Better Grave Than Slave

2011 is nearing to its end and it would be remiss of a commentary on Croatia’s key events of the 20th Century if it did not pay respects to the slogan of the “Croatian Spring” December 1971 student’s and citizens’ mass demonstrations and appeals:

“Bolje Grob Nego Rob”

          “Better Grave Than Slave”

December 1971 "Better Grave Than Slave" (Bolje Grob Nego Rob) police and army use force to stop mass demostrations as part of "Croatian Spring" in Zagreb, Croatia

40 years ago the people’s mass- movement in Croatia known as the “Croatian Spring” ended as 1971 drew to its close. “Croatian Silence” followed. Tito, the president of communist Yugoslavia with his strong army quashed any Croatian freedom, even the singing of traditional folksongs.

He reintroduced a nasty, repressive regime in Croatia based on the power of UDBA, Yugoslavia’s despised secret police.

In the 1950s, the Yugoslav regime attempted to create a one unique language for both Serbs and Croats: Serbo-Croatian. The two variants were respectively distinguishable by accent and pronunciation (ijekavski and ekavski), and by scripts (Latin and Cyrillic), as well as numerous words. In March 1967, several most influential cultural and scientific institutions in Croatia published a Declaration on the Name and Position of the Croatian Literary Language, demanding that Croatian and Serbian variant be treated as two separated languages. They regarded the Croatian variant was discriminated against as opposed to the Serbian one.

Croatia sought more autonomy within Yugoslavia especially within the banking and proportional fairness in the distribution of earned wealth, to have the Croatian rather than the unnatural Serbo-Croatian language constructed in Belgrade (Serbia) during 1950’s, to freely express Croatian national pride through literature, arts and song, to have more civil freedom … to retain a Croatian identity within Yugoslavia.

The Yugoslav leadership evilly labelled the whole affair as a restoration of Croatian nationalism and had the police and the army suppress the student and other demonstrators.

Army tanks, armed soldiers, police vans and cars stood on the streets of Zagreb for months after the December 1971 demonstrations.

Police patrols circled the streets at night, interrogating, beating, taking to the police stations anyone whom they pleased; young or old. More than two persons gathering as a group in public places was prohibited.

In 1971, Soviet Union leadership applied additional pressure on Tito directly by Leonid Brezhnev and indirectly by its ambassadors to Yugoslavia, to assert control of the Communist party within Yugoslavia, ostensibly adhering to the Brezhnev Doctrine.   (How the Russians Pressured Tito and Broke Croatia/article in the Croatian language)

After the calls to the student strike, in December 1971 Tito persuaded to resign some unreliable, in his view, public figures and made a sweep in Croatian communist party and local administration. Many student activists were detained and some were sentenced to years of prison.

Some estimate that up to two thousand people were criminally prosecuted for participation in these events.

Among those arrested at this time were future president of Croatia Franjo Tudjman and dissident journalist Bruno Busic (assassinated in Paris 1978 by Yugoslav UDBA secret police). There were several other notable political prisoners in Croatia from this period;  Drazen Budisa, Marko Veselica, Redomir Pejic and others.

All convicted of  “felonies against the people and the state”, “verbal offense against the state” etc–

In 2002 the confidential correspondence from the British Embassy office in Zagreb & Belgrade became available to the public. From these, Sir Dugald Stewart who was the British Ambassador to Yugoslavia 1971 – 1977, felt that the events from December 1971, Croatian Spring, will be marked as historical key events in Croatia’s flight from Serbian overbearing power.

And indeed Stewart’s hunch was right – Croatia freed itself twenty years later/1991 (sadly for total freedom it had to endure a terrible war of Serbian aggression that lasted to August 1995). article in the Croatian language.

Croatian Cross

This December also marks the 12th anniversary of the death of dr Franjo Tudjman who lived and breathed for Croatian freedom from oppression and for democracy and self-determination in Croatia.

Dr Franjo Tudjman (Franjo Tuđman) died on 10 December 1999.

In public life he was a historian, a writer, a politician, a prisoner for Croatian Spring 1971/72, sentenced to 3 years prison and 5 year public activity ban by the communist Yugoslavia in1981 for giving an interview to Swedish and German TV favouring democracy, the first President of the Republic of Croatia, 1992 – 1999.

He was a Tall Poppy that many tried to bring down, many still do. But he still stands tall in memory as a man of firm belief in Croatian people and steel courage in his battles for Croatian self-determination and truth.

Behold, we know not anything;

Dr Franjo Tuđman

I can but trust that good will fall

At last – far off – at last, to all,

And every winter change to spring.


 So runs my dream: but what am I?

An infant crying in the night:

An infant crying for the light:

And with no language but a cry.”

(In Memoriam, Canto 53 [on humanity], Alfred Lord Tennyson)

Ina Vukic, Prof.(Zgb), B.A.,M.A.Ps.(Syd)

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