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)

Stumbling Stones In Croatia Should Symbolise Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust and Communist Crimes – A Historical Reality to Pursue?

On the chilly autumn morning of 25 October 2023 in the capital of Croatia, Zagreb, several residents, or rather leftist or pro-communist Yugoslavia political activists some of whose immediate family members were brutal aggressors and ethnic cleansers against Croats during 1990’s war of aggression, former President Ivo Josipovic and a handful of politicians of Serbian extraction, viz Milorad Pupovac and Boris Milosevic of the SDSS/ Independent Democratic Serb Party, as well as handful individuals evidently aligned with the communist past, huddled together on the pavement just outside the Hotel Dubrovnik that is situated on corner of the Ban Jelacic Square and Gajeva Street, to commemorate Svetozar Milinov and his family with the installation of a remembrance stumbling stone (or block). A Croatian Serb Svetozar Milinov was the original owner of Hotel Dubrovnik and he and his family were reportedly among the first Serbs killed in Croatia (1941) by the Ustashi regime and their deaths are considered by some political servants to be a part of the Holocaust. Indeed, it can safely be assumed that those present at this commemorative installation of a stumbling stone and those behind it are among those.

Natasa Popovic, director of the Croatian Centre for the Promotion of Tolerance and Preservation of the Memory of the Holocaust, said that “the stumbling stones dedicated to individual victims of the National Socialist and Ustasha regime indicate the moral duty to remember and take responsibility for what happened.”

Naturally I agree. However, there is a duty to remember and take responsibility for everything that happened, including the communist crimes’ purges of patriotic Croats. Popovic was not about to mention that! And that is so symptomatic of the pro-communist mindset still holding heavily onto the power reins in Croatia.

Known as “Stolpersteine”, or “stumbling stones”, the stone is a ten-centimetre concrete cube bearing a brass plate inscribed with the name and life dates of victims of Nazi extermination or persecution the installation of which started in Berlin in 1996. The stones were invented with the aim to commemorate individuals at exactly the last place of residency or work – which was freely chosen by the person before they fell victim to Nazi terror, forced euthanasia, eugenics, deportation to a concentration or extermination camp, or escaped persecution by emigration or suicide. There’s probably over 100,000 such stones installed on pavements across Europe. The stones represent a new vision of urban remembrance and unlike large monuments focus on individual tragedies.

It is my firm belief that everything possible needs to be done in order to make sure that remembrance preserves the dignity of the victims and, in this case in Zagreb, not much victim dignity appears to have been preserved. First of all, the stone in installed and commemorated by Serbs and former communists of former Yugoslavia! It is a historical fact that while those Serbs deny the fact that World War Two Serbia was among the first in Europe to declare itself “Judenfrei”/Jew Free, they keep pursuing the laying of guilt for WWII exterminations against Croatia.

The Jew Free status of Serbia was achieved by the killing of 94% of Jews in Serbia as early as May 1942 as its Milan Nedic government joined freely, and enthusiastically, forces in this extermination business with the occupying Nazi forces. Croatia was Nazi occupied also, but it never pursued a Jew Free status. If you depend on history as reported by Serbs or their allies you will never come across this absolute fact, which of course does not in any way excuse the terrible killings that did occur under racial laws. That is a historical fact. Hence, how can any dignity of victim Milanov be preserved when his stumbling stone of remembrance is installed by the descendants and political subscribers to the murderous communist Yugoslavia that murdered so many more!? It cannot – in the eyes of dignity and truth.

For me, stumbling over a piece of metal or concrete in the ground is anything but dignified. But at least it is a daily reminder of the past that was cruel to multitudes. In that light, were stumbling stones to be installed for the hundreds of thousands of victims of communist crimes as well as multitudes driven to emigration due to intolerable communist oppression and purges then, together with the stumbling stones dedicated to the victims of the Ustasha regime, Croatia would have stumbling stones installed at every step of pavements in cities, towns, and villages. Every victim of whichever brutal regime needs to be treated equally, with same piety and respect but not in former communist countries such as Croatia! Anything less does not preserve the dignity of victims because remembrance becomes a political spin seeking power, justifying one crime by condemning another. That is Croatia today. Communist crimes as opposed to those likened to the Holocaust are consistently ignored and even justified! Justified! For political reasons and no other!  

In a controversial move, Stolpersteine or Stumbling Stones were banned by Munich city council in 2004. The decision was upheld in 2015, despite more than 100,000 people signing a petition in favour of them. In the summer of 2018, Munich introduced an alternative remembrance project, also placed before a victim’s last home, but presenting biographic plaques and photographs on stainless steel columns.

Every time I come across the installation of stumbling stones in Croatia I think of my late friend Helena S., a Croatian Jew who fled Zagreb with her family in 1939 and the family’s sizable property in elite and expensive parts of Zagreb, such as Pantovcak, confiscated by the Ustashe regime in 1941. The family settled in Australia and once communist Yugoslavia took the reins in May 1945, the family tried and hoped to have their properties returned. Decades of futile attempts for justice bore no positive fruit. The communists of Yugoslavia did not return the confiscated properties but gave them to communist party officials and operatives. Then the family embarked on attempts to have the properties returned from 1994, i.e., soon after Croatia seceded from communist Yugoslavia. To this day – no return; former communist operatives still live in those elite properties and have usurped as their own many of them! How can such people or their descendants be taken seriously when they go about installing stumbling stones to victims whose families suffered under their reins also!?

German leftist (or pro-communist) artist’s, Gunter Demnig’s stumbling stones project in essence asks people to take an active role in the reconstruction of the Nazi past of their own cities and localities. Demnig set stumbling stones in the pavement only on the invitation of local organisations or groups of citizens who have developed an interest in his project and who have researched the histories of the victims who are to be remembered with these stones. Placing these stumbling stones has sometimes provoked controversy. Some homeowners argue that a stone in front of their property may lower its value, a few city governments have refused to give the necessary permission, and some Jews have questioned whether stepping on the names of the victims is an appropriate way to remember them. Yet, Demnig’s project is constantly expanding. It seems that the “stumbling stones” has become a European project; examples of this “decentralised monument” can now be found not only in Germany, but also in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Ukraine, Croatia, and other countries.

Hence, Croatia has not been exempt from this trend of remembrance, so a couple of years ago several such stumbling stones have also been set up in Zagreb. One of them, placed in Zagreb at the address Boskoviceva 28 mentions Miroslav Juhn, born in 1897, who was reportedly deported to Jadovno in 1941 and killed in August 1941. On the contrary, the online Jasenovac Memorial Site census states that Miroslav Juhn was born in 1897 in Podgorac and killed in 1941 in Jasenovac. So, already on the basis of the above mentioned example (and there are quite a few others), it can be clearly said that the stumbling stones project joined numerous other sources that denounce the online list of Jasenovac Memorial Site as a problematic source containing a number of false victims.

It is more than saddening that a similar project to stumbling stones has not been pursued for victims of communist crimes who were, in fact, more numerous than victims of the Holocaust. Europe had both murderous regimes in its twentieth century: the Nazi and the Communist and it had acknowledged this by officially condemning them in its parliament but chooses to stay silent at the relative lack of respect, justice, and human dignity for victims of communist crimes. Some would argue that by respecting both victims equally, diminishes the significance of the Holocaust and would fall under the politically invented term “Holocaust denial”. Well, to my vision, a human being never utilises politics or discrimination when it comes to victimhood because the very term “victim” is defined by an innocent human being falling as a target of brutal political regimes or criminals.  There is no denying the crimes of totalitarian Communist governments, in Croatia under communist Yugoslavia in particular — mock trials and mass executions, forced labour camps, grinding oppression and several hundreds of thousands of patriotic Croats who rejected communism dead in over a thousand mass graves and pits as well as more than a million escapees fleeing to the West post World War Two. The purpose of memorials serves to remember and humanise the victims but should also stand as a reminder of the human capacity for evil from whichever corner of political pursuits, whether racial laws or political disagreements it comes from.

Both Communism and Nazism were genocidal regimes. No doubt about that! Analytical distinctions between them, that we come across rather too frequently, with the aim to make one look better than the other, devaluing the victims of one or the other, may be seen as important by some, but the commonality in terms of complete contempt for the bourgeois state of law, human rights, and the universality of humankind regardless of spurious race and class distinction is beyond doubt. Communism and Nazism contained all the political and ideological ingredients of the totalitarian order – party monopoly on power, ideological uniformity and regimentation, censorship, demonisation of the “people’s enemy,” besieged fortress mentality, secret police terror, concentration camps and/or hard labour camps, and, no less important, the obsession with the shaping of some “New Man.”

Renowned historian and political philosopher, Hannah Arendt, had drawn a moral equation between communism and Nazism, writing in her  1951 “The Origins of Totalitarianism” that both represented “absolute evil,” just two sides of the same totalitarian coin. Considering that and in light of my own moral persuasion no communist or Nazi sympathisers should be installing stumbling stones or other memorial symbols to any victims of any totalitarian regime because the lack of that non-discriminatory, filled with conflicts of interests, act takes the human dignity of the victims away. To boot, published in the late 1990’s the absolute international best seller, the Black Book of Communism, which documents communist atrocities, was very well received and opened millions of shut eyes. What The Black Book of Communism succeeds in demonstrating is that communism in its essence was from the outset inimical to the values of individual rights and human freedom. Despite communism’s overblown rhetoric on emancipation from oppression, the leap into freedom turned out to be an experiment in social engineering for the success of which murder and extermination of political opponents was compulsory. Paranoia regarding infiltration, subversion, and treason were enduring features of all communist political cultures, from Russia and China, to Romania and Yugoslavia (Croatia).

How long will it take for the world to repay the debt of civilisation to all victims, be they victims of Nazism or victims of Communism!? Ina Vukic

Zvonimir Gavranovic – Bleiburg: Massacre of the Croatian People 1945

Zvonimir Gavranovic (centre) and part of audience present at the launch of his book “Bleiburg: Massacre of the Croatian People 1945” in Sydney, 11 October 2023 at Parliament House Photo: Ina Vukic

“This is a masterly book that can change lives. Zvonimir Gavranovic has spent a lifetime studying this and meditating on its wider meaning. His research is impressive, his findings are sure, and his application to everyday life is sound. He knows that nurturing hatred for wrongs done in the past is bad for you. Yet if he urges forgiveness, he does not want us to forget our bloody past. It is a nourishing book,” noted by Edmund Campion of Sydney on the back cover of the book “Bleiburg: Massacre of the Croatian People 1945” by Zvonimir Gavranovic.

Zvonimir Gavranovic with his latest book, October 2023. Photo: Ina Vukic

In the author’s words said on 11 October 2023 in The Parliament of New South Wales premises in Sydney, at the book’s launch, it took the best part of ten years to write this book titled “Bleiburg: Massacre of the Croatian People 1945” published by ATF Theology, Adelaide, Australia, 2023. But then, everything it seems points to the conclusion that the author, Father Zvonimir Gavranovic, a Catholic priest of Croatian roots ordained in 1972 and since then serving in various parishes in Sydney, doesn’t do things superficially or “by halves”. He is a thorough, caring, dedicated author who contemplates beyond the times his book is written and published in. It reportedly took him almost 20 years to research for and write his previous sell-out book “In search of Cardinal Stepinac: a complete biography” published 2014 by Kršćanska Sadašnjost, Zagreb Croatia. (As a reminder to readers of this article, in May 1943, Archbishop of Zagreb Alojzije Stepinac openly criticised the Nazis and put his own life in danger to save Jews and other ethnic groups facing peril. At the end of World War Two, on basis of false accusations drummed up by communist Yugoslavia authorities Stepinac was found guilty of Nazi collaboration at a mock trial, by the communist government and was convicted and sentenced sixteen years` hard labour on October 11, 1946. He spent five years in the prison of Lepoglava, and in 1951, Josip Broz Tito`s communist government released him and confined him to his birth village of Krasic in Croatia. Even though he was forbidden by the government to resume his duties as Archbishop or priest for that matter, Stepinac was named Cardinal by Pope Pius XII on January 12, 1953. Due to pain caused by the many illnesses he contracted while imprisoned, Cardinal Stepinac died in Krasic on February 10, 1960. In 1985, his trial prosecutor, high-level communist operator, Jakov Blazevic, admitted publicly that Cardinal Stepinac`s trial was entirely framed, and that Stepinac was tried only because he refused to sever thousand-year-old ties between Croatians and the Roman Catholic Church. On October 3, 1998, in Marija Bistrica, Croatia, Pope John Paul II beatified Cardinal Stepinac, and referred to him as one of the outstanding figures of the Catholic Church. In 2016, a Zagreb court overturned the verdict against Stepinac from 1946. The Canonisation process for Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac is still ongoing in the Vatican.)

Bleiburg: Massacre of Croatian People 1945

“The purpose of this book is to serve as a memorial: it speaks on behalf of all those who had their voices silenced by terror…” writes Zvonimir Gavranovic in the Introduction to his book.

Contrary to what the book’s title may suggest, this book does not wholly focus on 1945 and the events often referred to in historical studies as “The Bleiburg Massacres and Way of the Cross/ Death Marches of Croatian People” but in an ordered presentation lined with historical and historiographical accounts tells the entire history of Croatia, summarising its beginnings – traces within the ancient Roman Empire, the seventh century AD increased emergence of the establishment of Croatian peoples’ settlements, the glory of the Kingdom of Croatia (925 – 1102), centuries under Habsburg including Austro-Hungarian Empires foreign rule, the forced inclusion of Croatia into kingdoms (on the territory of former Yugoslavia) under the thumb of the Serbian Monarchy immediately after the First World War, the start of World War Two where communists fighting for retention of Yugoslavia fought against the Croatian independence movement and army right up to 1945. In all that history in this book the reader is briefly but strongly presented with individual Croatian leaders who throughout centuries of foreign rule and oppression fought for Croatian identity and independence; at times tragically losing their own life in the process and never, due to stronger opposing forces at play, successful to the end.  

Zvonimir Gavranovic, October 2023, photo by Ina Vukic

“Reading Chapter One of Croatian history between the seventh century and the beginning of the First World War the reader will come to realise that the Croatian and Serbian people had the best of relations for centuries. Problems started to develop after the two nations came to live together in what eventually became Yugoslavia. The biggest upheaval for the Croatian people as for all the Balkan nations was the Turkish invasions. The Turkish invasions greatly depleted the Croatian nation …” said Zvonimir Gavranovic at the Sydney launch of his book.

The Second Chapter the book deals with the creation of what later became the former Yugoslavia (ceased to exist in early 1990’s) after the First World War. In the first instance it was called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes under Serbian Monarchy and after the assassination of Croatian leadership in the parliament in Belgrade the chapter shows how tensions between Serbs and Croats grew much stronger and dictatorship from the Serb Monarchy continued ruthlessly, antagonism heightened as Serbian King in 1929 changed the name of the country to Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In this chapter the reader is introduced to how, amidst dictatorship, oppression, denial of human rights to Croats, political instability within the Kingdom of Yugoslavia – amidst the enormous political tensions withing Europe as a whole, during late 1920’s and the 1930’s, the Croatian Ustasha movement was formed (the movement that would in April of 1941 proclaim the Independent State of Croatia).

“It was in Britain’s interests to escalate the war. Its Secret Service worked with the Serbian nationalists headed by air force colonel Dusan Simovic to overthrow (Serbian) Prince Paul and his government; this coup took place at night of 26 March 1941, installing the teenage Peter as the new King with colonel Simovic and his ultra-nationalist Serbs running the country. As a result Germany invaded the country on 6 of April 1941. It was the beginning of enormous sufferings of people of Yugoslavia. It is true that between the 6th and 10th of April of 1941 the Croatian people overwhelmingly supported the creation of a Croatian state, which became known as an independent State of Croatia. The leadership of this puppet state hoped that Croatia like Denmark would be a haven of peace…Sadly it was not. Initially it was peaceful in the country but then disorder developed. There were five different armies roaming Croatia which at that time included Bosnia and Herzegovina,” said Zvonimir Gavranovic at the book launch in Sydney.

The reader is then presented with the rise of Communism as well as the persecution of Serbs and Jews in the Nazi-occupied Independent State of Croatia and the work led by Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac in saving these lives and sufferings. It presents the details of Croatian government’s order of withdrawal of its army to southern Austria, close to the town of Beliburg, on 6 May 1945 when civilians went with them, with peace being declared in Europe on 8 May 1945 and on 15 May 1945 Croatian Army surrendered. The British Army handed them all to Josip Broz Tito and his communist Yugoslavia, who slaughtered them, with Chapters Four and Five of the book dealing with the chilling and brutal Croatian Death Marches where hundreds of thousands of Croats perished because they were anti-communism and anti-Yugoslavia, while Chapter Six addresses the suffering of the Slovene people during the Second World War whose thousands of Civil Defense personnel were also returned by the British from Bleiburg and slaughtered by Tito’s communist partisans. In the same chapter the reader will also find the suffering of the German people in former Yugoslavia, of whom barely 60,00 survived from 500,000 being there before the war. Also, the suffering of the Montenegrin peoples of former Yugoslavia can be found here.

Entitled “Graves and Burial Places” Chapter Seven of the book brings to us the destinies of those that were slaughtered by the communist Yugoslavia partisans and to this day graves and burial places are still being discovered in Slovenia and Croatia. The Chapter contains names and locations of several mass graves and pits but history so far records several hundreds of thousands slaughtered innocent Croats and just under 2000 mass graves of communist crimes victims so far found in Slovenia and Croatia, and while this book does not delve into numbers it is of interest to insert that detail here in order to gauge the significance of “Graves and Burial Places”

Photo by Ina Vukic/ Zvonimir Gavranovic, Bleiburg: Massacre of the Croatian People 1945

Juxtaposed portraits of Serbian King Alexander Karadjorjevic, Croatian WWII Dr Ante Pavelic and communist Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito on a large screen during the book’s launch in Sydney was an eye-opening and thought-provoking image. It signalled the nature of the content of the book’s Chapter Eight; which one of these three people is at fault for the massacre, for the suffering and slaughter of Croatian people in 1945.  

In Zvonimir Gavranovic’s own words: “King Aleksander headed a brutal regime and was behind the assassination of the Croatian political leadership in Belgrade Parliament in 1928, he suspended the constitution and imposed dictatorship in 1929…he greatly antagonised the non-Serb populations of the country as well as some sections of the Serbian population …his actions caused wounds under various nationalities of the former Yugoslavia that had not been healed yet (as WWII began). Then the British handed these soldiers and civilians to Tito’s partisans one week after peace was declared in Europe in May 1945. No one thought that the British sense of fairness would hand these people to the communist partisans. Dr Ante Pavelic and his government didn’t show leadership that required ordering thousands of soldiers and civilians into Southern Austria, uncertain of what lie ahead, his aim was to withdraw as many soldiers and civilians as possible with the hope that the British would accept them as prisoners of war and to hold onto the Geneva Conventions. Pavelic, therefore, bears enormous responsibility for what happened and that’s something that Croatian people must realise. I place Tito and the communist party that he led as most responsible. Communism has no concept of forgiveness and mercy. Tito was extremely brutal and in this we gain insight into his brutality. Tito was no Nelson Mandela. When Tito was alive, he was regarded as a great statesman, his funeral was watched by millions, but what kind of statesman is that with everything that one fights for, lives for, collapses ten years after one’s death…”

A very striking chapter of this book is its last one – Chapter Nine: Reconciliation, Forgiveness and Peace. Zvonimir Gavranovic says that for this chapter he drew strength from his own personal religious tradition, reconciliation process in Northern Ireland, the reconciliation of the Jewish and German peoples as well as the South African Truth Reconciliation Committee. Bringing the perpetrators and the victims together, the perpetrators acknowledging their crimes and asking for forgiveness is the only way forward according to the author of this book where he provides various examples of true and moving reconciliation across the world.

“The British establishment has not revealed all there is to be revealed, it kept it from the British public. People of Britain are unaware of what happened in Southern Austria one week after peace was declared in Europe in May 1945. My hope is that in 2045 the centenary of the end of Second World War in Europe there’ll be celebration in Europe commemorating the end of the war in Europe but hopefully one week later the Bleiburg field not only presidents of Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro but also Serbia and members of the British Royal Family will be commemorating what happened there a century before.”   

Zvonimir Gavranovic (L), Ina Vukic (R) at the book launch 11 October 2023, Parliament of NSW premises in Sydney, Australia

This 375-page book on Croatian history and wounds that have marked a suffering existence and perishing of the Croatian people particularly under the communist Yugoslavia regime is well worth the read and ownership. It will provide the reader with a wealth of insights into the history of suffering of Croatian people but also with insights into sufferings of other people and how reconciliation becomes the highest and the worthiest pursuit for human history and well-being.  Ina Vukic

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