mile down and last April went to see him, Cecile and I driving from Salzburg through territory I hadn’t visited since the war. The four us – including Mile’s lovely wife Mirjana, who we really bonded with despite a reliance on Google Translate – had a wonderful four days together, kicking over the old traces, visiting the ruined water tower at Vukovar, touring the underground wine cellars in Ilok. I’ve been reflecting recently how much more painful Mile’s death would have been for me if I hadn’t had those few days with him last year.

Then the news a few months ago that the judicial review into the Croatian Six had been ordered. I rang Mile – in the middle of the night for him. He was over the moon. He sent me a message the next day saying it was important to him that I had been the one to give him the news. He talked about returning to Australia to have his day in court.

Well, that’s not going to happen now. There’s a bitter irony about how things turned out. Mile always wanted to clear his name and have the world know that he wasn’t the terrorist he’d been labelled with. I think he had imposed a sort of exile on himself and felt he couldn’t come back to Australia until his name was cleared. He didn’t get that opportunity that but at least he learnt that it was going to happen.

Of course, the Croatian Six conspiracy wasn’t just about jailing six innocent men. It’s objective was to defame the entire Croatian community in Australia. I think Mile somehow assumed some of the burden of guilt for that being allowed to happen.

I’ve been advised to steer away from politics in this speech. But I can talk about religion, this seems like an appropriate place. One of the tenets of our faith is forgiveness. And I can, with difficultly I admit, forgive those who made this injustice happen. But they need to show remorse and contrition. Some of them – former public officials – are still out there. They need to speak out now and say, yes this did happen, we were part of it and now it needs to be put right. Rest in Peace Mile.”

“Last year in May, thanks to the efforts of Ina Vukic, i visited Mile Nekic and his wife Mirjana in Osijek for a research project. I stayed with them in their home, where Mile recounted all the details of his difficult life to me,” said Marijana Rudan and continued:

“There in his tiny kitchen while he smoked many cigarettes and Mirjana made coffee, he explained how he’d met my uncle at the airport in Vienna as they boarded the same plane to Australia in the late 1960s. 

Young migrants with no money, bound by their desire to escape Yugoslavia and start again in a free land of opportunities.

‘I know your father and your uncle well. Welcome Marijana,’ he said.

I immediately sensed two things in his large blue eyes as he spoke.

I saw that this man carried so much pain and that did not surprise me knowing the details of his life, yet despite the years and the many times life had broken Mile with its injustice, his eyes still held onto hope …

Marijana Rudan delivering speech at Mile Nekic Memorial Mass, Sydney

‘What will you do with my story?’ Mile asked.

‘What would you like me to do with your story Mile?’ I asked him. ‘What is your wish?’

‘I just want people to know that I wasn’t guilty. I just wanted to live my truth and for that they wrongly judged me. I want the world to know that I was innocent.’

I told Mile, that I would do my best to make sure his wish came true.

‘But Mile’, I said,

 ‘Please eat something and look after yourself. 

I want you to live to see the day when everyone will know the truth.’

and Mirjana laughed. ‘It’s a good day when Mile remembers to eat.’

That evening in Osijek Mile and his wife showed me their city, the cafes they frequented, the main square and then they took me to dinner in one of the nicest restaurants. ‘See, I do eat Marijana, but for me it’s more important that you eat and that you remember your time here with us in Osijek.’ 

I will never forget his kindness.

A few months after I left Osijek, the news spread that a Judicial Inquiry had been ordered and that the evidence that led to the conviction and jailing of six innocent Croatian men, including Mile, would now be re-opened for examination.

I immediately called them.

‘The time has come Mile. The time has come.’

‘Are you still going to tell my story?” He asked me.

‘Yes, of course, but I am working with a team and these things take time. Look how long you have waited already. Over 42 years. Just a little more now. Hold tight.’

‘OK’ he said, ‘you will tell my story one day’.

When Vesna Krizmanic rang me to say Mile had died, we were both in shock and shed tears. 

 Over the years Vesna and Lydia had shared many stories about Mile’s kind heart.

‘He was a dreamer’ said Lydia ‘a true artist by nature.’

‘Mile was ruled by his emotions and his ideals, but somehow he was unfairly judged and so misunderstood.’

Mile Nekic lived his entire life yearning for freedom through expression in his fight for Croatia and through the stories he told in his artwork.

In one way, I’m not surprised that Mile chose to die on the night Croatia beat Brazil in the World Cup. Little Croatia beating the world’s greatest footballing nation. What a story of resilience, a fight to the end.

Mile’s heart was probably bursting. Because dreams do come true…

So will yours Mile Nekic.

Rest in peace dear Mile.

And know that your story will be shared, and your innocence honoured.

We all gathered here in your name today promise you this. Amen.”

With proud memories we hope and trust. Rest in God’s peace Mile Nekic and may the perpetual light shine upon you – always!

With thanks to Branko Miletic, Written and compiled by Ina Vukic

PRITISNI ZA OVAJ ČLANAK NA HRVATSKOM JEZIKU/ CLICK FOR THIS ARTICLE IN CROATIAN LANGUAGE

Comments

  1. Your article on six Croatians, who were punished for false terrorist charges, is quite sensitive and draws our attention . Thanks for sharing !

  2. Pray that justice prevails…

  3. Bobo Mostarac says:

    Thank you Ina!
    Thank you Mile, rest in God’s peace!

  4. This caught my attention with these attacks with terrorists. Anita

    • We wait for the Judicial Review into those convictions from 1981. 1970’s are known for such set ups eg the Birmingham Six, the Guilford Four…many years after cleared…

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