1970 Important Evening For Croatia

Julienne Busic (Photo: Ina Vukic)

This article by the Croatia-based American author, writer and well known freedom and democracy activist, Julienne Busic (Julienne Eden Busic) was first published in November 2020 in dijaspora.hr. Articles like this are to my opinion most important in reminding us of the human suffering Croats endured under communist Yugoslavia where the dictator Josip Broz Tito together with Serbs who took up most positions of power inflicted oppression, humiliation, degradation and mass murder of patriotic Croats particularly during the post-World War Two years. I (Ina Vukic) have decided to publish here this article from 2020 which succinctly and masterfully brings to the reader what sacrifices, and determination (including leaflet throwing from skyscrapers such as the one in Zagreb, Croatia on 28 November 1970) were essential during the 1970’s to spread the plight of freedom from communism and here it is:

“… It was exactly fifty years ago, November 28,1970, the night before the former Republic Day in the former Yugoslavia. A friend and I were sitting on the top of the skyscraper, then a disco, on Ban Jelacic Square (Zagreb, Croatia). We silly Americans didn’t know that Croatians began partying late, around 10pm, so we had arrived a full three hours too early and the disco was empty. Lying on the floor next to us was a large canvas bag containing thousands of leaflets in the Croatian language that I had received from my boyfriend and later husband, Zvonko Busic, and they all contained an inconvenient truth. Back then, however, there was only one monolithic truth: Tito’s. And it was diametrically opposed to what was written in our leaflets: Yugoslavia was not a utopia in which all were equal, or an economic wonder, or a bastion of solidarity. It had the highest percentage of political prisoners by population in all of Europe, and its touted “Communism with a human face” was held together by force and terror. “Brothers, Croatians, Workers, Students, Intellectuals”, the leaflets read, “…we are asked in the name of brotherhood and unity to renounce our own name, to follow in the line of Tito and the party, to condemn our fathers and brothers…..who sacrificed their lives and rotted in the torture chambers of the “New Yugoslavia”… Economic failures and mass emigration were also addressed: “the reforms, economic preaching, bureaucratic meddling, minimum wage, liquidation and unemployment”. These were issues about which there was widespread discontent among all the nations, not just the Croatians. But as far as emigration was concerned, Croatians comprised the majority: “for us there was no work, but others got the jobs. We were told openly to find jobs abroad…because we are not the ‘leading nation’….”

In its detailed report on the leaflet-throwing incident a few months later, the U.S. Embassy pointed out that “the offending leaflet does not call for violent action within Yugoslavia. Instead, it urges Croatians to stand fast in the face of alleged injustices….it levels its sights directly or indirectly on such acceptable targets as deposed leaders Rankovic and Djilas…. the fascists….King Alexander’s dictatorship…and deplores the wholesale emigration of young Croats for jobs abroad, an issue on which the authors enjoy the sympathy of many in power today in Croatia.” The Embassy concludes that “although the leaflets are …highly uncomplimentary to Yugoslav leadership, they do not invite easy public condemnation, when expressions of regional and national interest have become increasingly a part of the local scene.”

November 1970 leaflet/ translation – activism against communist Yugoslavia (Photo: private album)

The Croatian Spring, the mass protest movement of students and intellectuals which took place in 1971, was still only on the horizon, so in that sense, the leaflet was avant garde, a harbinger of things to come, since many of the Croatian Spring protest issues were identical to those expressed in our leaflet in 1970. The outcome of both events was also identical: prison for me and also for a large number of the Croatian Spring leaders. Others more fortunate were given house arrest, lost their passports and jobs, and were banned from any type of public speech or activity. Ostracized, silenced, discriminated against, and belittled as “enemies of the people.”

Croatia is now an independent, democratic country after having been victorious in a brutal war of aggression in which thousands lost their lives, entire cities lay in ruins, and hundreds of thousands were forced to become refugees, dispersed throughout the world. The now-independent Croatia purports to place the highest value on freedom of speech based on the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and, in fact, there are over two hundred political parties openly operating in the country, and scores of individuals continually criticizing the government. Nobody has yet been charged, as I was, with disseminating “hostile propaganda” which “advocates or incites the violent or unconstitutional change of the social system or state organization”, and so on and so forth. Such activities, in the former Tito dictatorship, mandated a prison term ranging from 3-12 years.

But as the German philosopher Nietzsche so wisely pointed out “everything deep loves a mask”; in other words, the masks are not always pleated and blue, hooked around one’s ears, and are not always visible to the human eye. There are many ways to curtail freedom of speech without putting people in an actual prison. And things are not always as they appear, there are dark currents beneath the surface, strange combinations of people and events leading to scores of unanswered questions, for example: if Croatia now has a “free and independent media”, why are people still ostracized, silenced, discriminated against, and belittled as “enemies of the people”, just without the actual prison? And why are they typically those people who would have been sent to a real prison in former Yugoslavia, charge with “hostile propaganda” or “attempts to change the existing system”? And how is it possible that journalists, professors, politicians, and judges who acted as secret police officers or informants in the former Yugoslavia have been allowed to re-invent themselves as “democrats and human rights champions”, and now hold the majority of high positions in politics and the media, deciding who is silenced and who is “appropriate”?

Perhaps the best illustration of the well-known phrase “the more things change, the more they remain the same” is the cancellation of a speech not long ago, without explanation, that I was to hold in a Zagreb high school, one of many such successful lectures I had given over the years. The title: What is worth sacrificing oneself for? One of the subjects I was to discuss: freedom of speech issues in the former Yugoslavia, as illustrated by the leaflet-throwing incident on Ban Jelacic Square. Thus, I was silenced in democratic Croatia about talking about when I was silenced in dictatorial Yugoslavia!

Throughout the years, I have often sat on Ban Jelacic Square drinking coffee and gazing up at the Neboder, imagining I can still see the thousands of leaflets floating to the ground into the crowds of people below. The terrace was enclosed after my “crime” to prevent others from doing something similar, and nobody ever did. To commemorate the event decades later, after Croatian independence, the former director of the Neboder presented me with a crystal vase inscribed with the date of the leaflet incident, and my act is also mentioned in an information brochure on the history of the building. Today it has been largely forgotten, swept away with the winds of time that dictate a benign view of the former dictatorship and vilification of its critics.

But there is a strange consolation in this: What truer place for the just man unjustly accused than a prison, with or without the bars? (Julienne Busic)

Croatia: Leadership Moulded By European Union Is Like New Wine Decanted Into Old Communist Bottles

When history is written, two blunders of Croatia under all Prime Ministers and Presidents particularly since year 2000 to today, that is, almost immediately after Dr. Franjo Tudjman’s death, will stand out for irreparably damaging its long-term interests in developing a fully-functional democracy and validating as most precious for freedom and democracy the thousands of Croatian lives lost in the Homeland War as well as validating as the nation’s united aspirations the 93.24% referendum vote for secession from communist Yugoslavia after which the Serb and Montenegrin aggression against Croatia turned vicious and barbaric. These two irreparably damaging blunders are:

– the underhanded and ruthless helping to bring the former communists to the centre-stage of Croatian politics, and

– compliance with the European Union’s push to include in the government coalition the section of Croatia’s Serb ethnic minority that was involved in the aggression against Croatia, rebel-Serbs or those close to them, and not the section of the Serb minority that fought shoulder to shoulder with Croats to defend Croatia from Serb aggression.

Both of these moves ensured that the central pillar of stability and national unity, Homeland War values, were and are pushed to the brink of insignificance and, hence, the development of a healthy democracy severely disadvantaged. While the European Union might have, erroneously and offensively (to victims of Serb Aggression), thought that such government coalition in Croatia will produce conducive conditions for reconciliation all it did was equate the victim with the aggressor. All it did is push into insignificance the fact that 93.24% of Croat voters voted in 1991 to exit communist Yugoslavia and enter the democratic world similar to that of the so-called Western world.

These two moves also ensured that corruption and nepotism, which were perfected during communist Yugoslavia, in the public administration and government sector thrived on and to this day remain an inveterate canker afflicting the path to a fully functional democracy in Croatia.

Generally, and worldwide, though, one could be forgiven for believing that the age of fully functional democracy has ended. Two massive nations, Russia, and China, have for at least two decades been strongly trending toward one-man rule. The list of countries that have been drifting into autocratic orbits seems to be growing all the time with power being centralised, media controlled, the courts manipulated, and protest squelched.  

Once again, it seems, democracy has a competitor. Strongmen are rising in part because elected governments are struggling to address new challenges: global migration, technological advances, transnational terrorism, international economic unrest. More and more people are willing to try, or tolerate, another approach.

Croatia’s renowned War Minister of Health and former Deputy Prime Minister (December 2003 to February 2005) Prof. Dr. Andrija Hebrang was recently interviewed on 10 November 2023 by journalist Marko Juric for “Project Velebit Podcast” who had the following to say on the matter:

“I was in the government when Brussels ordered a coalition with the Serbs.

For me, the most tragic lie in recent Croatian history is the suppression of Serbian and Montenegrin crimes in the aggression against Croatia. In other nations, the perpetrators of crimes sweep the truth under the carpet, and in Croatia the victims. We ourselves sweep that truth under the carpet. We are the only war that has recorded every civilian victim. Because we have introduced a network of 32 places in Croatia in the health headquarters, where we have appointed experts for identification and all the victims have been identified, compared with the mobilisation lists, so that the list would not show someone in civilian clothes who actually was a soldier, to get a 100% definition of a civilian victim, and on that list we have 7,263 civilian victims. Forbidden data. … the former as well as Ivo Sanader’s entire government (in which I served as Deputy Prime Minister) begged me not to publish this information. Brussels said that since we were entering the European Union as member state, it was not convenient to raise tensions against the Serbs. Because if you announce how many Croats they killed, then you will have instability, and they asked us to form a coalition with the Serbs. The first such coalition emerged during Ivo Sanader’s government, to which I was a witness, as Deputy Prime Minister, a man called Mr. Svoboda came to Croatia in 2004 and said you must go into a coalition with the SDSS (Independent Democratic Serbian Party in Croatia). So, it follows that they won’t allow the truth about Serbian crimes, and they were forcing us into that coalition. There is no logic whatsoever that the former aggressor participates in the government, so Croatia is the only country in the European Union where the aggressor participates in key decision-making. It is known what minorities should do, they should maintain their cultural, historical, and folk customs, but the minority cannot decide on the state budget or key strategic decisions of the government. This is happening only in Croatia. Well, no one else has a ruling minority in the coalition. The Serbs belong to one big bloc headed by Russia, it is one mechanism that controls the world’s atomic weapons, controls the energy, and it controls numerous mineral resources. So, it is about one big entity, and that entity has its own requirements and whom to satisfy so that it can extract certain profits from them. And this is the mechanism why the Serbs were in all international bodies during the Homeland War, and the Croats were nowhere…

Today, the Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic decides whether he will enter into coalition with the Serbs or not. Franjo Tudjman faced much bigger pressures than what the governments after his death did and yet, he rejected them all in an instant.   

…When was the fate of Croatia’s future decided?

In the so-called first free elections of 1990, those elections were the result of the awakening of the people and they had to defeat the communists and we defeated them in the elections. However, the communists, experienced by so many decades compared to the rest of us who entered the political forefront for the first time in our lives, quickly found their way and reacted. The elections in many post-communist countries solved the ideology, you have post-communist countries where glorification of communism is prohibited, where the five-pointed star is prohibited, because the communists lost the elections in 1990 in those countries. You have countries where their leaders were liquidated, remember Romania, where they also liquidated their fifth columnists, even those who ruled those countries in the official secret services. This did not happen in Croatia. Why? Because we, the real Croats, non-communists, lost the first democratic elections. Now you will ask how the elections were lost when we won them. We only won for one night. So, after the first round of the first democratic elections, when they saw that the communists were weak, the communist brats headed by Ivica Racan quickly handed over the weapons of the territorial defense intended for the arming of 200,000 Croats to the KOS (Counterintelligence Services of communist Yugoslavia) in Belgrade. Formally, Racan did not oppose it, so it passed. In Slovenia, they stopped the handing over of one third of those weapons and were stronger and met the aggressor armed. We met the aggressor unarmed thanks to the communist Ivica Racan (who by the way became the Prime Minister of Croatia almost immediately after Franjo Tudjman’s death).

Then comes the second round of elections and we win definitively again, but only for one night. Over that night, 98,000 members of the defeated communist party joined the ranks of the victorious HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union party). 98,000 members of the Communist League switched to HDZ. And we, anti-communists from HDZ were already in the minority the next morning. And with that, the future of Croatia was determined…

Every nation decides its own destiny. When the people mature, when they look at Croatian history, when they look at the falsifications of Croatian history and when the people mature and see, then another big step forward, another awakening, will happen… That is to say, nations mature very slowly in order to create their own state and even slower to develop it…”

On both sides of Croatian political spectrum, the so called right and the so-called left, populist leaders and movements have emerged to challenge the political elites ruling over Croatia since year 2000, but more from right, whose commitment is to patriotism and Croatian sovereignty, than the left, whose commitment to open borders holds little appeal for the victims of global economic restructuring. To illustrate the political activism in Croatia, which has undoubtedly arisen from dissatisfaction and disappointment about the way Croatia is being ruled, it is significant to know that in 2021 there were 172 political parties registered in Croatia, which has less than 4 million people. In 2023 that number is either slightly lower, or higher – as the mega election year of 2024 draws nearer those numbers will be known.  Despite the overwhelming number of political parties in Croatia there seems to be little sign of mass intellectual renewal vis-à-vis Croatian historical truth of independence plight, political realignment in accordance with it, and institutional reform that history suggests are the pre-requisites for resolving a national crisis of identity and, with it, the future that was marked and planned for during the Homeland War. The coming general and presidential elections in Croatia, due in 2024, will serve as an indicator as to just how much of the intellectual renewal there has been in Croatia that spills into the ballot boxes and sees at least enough change in the voter preferences to cause the former communists or their children holding power, to feel threatened and their position weakened. Ina Vukic

Croatian Remembrance Days For Victims of Vukovar and Skabrnja – A Personal Recount of Horror

While there are in Croatia four days (17, 18, 19, and 20 November 2023) that are set aside for marking remembrance and tributes to those who perished or are still missing from Croatia’s 1990’s Homeland War that sustained unimaginable brutality by the hands of Yugoslav Army and Serb aggression it was November 18 that dawned with the greatest ever gatherings of people paying respect to the victims that Croatia had ever seen. It was the day of remembrance of the multitudes victims of Vukovar and Skabrnja, civilian Croatian victims of massacres and slaughters and the once utterly destroyed and gutted and ethnically cleansed of Croats by Serbs, town  of Vukovar, saw over 150,000 people in its procession of special piety of people from all over Croatia and abroad who came there to pay respects and give tribute to those who gave their lives so that Croatia could be free from communist Yugoslavia. Thousands came to the coastal village of Skabrnja as well.

Lest We Forget!

I will pay my tribute to the memory of victims of Croatia’s Homeland War by offering here a translation into English of personal victim account published on the Croatian portal dnevno.hr on 16 November 2023. It is good to know that this personal account and story of suffering under the brutal power of Serb aggression is also the essence of Julienne Eden Busic’s 2012 acclaimed book “Living Cells”

Snjezana Maljak is one of the few women from Vukovar who publicly and in great detail described the days of horror and imprisonment, which in her case lasted for weeks after the fall of the city.

At the same time, she said, she was constantly the victim of rapists, some of whom she knew from before the war, and she also witnessed numerous tortures and killings of her fellow citizens. Although Snjezana Maljak publicly called her tormentors by name for many years, two of them were arrested only in 2018. Other Serb rapists and murderers from this terrible time still roam the streets of Croatia or Serbia or other countries without paying the price for their war crimes! Some, regretfully, were given immunity from prosecution as part of the price Croatia had to pay in 1998 for the region where Vukovar stands to be liberated from Serb occupation!

“I was born and raised in Vukovar, today I am the mother of four children. At the beginning of August, we also went to the seaside in an organised manner, but after about 15 days we would return to the city, they said, it was not dangerous. After a few days, dad receives a threat that all of us will be killed in the house that night, if we stay. With the shooting that followed us, we ran out of the house, across the garden to the next street, and onward,” Dnevno portal wrote that Snjezana Maljak said. The police, she said, came to pick them up and transported them to Mitnica part of Vukovar, to Snjezana uncle’s place, in whose basement they suffered shelling by the aggressor for days.

“My then 3-year-old son had asthmatic bronchitis and we ran out of medication. I went to the hospital on my bike to get the medicine. Now deceased, my neighbour asked me if I would like to be (helping) in the infirmary, for the wounded, if the need arose. I had a small child. There were no others, he told me, either they have left, or they are afraid. I agreed and went back to get my clothes and tell my mother and father. My mother was crying, asking me what she would do with my child if something happened to me.”

The first major attack was on September 5, 1991, when Snjezana’s brother and cousin were wounded, but they managed to defend themselves and hold their position. The second attack, on September 14, 1991, they failed to defend themselves because the enemy attacked with planes and tanks and infantry.

“The (aggressor’s) infantry killed everyone who had anyone in the city’s defence forces or who did not report to them in time that they were in the basement. They killed a deaf elderly neighbour because she did not answer their call. In less than 24 hours, 87 civilians were killed. We haven’t found many – still. Slaughter… The next day they went from house to house and collected the dead. All of them were in Yugoslav People’s Army/JNA uniforms or in camouflage. They had to tie a white cloth on the gate so that it would be known that Croats were there.”

Snjezana Maljak told how they were slaves in the hands of Serbs and Yugoslav Army. People were taken away, imprisoned, killed, women were raped.

“They took me several times for questioning and intimidated me, threatened me. Their Territorial commander, Marko Crevar, took me to my parents’ house, stuck the barrel of a rifle against my back and lead me around the house. Turning things over that had already been turned over. In the room, I saw gold jewellery boxes on the floor, all empty. He took me to the attic and threatened to slaughter my father and brother. Then he threatened to slaughter me too. After a few days, he returned and took me again for questioning. He threatened me again…

Other Serb Chetniks came and threatened, interrogated. S. Samardzija and another from Negoslavci came and took the daughter-in-law away. After they brought her back, she cried and told me that the other one, whose name I don’t know, raped her. The second day, Serb Ivkovic came by and she asked for help. He told her that he would only help her because she was a foreign citizen. She asked him to take me out of town with her. No, he said, she’s going to Petrova Gora, to a party. On October 2, 1991, three people arrived, one of them was a local, M. Samardzija, the father of my schoolmate, and I didn’t know the other two. They summoned my cousin, took him away and thrashed him along the road. After a while they came back for us…

They took us across the garden to the neighbouring street, my street. The younger Chetnik (Serb) said that I was his prisoner, offered me a cigarette and looked at me meaningfully, while the older one put a gun to my cousin’s forehead and said that he would kill him because he looked like Franjo Tudjman (Croatia’s first President). They took us to the headquarters for questioning. The host asked me if I knew that his daughter died. I knew. He said he would kill 60 24-year-olds for her…

Interrogation proceeded in the basement, they pushed us out and beat the neighbour. Everything could be heard. By beating him, they forced him to admit that he fed the Ustashas (Croats) and that he was a “Tudjman supporter” himself. When they opened the door, blood was dripping from the neighbour’s mouth, his jaw was out, he raved deliriously. The younger one grabbed my hair and yelled at me telling me to tell him where the radio station was, or I’ll end up like my neighbour. They took him behind the house and slaughtered him. The host went to get more women.”

After interrogation, the neighbours and Snjezana Maljak were taken to a house basement:

“Everything smelled of urine and dampness. My cousin was taken to the unknown. The second day they took us to Velepromet (Serb concentration camp Vukovar), again questioning, threatening. They put us in one building and order that we be under guard. On October 13, 1991, the one who said I would be at a party in Petrova Gora came and said to me, ‘baby, tomorrow you will do my laundry.’ The next day he came to pick me up and took me away. After I had done the laundry, he ordered me to take a bath, and then to take off my clothes. I asked him not to do that, I had known him since I was a child, I cried. He said either me or ten others and then shooting. After he had done what he wanted, he took me back to the building near Velepromet. I screamed and vomited. My neighbour held me and comforted me, asking me to be quiet, because the walls ‘have ears’. A woman who was raped two houses away also heard my screams.”

After a few days, three more reservists came. One of the women called Snjezana to come out of the room and whispered that she had to choose one of them.

“For me, it was the end of the world, everything was spinning and everything was black. I felt like I was splitting in half. As forced I pointed to one of them. He came every day and took me to the house that was owned by a Serbian woman, one of their reservists, and behaved as if I were his property. I was disgusted, I suffered and waited for the day when I will come to my son, because the easiest thing was to say no and for them to kill me, but I wanted to live, I wanted to see my child…”

After the fall of the city of Vukovar on 18 November 1991, Snjezana Maljak was looking for her child, parents, and sister; she knew nothing of their destiny. The first rapist told her that her child was in Velepromet, and her father was killed behind the hangar. She asked the other rapist to take her to Velepromet to look for the child, but she did not find anyone there.

“The other two women left, one was taken to Sremska Mitrovica, and the other found her family members at Velepromet, and the Serb who raped me was helping her to go with them. They wanted to confuse us by playing good and bad. There was no one to help me. I was left with the Serbian woman to whose house the rapist took me, she said I could stay with her. There, I experienced the hell of drunken Chetniks who celebrated the fall of the city and use me for their survival – tying me to a chair, shining a flashlight into my eyes, using drugs and threats, rape. They called me an Ustasha whore.

“Years pass, I try to live normally, have a family. I am receiving medical treatment. I tried to commit suicide, because I had no one to tell how much all the horrors I had experienced were eating me up. No one asks me how I am and if I need anything…”

(Prepared and translated from the Croatian language by Ina Vukic)

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