Croatia: No Time For Passive Patriotism

“We are fed up with affairs of theft and corruption, we are fed up with the communist government, we are fed up with networked cells and everything. Everyone!” – chanted protesters against the Croatian HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) government on Saturday 10 September 2022, outside the Party headquarters in Zagreb.

The grand theft of about US$107 million from the country’s major oil and gas company “INA” recently uncovered, and dubbed the heist of the century, was without a doubt the trigger for this protest that openly flagged its intention to sack the government. On a visibly large scale in Croatia (as well as in its diaspora, which is economically very important to Croatia) people are sick and tired of the corruption and scandals occurring in the country against which the governments since 2000 have not in earnest waged any real attack – particularly at the grassroots where it counts the most and where real changes to the culture of corruption commence and solidify for the whole nation. This latest eruption of scandalous theft seemed the last straw of tolerance towards the government to quite a few people even if the Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic had swiftly and ceremoniously, a couple of days before the protest, announced that the funds stolen from INA had been found and secured and that “the money will not be running away anywhere”.  But still, a significant proportion of the Croatian population does not trust Plenkovic or his political party nor do they trust SDP (Socialist Democratic Party) that was also in government from time to time since year 2000.

Zagreb, September 10, 2022, anti-government protest outside the HDZ ruling party headquarters/ Photo: Pixsell/Matija Habljak

What is more alarming in Prime Minister Plenkovic’s reaction to Saturday’s protest, after a 17-year old lad had been arrested for possession of two Molotov Cocktails and an improvised knife, is that he said that in Croatia there are “people who are ready to use force to overthrow the democratically elected government, and that there are people who are organised, arming themselves and trying to change the government by force.” He and his political party have stood behind this blatant threat to freedom of expression and democracy, dressed up as some deserving comment for the good of all. How would the public know that the 17-year-old Molotov-Cocktail-carrying youth was not planted there by the government!? It’s not as if the public can trust the rotten and corrupt police services (led by former communist operatives) to get to the truth of it, especially if that truth points to the government or its associates. But, if it was true that extremist, violent groups exist in Croatia and are organised with intent of toppling the government, even by force, why has there been no such item of the nation’s security program, said members of the parliamentary opposition a few days after the protest!?

 Well, of course there are people everywhere expressing publicly their dissatisfaction with their government, their democracy, and tax-paying, guarantees them that right and obligation. Just look at the human history of mass anti-government protests. One does not try to intimidate all protesters just because one or two are found to have had “weapons”, which could have been planted there for political gain or intimidate the public against future protests of the same goal. One does not cast aspersions of violence or violent intents against a group of concerned citizens demonstrators just because one or two acted badly, independently. But to HDZ it seems that “the son is responsible for the sins of the father”. How tragic for a democracy.

Many, including myself, wish that there were more people that joined the peaceful protest on 10 September, all of them surely have no objection to police dealing with individuals who bring along weapons that could injure or kill people.

The painful truth that must be eradicated in Croatia is that the fight against corruption has been a lot like a cosmetic job whereby only a handful of large lumps of sums stolen from public coffers into private ones of politicians and highly positioned directors of public companies had been pursued for correction and convictions. Overall, court cases for this corruption and theft tend to drag on for a decade or more and somehow most of the money stolen remains mysteriously unaccounted for to the public. Plenkovic as Prime Minister has done absolutely nothing to change this media spinning profile of “corruption fighting” to include fighting corruption at all levels of public administration and services, from the lowest to the highest. 

From living as part of communist Yugoslavia for half a century Croatia inherited a profoundly infectious and destructive disease known as corruption that is heavily laden with nepotism, embezzlement, and theft. Abominably, odious corrupt habits for personal gain at every level of public administration have defined Croatia as a “economic basket case”, heavily reliant on EU handouts for survival. Corruption and nepotism are the number one problem and yet independent audits, and financial controls are largely missing or scandalously ineffective and national standards of service delivery under any legislation are inexistent and certainly not in circulation for purposes of rule of law, checks and balances. The life of ordinary people plunging into increasing poverty as the country’s economy plummets into an abyss of failed companies, thieved companies, failed farmers and fisheries particularly due to EU imposed quotas… the definite feel one gets from it all is that bribes are rampant at every public service counter, at every public service job opening at every appointment with a medical specialist in public health, at every enrolment in public schools of praiseworthy repute…    

10.09.2022., Zagreb, Croatia – anti-government protest “We dismiss you” / Photo: Matija Habljak/PIXSELL

While there are quite a few people who believe that nothing can be done to rid Croatia of corruption, that it is too deeply rooted into the public administration machinery and culture. Many people who have grown accustomed to perks from a corrupt government that dishes out rewards to those who don’t stir the pot, as it were, tolerate corruption just as many did during the era of communist Yugoslavia. Thankfully, there are also many who feel a strong sense of fidelity to Croatia’s democracy as intended by the War of Independence or Homeland War of the 1990’s. It is to the latter that this predicament of widespread corruption presents greater challenges with intent to eradicate corruption than what it does for those who are willing to abandon or be complacent towards meaningful fight against corruption and are supporting (or tolerating) the governments whose main impetus since 2000 has been to act in concert with the Serb aggressor and its cells in Croatia with view to equate the victim with the aggressor.

Modern Croatia’s founding values are without a doubt those that were set in motion with the overwhelming national determination to secede from communist Yugoslavia and it is almost past the time of reckoning with the extent of damage perpetrated against the Croatian national story by any political party or government since year 2000, strongly laced with communist roots and operations from former Yugoslavia. Hence, protests such as the one that occurred in Zagreb on Saturday 10 September may indeed be a sign of strength in the people rather than a whim of few individuals, would be leaders or politicians. The disabling factor, though, is that there are too many individuals in Croatia who tend to their own handful of followers, form a political party or movement, and claim they, and only they, can “change the world”. A leader must be identified and supported for any joint political force in Croatia that would indeed be successful in “sacking” or dismissing any government that harbours communist Yugoslavia values and morals, that places the aggressor above those who defended the country from that aggressor.

It is a fact that every nation is a unique story upon which its survival depends.

That fact remains regardless of the globalist and leftist push to muddy those individual national stories and blend all into an amorphous mass of subservient people across the globe to a powerful few.

A national story is almost never a simple one. National identity itself, and therefore – prosperity, invariably depend upon how we tell the story of our nation – about our past, our present moment, and our future. Croatian story in essence is the one that tells us that Croatia started as rightful Kingdom of its own in early 10th century, continued independent until 1102 AD to be forced into becoming a subservient nation to various occupying and imperialistic foreign kingdoms, empires, or republics to be finally freed in 1995 because of the victorious Homeland War, defending itself from brutal Serb and Yugoslav forces of aggression. The latter, therefore, is what in its story the Croatian nation must accentuate for the sake of its own survival and prosperity, regardless of the fact it is now an EU member state. Neither the HDZ nor the SDP have shown the capacity to tell the story of the Croatian nation. They both missed or downplayed intentionally the crucial significance of the 1990’s Homeland War for the nation’s story. They insisted and still insist on inflicting pain upon the Croatian nation by collaborating in government not with the Serb minority that fought in the war to defend Croatia from Serb aggression but with the Serb minority directly associated with the anti-Croatia aggression, murders, destruction!

Many national stories are rooted in a particular ethnicity or religion that forms the core of that national identity. In Croatia, as in some other countries around the world, things are more complicated. Since the founding of modern and independent Croatia that sought secession from communist Yugoslavia, Croatia’s national identity has been the story that is constantly poisoned by former communists and their descendants. Be that from the writing of Croatia’s Constitution by former communist operatives just before the Serb and Yugoslav aggression started, to the failure in changing promptly that Constitution once the victory over the aggressor was achieved. At that point in time all references to any communist Yugoslavia “achievements” for independence of Croatia should have been removed from the constitution because communists/partisans in World War Two fought to keep Croatia within Yugoslavia, not to free it from it. But such changes to the Constitution were not made!

There lies the greatest culprit for the boldness of former communists and their descendants for the licence they have written for themselves to underplay the victory in the War of Independence or Homeland War as the centre of the Croatian national story.

The door opened to democracy in Croatia by the Homeland War victory is worth saving indeed. If not via elections (which are reputed to be corrupt) then on the streets with more and more peaceful protests. No government had ever welcomed a protest against it, and it rings so true that if a government told and lived their nation’s story then there would be no protests against it in the sense of bringing it down completely.

Croatian people need to save the soul of Croatia. The soul that achieved its independence in the 1990’s. That was the last time Croatia had a real sense of purpose and that sense was felt nationwide.

To achieve such a national sense of purpose the success will require political leadership and the mobilisation of citizens and various sectors of Croatian society—including cultural, media, and business institutions that have often been reticent to engage in debates that drift in the direction of politics. The wielding of political leadership and power achieved via dismal voter turnouts is no real national leadership.

10/09/2022 Zagreb Croatia – Anti Government protest (You have stolen our future, we dismiss you)/ Photo: Cropix/ Dragan Matic

This is no time for passive patriotism!

Croatian democracy will not survive if Croatians lazily assume that enough people will just come to their senses and recognise that it must be saved—that there is something fixed in the national character that ensures people will live decently and have all opportunities for advancement a democracy offers. There’s nothing inevitable at all about the verdict of history because the history depends on the people creating it. The reliance upon government coffers and corrupt practices has given many families in former Yugoslavia an acceptable standard of living – that was simply the political way communism sought to survive; this though cannot last but Croatia is significantly impoverished through corruption and poverty is on the increase. Croatians must fight for their national story to be weaved into their legislation, into their everyday lives and it is becoming very clear that organised massive and peaceful protests in the streets are becoming the only tool available to the promise of success in living the national story for which rivers of Croatian blood were spilled in the 1990’s.  The transition from communism to democracy demands people power. It is everyone’s responsibility and duty to ensure Croatia becomes free of communist Yugoslavia completely. Ina Vukic

Croatia: Poor Levels of Democratisation Continue as Corruption Prevails

Over the past thirty years, Croatia has witnessed democratic transitions take root across all levels of government and society. That was, after all, the choice its people had overwhelmingly made from 1990. Millions of oppressed people in Croatia, who voted in 1991 (94% of voters) to secede from and sever all ties with the totalitarian regime of communist Yugoslavia, are still struggling to realise true freedom and shared opportunity due to deep rooted corruption in governments. The transition from communism to democracy has since year 2000, after President Dr Franjo Tudjman’s death, been teetering on the edge of truly meaningful transition to more free society because former communist high operatives in Yugoslavia took hold of the government and power in their main stations.

Democratic gains made up to year 2000 stalled after that year or even deteriorated as fragile democratic institutions buckled under the enormous challenges of governance that was and is still nurturing corruption and nepotism and equal opportunities and competition on merit rather than political suitability remained the enemy of true progress with democracy.

It is usual to keep asking the question of how far along has Croatia come in developing its democracy after all these years? How does one measure the degree and even the type of democracy Croatia was desirous of developing and for which it spilled rivers of its own blood during the Homeland War of 1990’s?

Despite a vast academic literature on democratisation in the past twenty years in particular, the factors that allow some democratic transitions to succeed as others stall or backslide remain poorly understood by policymakers and, indeed, much of the public or consumers of democracy. And particularly so in Croatia which sees incompetent, often with strong traces of communist indoctrination, people employed in government institutions through family or friendship ties (nepotism) regardless of their abilities to perform the job they are employed to do. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the relative importance of economic development and modernisation, economic structure, inequality, governance and rule of law, civil society and media, structure of government, and education have been exhaustively debated throughout the world and so too in Croatia.

Several civil society and academic organisations have launched projects that measure the health of democracies across the world. Components of measuring democracy and according to three indexes, among many, are as follows:
Freedom House Index:
• Elections • Participation • Functioning of Government • Free Expression
• Organisational Right • Rule of Law • Individual Rights
Economist Intelligence Unit Index: • Elections • Participation • Functioning of Government • Political Culture • Civil Liberties
V-Dem Index: • Elections • Participation • Deliberation • Egalitarianism
• Liberalism (individual rights)

While one would struggle to find a body or institution, or even professional research, in Croatia whose main aim is to provide measures and progress and state of democracy in Croatia it is perhaps most useful to examine the two basic indicators of democratisation that can be used separately to measure the level of democracy, but, because they are assumed to indicate two different dimensions of democratisation, it is reasonable to argue that a combination of them would be a more realistic indicator of democracy than either of them alone. These are Participation and Competition. Participation is as important dimension of democracy as competition. If only a small minority, or barely half of the adult population eligible to vote takes part in elections, the electoral struggle for power is restricted to the upper stratum of the population, and the bulk of the population remains outside national politics and influence for change. In Croatia there has been both dwindling and gradual decline of turnout at elections since year 2000, Parliamentary or National Assembly/Sabor and Presidential elections have followed a similar trajectory of participation reduction.

In the first multi-party elections in 1990, at the dawn of wanting secession from communist Yugoslavia, three parliamentary chambers were elected in a two-round majoritarian system: the Social-Political Council, the Council of Municipalities and the Council of Associated Labour. Turnout for the election each chamber varied. It was as follows: Social-Political council (84.5% in first round in all constituencies, 74.82% in second round in 51 of 80 constituencies), Council of Municipalities, which was abolished in 2001, (84.1% in first round, 74.6% in second round) and Council of Associated Labour (76.5% in first round in all constituencies, 66% in second round in 103 of 160 constituencies).

In 1991 the referendum for secession from Yugoslavia, the Croatian Independence Referendum, saw a staggering 93.24% electoral turnout and participation.
In 1992 General Elections for Parliament or National Assembly saw an admirable 75.6% turnout,
1995 elections saw 68.8% turnout,
2000 elections saw 70.5% turnout,
2003 saw 61.7% turnout,
2007 elections saw 59.5%,
2011 elections saw 54.3% turnout,
2015 elections saw 60.8% turnout,
2016 elections saw 52.6% turnout,
2020 elections saw 46.4% turnout.

Similar pattern of dwindling and reducing participation was seen at Presidential elections in Croatia and referendums during the same decades.

One may say that reducing voter turnout is a pattern seen in many democracies across the world. For Croatia, though, a country that was so highly determined to exit the communist regime voter turnouts were expected to remain high for several decades as transition into full democracy continues. But former communists made sure such a transition was not to be smooth or thorough! Sadly! The exceptional will to fight for a fully democratic Croatia we witnessed in the 1990’s Homeland War in Croatia appears weakened and intimidated, just as it used to be during the life of communist Yugoslavia that saw progress into freedom and autonomy cruelly crushed. Today, the crushing is done in sophisticated and stealth ways.

Power sharing is then certainly more superficial in societies where voter turnout at elections that are competitive with multiple parties running is low and significant proportion of voters do not participate in deciding who and how the new governments will move forward than in societies where most of the adult population takes part in elections. Both dimensions, participation and competition, are equally important and necessary for democratisation. Political competition in Croatia has been strong with almost too many political parties and independents competing. It is often heard that comparing to its voting population (around 3.6 million) the existence of some 170 political parties, many of which compete at general elections, is a nightmare of its own. It suggests wide distrust in existing political parties and political leaders as well as the hopeless notion that just about anyone can be a politician and successfully lead the country. But does such a relatively high level of competition compensate for the relative lack of participation in the democratic processes in Croatia is a question the answer to which is obviously no. Just as a high level of participation cannot compensate for a low level of competition. While closely associated with the level of democratisation each of these two dimensions contain factors and facets that are equally important if democracy will thrive.

The level of democratisation is considered high if both participation and competition variables are high. While competition is high in Croatia its value for democratisation is low because elections have since year 2000 become not free elections but rather marred by justified distrust in the electoral commission, in vote counts and corrupt practices. Hence, competition at elections in Croatia means very little as the overt healthy competition does not end up with healthy or trusted true results of voter choice. Votes stolen or falsified, or suspected of being stolen and fabricated, is a scandal that had blanketed all general elections in Croatia since year 2000.

Gradually, over the past two decades in Croatia voter distrust has become the main culprit for relatively low participation. The justified fear of unwanted communist mindset and practices having crept into Croatia’s power corridors has influenced significant disappointment and distrust in the electoral procedures and democracy itself, which led to significant voter abstinence during elections. One often hears in Croatia ‘what’s the use of voting when the election results have been determined or fixed in advance’! In more than two decades Croatian authorities have failed miserably in building people’s trust in the electoral system and have in this way also contributed to a relatively poor level of democratisation. Croatia has failed miserably at providing for proper and due access to polling stations for all its voters and voters living abroad, which are many due to massive emigration, suffer the gravest discrimination and denial of voting right through lack of reasonable access to polling.

Measuring democratisation of Croatia has not, as I said, been pursued in Croatia with any vigour, regularity, credibility, or reliability. Perhaps that is because the government is not in the business of either measuring its democracy itself or funding NGO’s or institutions to do the measuring of progress. Perhaps also because of fear of reprisals from the government in case any such measure inevitably means criticism of the government. It is not unusual in Croatia to see government critics and opponents being ostracised, ignored, or blackened purposefully. But thankfully external organisations across the world who monitor democracy and democratisation have produced ample reports and studies on the state of democracy in Croatia and while some may be biased on political grounds many provide solid guiding information. For example, in 2020 Freedom House has in its ‘Nations In Transit’ report among other things said the following about democracy in Croatia:

“The year 2020 saw no real improvement in Croatia’s democracy… In 2020, the Croatian judiciary convicted former prime minister and HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) leader Ivo Sanader, as well as the HDZ itself, on corruption and money-laundering charges. These convictions came more than 10 years after the crimes were committed and may yet be appealed. Sanader and the HDZ had previously been convicted in 2014, but those sentences were later overturned.

The year was marked by notable cases of grand corruption, including a major pre-election scandal involving the high-ranking HDZ official and former Knin mayor Josipa Rimac. Alongside a dozen other important political figures, Rimac stood accused of favouritism in assigning a lucrative wind farm contract. An illegal private club in Zagreb frequented during the COVID-19 lockdown by politicians (including the president) was run by Dragan Kovacevic, former CEO of the state-owned oil transport company JANAF. Under his leadership, JANAF mismanaged public procurements, and Kovacevic was found to have personally accepted large bribes. These and other instances demonstrated a pattern: unless scandals come to the surface through journalistic investigations or other means, Croatian institutions do not wholeheartedly pursue inquiries into grand corruption…

The relatively large electoral competition in Croatia has seen during the past five years increased electoral campaign-finance laws passed that have increased transparency but, also, have failed to close several loopholes. Political influence over the media is strong, with reporters who criticise the government subject to dismissal, and defamation suits often used to intimidate or harass journalists. Media pluralism is quite limited. Hence, high competition hides low competition as access to mainstream media by all competitors is selective and discriminatory.

Regulations are sometimes inconsistent and subject to frequent change. Courts lack independence, and a significant case backlog persists. High-profile politicians and public figures have been indicted, but many prominent individuals have been acquitted after interference by powerful interests.”

The state of democratisation in Croatia has not changed since 2020, which saw the lowest turnout at presidential and general elections in the history of Croatian independence and secession from communist Yugoslavia. Participation, therefore, as a key variable in the level of democracy is dangerously low and with grand corruption (corruption at all levels of society and economy whether by theft, nepotism or bribery) plaguing the country still serious political crises loom. In February of this 2022 year Croatian construction minister Darko Horvat was arrested in a corruption probe and investigations continue into his alleged abuse of power while in office. In March of this year, former Sisak-Moslavina County Prefect Marina Lovric Mercel was sentenced by the Zagreb County Court to seven years in prison for a series of corrupt practices while running one of Croatia’s poorest counties.

Until a different path is taken by the country’s leadership, the government first and foremost, it is unlikely that Croatia’s democracy will fundamentally improve. It is likely that the communist mindset will continue ruling; it is likely that corruption and thievery will hold their front of co-dependency within the leadership and power corridors unless, of course, drastic measures are taken by the people that have at their helm a steel determination to rid Croatian power lines of communists and communist Yugoslavia high operative’s children and grandchildren whose mindset and behaviour have been shaped by communism.

It is said that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear! It is impossible to make something very successful or of high quality out of something which is unsuccessful or of poor quality. Yugoslav communists knew ‘sod all’ about democracy and they did not care for true democracy and power sharing; egotistic pursuits were the threads in the fabric of Yugoslav communist pursuits. Since year 2000 Croatian leadership has been saturated with the proverbial sows! People in positions because of their political weight and personal association with those already in power and not because of professional merit. Democratisation in Croatia maintains a cosmetic mask – Croatia’s leaders keep associating themselves and their policies with those of the European Union. But, in fact, the application and practice of those policies are at pathetic level ruled by corrupt practices on the ground. Ina Vukic

Croatia: A Nation’s Unrelenting Grief and Suffering On 29th Anniversary of Serb Aggression

Zeljko Glasnovic (Top centre), Jure Buric (bottom right corner), Tomislav Mercep (bottom right centre), Mato Mostarac (top right)

It has been a balmy breeze I stood in all this poignant week in Sydney, Australia, as I watched and participated in the profoundly moving emotions of the grieving Croatian nation. It was a week of the 29th anniversary of the blood-soaked fall of Vukovar in 1991, of bestial massacres of Croatians by Serbs in Skabrnja, of the death of widely revered hero who tried with all his might and unstoppable courage to prevent the Yugoslav and Serb aggressor decimating the Croatian people – Tomislav Mercep (according to multitude of credible claims, convicted by Croatian courts of war crimes on basis of trumped-up charges) and the death of dr. Anto Kovacevic, political prisoner of former communist Yugoslavia and a fearless activist for democratic and independent Croatia. I faced and saw multitudes of inconsolably sobbing widows, widowers and grown children, brothers, sisters, neighbours… of those Croatians whose life was brutally and cruelly cut short in the 1990’s during the Serb aggression against Croatia.

To make matters horribly worse and to keep the Croatian nation in perpetual grief (and anger) Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and his government, which comprises of Serbs associated with 1990’s bloody aggression against Croatia, in this same week announces a new law that would provide war pensions even to the Serb civilian victims of the 1990’s in Croata! The agony Plenkovic and his government are inflicting upon Croatian victims of Serb aggression has no bounds it seems.

This Croatian government’s mindset is deplorable and depraved.  

As far as I can see that new law does not even take into consideration the fact that most Serb civilians in the rebel-Serb areas of Croatia brutalised, ethnically cleansed of Croats, occupied for years by those Serbs, would not satisfy the definition of civilians because they were complicit in one way or another with the aggression, tortures, banishments of Croats, murders … any so-called Serb civilians participated in Serb hostilities against Croats in Croatia before and during the Homeland War and the new law and its regulation does not appear to provide measures of essential proof as to who was a “true” civilian and who was a “civilian combatant”, helping willingly the anti-Croat Yugoslav and Serb military on their path of destruction, murder, genocide, torture, rape, ethnic cleansing.

I did not see during this week of mourning in Croatia either the Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic or the President Zoran Milanovic summon the people of Croatia to look beyond grief, to believe that the deaths they mourned had not been in vain. The President Zoran Milanovic laid a wreath in Vukovar’s Ovcara memorial field where the Serbs in 1991 slaughtered hundreds of Croatian wounded and sick, carting them off to their execution at that spot from the devastated Vukovar Hospital but je said not a single word while or after laying the wreath; his lips did not move, not even in silent prayer for the slaughtered victims. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic walked with the procession from Vukovar’s hospital to the Ovcara killing field, saying that “it is important to pursue information about those still missing,” from the Homeland War. But in that procession of remembrance he took with him his deputy prime minister, Boris Milosevic, a Serb, who came to Vukovar to lay a wreath for the aggressor and murdering Serbs who died during their bestial attacks against Croatians!

Speaking about the presence of Croatian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Milosevic in the procession of remembrance in Vukovar, Plenkovic said that “Croatia won the Homeland War and thus extended a hand for coexistence to minorities… These are the messages of the future, focused on the values we share…” To add salt to the wounds of the atrocious attempts to equate the victims with the aggressor in Croatia, the Special Envoy of the President of Serbia for Resolving the Issue of Missing Persons with Croatia, Veran Matic, also huddled in Vukovar with a wreath for victims. His presence is mockery of Croatians, both fallen and living – both he and Serbia’s President Aleksander Vucic have and had means to access information about the missing Croatians from the days of aggression and still after almost 30 years they all keep silent with that information, hiding it on purpose.  And there are no messages to that effect coming from either the President or the Prime Minister of Croatia!

As to Serb civilians being “civilian combatants” in aid of Serb aggression against Croatia I am reminded this week of the heart-wrenching story of a Croatian man from Croatia’s Vukovar who ended up in Sydney, Australia, to recover from unspeakable tortures by the hand of Serb “civilians” during the 1990’s after the International Red Cross had come across the Manjaca concentration camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mato Mostarac told his harrowing story in 1995 to the ABC TV documentary program Four Corners, which was producing the award-winning documentary film “The Coward’s War”, headed by Australia’s renowned investigative journalist Chris Masters. I myself assisted as psychologist and interpreter in the interviewing for the documentary film of the deeply traumatised survivors of Serb aggression.

Mato Mostarac’s Serb neighbours in Vukovar broke into his yard in late August 1991, beat his wife who cowered in pain and was paralysed from it, and forcefully took him with other Croats in a truck to the Begejci concentration camp in Serbia, for a while in Begejci and then transferred to the Serb-held Manjaca concentration camp (Bosnia and Herzegovina); a death camp of brutality unseen since WWII. Serbs cut and chopped Mato and the other Croatian victims with a razor blade over their bodies and faces, tortured and raped or forced them to watch a detainee father rape his detained son and vice versa… Many indications show that Serb civilians were largely not civilians but cruel torturers and murderers of Croats, in aid of the communist and Serb aggression against Croatia. When I met Mato Mostarac, his whole face and body were marked with numerous thin and long scars from razor blade cuts… Here is a bit of what Mato Mostarac told us at the shooting of the 1995 Australian state television documentary ABC “The Coward’s War”:

„After they (Serbs) took their turns I was completely covered in blood. I had a white jumper on, and everything was soaked in blood. I ate all my blood, dried blood, it dried all over me. I’d pluck it together with the fibres from the jumper and all that. I’d eat all that event the blood from my hair. I ate everything … hungry…hungry…and they just give you water…“

As to the passing of Tomislav Mercep and on the fact that some consider Mercep a national hero while others (mainly die-hard communists of former Yugoslavia) consider him a war criminal, here is what, according to Fenix Magazine, Croatian newspaper base din Germany, dr Jure Buric (wartime Mayor of devastated Dubrovnik, former member of Croatian Parliament) said this week:

„Tomislav Mercep – for some a hero, for others a criminal. The latter have a court verdict they can wave around for something like that, and the former have common sense and a good memory of his heroic deeds at a time when a rifle and a cannon and a pencil and a bad word attacked him and his homeland. Is it heroism to defend his home? It is! Is it heroism to defend your people? It is!

And? – there is further and no further. There is no further, because when a man defends himself, he can do something dishonourable, but even that dishonourable deed should be viewed through the prism of reality and the moment when we cannot all control our emotions and actions, because it is not a ballroom dance with pleasant music and chess. The buzzing of bullets and destructive grenades are the music here, and on the board are living, not wooden figures. So who is who ?! A punishment is enough for an honest man if he realises that he did something dishonourable, because he has to live with it. He doesn’t even need a punishment that will make the other side happy and drive him to the grave ahead of time.

For such a thing, courts and court scales are needed, on which everything should not be thrown in order for the desired party to prevail.

With Tomislav Mercep, the court scales tipped against him and it was not easy for him or us to watch the hero rot, like my friend the late prefect Đuro Brodarac (who died in prison), who was met by the same fate.

Only you, the latter, rejoice in his death, but know that there are infinitely many more of the former – those who mourn him and pray to God for his soul!“

As to Veran Matic’s visit to Vukovar this week representing Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic, retired general and former Member of Croatian Parliament, Zeljko Glasnovic, summarised so clearly and aptly the widespread sentiments across Croatia and its diaspora in his Facebook status:

„Veran, continue to be “faithful to your fatherland” and do not tell empty stories once a year when you come to Croatia. What kind of reconciliation are you talking about, what kind of cooperation and search for the missing are you talking about? You know where they went missing, why don’t you tell us Veran? You come to worship falsely and provoke false sympathy. Did you lay a wreath in the centre of Vukovar where in April, 45 years ago, 200 most prominent citizens of Vukovar were killed by the army that fought under the same five-pointed star under which Vukovar was destroyed in ’91? Did you lay a wreath at a mass execution site near Vukovar where 400 Croatian soldiers were killed by the same communist villains at the same time?

You will show the true respect you are talking about only when you say ‘SORRY, WE HAVE COMMITTED AGGRESSION AGAINST CROATS, we killed you, we raped your wives, we killed your children, we looted and burned your homes, we demolished your churches, we took out eyes, cut off hands, ears and fingers of your defenders, we buried them in pits, because of us mothers do not know where the graves of their children are, we have turned your people into refugees, we killed civilians and the wounded, we massacred them, we abused them, we are still silent today about where your missing are, SORRY WE REPENT.’

The persistent equating of the victim with the aggressor does not make your kneeling credible, Veran, no matter how much you cause your knees to bleed in Ovcara and other execution sites, you and those who will come after you. Veran, what kind of delay in normalisation and the search for the missing are you talking about? There is no delay, WE do not know Veran where our people disappeared to, YOU know and are silent. Who’s at a standstill here?

Tell us, Veran, who carried out the aggression on Croatia – we defended ourselves, and died while defending our country for the freedom of our people. After your ‘pal’ Sljivancanin (Veselin) was released from prison (after serving two-thirds of 17-year sentence for ICTY war crimes in Vukovar conviction) he gave a statement that ‘he did not finish his job in Vukovar’, and you would like to reconcile? You are covering up crimes against Croats just as all Croatian governments are covering up the communist crimes from World War II.

Veran, until the last bone is found, until you all kneel and cry over your crimes, until all your war criminals are punished, until you pay the last penny, until you admit aggression, until you open the archives, NONE of you need to come to any of our anniversaries. ALL of you, Veran, are persona non grata in Croatia for me. And not only you, but also half of our government that cooperates with you as the UDBA (communist Yugoslavia Secret Services) did to cover up and forget as many crimes as possible. A prime example of this, despite all the relevant evidence, is the honourable man Nikola Kajkic, who exposed you and was no longer suitable for our institutions while in the case of the betrayal and surrender of our generals to The Hague they were very expeditious and quick: “Locate, identify, arrest, transfer “. You just continue kneeling, Veran, our killed people also knelt before you as you (all)  brutally executed them – but they received no mercy.“

No memorial or monument to Croatian suffering such as Ovcara/Vukovar and Skabrnje during the 1990’s Homeland War should be a diving board for politics and especially not the politics of equating the victim with the aggressor. This is unacceptable, cruel and designed to keep the Croatian people who fought for and defended Croatia and Croatians for independence. Perpetual grief for the sufferings Croatians endured or fell victim to has not yet steeled the Croatian people for the future they lost rivers of blood for in the Homeland War. Grief should unite towards building a better future but, alas, the Croatian government and leadership continue interrupting that positive outcome from national grief…their sights are set on diminishing the value and the direction Croatian people took at the risk of their own lives from the very bloody dawn of Serb aggression. Time to put the foot down against the thugs in Croatian government and leadership who equate brazenly and cruelly the victim with the aggressor. Ina Vukic

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