In Croatia: A Robe of Political Evil

Memorial cemetery of victims of Homeland War Vukovar Croatia
(inset: Kreso Beljak)


When in this day and age in Croatia the president of the Croatian Peasant Party (Hrvatska seljačka stranka/HSS) declares at the Serbian Orthodox Christmas soirée organised by the Serbian National Council in Zagreb that he deeply believes in brotherhood and unity between Serbs and Croats chills run down the spine. Chills run down the spine not because the concept of brotherhood and unity is an aversive concept generally but because, in this case, it refers to the slogan devised and used by the Yugoslav League of Communists during and post WWII to enforce totalitarian communist creed. This was the creed in which, in particular, Croatian plights for freedom of Croatia were mercilessly crushed and the pinnacle of that crushing oppression was activated in the 1990’s brutal Serb aggression against Croatia when the latter declared its independence and secession from communist Yugoslavia.

To wind back the clock when it comes to the pronounced and pervasive (if not forced) Serb-led imposition of conditions for the lack and impossibility for true brotherhood and unity between Croats and Serbs we need to wind the clock back at least one hundred years. On 5th December 1918 on the main square in Zagreb 18 Croats protesting against the formation of the first Yugoslavia (Serb led Kingdom of Serbs Croats and Slovenes/later known as Kingdom of Yugoslavia) were murdered and the 20th century era of Serb dictatorship and oppression accelerated in both speed and intensity. The first bloody Yugoslavia commenced, which not only murdered/fatally wounded Croatian founders of the Croatian Peasant Party, Stjepan Radic and Duro Basaricek, but in its rampage against Croats it pursued the decades long road of displacing and forcing into exile and emigration of Croats from Yugoslavia (Croatia). It imposed local rule by Serbs in Croatia; installed Serbs as local gendarmes in Croatia and installed Serbs at the head of military power, which committed heinous crimes against Croats and forced them to hand over their land to the Serbian Orthodox Church so that even such power could also hold Croats hostage in their own country. Then came the Second World War, Croats seeking independence from Yugoslavia but Serbs, armed with the force of Josip Broz Tito and his communists, succeeded in building themselves into the constitution of that Second Yugoslavia (communist), thus ensuring that any Croat plan for independence and self-preservation is smothered and criminalised. Communist crimes, marked by assassinations of Croats living abroad and hundreds of thousands mass graves of murdered Croats spread like wildfire. Democracies have Opposition in parliament; totalitarian Yugoslavia (Croatia) had its political emigration. When in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s Croatia mustered enough courage to again seek independence from Yugoslavia once again the Serb led aggression was horrendous. Croatia succeeded in defending itself and became independent and sovereign state. Then in 2000 came the former communists, who undeservingly call themselves antifascists, into power and with it the political degradation of Croatian independence, of Croatian national being and, sadly, this continues to the detriment of progress in democracy and self-preservation. The persistent equating of victim with the aggressor has a distressing thread that feeds nostalgia for communist Yugoslavia and attempts to trivialise, if not erase, the fact that Serb aggressor existed and exists.

That brotherhood and unity can exist in earnest between the abuser and the abused, or between an aggressor and a victim, without ensuring and contributing to justice being achieved, is evidently mean-spirited ammunition of politically evil individuals who apparently delight in the suffering of the victim or the abused, for personal political gain. Furthermore, such mean-spirited politics have the tendency to invade all aspects of culture, leaving fair-minded people dazed and speechless from sheer pain for humanity.

Indeed, Kreso Beljak’s declaration at the Serbian Orthodox Christmas soirée in Zagreb on Sunday 6 January 2019 has the hallmarks of evil politics. Certainly, there was no brotherhood and unity when 18 Croats were murdered in December 1918 in Zagreb for protesting against the formation of Serb-led Yugoslavia; certainly, there was no brotherhood and unity when the founders of his political party, Stjepan Radic and Duro Basaricek, were murdered/fatally wounded in Belgrade in June 1928; certainly there was no brotherhood and unity when multitudes of Serbs holding powerful positions within the communist Yugoslavia apparatus and committed or ordered the committing of heinous communist crimes against Croats in WWII and post-WWII Croatia and, certainly, there was no brotherhood and unity when Serbs embarked upon the vicious and genocidal aggression against Croats in the 1990’s. And this pathetic, deplorable figure of a politician, Beljak, tells the world he still believes in brotherhood and unity between Serbs and Croats! He may believe what he likes but when his belief is imposed upon the nation that still suffers gravely from the Serb aggression then his words deserve nothing less than condemnation and profound contempt.

“We live in an age of genocide, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and torture, evil threatens us in ways radically different from tsunamis and financial panics. Nature unleashes its wrath and people rush to help the victims. Evil politics shows its face and we seem paralysed over how to respond” (Political Evil, Alan Wolfe). Beljak’s declaration regarding brotherhood and unity was surely well thought out prior to its utterance at the Serb soirée in Croatia; it was uttered to insult and belittle the enormity of suffering endured by Croats in the defence of their homeland against brutal and genocidal aggression. I see no large rallies in the streets of Croatia against such politics as Beljak’s, which tear away from the truth of Serb aggression. Apart from some media of mentions to that effect, I see no affirmative actions to oust Beljak from the Croatian Peasant Party, I see no actions to strip him of the parliamentary seat he currently holds (the parliament created amidst the horrendous Serb aggression against Croatia), I see no person in the government slapping him on the wrist (to use a metaphor) for his utter cruelty towards the Croatian nation… Croatia needs to get very serious about the problem of evil politics used to undermine its own, rightful and righteous sovereign existence.

One of the chief goals of democratic politics is to achieve justice, restituting wrongs not just for particular people but also injured nation and injured groups within it. Concentrating on Croatia as a victim of Serb aggression, which it has been for over one hundred years, would not be an incidental by-product of a cultural awakening in the country where the current political quagmire is suffocating a fully orderly life, but should be an essential feature of Croatian democracy.

It was the Homeland War veterans with the other freedom and democracy aspiring people that risked becoming the victims of Serb aggression in the 1990’s – for democracy. But, today, the values defended and fought for in the same Homeland War do not enjoy enduring national pride that ensures justice and deserved acknowledgement for victims of Serb aggression. How then are we to take the apparent fact that, for sizeable segments of the Croatian population, the suffering of those who placed their life on the line for democracy and freedom – became victims – seems more likely to invite apathy or disdain? Much of Croatian politics increasingly resembles a grim contest to prove who can be the most mean-spirited; who can talk us into believing that Serb aggression did not really occur or, if it did, that it was not that bad.

In pondering upon such a question I’m reminded of the work of American social psychologist Melvin Lerner, which gives us a clue as to how or why this grim reality exists. In the 1970s, Lerner and his collaborators were struck by the widespread phenomenon of “victim blaming”.

Lerner’s explanation was that we are equipped with a cognitive bias he dubbed the Just World Hypothesis. Its implied proposition is that the world distributes rewards and punishment equally. In situations where we are confronted with suffering and are unable to do anything to alleviate that suffering we tend to resort to the assumption that the victims somehow brought their fate upon themselves. Hence, came the pressure from the EU corridors and beyond to equate the victim with the aggressor and many Croatian politicians from the former communist echelons picked up on such deplorable political harangue – with deviant glee.

Since Serbs appear to understand and promote victim politics, using them to continue denial of their aggression, ethnic cleansing and genocide in order to realise the Greater Serbia dream, then perhaps we are entering a historically right time to press on with lustration in Croatia. Giving justice particularly to the multitudes of victims of communist crimes. One can justifiably conclude that it is the severe lack of prosecuting communist crimes the injects “courage” into individuals to pursue justification of communist crimes and, hence, wrap nostalgia for communist Yugoslavia into “desirable” robes. Unless prosecution and condemnation of communist crimes in Croatia is achieved there will never be real justice for all in Croatia, nor prosperity of a functional democracy and self-determination. Booting Beljak out of the parliament (and Croatian Peasant Party) would be good sign of at least some justice in Croatia for the victims of the Homeland War in particular. Ina Vukic

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