Croatia: In The Throes Of Threat Of Illiberal Democracy


Dr Franjo Tudjman
Ushers Croatia Out Of Communism – 1991

November 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. While for Germany it meant reunification of the country, for communist countries in Europe it meant fall of communism, fall of totalitarian regime, was imminent. For Croats living abroad at the time who pined for democracy and freedom, who fled communist Yugoslavia due to political oppression that made living in Yugoslavia virtually a harsh battle for mere survival and even life-threatening the fall of the Berlin Wall echoed with real prospects for Croatia’s independence from Yugoslavia. Sweeter echoes could not have reached their ears and hearts and minds.

Personally, my greatest hope was for Croats living in Croatia and those living outside it to experience freedom. The freedom experienced by people living in full democracies laced richly with opportunities for advancing own life and pursuit of individual expression without fear of reprisals that threaten one’s existence and progress in life. My greatest concern, though, was to experience the brutality of power, and in general, of human nature once harsh communist operatives and pro-Yugoslavia apparatchiks start feeling the heat of rejection.

I recall three key moments from that time. Reading Croatian press published in the diaspora with Dr Franjo Tudjman (the first president of independent modern Croatia) writing about real possibilities of seizing the moment (of the fall of Berlin Wall) and going head-on together with Croatian diaspora in the move to establish a free and independent Croatia. Formation of multiple political parties in Croatia and first multi-party election to form the new Parliament in 1990 after 45 years of communist Yugoslavia totalitarian rule. The independence or secession from Yugoslavia referendum in May 1991 and the phone calls I received from Croatia which all in sweet excitement said words to the effect: “it’s all going to be alright; Croatia will be independent.”

My response was always – I fear all is not going to be alright; the communists are a wild, brutal lot and will not relinquish their power just because 94% of voters voted “Yes” to independence at the referendum. And so, all was not alright – Serb and Yugoslav Army onslaught against Croatia unleashed a horrific war of aggression in Croatia, murderous taking of tens of thousands of lives, ethnic cleansing of Croats from one third of Croatian territory, vicious destruction of Croatian homes, religious and cultural buildings and property.

My biggest hope was that Croatia would adopt the Western democratic values. That Croatian youth will have the same opportunities to advance in life as our children living in the West had.

Thirty years on and Croatia in independent and a member state of the European Union. Democracy seems to have won, but recent political developments and revival of nostalgia for the former communist rule indicate a path towards illiberal democracy. Former communists, or their kin, sit is chairs of power; mainstream media is controlled by those who continue smothering Croatian patriotism and love for Croatian people. One of the biggest challenges to democracy today is posed by the dramatic change in the political-party landscape. Attention understandably has focused on the rise of a variety of populist candidates and movements, but what has enabled their rise is the drastic decline in support for the parties that had long dominated the political scene. Without grossly exaggerating, one can say that for decades the modal configuration of Croatia’s political systems has featured strong centre-left and centre-right parties or coalitions that support the basic principles and institutions of liberal democracy but compete with each other in regard to a variety of specific issues within this larger framework. Current public recriminations that both centre-left and centre -right major parties have not delivered on the initial promise of full democracy and are equally guilty of holding tight to the processes and mindset commensurate with former communist regime and undemocratic mindset has particularly clipped the wings of popularity for the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). While left (whether centre or not) had always been seen as an extract from former staunch communist regime, HDZ is increasingly criticised as being the same with its apparent distancing from its original aim, a democratic state of Croatian people. These days virtually every new round of elections indicates that this longstanding pattern of dominance by the centre-left and centre-right is losing its hold.

Today, much of Croatian society is sick. What is worse, a significant part of it refuses to get cured from communist mindset; lustration has not occurred and every mention or attempt to usher in an organised lustration process is quashed or ridiculed. Communist nostalgic keep churning out fairy tales about how good life was in Yugoslavia, forgetting the cruel drop in living standards once Western financial assistance turned the taps off; forgetting the fact that Yugoslavia (and hence Croatia) had some 1300% inflation by 1989, which saw supermarket shelves bare, petrol severely rationed when available, thousands of companies and employers unable to pay wages to its workers for months upon months…

The source of this state of mind, the state of mind that refuses to be cured from communist mindset, seems to be a feeling that Croatia (and other former communist Eastern European countries, indeed) is just a buffer zone between East and West. Croatia, after 30 years of the fall of the Berlin Wall still levitates within parameters where either going forward into full democracy or moving backward into a state-controlled existence are possible. The vocabulary of totalitarianism is creeping back unnoticed, which is incredibly dangerous, and Croatia needs to revitalise and maintain with strong resolve the positions it reached in defending the idea of freedom and democracy it fought for in the Homeland War of 1990’s.

This requires a lot of efforts today.

The people of Croatia live in frustration. Victims and culprits became one. The people who have power are those who got rich during the communist Yugoslavia rule and those who got rich during the wild years of privatisation in the 1990s. The corruption and nepotism are still prevalent and the political will of the ruling castes to well and truly rid Croatia of this plague does not exist or is not visible at all. Former agents of the Yugoslav Secret Police (UDBA) are embedded at every level and avenue of society, people representing the former communist power are arrogant and their arrogance stifles progress to painful levels. The loss of Croatian identity is alarming; politicians on the path to preserving and strengthening that identity are mocked, to say the least.

The majority of politicians and people behave as if 1989 [the year marking the fall of communism) never happened. The majority of politicians and people behave as if the European Union had not recently condemned communism as a criminal regime of the past! The “comrades from the party” are attempting to build capitalism with a socialist face: it is the victory of the chosen ones, who operate outside the rules of competition and open tenders. They discard as frivolous the profound and selfless sacrifice for Croatia that Homeland War veterans made.

Judging from public mood expressed via mainstream, non-mainstream and social media, Croatian people are contemplating an essential question: do they want an open full democracy or a closed society, freedom of expression or censorship, rule of law or a new form of authoritarianism. This question cries for articulation, but who will be the brave one to ask it? Certainly, it seems that none of the Presidential candidates currently vying for the high office will ask that question publicly. With Presidential elections due on 22 December this year, it appears most candidates are playing it “safe”; casting their voter-catch net widely. Campaigns are riddled with confusing or unclear messages, with generalised catchphrases promising “something” must change in Croatia (e.g. the slogan of one of strong candidates “Now or Never”) but none are clearly saying what that “something” is and how exactly they aim to change things, even though that “something” gnaws at the bones of most. Given the real danger of illiberal democracy in Croatia and public mood of frustration or impatience for a better future that elections slogan “Now or Never” is a phrase that many Croats attach to the urgent need for lustration/decommunisation and full democratisation. But the bitter scent whiffed by apparent lack of needed “political machinery” and practical mechanisms disappoints deeply. Ina Vukic


Purging Croatia Of Darkness Of Tito And Communism

Zagreb, Croatia 31 October 2015 President of Croatian National Ethics Tribunal Dr Zvonimir Separovic Opens the proceedings against communist Yugoslavia's Josip Broz Tito Photo: Oskar Sarunic

Zagreb, Croatia 31 October 2015
President of Croatian National Ethics Tribunal
Dr Zvonimir Separovic
Opens the proceedings against communist Yugoslavia’s
Josip Broz Tito
Photo: Oskar Sarunic

It does not need to be pointed out that a country cannot step into a democratic political system from a communist dictatorship overnight, or without dedicated resources that would draw up and act on plans to help rid the country of a remnant communist mindset. It’s been over 25 years since Croatian people voted overwhelmingly in April 1990 for a multi-party parliament based on campaign for a greater sovereignty and eventual independence of Croatia from communist Yugoslavia. At the first sitting of the parliament on 30 May 1990 President Franjo Tuđman announced his manifesto for a new Constitution (ratified at the end of the year) and a multitude of political, economic, and social changes, and how best to achieve them, that would be the backbone of the independent and democratic Croatia. The war of Serb aggression quickly ensued against Croatia and did not completely end until 1998. This of course meant that much of Tudjman’s prescriptive manifesto for how best to achieve democracy and shed communism could not be implemented. And, of course, after his death in December 1999, former and die-hard communists came to government as well as the office of president and this saw a most damaging period for democracy in which de-Tudmanisation occurred based on lies and falsehoods especially regarding the Homeland War whereby victim was being equated with the aggressor; a period in which those in power sought to feed nostalgia for communist Yugoslavia and Josip Broz Tito even though Tito (who died in 1980) and Yugoslavia were much hated by much of the Croatian population. One could say that the powers that be in Croatia at this time after Tudjman’s death worked against the sentiments and political moral fiber of much of the Croatian population.

Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall Zagreb Croatia 31 October 2015 Judgment Day for crimes against Croatian people perpetrated by Josip Broz Tito and his followers Photo: Oskar Sarunic

Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall
Zagreb Croatia 31 October 2015
Judgment Day for crimes against Croatian people
perpetrated by Josip Broz Tito
and his followers
Photo: Oskar Sarunic

It goes without saying that to move truly into a democracy Croatia must confront and condemn the dark side of the communist era under Tito and his followers and this has been difficult as opposition and sabotage are very active. When faced with a government that proclaims Tito’s righteousness even though it is undeserving then a huge problem and perpetual division among people exist. But, every once in a while we come across a positive and notable step towards ridding Croatia of the dark ghost of Tito that continues stifling democratic progress in many subtle and not so subtle ways.

31 October 2015 Zagreb, Croatia Dr Zvonimir Separovic (middle) confers with members of Croatian National Ethical Tribunal (dr Zdravko Tomac - left and Zvonimir Hodak - right) regartding proceedings of the day condemnation oif crimes of Josip Broz Tito Photo: Oskar Sarunic

31 October 2015 Zagreb, Croatia
Dr Zvonimir Separovic (middle) confers
with members of Croatian National Ethical Tribunal
(dr Zdravko Tomac – left and Zvonimir Hodak – right)
regartding proceedings of the day
condemnation oif crimes of Josip Broz Tito
Photo: Oskar Sarunic

Thousands filled the Vatroslav Lisinski Conert Hall in Zagreb on Saturday 31 October 2015 to witness and be present at the posthumous judgment against Josip Broz Tito, the President, the Marshall, the Judge, the Jury and the Executioner, the Dictator of the former communist Yugoslavia delivered by the Croatian National Ethical Tribunal for his crimes against the Croatian people. As these things go in a country like Croatia where communists and former communists control the mainstream media one did not find out about this most important event via that media. Many distinguished guests, academics, former Croatian parliamentarians and government ministers spoke but perhaps at this point it is most significant to note the words of the last speaker of the day – Franc Breznik, member of parliament of Slovenia (Slovenian Democratic Party):


Today in Croatia, with the ethical condemnation of Tito, Croatian Nurenberg occurred. After the Nuremberg trials, which commenced on 20 November 1945 began the process of De-Notification of Germany. Today’s ethical condemnation of Tito and his ideological followers will start the DE-comunisation of Croatia, Slovenia and other parts of other states that were once part of communist Yugoslavia. Now it is up to us in Slovenia to follow your example Croatia,”said the Slovenian parliamentarian, earning thunderous applause.


Thousands came to witness the hearing of testimonies of victims of communist crimes in Croatia Zagreb, Croatia - 31 October 2015 Croatian National Ethical Tribunal Photo: Oskar Sarunic

Thousands came to witness
the hearing of testimonies of
victims of communist crimes in Croatia
Zagreb, Croatia – 31 October 2015
Croatian National Ethical Tribunal
Photo: Oskar Sarunic

People came from all over Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia and from around the world – especially representatives of the Croatian diaspora. Also present were representatives of many major veterans associations, from those who have stood in protest for veterans’ rights for almost a year now at Savska 66 in Zagreb to members of the Committee for the defense of Croatian Vukovar.

Prior to the judgment being delivered Dr Marko Veselica – a former dissident and a former political prisoner in Tito’s prisons – and Mr Nikola Stedul, who survived an assassination attempt (five bullet hits) by UDBA’s (Tito’s Communist Yugoslavia Secret Police) agent Vinko Sindicic in Kirkcaldy, Scotland in 1988, spoke. Then Anto Kovacevic, who spent seven years in hard-labour prison for telling a joke about Tito, also gave witness as to the criminal acts and depraved revenge Tito effectuated against all who dared think differently. Kovacevic’s clearly articulated and unequivocally adopted position that without lustration, democracy or economic recovery were not possible for Croatia was met with resounding applause. Other, speakers among many included Eva Kirchmayer Bilic, Dzemaludin Latic and Mladen Pavkovic.

Nikola Stedul A victim of and witness to communist crimes by Tito and his followers Zagreb, Croatia 31 October 2015 Photo: Oskar Sarunic

Nikola Stedul
A victim of and witness to
communist crimes by
Tito and his followers
Zagreb, Croatia 31 October 2015
Photo: Oskar Sarunic

Ante Glibota, vice president of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts and Literature spoke about lustration as intercession for a democratic future. For ethical condemnation criminal Tito and his ideological followers came to a large number of Slovenians, which present very strongly welcomed by long applause. Roman Ljeljak, a well-known Slovenian public advocate for the disclosure of Tito’s Partisan army’s post-WWII perpetration of genocide and war crimes and the UDBA assassinations of Croatian political emigrants in Europe, especially in Austria, spoke about the Huda pit (mass grave of innocent 2,000 Croats, 700 Slovenians and 300 German nationals) and the murder of Croatian emigrant Stjepan Crnogorac by UDBA.

Sister Bernardina Crnogorac spoke of her brother Stjepan's murder in 1972 and that the communists still hold secret the place where his remains were left after his murder in Salzburg by communist secret police Photo: Oskar Sarunic

Sister Bernardina Crnogorac
spoke of her brother Stjepan’s murder in 1972
and that the communists still
hold secret the place where his remains were left
after his murder in Salzburg by communist secret police
Photo: Oskar Sarunic

Dr Zvonimir Separovic, the president of the Croatian National Ethical Tribunal (and Croatian Victimology Society), then moved that the Tribunal attends to the main point on the day’s agenda.
The Croatian National Ethical Tribunal in this its Fifth Judicial sitting, deliberated in this trial against Josip Broz Tito and the Yugoslav Communist totalitarianism on the ethical charges brought on 25 June 2015 for genocide and other serious crimes committed against Croatian people. The tribunal comprised of thefollowing members: Zvonimir Separovic – President of the Tribunal and members Nikola Debelić, Zdravko Tomac, Josip Jurcevic, Zdravko Vladanovic, Zvonimir Hodak, John Kozlic, Bozidar Alic, Ante Beljo, Nevenka Nekic and Tomislav Josic. Josip Broz Tito and the Yugoslav communist totalitarianism were convicted of these criminal charges by the Tribunal.


Furthermore, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic was also condemned and convicted for being Tito’s and his ideology’s follower. “ In the past year the Ethical Tribunal has delivered convictions against Ivo Josipovic, Stjepan Mesic, Vesna Pusic, Milorad Pupovac, Budimir Loncar, Vesna Terselic and now the turn has come for Zoran Milanovic,” said dr Zdravko Tomac.

Hence, it’s by pure chance that Zoran Milanovic’s case as one of the remaining Tito’s followers has come up at this time. He is judged on two bases: as a follower, a man who even after the discovery of 1700 mass graves and Huda pits he had the audacity to repeat that Tito was the best thing that Croats ever had”. The Ethical Tribunal thus convicted Milanovic.

JUDGED AND CONDEMNED FOR COMMUNIST CRIMES Portrait of Josip Broz Tito President of former Communist Yugoslavia Portrait in oil: Charles Billich

Portrait of Josip Broz Tito
President of former Communist Yugoslavia
Portrait in oil: Charles Billich

Croatian National Ethical Tribunal is a great thing that has happened to the Croatian social conscience scene since 1990 as it gathers large crowds that deal head-on with the dark past of communist crimes that must be dealt with – it is a great pity that government authorities in Croatia look past this as if it had to do with some other people not their own descendants or those victims still living.  It is by no measure an easy thing to do what the Ethics Tribunal is doing for these champions of democracy are quickly and maliciously and above all undeservedly labeled by communist nostalgics as fascists or Ustase. It goes without saying that much of the opposition to the process of condemning the Yugoslav communist regime for its crimes is ingrained in the resistance for such in descendants of communists or former communists themselves. Purging itself of communist past with decisive condemnation of its crimes continues to be a most difficult task for Croatia but – not an impossible. Persistence is the key to success! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)


Croatia: Last-Ditch Efforts To Prevent Extradition For Communist Crimes

Josip Perkovic (L) Zdravko Mustac (R)

Josip Perkovic (L) Zdravko Mustac (R)

The District court in Zagreb ruled on Wednesday 8 January that the communist-era intelligence chief, Josip Perkovic, could be extradited to Germany where he is wanted over a killing of Croatian emigrant Stjepan Djurekovic in the 1980s.
On Thursday 9 January the District court in Velika Gorica (near Zagreb airport) ruled that the second ex-communist secret service chief, Zdravko Mustac, couldn’t be extradited to Germany (wanted for the same crime as Perkovic) because of Statute of Limitations.

Some 15 Km apart, two courts in Croatia, rule in opposite directions – on the same crime of murder that occurred in Germany in 1983!

You may well ask: how on Earth can this be possible?
Aren’t all courts in the country supposed to rule in similar ways on the same cases, under the same laws? You’d think so. But, we are dealing here with what seem to be last-ditch efforts by lawyers defending Josip Perkovic to prevent his extradition to Germany to face the German courts on what is classified as a “communist crime” or political assassination of persons by the ex-Yugoslav communist regime.

So, since last Wednesday, Perkovic’s lawyer Ante Nobilo (whose law office also defends Mustac!) has been working frantically, trying to make a case against extradition court decision, pending an appeal. He went on saying how Statute of Limitations or related laws had changed a number of times since 1983 and that his client has the right to chose the one that suits him best. I.e., chose the one under which Statute of Limitations in Croatia precludes his client from being extradited.  Nobilo expressed the view that Perkovic would not receive a just trial in Germany, which is ludicrous! Yesterday, 14 January, Nobilo stated that he has received a statement from Vinko Sindicic (a Yugoslav communist secret police operative convicted in the UK to 15 years prison for attempted assassination of Croat émigré Nikola Stedul in 1988 in Scotland and whose name has also been associated with the murder in Germany of Croat family Sevo) in which he says that he had lied (committed perjury) in the German court which convicted Krunoslav Prates in relation to the murder of the same Stjepan Djurekovic, Perkovic and Mustac are sought for by German court – how miraculously convenient!

To make matters worse for those yearning for justice for victims of communist crimes, the Croatian State Attorney Office has now shown its full colours: it too wants to stifle the extradition to Germany.
Yesterday, 14 January Croatia’s Office of State Attorney, as party to these two cases in Croatian courts, has filed an appeal NOT against the decision made by the court in Velika Gorica against extradition of Mustac BUT against the Zagreb court decision to extradite Perkovic! This has enraged many in Croatia as it’s seen as yet another ploy to defer or prevent processes dealing with communist crimes. Some say that the Croatian State Attorney is on the path to open a whole new trial in Croatia in the case of the murder of Djurekovic in 1983 in Germany! If this is true then the State Attorney, Mladen Bajic, is handing out an indictment of bad and rotten practices against German courts and German judiciary (?).

Some say that Germany as country seeking extradition should file an appeal, while Zeljko Olujic, a well known lawyer and former State Attorney in Croatia, sees the moves by the Croatian Office of State Attorney as attempts to save Perkovic and Mustac from accountability for acts they committed in the former communist Yugoslavia. “That is the opinion of the State Attorney who currently finds himself in times of re-elections and who exclusively flirts with politics, which is scandalous. This what’s happening in Croatia is the twilight of the legal system and the rule of law in the state,” said Olujic for Croatian TV news.

So, to say matters simply, one would have expected the Office of State Attorney to take a different path in ensuring that both District courts delivering on the same case, but different defendants, make similar or same judgments regarding extradition. After all what kind of a country can Croatia be when courts can interpret a simple matter such as Statute of Limitations for murder in such conflicting ways! Only a country which is failing scandalously in transitioning from communism into democracy and only a country that has as its State Attorney a person with heavy political leanings when there should be none – I’d say! The Office State Attorney by appealing one of the court decisions, the one to do with Perkovic’s extradition rather than appealing the other, the one of Mustac’s non-extradition, has clearly taken sides. The side it has taken – not to extradite Perkovic – seems to me to be an attack on judiciary, an attack on democracy, an attack on the people and victims of communist crimes to whom these cases under Germany’s arrest warrant mean a great deal.

A spark of good hope in these matters, though, is that the family of Stjepan Djurekovic has, according to Croatian HRT TV news, filed an appeal against the court decision in Velika Gorica and seek Mustac’s extradition or that all courts dealing with the issue of extradition rule similarly. Whether the court will accept their appeal is yet to be seen given that they were not a party to the proceedings.

After all these appeals in lower courts are exhausted we may yet be pleasantly surprised because the Supreme court in Croatia will be the step in this process that will deliver the final ruling on extradition of Perkovic and Mustac and it will need to rule on equal ground in both cases. We may yet celebrate the extradition of Perkovic and Mustac to Germany. But then again, we may be in for an even bumpier and a more torturous path for dealing with communist crimes in Croatia. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)


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