Book Review and Ponderings – Blanka Matkovic Book On Communist Crimes

Croatia’s Blanka Matkovic (Matkovich), a PhD candidate at Warwick University UK, has published her Master in Philosophy dissertation in book form titled “Croatia and Slovenia at the End and After the Second World War (1944-1945): Mass Crimes and Human Rights Violations Committed by the Communist Regime”.

The book is exceptionally well written and is an outstanding example of authorship – factual, clear, compelling, and essential. Through her research and meticulous digging through State and other historical archives Matkovic excavates the many mass graves of communist crimes, brings to life in our minds the multitudes of victims and the horrid last moments of their otherwise proud lives and reveals previously unknown details about communist crimes.

“This book focuses on the events that took place in late 1944 and 1945 in Croatia and Slovenia when the intensity of violence was strongest. At that time, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ), assisted by the People’s Liberation Army of Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav Army, the Department for the Protection of the People (OZNA) and the Corps of People’s Defence of Yugoslavia (KNOJ) conducted organized terror not only by intimidation, persecution, torture and imprisonment, but also by the execution of a large number of citizens perceived by the KPJ as disloyal, passive, ideological enemies or class enemies. However, investigating war and post-war crimes committed by communist regime was not possible until 1990, after the democratic changes in Yugoslavia. This book is based on documents kept in the archives of Croatia, Slovenia, the UK, and Serbia. Many of them, especially those in Croatia, recently became available to the public, which makes them extremely valuable source of data to the academics and students in this field and which shed new light on these historical events…” (Quote from the book back cover).

With this book Blanka Matkovic delivers one of the most harrowing stories of all time. Communist crimes. This is a rare book in the English language by many measures, not least of which is the way in which Matkovic captures the magnitude of communist atrocities against Croatian people. What is frightening and tragic also is the reality in Croatia, riddled with communist descendants in power, that there are many who turn a blind eye to these atrocities and by doing so do an unforgivable injustice to their own country and people.

This book demonstrates how terror, ideology and mass murder were integrated and institutionalised in the realms of the oppressive rise to power of the communist party in Yugoslavia. Through its referenced sources for the facts presented the book gives the reader original insights and anecdotes into the ways communists went on about committing atrocities against political opponents – innocent people – thus manufacturing a nation of victims that would haunt the nation as a whole for generations.

Although the book reveals cold and brutal documented and researched facts of communist crimes committed against Croatian people en mass in Croatia and Slovenia it reads like a shattering real crime genre novel – difficult to put down until read in its entirety. It is an eye-opening book as to how political pursuits of communist terror ravaged mercilessly the Croatian being, which pursued independence and freedom. The book is a sweeping study of chilling facts of mass murders and demonstrates how the former Yugoslav communist institutions together with their Partisan armed forces ravaged the very soul of Croatian freedom and independence, and this unreconciled bloody past continues to poison Croatia’s present and threatens to strangle its future.

The truth of communist crimes is a dangerous path to follow. Communist crimes formed the very essence of the continuation for almost five decades of the communist regime in former Yugoslavia. Most of today’s current ruling elites in Croatia are descended directly from the communist regime, including its terror apparatus. They are unlikely to voluntarily condemn and bring themselves to justice and this book, along with the ones published on the same topic are largely ignored by the bent mainstream media as well as the ruling elites. In light of this, how can one view Croatia as a serious democracy free of totalitarian regime? Croatia has endured a bloody war in early 1990’s to achieve independence from communist Yugoslavia but still today refuses to face its communist, totalitarian past and in doing so, threatens the welfare and well being of its own people.

Blanka Matkovic (second from R)
at a book promotion October 2017
Photo: http://www.croatiarediviva.com

Matkovic’s book also serves as an another but significant breaking of silence over the horrors of Communism in Yugoslavia that have caused so much suffering – the detailed revelations of the multitudes of mass crime events spotted across Croatia and Slovenia are a particular evidentiary strength of this book. It reads as a dramatic “criminal indictment” of totalitarian Communism within a fact sheet of chilling evidence. The indictment becomes far overwhelming if we consider the vast areas affected by the communist crimes evidenced in this book, yielding a truly colossal record of skeletons and, apart from the depravity of political fury, absolutely unfathomable suffering.

In her book Matkovic attempts to provide answers to questions that have preoccupied many a mind during the past seventy years or so and these questions are:

1. How many people were killed in Yugoslavia during and immediately after the Second World War and how many of them fell victim to communist repression?

2. Which military units were perpetrators?

3. How did they carry out executions?

4. Was the violence systematically organised and carried out under the command of the Yugoslav Army and the Communist Party of Yugoslavia?

After reading this book every reader is bound to ask himself/herself: What now? Matkovic transports the reader into the tragic times of communist atrocities and even if the presented evidence cannot, perhaps, after more than seventy years, serve as evidence for a criminal court trial it certainly serves as evidence for a moral trial against communism, which must be mounted in Croatia as a national priority if Croatia is to stand on feet of a healthy nation. Ina Vukic, prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps.(Syd)

 

This book may be ordered and purchased via online on www.croatiarediviva.com, Amazon, Book Depository, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, Booktopia and others

Croatia: Denials Of Communist Crimes Dictate Profound Changes

My last week of visiting Croatia this time around is almost over and impressions run high – almost paralysing – with regard political scene and inroads. Regretfully, I shall leave Croatia this time carrying with me the perpetually present heavy load that gives no clarity as to how long the dual preoccupation with justice for victims of communist crimes, on the one side, and the “antifascist” or communist justification and denial of those crimes, on the other side, will last. Yesterday, June 22, Croatia had a Public holiday marking WWII antifascists (communists), with commemorative events held to that effect and deaf silence regarding any condemnation of communist crimes. At the same time, especially at Jazovka pit where, post-WWII, communists/antifascists murdered and dumped hundreds of politically different Croats, commemoration of victims of communist crimes was held. Representatives of Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic were at both events, holding speeches!

How long can the protectors of communist criminals and their victims live under the same roof is a question that perpetuates political nightmares, stifling progress in crucial areas of citizens’ daily lives and democracy. Croatia has not moved an inch in the direction of resolute actions in condemning all of its past (WWII and post’WWII) totalitarian regimes and the communist one is the one that still has its footprints in all current Croatian public administration lanes.

Situation being thus I think it best to promote in this article some writings of a notable Croatian woman, Blanka Matkovic, whose academic works and daily life populate attempts at unravelling the truth about communist crimes. Ina Vukic

MASS CRIMES AND HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS COMMITTED BY THE COMMUNIST REGIME AGAINST CROATIAN CITIZENS IN CROATIA AND SLOVENIA AT THE END AND AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR (1944-1945) By Blanka Matkovic Thesis submitted for the degree of Master of Philosophy

University of Warwick, Department of History August 2015

CONCLUSION

In the last months of the Second World War and after the war, all of Europe was severely affected by its consequences. Yugoslavia was no exception. The intensity of the violence reached a new peak between the autumn of 1944 and the summer of 1945, when mass killings occurred across the country. However, the Yugoslav authorities denied for decades that these mass killings had ever taken place and stopped all attempts to reveal them. Moreover, the Western Allies, despite knowing about these crimes, chose to ignore them in order to preserve the alliance with the Soviet Union.

The political manipulation and the flaws in previous research had a tremendous impact, even on the generations born after the end of the Second World War. Unlike some other Eastern European countries where communism was installed with the help of the Soviet Army, Yugoslav partisans had gained power without the help of Soviet troops. The communist government of Yugoslavia was not imposed by a foreign power but was a result of internal factors. This is one of the reasons why the successor states of Yugoslavia have such problems to come to terms with the communist past and why former communists could often continue their careers under now democratic conditions. Macedonia is still the only former Yugoslav republic where a lustration law has been enacted (since 2009).

Croatia has not passed a law which would make the prosecution of the perpetrators of communist crimes possible. Moreover, 27 July is still celebrated as an unofficial national holiday although that was a day when in 1941 the first communist massacres happened. Between 1945 and 1990 that day was celebrated as the Day of the Uprising of the Peoples of Croatia and the murder of several hundred Croatian villagers, including women and children, was forgotten. Former leading members of the communist party still play an important role in Croatian politics and hold positions of power. The Lustration Law is therefore mostly supported by small right-wing parties and NGOs. They argue that the de-communisation of Croatian society is essential for social and political change.

Today, due to the reluctance to deal with the Communist past and, incomplete de-communisation of Croatian society, this topic in Croatia is still a matter not only of political and scholarly debates, but also of everyday life. Questioning total demographic losses and investigating communist crimes is often seen as ‘historical revisionism’, particularly by the former Croatian president Stjepan Mesić who compared it with ‘celebrating Fascism’ and argued that this might prevent Croatia from joining the EU. In February 2007, Mesić contributed to the international debate sparked by the Italian president Giorgio Napolitano. On the introduction of a Day of Remembrance in which Italy remembers the Italians either killed or forced to leave Yugoslavia at the end of the Second World War Napolitano criticised ‘hatred and bloodthirsty furor’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’. In his reply Mesić accused Napolitano of racism. In October 2011 Mesić expressed his concerns about ‘the second historical revisionism offensive’ in order ‘to judge communism which is equated with Nazi-Fascism’. Mesić said that the same thing was happening in the other transition countries and concluded that ‘the democratic Europe seems to be too democratic… towards such excesses’. Mesić ignored that in 2011 the Croatian Parliament itself had adopted the European Day of Remembrance of Victims of All Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes, commemorated on 23 August. This day also refers to victims of communist crimes. Without impartial and thorough research the ‘historical truth’ will keep disappearing behind a politically motivated smokescreen of half-truths, distorted facts and manipulated victim numbers.

Croatian historians are by no means the only ones whose work is seriously affected by pressure coming from various political circles. Serbian and Slovenian historians have also reported that there is still strong resistance to this kind of research. The governments and judicial systems of the former Yugoslav republics showed no willingness to prosecute the perpetrators of these atrocities or to pass and enforce Lustration laws. As according to Serbian historians most documents about these executions are kept in Serbian archives, only a close cooperation between Croatian, Serbian and Slovenian authorities and researchers will finally make conclusive results possible.

During the last two decades several investigations have been carried out in three republics of former Yugoslavia, but the results were not satisfactory. At first sight, they seemed to be impressive. Approximately 1,800 mass graves have been identified in Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia. On the other hand, only a small percentage of these locations have been exhumed, mostly due to financial reasons, and in many cases the victims have not been identified which leaves plenty of space for future, politically motivated manipulations.

Despite the political obstacles, the intensity of the Yugoslav violence is very well presented by two numbers. This thesis has shown how harsh Yugoslav repression – compared to post-war purges in France and other western European countries – really was. Demographic losses in former Yugoslavia were among the highest in Europe. According to Vučković, Žerjavić and Kočović, Yugoslavia lost approximately one million people during the war, including 597,323 victims of the so-called ‘fascist terror’ counted in Yugoslav research in 1964. That means that approximately 400,000 casualties are unaccounted for. There is evidence that most of them were killed by communist partisans and the Yugoslav Army. The results provided by the research on ‘Victims of Dugopolje’ provides strong evidence that the majority of deaths occurred in the last few months of the war and immediately after the war. However, it remains unknown how many of those who stood trial later and were punished by death are included in that number.

Although it is still not possible to answer the question ‘how many people were killed in Yugoslavia during and immediately after the Second World War and how many of them fell victim to communist repression?’, the cases presented in this thesis show that number is certainly measured in thousands. In Macelj, Tezno and Jazovka alone, 2,789 human remains were discovered. This number may not sound that high, but it is important to keep in mind that these are only three out of 1,800 possible mass grave locations in former Yugoslavia and the exhumations were stopped in the early stage of investigation. Each location actually consists of several locations (Jazovka probably two), which are known under the same name. In Macelj, only 23 mass graves were dug out while there could be up to 130 mass graves. At the moment it is impossible to estimate how many people ended their lives only on these three locations. Only a further research can give at least an approximately accurate answer and prevent further manipulations with the number of victims on both sides.

The cases presented in this thesis provided sufficient evidence that thorough research could reveal more details about specific perpetrators of these atrocities. However, even when that is not possible, due to lack of archival documents, those that are available to us show a certain pattern. Following their capture, the majority of prisoners-of-wars and civilians were under control of the Yugoslav Army and its units actively participated in mass killings. In the following weeks OZNA was taking over. It is important to understand that OZNA was not part of the military but a police organisation and it did conduct investigations with the aim of getting information which would help improve its work. This is a reason why in some cases OZNA reacted angrily when prisoners were liquidated “too quickly”. KNOJ, which was subordinated to OZNA, conducted its military operations with a surgical precision. However, it would be wrong to conclude that the Yugoslav Army acted spontaneously. Sometimes that apparently was the case, and it is possible that those actions were a result of desire for revenge. However, in the cases when the killings were carried out on a massive scale, they were carefully planned and systematically organised. One example of systematic and organised mass killing is Kočevski Rog.

The question that often arises in discussion about this topic is – who ordered these crimes? Were they indeed a result of erratic behaviour and looting by a victorious army? It seems that this was not or not very often the case. Moreover, several documents presented in the fourth and fifth chapter suggest that all organisations in former Yugoslavia, including civil authorities, OZNA and the Yugoslav Army, were under strict control of the KPJ (Communist Party of Yugoslavia). In the most important matters the communists interfered in anything which was of particular interests. For example, some of the documents prove the local KP committees, such as the one in Stubica, occasionally contacted higher KP committees asking them to instruct the higher military commands how to proceed in the field. Given the fact that there was apparently a strong bond between the KPJ and the mass executions, it can be concluded that this was done with the knowledge of the Politburo, and therefore, Tito as well.

This might be the reason why so many former communists strongly defend Tito’s role and persistently claim that the killings were only ‘isolated incidents’. Another reason – at least for the older generation – might be the wish to protect themselves against prosecution. Acknowledging these atrocities and taking responsibility could also somehow diminish the role of the NOP in the anti-fascist uprising in former Yugoslavia which plays an important role for the self-understanding and prestige of the successor organisations of the Yugoslav communist party.

What is often forgotten in this story is who the victims are and why coming to terms with the past is essential for true peace. In 1997 John Paul Lederach presented his integrated framework for peace building in which the fourth phase represents ‘the longer-termperspective, which is often adopted by people who seek to prevent conflict and to promote a vision of a more peaceful and socially harmonious future’ which he called the ‘desired future’. Lederach believed that protracted conflicts cannot be fixed quickly because the healing of the people and the rebuilding of their relationships are necessary and they do take time.

20 years after the end of Homeland War and 70 years after the end of the Second World War, Croatian society is still not living in that ‘desired future’. The victims of the events, described in this thesis, are not only who were slaughtered, but many others whose lives have been affected. This is why profound changes in the Croatian society are necessary and they begin with objective and systematic research.”

Croatia: Jews Commemorating Holocaust Fuel Political Havoc

Ognjen Kraus, front left, head of Croatian Jewish Councils Coordination at Jasenovac 15 April 2016 Separate commemoration of victims of Holocaust Photo: Nikola Cutuk/Pixsell

Ognjen Kraus, front left,
head of Croatian Jewish Councils Coordination
at Jasenovac 15 April 2016
Separate commemoration of victims of Holocaust
Photo: Nikola Cutuk/Pixsell

 

Some 300 Croatian Jews from Croatian Jewish Councils have held their own Holocaust commemoration at the WWII Jasenovac camp site Friday 15 April, a week ahead of the official commemorative ceremony, in protest at what they say is government inaction in the face of what they maliciously insist is surging neo-Ustashi (pro-Nazi) sentiment in the country. They refer to, among other individual incidents, some “pro-Ustashi” chants at soccer games no government without taking away freedom of speech and bringing the army can control (!). The ceremony at Jasenovac was attended also by representatives from a handful foreign embassies in Croatia, by Croatian members of parliament representing the Italian (Furio Radin) and Serbian minorities (Milorad Pupovac) in Croatia, the ex-president communist die-hard Ivo Josipovec, some handful of other so-called antifascists in Croatia whose sole role in society seems to be negating and covering up communist crimes, which by the way were larger in numbers of victims than the Holocaust.

We have commemorated the victims of Jasenovac but also all the Jews who had perished in NDH (WWII Independent State of Croatia) under the then race laws. We came here because there is a presence in Croatia of a revitalisation of the WWII Ustashi movement and a complete negation, regardless of some statements made after we announced our intentions not to participate in the official ceremony at Jasenovac,” Jewish association leader in Croatia, Ognjen Kraus, said, accusing the First Deputy Prime Minister, leader of the Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ, Tomislav Karamarko, of never having set foot on the Jasenovac Holocaust memorial site.

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic President of Croatia

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
President of Croatia

The “statements made” Kraus refers to here include the statement made by Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, president of Croatia, concerned about the divisions with regards to commemorating the Holocaust victims in Jasenovac, said 11 April 2016 that “NDH (WWII Independent State of Croatia led by the Ustashe forces) was the least independent and it protected the interests of the Croatian people the least, and that the Ustashi regime was a criminal regime. Anti-fascism is in the foundations of the Croatian Constitution, and modern Croatia has grown from the foundations of the Homeland War.”

Croatian Constitution may be based on anti-fascism but certainly not on communism and given that Croatia’s communists who arise from Yugoslav communists call themselves antifascist even if they were nothing like anti-fascists but thugs and criminals, President Grabar-Kitarovic made a serious error here in missing this opportunity to make that distinction and calling the communist/Partisan WWII opposition to Ustashas also a criminal regime, then. For that is what they had proven to be and today’s leaders of Croatia must acknowledge that, no matter what the pain and what the political cost to them personally.

The truth is that while there were killings committed by both sides in WWII, the Ustashas goal was an independent Croatia and the Partisans’ one was communist Yugoslavia – no independence for any of the states forced previously into the Serb-led oppressive Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the president and all would do well to remember that especially when relating to the 1990’s Homeland War behind which is the thousand-year of Croat plight for independence.

A pot cannot call the kettle black and get away with it. People at large are neither blind nor stupid. If President Grabar-Kitarovic was intending to settle the political spirits causing upsetting divisions around the Holocaust victims commemorations then her statements needed to cover fairness to all victims of WWII and post-WWII not just one side. She did disappoint quite a lot of people this time and demonstrated that her advisors may have absolutely no skills in political conflict resolution, which Croatia needs to rid itself of remnants of the criminal communist regime.

That is what today’s Croatia, today’s world – require and demand. Throwing sand into the eyes was a thing that may have worked in the past – not today, not in a world of democracy where everyone’s rights are equal and knowledge-base and courage of “ordinary” citizens are much larger than decades before.

Zlatko Hasanbegovic Minister for Culture, Croatia Photo: zagorje.com/ Kruno Pavlina

Zlatko Hasanbegovic
Minister for Culture, Croatia
Photo: zagorje.com/ Kruno Pavlina

Whilst attending a cultural event in Krapina, Zagorje region outside capital Zagreb, Croatia’s minister for culture, Zlatko Hasanbegovic, responded to Kraus’ statements that Tomislav Karamarko had never been in Jasenovac and to his organisation of a separate commemoration in Jasenovac:

 

I regret that we are placed in situations where such statements can be heard, especially at the time leading up commemorations when we pay respects to the innocent. Whoever heard what Tomislav Karamarko was saying, can conclude that those (statements like Kraus’) are not truthful statements… the organisers have had their reasons for organising one more commemoration and I respect them. We live in a free country,” said Hasanbegovic.

 

The blind, let alone those with full vision, can see that such public displays of lies as has come out of the Jewish organisation’s leader Kraus, particularly representing a place of note – like the Croatian Jewish council coordination in this instance – seem to be more about desperate measures to protect communist crimes from full exposure and avoid a possible scenario where in relation to WWII and post-WWII Croatia the Holocaust crime would, in relation to number of innocent victims, take a second place in the realm of the worst and most atrocious crimes in human history to the crimes committed by the Yugoslav communists. Wanting to acknowledge and unearth further the true extent of communist crimes in Croatia is labelled, sadly, it seems, even by some Jewish representatives as a return to Ustashi regime, to Nazism – in the hope perhaps to intimidate those trying to unearth the whole truth of communist crimes!

 

One can imagine nothing crueler towards victims of crimes than this.

 

As far as I am concerned and from this vantage point, Ognjen Kraus and those who attended the commemoration designed to shun the official one to be held on 22 April under falsehoods and malicious accusations against the current centre-right government can hang their head in shame.

Using remembrance of the Holocaust victims for dirty communist crime cover-up politics is just not the world of piety I want to be a part of.

Attempts to uncover the full truth of communist crimes in Croatia have been labeled as resurgence of Nazism, Ustashism, of historical revisionism in the negative sense that allegedly negates the truth of the Holocaust. And so it seems WWII Croatia when it comes to “bad guys” only had the Ustashas and not the Communist Partisans under Josip Broz Tito. What utter codswallop.

Nobody has the right to stop or intimidate those wanting to unearth the truth about crimes and victims – not even those commemorating the Holocaust. In fact, I believe, that those commemorating the Holocaust should all encourage the seeking of the truth for all innocent victims.

 

James M. McPherson. Historian, Princeton University

James M. McPherson.
Historian, Princeton University

The eminent American historian James M. McPherson, Princeton University, said in 2003, “that historians know that revision is the lifeblood of historical scholarship. History is a continuing dialogue, between the present and the past. Interpretations of the past are subject to change in response to new evidence, new questions asked of the evidence, new perspectives gained by the passage of time. There is no single, eternal, and immutable ‘truth’ about past events and their meaning. The unending quest of historians for understanding the past — that is, revisionism — is what makes history vital and meaningful…Without revisionist historians, who have done research in new sources and asked new and nuanced questions, we would remain mired in one or another of these stereotypes.”

 

 

I hope Croatia’s leaders in government and others will know how to draw strength and courage from the words of this brilliant historian when it comes to pursuing the truth of communist crimes. In Croatia as part of communist Yugoslavia, investigating WWII and post-WWII crimes committed by communist regimes, as well as a revision of the ‘official history’ about the events that took place during the Second World War, was not possible before 1990, after the democratic changes in Eastern Europe and Croatia. Resolution 1481/2006 of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly strongly condemned human rights violations committed by totalitarian communist regimes and the 2008 Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism stated that these crimes were comparable with Nazi crimes but very few people have been tried for committing such crimes.

 

Moreover, 28 years later, in former Yugoslav republics (e.g. Croatia) “this topic is still a matter of political and scientific debates, and those who dare to ask ‘new and nuanced questions’ are often labeled as the revisionists who should be treated by medical specialists,” said Blanka Matkovic, PhD dissertation Warwick University, UK. And “thanks” to the likes of the Jewish Councils coordination head in Croatia, Ognjen Kraus, those who question WWII crimes or their extent against the form we have been led to believe, those who cannot control or prevent extremist outbursts of individuals in the streets or sports arenas… – are Nazis! Nothing less than Nazis! What an outrage! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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