Canadian Croatians And Memorial To Victims Of Communist Crimes

Croatian Martyrs Church, Mississauga, Canada
7 January 2018
From Left:
Ivan Grbesic (TTL), Reverend Ivan Vuksic, Alide Forstmanis (TTL),
Reverend Tomislav Kasic, General Zeljko Glasnovic (MP),
Tanya Granic Allen (Director, Croatian Heritage Association), Ivana Mandac (Director, Croatian Heritage Association)

Communism is estimated to have killed at least 100 million people worldwide, yet its crimes have not been fully compiled and its ideology still persists. In Croatia, the number of communist crimes victims is astonishing, and, yet, still rising, as new mass graves are being discovered and existing ones researched. The enormity of communist crimes is astonishing, which means difficult to comprehend. Yet, the mixture of speculative communist teaching and its fanatic delirium that pervades all milestones to progress towards a functional democratic state of Croatia leaves the bitter impression that communist mindset evidently goes on like an endemic illness.

Were civil activities and organisations in Croatia as free and as enabled to address the problems communist heritage fuels for general progress, economic robustness and society’s well being as civil activities are in Western democracies then one would come across a similar picture to the one rendered via October 2017 results of the Survey conducted in the US under the auspices of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. 75% of those participating in the survey (of all generations) consider that “Communism was and is still a problem”. And yet, communism is not a current threat nor do its teachings or habits interfere with citizens’ daily lives the way they do in Croatia.

Survey results October 2017
Victims of Communism Foundation, Washington, USA

It is, therefore, of special significance to maintain awareness of the fact that Croatian communities living within the Western democracies have always and are active in preserving the memory of communist crimes in former Yugoslavia (particularly Croatia) and their victims.

During this past weekend the Croatian Catholic parishes in greater Toronto area, Canada, with their community have presented to the charitable organisation Tribute to Liberty (TTL), whose sole mission is to build the Memorial to the Victims of Communism (about which I have also written in previous articles), with a $40,000 donation towards the building of the Memorial and, hence, made a notable impact in being included in this paramount project for victims of communist terror and horror – prior to this date and via fundraising activities carried on by the Canadian Croatian Chamber of Commerce $25,000 towards the building of the Memorial had already been donated. The presentation of the donation on Sunday 7 January 2018, Mississauga, that occurred in a church full of parishioners was carried out by Reverend Tomislav Kasic (Croatian Martyrs Parish – Mississauga) and Reverend Ivan Vuksic (Holy Trinity Parish – Oakville and also a delegate for the Croatian Bishops’ Conference for Bosnia and Herzegovina in Canada) on behalf of the Croatian Catholic parishes in Canada.

General Zeljko Glasnovic, Member of Croatian Parliament representing the Croatian diaspora was also there, taking part in the donations cheque presentation and addressing those in attendance. Thus, his presence perhaps also signalling that although the battles and efforts to decommunise Croatia (including the implementation of lustration), to which he subscribes strongly as a matter of both political platform and concrete actions, may appear and be a far post to reach, it is not unreachable.

Mr Ivan Grbesic, a member of the board of directors of Tribute to Liberty organisation,  a member of the board of directors of the Canadian-Croatian Chamber of Commerce and a Canadian Croatian representative and president on the Advisory Committee to the Croatian government’s Office for Croats living abroad, who lives in Canada, was also present. Canadian Croatian Community, including Montreal, Ottawa, Windsor, Vancouver and Winnipeg, among others, continues fundraising towards the building of the Memorial to the Victims of Communist Crimes in Ottawa.

When asked why he got involved with Tribute To Liberty charitable organisation, Ivan Grbesic, replied:

My father fled Herzegovina in 1965 when he was called to serve in the Yugoslav Peoples Arny – he went first to Austria and then to Canada – with my mother following suit in 1974. My father did not formally return to Croatia until 1990.

Given the experience of Croatians with communism after World War II, including Tito’s dictatorship, the death marches in Bleiburg, the ‘death pits’ all across Slovenia and Croatia, the trial of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, the activities of the secret police (UDBA), the assassinations and liquidations of Croatian émigrés, the student uprising during Croatian Spring (Hrvatsko Proljeće) in the early 1970’s, and the images of Goli Otok (Barren Island – prison for political opponents to communism during former Yugoslavia times) not to mention the carnage caused by those wearing the ‘red star’ during the Croatian War of Independence, this project is of significant importance to me personally. I want to make sure that these aforementioned chapters in our history are memorialised and that when my four children walk by the Memorial, they recall, among other things, the suffering and struggle of those who came before them in order for them to be able to lead the life they live. While we need to look towards the future, it is important to know who you are and where you come from. Were it not for the communist regime in the former Yugoslavia, many of us would likely not be living outside of Croatia today.”

Indeed, a similar personal story would be found with each and every one of the more than 8 million Canadians whose family roots are set in communist regimes of the past and, perhaps, of the present. The similar story would be found in many democratic countries of today.

It is estimated that there are over 8 million people living in Canada whose roots are in countries that suffered under communist regimes and the Memorial is a result of joint efforts by volunteers from various ethno-cultural communities in Canada including the Croatian one.

Memorial to Victims of Communism, Ottawa, Canada
Tribute to Liberty Project

The Memorial to the Victims of Communism – Canada, a Land of Refuge will recognise Canada’s international role as a place of refuge for people fleeing injustice and persecution and honour the millions who suffered under communist regimes. The project has had a number of setbacks in the past few years particularly with the 2015 changes of government in Canada and community at large making it, through consultation processes, a most contentious new landmark. Immersed in politics from birth, it has provoked strong opposition to its size, design and prime location. The space had for decades been reserved for a new justice building; it wasn’t even on the feds’ list of possible sites for future monuments and memorials. But, 2017 proved to be the year of major positive turnaround and progress.

The design of the Memorial, titled the “Arc of Memory” (created by Team Raff, May 2017)) is a dynamic living calendar, designed to capture the many moments of suffering and injustice to be commemorated, in solace and in gratitude. It’s a sculptural array of over 4,000 bronze rods configured into a sweeping arc. Over 4000 bronze rods are arranged along 365 slender posts, each one pointing at a unique angle of the sun, for every hour of every day, across a year. The memorial is divided in the middle at the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, inviting visitors to step through in a metaphorical journey from darkness and oppression to lightness and liberty. At a distance, the sculptural array of bronze rods expresses the vastness of the suffering of individuals under communist regimes. Up close, the memorial invites visitors to reflect on their own experiences.

The construction of the Memorial is scheduled to commence in the spring of 2018. The unveiling of the memorial is expected in November 2018 or early 2019. Ina Vukic

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