Croatia: Discord Between High Places Continues to Undermine Transitioning From Communist To Democratic Mindset

If one concluded from the political events that lead to developments of a cautious, unhappy and angry significantly sized pool of people in Croatia one could easily observe that the thrust of the government’s and the president’s policies include imposition of anarchy and the public’s rolling in discord as well as the continuation of corruption and injustice. Constructive suggestions to various matters are met with antagonism and disapproval as if people and government opposition are incapable o sound decisions and constructive proposals.  

What a terrible, “knee-jerking” week it has been in Croatia again. Confusion, disappointments, anger, sarcasm…disgust! It is difficult to know who is at fault, for what seems to be a perpetual conflict between the Office of the Prime Minister and the Office of the President lasting several years. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic was in constant conflict with the former President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (and she stemmed from the same political party as he/ HDZ) and is continuing the same with President Zoran Milanovic, who stems originally from SDP/ former League of Communists.

Given that both Plenkovic and Milanovic personally stem from the communist family stock that ruined the country, suffocating it by late 1980’s in astronomical rates and runaway inflation with “Hiroshima”-type of economic devastation largely due to corruption and theft, perhaps this is their way of ensuring that the Croatian people do not enjoy their deserved peace and order and prosperity? These days anything is possible in politics, and neither is clearly steering the country to the common goal of Homeland War values for which rivers of blood were spilled.  

President Zoran Milanovic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic continued with their vile squabbles, public rows, disagreements, and insults against each other on any theme that ruled the days of recent weeks. On the need for Covid-19 vaccination passes (the President is against them), on matters of defence and its Minister and the government’s purchase of used French Rafale fighter planes, on measures taken to control the spread of Covid-19 and its variants, or the measures or lack of them in the fight against corruption …

The HRT TV main news bulletin of Friday 3 December 2021 actually stated that “the system of the Croatian Public Attorney office is falling apart, which is evident when President Milanovic had said that HDZ will not punish the State Attorney Mrs Zlata Hrvoj-Sipek for her activities in trying to save the HDZ’s former Minister Gabrijela Zalac amidst serious allegations of fraud and misappropriation of EU funds (given to her ministry for purchase of computer software) and alleged bank thefts…”   Suffice to say that the Croatian Parliament experienced this week an angry and loud lot in government opposition vying for the sacking of State Attorney Zlata Hrvoj-Sipek. The ruling party, HDZ, though, will not budge it seems and one of the Party’s Vice-Presidents Branko Bacic, a die-hard perpetual politician with morals and honesty reminiscent of morals of a lizard, whose expiry date has long passed for Croatian politics and progress from communism into democracy, appears as the worst offender in protecting that State Attorney in what seems to be a coverup of deep corruption of gigantic proportions when compared to the general public standard of living.   

To clarify the issue here, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office EPPO has recently set up an office in Zagreb, Croatia – a body that will serve as watchdog over how EU funds granted to Croatia are spent. As I mentioned before in several my articles, in a former communist country where the “art” of thieving and corruption has been perfected such a body is essential and it may not be enough in tracking down and acting upon acts of corruption and fraud in Croatia.  Almost on its first day running on Croatian soil EPPO caused on 11 November 2021 the arrest of Croatia’s former Minister for Regional Development and EU Funds, Gabrijela Zalac, pending investigations into founded suspicions of corruption in the form that includes syphoning off via fraudulently blowing up the cost of computer software needed to more than a million euros, which, it is claimed, went into private pockets. This saga continues and how it will end is anyone’s guess.

Former communists have a knack for dragging their feet when it comes to criminal processing of one of their own or of those that follow them. The government is refusing to even discuss the possibility that the State Attorney breached her duties if she protected the former government minister Zalac amidst solid allegations of fraud and corruption. It is becoming evident that the State Attorney, protected by the government operatives, will attempt any which way to tear down EPPO’s case for criminal proceedings against the former government minister Zalac. It is a pity that the parliamentary opposition has not got a sufficiently loud voice in this matter and a successful fight against corruption in Croatia still appears to be in people’s currently helpless hands rather than governments’. As corruption cases emerge more and more one wonders whether there will be a need in Croatia for “Storming of the Bastille” type of a scenario. Poverty is increasing, unemployment shocking (Covid pandemic not factoring into this equation) and intolerance towards the government grows sharper and louder. Confidence for investments from foreign countries spreads ever so bleak and miserably.      

All this is happening while the United Nations expert publicly calls upon Croatia to clean its act and embark on a harder push for justice and better justice system. With former communists occupying both the Prime Ministership and the Presidentship it is, however, truly doubtful that either will make genuinely corrective steps to shape up Croatia’s justice system into a modern democracy where corruption is dealt with swiftly and mercilessly. The general perception is that all persons in powerful positions in Croatia are in each other’s pockets just as they were during the life of communist Yugoslavia. It would be a huge step in the transition from communism to democracy in Croatia if I were to be proven wrong in this.

“It is important that the Government gives an unequivocal sign to society and the international community, of its commitment towards a comprehensive and holistic transitional justice process aimed at addressing past abuses, preventing their recurrence and establishing the foundations of a peaceful and respectful society for all”, said Fabián Salvioli, a human rights expert, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, said in a 2 December 2021 statement at the end of a six-day official visit to Croatia.

While praising the “progress made after the conflict, and particularly during Croatia’s accession process to the European Union”, in prosecuting war criminals, searching for missing persons, and institutional reforms aimed at ensuring the rule of law, democracy and the promotion and protection of human rights, the UN expert observed however, that “progress appears to have stalled in the last seven years”.

The Special Rapporteur flagged rising concerns over “the prospects of effective social reconciliation, particularly as a result of mounting instances of hate speech, glorification of war crimes, and the relativisation of the decisions of the ICTY and national tribunals”.

While noting legislative measures adopted by the Government to curb the extremely worrying trend, Mr. Salvioli also pointed out that implementation was insufficient.

“I urge the relevant police, judicial, legislative and executive authorities to adopt all necessary measures to adequately respond to the raise in radicalisation and hatred expressed in certain sectors of society, to ensure that the steps taken so far towards reconciliation are not irremediably reverted”, he said.

Well, it would certainly seem that Mr Salvioli has a mind to belittle the actual truth as he criticises those who criticise the judgments delivered by the ICTY. He appears to tell us that whatever that International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague had said is the truth and nothing but the truth. That may be in some cases, but it is not so in all. And there is plenty of literature and writeups on that very issue to be had if one bothered to look.

Justice is certainly not seen as having been done in all cases processed by the ICTY and real justice depends on that “seeing”.  

Mr Salvioli talks of radicalisation and hatred expressed in certain sectors of society! What else would a level-headed person expect from a country that had defended itself from a brutal Serb aggression to be brought to the place where it is today where the pro-aggression Serb minority form a part of the government and voice deplorable threats towards Croats, trying to cover up the crimes and aggression committed in Croatia. He recalled that “for a process of transition and reconciliation to be effective” it is vital to acknowledge the suffering and dignity of all victims.

Mr Salvioli and his peers should know that the Croatian people, victims of Serb aggression requiring defending own life and self-preservation, have not had a day of deserved peaceful existence to enjoy their victory over Serb aggression since the war ended completely in 1998. They have had to live their days poisoned by the politics designed to equate the victim with the aggressor. Mr Salvioli and his peers throughout the world need to assess that process and then come out in their efforts to teach nations lessons. If Mr Salvioli of the UN has not done that, and it seems he has not, then he can go and jump in the lake for all his words are worth. Ina Vukic

Wishing You A Blessed Advent!

ARCHBISHOP ALOJZIJE STEPINAC IN THE DOCK

This year of 2021 the Advent begins on Sunday 28 November, and we prepare for the birth of Jesus. And in that preparation for the birth of Jesus I trust and pray that The Holy Father Pope Francis will reconsider the role he maintains the Serb Orthodox Church has in the canonisation of Croatia’s WWII Archbishop of Zagreb, Alojzije Stepinac, Blessed Alojzije Stepinac since October 1998 when Saint John Paul II, then Pope, beatified him.

With this article I step back in the time of October 1946 when the Yugoslav communists (among whom was an overwhelming number of Orthodox Serbs) wrongfully convicted the Archbishop, wrongfully treating him, wrongfully accusing and convicting him and others so that the communist regime may do what it pleased and that sick “pleasure” was in mass killings of Croats who fought for independence as well as women and children and the elderly.

Hence, I have here transcribed an article from the renowned newspaper The Scotsman, drawn to my attention by Dr Esther Gitman, the historian who has performed thorough research about Stepinac’s many activities in rescuing Jews, Serbs and others from sure death in the whirlwind of political and aggressive madness of WWII. 

The Scotsman (1921-1950); Oct 18, 1946; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Scotsman

pg. 4

“An Archbishop in the dock

Trial of the Yugoslav Primate

By Patrick Maitland

“To reaffirm faith in the fundamental human rights, in the dignity and value of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women,” the United Nations signed the San Francisco Charter.

The above is the phrase in the Charter Preamble, to which Mr Dean Acheson, Acting U.S. Secretary of State, called attention last weekend with reference to the Zagreb trial of Monsignor Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb and Catholic Primate of Yugoslavia, on seven counts. “It is the civil liberties part of the thing which causes us concern,” he said.

The Archbishop was sentenced to sixteen years hard labour on charges of collaboration with the puppet Croat regime of the Ustashi leader, Pavelic, during the war, of responsibility for compelling Serbs, members of the Orthodox Church, to become Roman Catholics; of becoming Chaplain-General to the puppet Croat Army; of conspiring with Dr Matchek, the (now-exiled) leader of the Croat Peasants’ Party, with General Mihailovitch and others; and of issuing a pastoral letter on the eve of the Yugoslav  general elections last year, “falsely depicting the state of affairs in Yugoslavia and encouraging the Ustashi and other traitors to commit further crimes.”

 Mr Dean Acheson’s comment said the worrying aspects raised questions “as to whether the trial has any implications looking toward impairment of freedom of religion and of worship”; and he pointed out that, for example, the Supreme Court of the United States had always set aside as illegal all trials “in Courtrooms dominated by feelings adverse to the defendant by demonstrations of prejudice.”

No transcript of the trial has yet reached Britain, and one is eagerly awaited, for not only has the judgment provoked the first excommunication of the head of a State in more than a century, but this is the first occasion within recent years when an Archbishop has been brought before a lay court and so condemned on what amount of political charges.

The trial comes at a time when the world is looking for implementation of the Four Freedoms which are enshrined in the United Nations Charter, and when the Nuremberg Tribunal has set an all-time model for the dispensation of justice without prejudice.

TENDENTIOUS REPORTS

In the absence of a full report on the trial, it is worth noticing that agency reports from the Courtroom, and the reports issued by Tanjug, the Yugoslav official news agency, paint a fairly consistent picture. The Associated Press reported that a number of witnesses desired by the defence were never called. And the Archiepiscopal defendant was only one of several. It was a collective trial after the manner of that of General Mihailovitch whereat, also, the calling of a number of witnesses desired by the defence was ruled out of order.

The Tanjug reports would have brought an instant writ for contempt if they had been published in Great Britain during a British trial. Here are some excerpts: The defendants’ “witnesses mostly discredited the intention of defence counsel by the contradictory testimony … they were nonplussed when the Public Prosecutor proved” &c.: “Stepinac declared he did not want to answer questions put to him, in the first place in connection with the proofs of his criminal activities”; of a reference by the defence to alleged forced conversions: “Here Stepinac is using sophistry and verbalism … He did not speak of his Ustashi activity.”

Another day Tanjug incorporated into its report the phrases: “Despite all the proofs piled up against him” and made this reference to the “Caritas” organisation: “although it had been proved that the society was a lair of robbery.” Again: “The Judge dealt with Stepinac’s anti-national activities just before the liberation.”

No matter how grave the charges, the mere incorporation of these and kindred phrases in the report of the official news agency tends to bear out the implication of Mr Dean Acheson’s suspicion that the atmosphere in which the trial was conducted was hostile to the defendant.

ARCHBISHOP’S SPEECH

Mgr. Stepinac’s speech in defence has not been published abroad, save a few short phrases. It is fair to conclude that the foreign correspondents covering the trial, especially American correspondents writing for a Press which must cater for a considerable Catholic readership, tried to report this. The obvious conclusion is that the censor interfered. The Vatican organ. Osservatore Romano, however, clearly obtained at least some passages of the Archbishop’s speech, for it was able on October 5 to reproduce the following passage: –

“You speak of liberty and of religion in Yugoslavia and you say there is more liberty in the country than ever before. I reply that a great number of priests have been killed. You could have arrested them, but you have not the right to put them to death. The people of the country will never forget this. There has never been a greater scandal. Not a single bishop, not a single priest in the country knows in the morning if he will see the light of the next dawn. You ask for our loyalty and we ourselves are obliged to ask you to respect the least of our rights.”

That passage, coupled with those cited above from Tanjug account, give some idea of the tense atmosphere of the whole proceedings and how the trial was principally a test of political loyalties. While the trial was in progress the Press was forbidden to refer to any of Mgr. Stepinac’s deeds during the enemy occupation, when he is known to have given asylum to refugees of every race and creed who approached him. Among them were members of the present Government. Jews, Orthodox Serbs, Moslems, were repeatedly saved from death by his direct intervention. This much is known.

But the extent of the Archbishop’s personal popularity in Croatia can possibly be gauged from the fact that throughout the trial, the Zagreb churches were packed with people praying for him, and on October 2 the civil authorities banned assemblies of more than five persons outside any church. The ban is reminiscent of those attempted by Pavelich regime when, during the occupation, the Archbishop’s fiery denunciation of Nazi tyranny drew such crowds that he was compelled to preach from outside his Cathedral instead of within it.

“FORCED CONVERSIONS” 

Of the charges laid against the Archbishop, several are unsavoury. The most disagreeable was clearly the allegation that he had encouraged, or at the very least consented to, “forced conversions”. That many thousands of Orthodox Serbs living in Croatia were, in fact, compelled to join the Roman Catholic Church there is virtually bo doubt. But there is doubt about the nature of the force used. And a revealing letter reached the writer a few weeks ago from a Zagreb Serb giving a version hitherto unknown in this country. According to this source, the Pavelich regime issued decrees instituting certain civil disabilities for Orthodox, Jews and Protestants. The decrees constituted an inducement to the careless to abandon their church allegiance and join the Catholic Church with menial reservations.

This letter explains that the Orthodox Serbs of Croatia are actually deeply grateful to the Archbishop because he revised the formularies to which it is customary for a convert to assent in such a way as to make this nominal transfer of loyalty easier and less humiliating to those making the change from motives of security. To such folk, this writer asserts, the Catholic Archbishop was a hero and a protector.

This letter is not mentioned in any attempt to whittle away the evil of the practices which went on in outlying parts. In many parts of Bosnia the procedure was horrible and degrading. But the Archbishops defence has not been heard by the outside world, and this surprising tribute has been written from the centre of the crimes with which he was charged. It nay be worth adding that the Archbishop has been personally known to the writer over a period of years, and has always appeared a man of such deep sincerity that the charge of approving forced conversions would, on the face of it, seem monstrous.

A significant feature of the trial was the white heat of the propaganda with which it was surrounded. The writings and public statements made during the Mihailovitch trial are pale by comparison. The campaign was inaugurated by Marshal Tito hikself in a speech st Split on July 27. “All traces of an artificially produced dissatisfaction (with the regime) emanate from under the cassock,” he said. “To-day, sundry saints and miracles have come to the fore. Now what miracles do we need? We shall create these miracles ourselves by our own labour. Our people are no longer so stupid as to be duped by tales about saints and miracles. Let the saints remain in their churches where they belong.”

POLITICAL MOTIVE    

But the motive again and again appears to be political. For in another speech a few days later Marshal Tito revealed to this matter: “There are in Croatia, Serbia, and in other parts of the country priests among those men who are spreading discord among the people … Only a small part of the Catholic clergy goes with the people to-day; a far greater part goes against the people … They have again begun to spread hatred among Serbs and Croats.”

Reports which have lately reached London through uncensored channels – there is now a fairly steady flow of visitors moving back and forth – bring out a particular feature of the present situation. On the one hand, what the Serbs call the “repovi” – the “tails” of Yugoslavia – are generally speaking satisfied with the new regime. There is little talk of discontent in Slovenia, which is in a fair way to acquiring fresh territory in Venezia Giulia, and which is hopefully looking forward to the presentation of a formal claim to incorporate the Klagenfurt area of Carinthia.

The Montenegrins have little to complain of for they played a leading part in the National Liberation Movement from the start and have in general received a heavy share of the good jobs. The Macedonians in the South have won local home rule, and at least till lately enjoyed considerable freedom to defy the orders of Belgrade. Bosnia and Herzegovina have been flattered, likewise, with a degree of home rule. But from throughout Serbia and Croatia, which together must form the kernel of the newly federated State, constant if inarticulate opposition is reported.

It is purely a surmise, but available evidence and many straws in the wind suggest it, that the overall purpose of the Zagreb trial was to whip up Serb hatred against Croats – the cardinal weakness of the pre-war kingdom which enabled the dictatorship to prolong its tyrannical power.

Ina Vukic

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