Anatomy of Injustice – Australian Croatian Six Case Up For Judicial Inquiry 40 Years On

The Croatian Six 1979 mugshots Photo: ABC TV Four Corners

In 1981 six Australian Croatian men (Max Bebic, Vic Brajkovic, Joseph and Ilija Kokotovic, Mile Nekic, and Tony Zvirotic) were convicted of terrorism related activities on clearly largely dubious evidence and sent to prison on a 15-year sentence each for acts of terrorism in Sydney. They have always maintained their innocence. This case has for many years been dubbed as a case of the greatest miscarriage of justice in the history of Australia. That label of miscarriage of justice did not originate from Australian Croatians, who had many reasons to be angry and bitter as this guilty verdict came at the time when the communist Yugoslavia machinery stopped at nothing when it came to destroying the Croatian name and Croatian people who in war (WWII) and in peace (post-WWII) stood for a free and independent Croatia – it came from others including members of Australia’s legal profession.  

It took a Serbian imposter in Australia working for the communist Yugoslavia agenda, it took an Australian/NSW police “squad” that evidently assisted that imposter’s agenda to build a damming case against the Croatian Six, and it took a Supreme Court of NSW judge, Justice Victor Maxwell’s, among other possible failings in the case, his apparent and total belief in that the NSW Police could do no wrong as well as failing to reveal to the jury that one of the presented confessions by one of the Croatian Six was unsafe (as it was unsigned) to send six Croatian men to ruin and push the reputation of the Australian Croatian community deeper into darkness of being considered “nationalist extremists and terrorists” and despair thus executing a mighty favour for the oppressive communist Yugoslavia. Judge Maxwell also refused leave for the Croatian Six defence to summon police who had arrested a seventh Croatian that night in February 1979 when the Six were arrested and who was subsequently released by a Magistrate. “In his summing up, Justice Maxwell told the jury it was a matter of whether to believe thirty-nine police officers or the six defendants, and a question of who had the motive to lie. The fact that he had suppressed two examples of police giving false evidence didn’t seem to bother him. It was, he said, ‘black and white,’” (Hamish McDonald article “Held Captive By Cold War Politics”, 5 March 2021)

On 15 February 2021, human rights and criminal law barrister Sebastian De Brennan and solicitor Helen Cook, with opinion from David Buchanan SC launched an appeal, filed for a judicial inquiry in the Supreme Court of NSW on behalf of the Croatian Six case based on new evidence disclosed in the relatively recent release of secret ASIO documents (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation),  in the recently published Official History of ASIO (John Blaxland and Rhys Crawley, 2016) and in Hamish McDonald’s book “Reasonable Doubt: Spies, Police and the Croatian Six” (2019) where the facts, after extensive and thorough research, are set out.

 If successful, the guilty verdict for the Croatian Six could be overturned, more than 40 years after that terrible fact.

Launch of Hamish McDonald book 2019 Sydney (L) Hamish McDonald, (R) Marko Franovic Photo: Ina Vukic

At the end of WWII Croatia’s hopes for independence from Yugoslavia were crushed and mass murders, mass communist Yugoslavia crimes against Croatian patriots followed, filling the so far discovered 1,700 mass graves of innocent people (at least 1,000 of them are now unearthed in Croatia) with mutilated, murdered, now decomposed human remains. This horror and oppression triggered a surge in Croatians fleeing communist Yugoslavia and settling in the United States, Canada, various South American countries, Australia and others.  All the Croatians who settled in these countries were proud of their heritage and they continued their struggle for the freedom of Croatia in many ways. They established with their own work and funds and fortified many Croatian community clubs and Croatian Catholic Centres everywhere, Australia was no exception; indeed, it could be said Croatians in Australia were leading in these efforts to maintain traditions, culture and zest for independence of Croatia for all the decades that followed.

It is understandable that some Yugoslav migrants of Croatian origin should continue to hope for the establishment of an independent Croatia and within a democracy like Australia they have a right to advocate their views so long as they do so by legitimate means,” Sir Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia 27 August 1964. (Source: Australia, House of Representatives, Parliamentary Debates, No.HR.35, 1964, 679.)

2019 Sydney – Launch of Hamish McDonald’s Book (L) Hamish McDonald, (C) Ina Vukic, (R) Branko Miletic Photo: Ina Vukic

Throughout the stormy and turbulent 1970’s random criminal acts ending in injury and destruction often occurred in Australia. Often the finger was pointed at Croatian patriots as being involved even though their protests against communist Yugoslavia had never escalated into violence; that is a historical fact. As such an unpleasant (to say it mildly) reputation of Australian Croatians built on lies fabricated by communist Yugoslavia Secret Service UDBa grew bigger, things got alarmingly serious against Croatians when in 1979 a man named Vico Virkez walked into the Lithgow Police Station and gave the police a surprise tip-off that would lead to one of the longest criminal trials in Australia’s criminal history. Virkez was passing himself off in Lithgow as a Croatian migrant and worked at the local power station when he made a surprise confession at the Lithgow Police Station that he and his fellow members of his Croatian community were plotting a series of terrorist attacks in Sydney.

Vitomir Misimovic a.k.a. Vico Virkez, 1991 Photo: ABC TV Four Corners

So in February 1979, NSW Police announced that a group of Croatians had been arrested in Lithgow and Sydney just before planting gelignite time-bombs in targets identified with the Yugoslav regime – including the 1600-seat Elizabethan Theatre in Newtown, where entertainers from Yugoslavia were about to perform.

The police swoop at the time was drummed up as an ideal and right mix of force and intelligence to grab terrorists and their explosives just in time – to save Australians! Raids on Virkez and his alleged accomplices in Lithgow and Sydney followed quickly and mercilessly.

Many questions were left unanswered despite the 1981 Supreme Court verdict. The Croatian informer Virkez who was the prosecution’s linchpin disappeared soon after he received a two-year sentence and while the trial against the Six was still afoot, on its tail end. In 1990 the Croatian Six were released from prison on the ground of good behaviour, having spent ten years in prison. In prison they had reportedly endured severe beatings, isolation and mental torture.

Sydney 2019 at the launch of Hamish McDonald book (L) Chris Masters, (R) Ina Vukic

In 1991 the ABC TV Four Corners’ award-winning investigative journalist Chris Masters, went looking for Virkez and found him in the then Yugoslavia, in a village in Bosnia Herzegvina, discovering that he was a Serb, Vitomir Misimovic, who masqueraded in Australia as a Croatian nationalist having infiltrated the Australian Croatian Community as an operative of Communist Yugoslavia Secret Service (UDBa) whose main goal at the time was to destroy in any which way the Croatians abroad who were pursuing the idea of freedom for Croatia from communist Yugoslavia.

In the ABC TV Four Corners program on the Croatian Six in 1991 Chris Masters among other things said “…Tonight, the spy who came in from the cold… he disappeared from Australia 11 years ago after exposing a major terrorist plot. When Four Corners tracked him down, he confessed to perjury that cost six men a total of 50 years in prison… The man who used to be known as Vico Virkez was found in a farmyard in a very Serbian corner of Yugoslavia. This Balkan James Bond turned out to be a modest pig farmer with an immodest imagination…” Chris Masters said about the interview with Virkez:  “It was a long conversation, Virkez has not spoken English for some time but one thing he made clear as he had made clear in a letter to Malcolm Fraser (Prime Minister of Australia) before the trial was that the evidence in his three statements was not his own.” Masters asked Virkez: “In the court was the evidence you gave all of the truth?”  “No,“ Virkez replied. Masters: “Were you given any instructions by police about what to say?”. “I was told what I have to say there,” Virkez replied. “Did they make you tell lies?” Masters asked. “I did that because they say this is all true I didn’t know if it was true or not,” Virkez replied.   

In court, in the case against the Croatian Six, Virkez had evidently kept to a script written by police. None of the six were guilty of the bombing conspiracy yet they served long prison sentences for it.

Three years after the Chris Masters Four Corners broadcast, NSW attorney-general John Hannaford decided against a review of the Croatian Six case reportedly on advice of two senior state government lawyers, Keith Mason and Rod Howie — advice still not public because of claimed legal privilege.

In 1990’s the secrets that Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser’s adviser Ian Cunliffe discovered began to leak but it was not until 2007 that these secrets revealed had taken the Australian investigative journalist and author, Hamish McDonald, on a quest for justice for Croatian Six.

In 2007, in the case of the killing of five Australian television newsmen at Balibo, in Portuguese Timor, in 1975, Hamish McDonald “spent two months in the old coroner’s court on Sydney’s Parramatta Road listening to former officials, signals intelligence operatives, Timorese civil war veterans and even former prime minister Gough Whitlam testify to what they knew. One witness was Ian Cunliffe, a former federal government lawyer who’d served on Justice Robert Hope’s late-1970s royal commission into the intelligence services. He had seen an Indonesian signals intercept concerning the Balibo deaths that he felt had been covered up.

Asked by his lawyer if he knew of other instances of intelligence being withheld from the government, Cunliffe instanced ‘a criminal trial in Sydney involving six defendants.’ Canberra officials had agreed to keep material from the prime minister, he said, and had been willing to make intelligence material disappear if it was subpoenaed by defence lawyers.

During the court’s morning tea break, I asked Cunliffe which case he was referring to. ‘The Croatian Six,’ he replied cryptically,writes Hamish McDonald.

Framed – the untold story about the Croatian Six, by Hamish McDonald 2012 was Sydney Morning Herald’s first ebook, investigates the fate of six men jailed for up to a decade over plans to blow up a Sydney theatre in 1979 as part of a Croat terrorist plot.

Hamish McDonald spent months tracking down the surviving members of the Croatian six, the police and others involved in the case. His findings strengthen suspicions that these convictions are, as one former senior Australian official puts it, “a grave injustice”.  

McDonald also investigates the role in the case of the Yugoslav state security service, which used Australian police and intelligence services as tools to blacken the reputation of Croatian-Australians as extremists.

According to McDonald, vital evidence in proving the innocence of the Croatian Six and Indonesian culpability in the murder of the Balibo Five was suppressed by the Australian federal government on the grounds of “national security.”

In January 2018… I went to Canberra and found myself reading through two files on Virkez. They showed that he had been working with a UDBa handler in the Sydney consulate for six months before the arrests, speaking by telephone and meeting in Sydney, in all cases monitored by ASIO.

After the arrests (of Croatian Six), ASIO quickly concluded Virkez was the man working with the UDBa officer and circulated this information around state police forces through an intelligence channel. The reaction at NSW police headquarters was dismay. Assistant commissioner Roy Whitelaw contacted ASIO to say that if the men’s defence team became aware of this information, ‘it could blow a hole right through the police case.’

ASIO was initially inclined to let the NSW police reveal the information about Virkez as long as the source and wire-tapping involved were not revealed. It appears that Whitelaw opted not to pass it on, certainly not as far as crown prosecutor Shillington. With the court case set, ASIO then opted to throw a blanket around the evidence, persuading federal attorney-general Peter Durack to strenuously oppose the defence subpoenas during the trial and appeal.

Under its chief at the time, Harvey Barnett, ASIO tried to tone down its assessment of Virkez from ‘agent’ to mere ‘informant.’ Barnett wrote in the file that this reduced the likelihood of ASIO’s being accused of having been party to a miscarriage of justice. The Hawke government’s attorneys-general, Gareth Evans and Lionel Bowen, then signed off on moves to prevent Ian Cunliffe, by then secretary of the Australian Law Reform Commission, from raising his misgivings regarding the suppression of evidence about Virkez,” McDonald wrote in his March 5, 2021 article.

This cover-up was detailed in his book on the affair, Reasonable Doubt: Spies, Police and the Croatian Six, which was published in 2019.

2010 Australian White Paper on Counter-Terrorism Photo: page screenshot

What is also telling of a cover-up and miscarriage of justice for the Croatian Six is that when in 2010, Kevin Rudd’s Australian Federal Government released its White Paper on counter-terrorism (PDF here), it was curiously surprising to discover that it omitted to mention from its list of terrorist attacks and major foiled attempts in Australia over the past 40 years the acts that the Croatian Six spent a total of 50 years in prison for! Australia’s White Paper on Counter-terrorism omitted to list that NSW police were said to have stopped the imminent bombing of Sydney’s Elizabethan Theatre during an event attended by up to 1600 people, the bombing of several city businesses and the cutting of Sydney’s water supply!

This government White Paper explains the nature of the terrorist threat to Australia within Australia’s broader national security context, sets out the Australian Government’s strategy for countering terrorism, and details the policy settings by which the Government will implement its counter-terrorism strategy. Since it did not mention the Croatian Six, since it did not boast how its counter-terrorist operations stopped that large terrorist act no terrorism was attempted by the Croatian Six nor committed. One may indeed hope, then, that the current judicial inquest/appeal against the 1981 conviction of Croatian Six will find the same as the 2010 Australian White Paper on Counter-Terrorism and their convictions – quashed. Ina Vukic

Croatia 2030: No Success Without Ruthless Decommunisation Reforms

Pretending to reinvent “sliced bread” all over again would be among the characteristics of a political environment where working on national goals is set aside throughout decades for personal gains of politicians while the country descends into economic chaos, political swamp and living standards depletion for the masses.

Current minority government in Croatia has during the past weeks been boasting of its Croatia 2030 National Development Strategy (NDS) as being the first in history of modern Croatia that for its success uses or depends on participatory and bottom-up approach to finally get Croatia where it should be: prosperous and democratic. The implementation of such plan is heavily dependent on EU funds and given that the widespread corruption at all levels (local and national), particularly public administration and judiciary, in Croatia has not been systematically dealt with one does fret for the success of such a plan that involves participation of the heavily corrupt network.

One thing is certain: without significant and “cut-throat” reforms in Croatia, without decommunising Croatia, no amount of EU or other international funds injected into Croatia will help towards the achievement of this NDS. While this NDS could be seen as an opportunity for a new start the foundations upon which the Plan is hitting the ground running are rotten. Too much corruption and nepotism everywhere.

What a shame the government keeps ignoring the fact that, although in skeleton form, Croatia’s national development strategic plan was actually devised during the Homeland War, announced in Dr Franjo Tudjman’s speech at the inauguration of the Croatian Parliament on 30 May 1990, when he said: “…At the end of this inaugural address, allow me to endeavour and put forward, in the briefest of points, some of the most urgent and immediate tasks that stand before the new democratic government of Croatia…” (pdf link)

Released late January 2021 by the government for parliamentary discussions, under the banner “Croatia 2030”, the 2030 National Development Strategy should steer the development of Croatia until 2030. While broad vision documents were produced by past governments in Croatia, this is the first time that the Government has decided to employ a comprehensive and evidence-based process using a participatory and bottom-up approach. Not unlike the crumbled Communist Yugoslavia used to do in its Five or Ten-Year Plans by the way. Glossy plans through which the communist elites of Yugoslavia got richer and ordinary people poorer and hungrier. Because no changes were made to stamp out corruption and political persecution of those not towing the communist line. Similar environment exists in Croatia today, hence mass exodus of young people during the past decade and thriving corruption is “king”.

The principal role of the World Bank in the process of the preparation of the 2030 NDS has been to provide analytical support. World Bank policy notes aimed to help the authorities recognise the most binding development gaps, define the reform and investment priorities for the country based on the vision and strategic objectives that were set by the Ministry of Regional Development and EU Funds, and identify actions needed to bring the country closer to its 2030 targets.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said in Croatian Parliament on January 27: “We welcome all Members of Parliament to participate in the debate and hope to reach a consensus on this document today,” reiterating that ten years from now he saw Croatia as a competitive, innovative and safe country of recognisable identity and culture, with preserved resources, good living standards and equal opportunities for all.

The Prime Minister listed the goals to be achieved by 2030. Among them are raising GDP per capita to 75 percent of the EU average, and the share of exports of goods and services from 52 to 70 percent of GDP, significant acceleration of the work of the judiciary, reaching the OECD average, raising the coverage of children in kindergartens above 97 percent and employment to 75 percent, reducing the share of people at risk of poverty, extending the expected number of years of healthy living by six to eight years.

There certainly was no consensus reached in parliament on that day as the MPs in government showered the plan with accolades like ambitious but real and the opposition MPs described it as unambitious, insufficiently clear, coming too late and offering no vision.

Opposition MP Hrvoje Zekanovic (Hrvatski Suverenisti/Croatian Sovereignists), said for the Plan document that it is at the level of High School graduation work and maintains all the woes and misery of Croatian politics, hoping that it will not in the future.

Opposition MP Miroslav Skoro (Domovinski Pokret/Homeland Movement) said that the economy is not in focus in this Plan, because the country is run by people from diplomacy who have never worked in the real sector and do not really know how the economy works. We must create conditions for growth and development, said Skoro, adding that the strategy must give hope for a better future, a vision and help in its realisation.

On Friday 5th February, the Croatian Parliament finally voted on the National Development Strategy of Croatia until 2030. 77 deputies voted for the Croatian National Strategy, 59 were against, 2 abstained. Not a landscape that inspires faith and optimism that this NDS will actually achieve its goals. One must wonder whether that is because the Strategy itself does not enter into the essential pre-requisites for any strategy to succeed? For Croatia that would be decommunisation of public administration aiming at fierce and intense stamping out of corruption and nepotism.

National Development Strategies worldwide exist to set a clear long-term vision for the country providing a strategic guidance to all development policies and lower-ranking strategic planning documents. Additionally, the analytical underpinning prepared for the NDS and the extensive consultation process to prepare the NDS for Croatia chiefly by a team of consultants under the World Bank umbrella has cost Croatian taxpayers 32 million kunas or 4.2 million euro!

In its introductory part of its National Development Strategy 2030 Croatian government mentions absolutely nothing of the strategy or plan laid out at the start of secession from communist Yugoslavia and during the Homeland War that actually made possible today’s Croatia. This may well mean that the government aims to further degrade the foundation upon which today’s democracy was won in rivers of blood, amidst Serb aggression, devastation and despair for freedom from communism. Here is what the introduction to the NDS says (PDF):

In an increasingly globalised world, marked by challenges like the fourth industrial revolution and green transitions, but also numerous threats, such as climate changes, pandemics, geopolitical disturbances or migrations, planning for the future today is perhaps more important than ever before. In this regard, timely recognition of trends, their own strengths and weaknesses are key to turning challenges and new opportunities into development opportunities, but also to strengthen society’s resilience and its greater readiness to deal with the unpredictable circumstances.

To adapt to all these challenges and to exploit all its potentials, to be able to coordinate the efforts of all public policies, Croatia should already today have a clear vision of its future development and define the goals it wants to achieve by 2030. In addition, as a member of the European Union, Croatia has generous European funds at its disposal, which will be an important lever in achieving those goals. This requires a clear framework and quality multi-year planning, so that the benefits of EU membership can be better exploited…

Croatia suffers from a number of constraints for its development as set out in the NDS framework and these are:

  • Corruption in many different sectors of economy. Corruption comes in many forms, including the theft of public funds by politicians and government employees, and the theft and misuse of overseas aid, nepotism within the employment sector. Bribery is also a persistent threat and tends to involve the issuing of government contracts. In former communist Yugoslavia, bribery was the norm, and Croatia had inherited this, had not even seriously attempted to stamp it out and this seriously weakens the operation of strategies towards betterment of the nation.
  • Population is a considerable constraint on economic growth and Croatia’s declining population either due to mass exodus/emigration, relatively low birth rate and inefficiently stimulating climate for the return of Croats living in the diaspora means Croatia is in serious trouble achieving its planned goals or strategies unless significant reforms are undertaken in this field.  
  • Absence of a developed, independent and corruption-fee legal and judiciary system in Croatia has been an eyesore for many over the decades, yet nothing much changes and justice for ordinary citizens depends on the political agenda of courts and judges, even many practicing lawyers.

Given the past and the existing practices in Croatia which at high levels of authority still celebrate the failed communist Yugoslavia laws and public administration immorality there is a real danger that funds coughed up by the EU for this NDS will significantly dissipate into corrupt practices (pockets) and the NDS will, therefore, not be worth the paper it’s written on. I may be proven wrong; however, my assessment and sentiment are shared by many, including parliamentary votes regarding the NDS. To ensure success of such an NDS a political force is needed that would preserve the values of Croatian national identity away from communist past. Positive identity generates pride and pride generates positive energy capable of achieving just about anything put in front of it. Ina Vukic

Independent Croatia: To Expose Yugoslav Communist Enemy Within

Zoran Milanovic (L) Zeljko Glasnovic (R)

Croatia survived 45 years of communist rule under the lie of “brotherhood and unity” in Yugoslavia, emerged victorious in the 1990’s in fighting off the bestial enemies of its independence and democracy, only to keep having salt poured over the wounds it sustained in achieving independence and its continued struggle for a full democracy. In Croatia, former communist domination has been increasing since year 2000, alienating and degrading those who fought against the communist aggressor in early 1990’s. Make no mistake: Croatia’s very future is still at stake, despite the glorious victories of its defence forces. The best example of such alienation and degradation, which to my view verge on treason or bombarding of foundations of a state can be found in the acts of Croatia’s President Zoran Milanovic only a couple of days ago, on Friday 22 January 2021.

On Friday, the President of the Republic Zoran Milanovic, from the city of Zadar, cancelled his participation in the commemoratory program marking the 28th anniversary of the Croatian Military and Police undertaking called “Maslenica ’93”, which retook territory in northern Dalmatia and Lika from rebel Krajina Serb forces, with the military objective of pushing the Serb aggressor back from approaches to city of Zadar, Maslenica and Karlobag, allowing a secure land route between Dalmatia and northern Croatia to be opened. Milanovic abruptly cancelled his presence at Maslenica commemoration after he learned that some participants there, invited as part of official participants, were wearing clothes with the “HOS – For Homeland Read” (HOS – Za dom spremni) symbols, the same clothes worn by the paramilitary Croatian Defence Forces (HOS) who took a great part in defending Croatia from Yugoslav/Serb aggressor and, therefore, are unequivocally included among the pivotal creators of today’s democratic and independent state of Croatia. Of course, as their leader Milanovic, the Chief of the General Staff of the current Croatian Armed Forces, Admiral Robert Hranj, and all military commanders withdrew from the commemoration program after Milanovic announced his withdrawal.

“Since afterwards it was established that people wearing Ustasha insignia and inscriptions were also participating in the official commemoration protocol, the president cancelled his participation in the programme,” the statement from Milanovic’s office said.

This is not the first time that Zoran Milanovic insists on blatant lies about HOS and “For Home Ready” greeting! In fact, he has been consistent and uglily pushy on this! The fact that HOS that participated in defending Croatia from Yugoslav/Serb aggression was not an offshoot or continuance of WWII political environment but rather an arm of the 1990’s Croatian people’s decision to secede from communist Yugoslavia is a fact that Milanovic insists on burying and lying about.

To me, and I gather to many, this can only mean one thing and that is that Croatia’s President despises those who freed Croatia from communist Yugoslavia and fought and contributed to creating the free and independent Croatia.

That is among the reasons why Croatian government and Presidents since 2000 have persistently downplayed the role of Croatian defence forces in Croatia’s secession from communist Yugoslavia; and persistently keep on a course of degrading the value for the country of its liberating forces that fought off its brutal, bloody aggressor. Just imagine if political leaders in Britain or United States of America pursued a path of hunting down and belittling all those who during World War Two, or any war for that matter, guided their resolve to participate in freedom-creation with the motto “For God and Country!” or “For Home and Country!” Would they be impeached or banished from public positions? I think so!

And so, are Croatians supposed to accept as the country’s leader a man (Milanovic) who did not want an independent Croatia, who hid away from war battle zones when Croatian territory and people were being defended from Yugoslav/Serb aggression? I say not!

Retired General of the Croatian Army (HV) and the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) Zeljko Glasnovic has yesterday in relation to the above actions and promotion of lies about HOS forces by President Milanovic published the content below, which I have translated into the English language from Croatian:

Zeljko Glasnovic Facebook page screenshot. Embedded image portrays human (and HOS uniform) remains of Zarko Manjkasa Crvenkapa in a mass grave of Serb aggression victims near Vukovar

 “You run from this?

If you run away from this, you are also running away from the man on whose bones the state of Croatia arose.

And not just on his bones but on thousands of bones.

You are distancing yourself from this?

If you distance yourself from this, then you also distance yourself from the function you perform.

Being President is like being an officer – service, not honour. No one ‘rewarded’ you by electing you President but indebted you. Remember.

You cannot be the President of a state whose foundations you despise.

You cannot be the President of a state despising the people who created that same state.

Despising emblems.

Despising flags.

Despising symbols.

As you bow at the grave to a man who is buried with this symbol on his uniform, at the same time you drive his comrades from the grave for that same symbol.

You can’t have double standards.

If you despise the world in which you live, you also despise its Creator. It is inseparable.

You cannot praise the act of creating a state and despise its founders.

Call them provocateurs, and until yesterday saviours and liberators.

You cannot say that you respect the sacrifice of the defenders, and at the same time spit on the symbols they proudly wore while bleeding for that same homeland.

You can’t be miles away from the battlefield, waiting for an outcome in the safety of your home and 30 years later condemning the flag under which others gave their lives to so that you could live.

You should be grateful.

With your head down.

Your hands clasped.

If not in prayer, then in silence.

In pride.

On your knees, because they deserve that.

It is easy to be a Supreme Commander in peace.

Where were you when the bloody battle was being fought?

It is easy to command the army to retreat as birds sing around you.

Do you know what it’s like to give an order while the air around you smells of death?

Do you know what it’s like when you’re surrounded, when you have no air, when you’re lying wounded?

Do you know what it’s like to be a commander when you lose 20 men in one day?

And you must move on.

Do you know what it’s like when you have to come to the door of the mother of a killed soldier and tell her that her only son is gone?

And you were his superior.

Do you know what it’s like when they mutilate your brother, rape your mother, imprison your grandparents and take everything away from you?

Do you know what it’s like to look into the eyes of a raging horde of animal instincts as they torture and kill your army?

Do you know what it’s like when your wounded tortured soldier dies in your arms?

Do you know how it is when your soldier with triple bullet wounds still stands at frontlines, refusing to leave his post.

Till death.

What to say to a mother whose son has been killed, who calls you and asks you to come sleep in his bed?

What to say to a soldier who asks you for 2 days off after 4 months on the field, and you can’t give them to him because there are no people, there are no shifts, but maybe there would have been shifts had the offices of the golden youth not been full.

Do you know what it’s like when there’s no time to grieve after your comrades are killed, when you have to move on like nothing happened.

And the heart bleeds.

Do you know what it’s like to remember all your life the last words of a murdered medical corps heroine: ‘If I had 10 lives, I would give them all for Croatia.’

Do you know what it’s like when a commander is wounded and his soldiers take turns carrying him, wounded, in a tent flysheet for 2 days, not wanting to leave him?

That’s an honour.

That’s pride.

They are brothers.

That’s loyalty.

That’s fidelity.

These are concepts that you will find difficult to understand.

A commander on paper – in peace – is not the same as a commander on the ground in war.

Some are not worthy of war,

and some are not even worthy of peace.

Have we given so many lives so that you could mock?

Did we shed so much blood so that you could jubilate?

Did we fight so that you could be ashamed of us on anniversaries?

Did we create this country so that the Commander-in-Chief could suppress us?

You are not worthy of our sacrifice.

You are not worthy of being called the President.

You are not worthy of the authority of the Commander-in-Chief.

In other countries, people bow in respect to war veterans, grateful for their life made possible through their sacrifice.

In Croatia, war veterans are being killed due to injustice, disrespect, belittling and mocking the shedding of their blood.

Thanks be to God, we even fought for people like you. The ungrateful, narcissistic and arrogant, who today spit on the foundations of their homeland, trample on the sacrifice of its defenders, mock those who made life possible for them and they call themselves presidents. Until when?”

Ina Vukic

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