CROATIA: MYTH AND REALITY
CROATIA AND THE CROATIANS
Croatia emerged as a unified nation state in 925 A.D. and, through a personal union under a single king, joined what would become the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the twelfth century. Throughout the history of the Empire, Croatia maintained varying degrees of autonomy with its own Ban or Viceroy and Sabor or Parliament, which first met in 679 A.D. Following World War I, Croatia was absorbed into the new artificial state that would become Yugoslavia. From 1918-1941, the first Yugoslavia was little more than an extension of Serbia with a Serbian king, ruling from the Serbian capital of Belgrade, with Serbian laws. This marked the first time in history that the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Montenegrins, and Macedonians had lived together in a single state. The history of royalist Yugoslavia was marked by the brutal suppression of Croatian political, human, and civil rights.
The Croatian nation rallied around the Croatian Peasant Party and Stjepan Radic, its elderly, nearly blind, pacifist leader. Radic, along with four other Croatian leaders, was gunned down by a Serbian Deputy on the floor of Parliament in 1928. Serbian King Alexander Karageorgevic followed this blow by declaring himself absolute dictator and banning all political parties. Croatian Parliamentary Deputy Ante Pavelic then formed the Ustase ("Insurgent") Croatian Liberation Movement to gain independence by force. Alexander was assassinated in 1934 and was succeeded by his cousin Prince Regent Paul, an Oxford educated half Russian who cared little about politics or Yugoslavia.
World War II
Between 1934 and 1941 Yugoslavia moved closer to Hitler under the leadership of Milan Stojadinovic, who formed his own storm troops and adopted the title Vodja or Fuhrer. Later Premier Dragisa Cvetkovic would lead Yugoslavia into the Axis fold with Mussolini and Hitler on March 24, 1941. Almost immediately a military coup was staged by two Serbian air force generals assisted by the British secret service.
Finding instability on his southern flank unacceptable on the eve of the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler ordered the immediate conquest of Yugoslavia. The Serbdominated army surrendered without a fight. The Government and Serbian royal family fled to Britain with millions in gold and established the Yugoslav Government-in-Exile which laid the entire blame for the war and defeat on the Croatians.
Pavelic's Ustase immediately took control of Croatia including Bosnia and Hercegovina. The new Croatian state was divided into German and Italian occupation zones while Italy annexed large parts of Dalmatian Croatia outright. Italy declared Croatia to be an Italian Kingdom and even named a king who never set foot in his erstwhile domain. The Croatian State, known by its Croatian initials NDH, never fully gained control of the country but mounted a fierce resistance against the Serbian Royalist Cetnik and Communist-led Partizans operating in Croatia and Bosnia. The Croatian state also sent air, naval, and infantry units to fight on the Russian Front. Most of the infantry perished at Stalingrad. Serbia became a Nazi puppet state under General Milan Nedic who intensified the persecution of Jews, Gypsies, and Croatians that had begun under the royalist regime before the War.
On June 22, 1941, now a national holiday in Croatia, a unit of forty Croatian Partizans launched an attack on occupation forces near the Croatian city of Sisak. This marked the beginning of the first, largest, and only successful war of liberation against the Nazis. The Partizans, led by a Croatian, Josip Broz Tito, were disproportionatly Croatian in number. By 1943 over 300,000 Partizans had liberated large sections of Croatia and Bosnia establishing a state that was recognized by the Allies as the legal government the following year.
While the Partizans consisted of fighters of every nationality, only two divisions were Serbian, one was Montenegrian, seven were Bosnian and eleven were Croatian. Much of the leadership of the Partizans was communist and the outlawed Communist Party contributed the organizational structure needed to emerge victorious. However, ninty-five per cent of the Partizans were noncommunist peasants and workers of every political stripe, especially members of the Croatian Peasant Party. Each fought for the promise of a democratic and autonomous Croatia within a new federal Yugoslavia.
Hundreds of thousands perished in the multi-faceted war among Partizan, German, Italian, Croatian, and various Serbian forces. As the war drew to a close, thousands of Cetnik went over to the Partizans en masse. Unlike the latest conflict in Croatia and Bosnia, which was often mislabeled a "civil war," World War II in Croatia was indeed a civil war with cousins fighting against cousins and even brother against brother.
The Second Yugoslavia
After World War II, Yugoslavia was reconstituted as a communist federal republic with the promise of equality for all of its nations and peoples. As in most communist states, promises were not fulfilled. A ruthless secret police, and economic and political exploitation of Croatia led hundreds of thousands of young Croatians to seek freedom and prosperity abroad. After the purge of secret police chief Aleksander Rankovic in 1966, a new air of freedom developed known as "The Croatian Spring." Less known in the West than the "Prague Spring", this great liberalization was crushed by the communists in late 1971. One target of the new round of repression was a dissident former Partizan and Yugoslav Army general, Franjo Tudjman. The events of 1971 put into motion events twenty years later that would result in Croatian independence.
The death of Tito in 1980 led to increased demands for democracy and a market-based economy as well as for greater autonomy by Croatia and Slovenia from the Serbian-controlled central government. As Western-oriented Slovenia and Croatia moved toward democratic reform, Eastern-oriented Serbia struggled to maintain communist authoritarianism and a centralized government. In 1990, Dr. Franjo Tudjman became the first freely elected President of Croatia.
Free and democratic elections in Croatia and Slovenia demonstrated a commitment to the democratic process, the protection of human rights, and the development of a free market economy. Croatia began negotiations in mid-1990 toward the formation of a loose confederation of nations that would have granted national autonomy while preserving Yugoslavia in some form. The Republic of Serbia refused all attempts at negotiation and engaged in massive human rights violations against the Albanian majority in the province of Kosova, dismantling its Parliament and purging its government, media, and educational system of Albanians and noncommunists. The Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, remained committed to a single party, totalitarian regime in Serbia and throughout Yugoslavia.
Spurred on by Milosevic, Serbs in Croatia launched a well-planned armed insurrection on August 17, 1990, attacking police stations and blockading the main highway south of the Croatian capital of Zagreb. When Croatian police attempted to stop the violence, the central government dispatched the Serbian-controlled air force and army to "restore order." In 1991, after months of fruitless negotiations and increased violence by the Serbian minority in Croatia, fueled by the Serbian government and military, Croatia voted for independence. On June 25, 1991, Croatia and Slovenia declared themselves to be free and independent of Serbia and Yugoslavia.
Independence and Aggression
Under the pretense of protecting the Serbian minority in Croatia, a full-scale war was launched against Croatia by the Yugoslav armed forces and Serbian militias. Croatia abided by dozens of cease fires only to see the army regroup and attack again. In December 1991, the Serbian government openly admitted that it aimed to annex territory in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina in order to form a new "Greater Serbia."
On January 15, 1992, the European Community recognized the independence of Croatia and most of the world's major powers followed suit. Notably, the United States government, headed by George Bush, held back on recognition of Croatia and Slovenia until after United Nations peacekeeping forces had been moved into Croatia. Bush's Deputy Secretary of State and chief advisor on what was Yugoslavia was Lawrence Eagleburger whom the press dubbed "Lawrence of Serbia". Eagleburger had close personal and financial ties with the communist leadership of Serbia as well as Yugoslav banks and arms industries. Despite Eagleburger's friendship with communist Serbia, even the United States was eventually forced to condemn Serbia's expansionist aggression and recognize Croatia in April of 1992. Eagleburger would go on to become Secretary of State and an almost daily television commentator on what went wrong in Yugoslavia.
Almost immediately after Croatia's declaration of independence, the myth was born that Germany and the Vatican were responsible for Yugoslavia's demise and war because they were the first to recognize the new state. In fact, the first country to recognize Croatia was Slovenia on June 26, followed by Latvia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Iceland, and Estonia in 1991. A fragile cease fire was established as the Cyrus Vance cease-fire took effect at 6pm on January 3, 1992.
On December 19, 1991, Germany announced that it would recognize Croatia on January 15, 1992, with or without the rest of the European Community. On that date, twenty-one nations, including Germany, recognized Croatia. By the end of January, forty-two nations had recognized Croatia. The Holy See recognized Croatia on January 13, 1992, the same week as virtually every nation in Europe. The United States was fifty-fourth to acknowledge reality, on April 7, 1992. When Germany and the Vatican recognized Croatia and Slovenia, along with forty other nations, the war in Slovenia was over, Croatia was in ruins, and the UN "protection forces" were moving into place as Serbia was preparing for its next victim, Bosnia. German or Vatican recognition obviously had absolutely nothing to do with the break-up of Yugoslavia seven months before, yet this myth continued to be spread by Serbia and repeated in the Western press.
By the end of 1991, one-third of Croatia's territory had been seized, the city of Vukovar and others were totally destroyed and thousands of Croatians had been killed. One hard hit city was the ancient port city of Dubrovnik, known as Ragusa in Roman times. Despite its stature as an internationally protected heritage site, the city was shelled without mercy, ostensibly to protect its Serbian populace of about five percent. Periodic shelling continued for the next four years.
While radio and television reports focused upon the old walled city and the damage it received, the "newer" parts of the city were even more heavily damaged by Serb shelling, especially the small village of Cilipi near Dubrovnik's airport. The airport itself was stripped of every object from luggage belts to ashtrays before each of its buildings was destroyed. The Inter-University Centre, a world-wide consortium for higher education, suffered fifty-two direct hits and was totally destroyed along with its 25,000 volume library. Almost immediately, one of several Serbian propaganda arms in North America, a group known as SAVA - Serbian American Voter's Alliance, with the assistance of a retired Chicago college professor, created the myth that the film and photographs of the shelling of Dubrovnik were done with burning tires and trick camera angles and asserted that the city was not really damaged at all!
In March 1992, the peoples of Bosnia also went to the polls to vote for independence and sovereignty. The Croatian and Bosnian Muslim populations voted overwhelmingly for independence. The Serbs, representing 31% of the Republic's population, boycotted the referendum. When the European Community recognized Bosnia's independence on April 7, Serbia launched a full-scale war of aggression against that new nation. Although the so-called Yugoslavia claimed to have no forces in Bosnia, it was clear that the ongoing war, like the wars against Kosova, Slovenia, Croatia and three previous Balkan wars of the twentieth century (the third got out of hand and was renamed World War I) would be laid at the feet of Serbia.
Mislabeled a "civil war" by the media, the war continued until December 1995. For three years the United Nations, the European Community, and the United States did little to end the aggression as the result of endless back room bickering and disagreement among the erstwhile NATO allies. The so-called Vance peace plan, which led to a cease fire in Croatia, was violated over 7000 times. It left the Serbs in control of one-third of Croatia's territory and seventy per cent of Bosnia by early 1995.
American resistance to intervention in Bosnia and Croatia began to change in June of 1995 when a US Air Force F-16 fighter was blown out of the Bosnian sky by a "Bosnian Serb" surface-to-air missile. Many in the media and US Congress demanded to know how the rag-tag "Serb rebels" with a "third rate air defense system" could so humiliate the UN, the US and NATO. Despite the pilot's heroic escape and rescue, humiliation it was. The answer was that "Serb rebels" did not shoot down the plane. The Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) did, and the UN, NATO and US intelligence services knew it.
The sophisticated radar and missile command and control center that targeted the plane was located on the outskirts of Belgrade. The missile itself was supplied by Russia in mid-1994, and all crews were Russian-trained JNA. Rather than a "third rate" air defense system, the triple-interlocking radar guidance with centralized computer control was highly sophisticated.
The reality that was known to all but admitted by few was that Serbia's Yugoslav People's Army, supplied by Russia, was in full control in Bosnia and occupied Croatia. All field action in Bosnia and Croatia was controlled by the JNA general staff in Belgrade. Wounded "rebels" were flown to Yugoslav hospitals. The "Bosnian Serb" army was staffed by regular JNA officers who were rotated on a regular basis among Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia. The last commander of the "Bosnian Serb" army was previously the commander of the "Croatian Serb" army. Despite this, the myth was maintained that Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic had sealed his borders with Bosnia and Croatia and had no control over "rebel forces." In reality the JNA never ceased shipping tons of Russian and Yugoslav arms. Milosevic had full control over his "Bosnian" puppets. Any question of that fact evaporated when "Bosnian Serb rebels" captured several hundred UN peacekeepers and chained them to military targets. It was Milosevic who slowly released them as he gained more and more concessions from the UN
The myth of the "Bosnian Serbs" and "Croatian Serbs" was allowed to go on because the UN, the US and NATO saw Milosevic as the only man who could negotiate a cease-fire. To attack targets in Serbia, the source of the aggression, it was felt, would lead to a wider Balkan war and court a world war. In the meantime, the UN was reduced to begging Milosevic to recognize the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina. But "Slobo" used his advantage over the UN and NATO for all it was worth, and it was worth a great deal.
Croatia Strikes Back
For four years Croatia watched as the UN's so-called peacekeepers did nothing to restore Croatian civilian control over the occupied territories as called for in their mandate. Upon the change of command of the Russian UN peacekeeping force, the Serbs gave Russian Colonel Viktor Loginov, the outgoing commander, a white Mercedes-Benz limousine and a farewell party that was boycotted by British, French and Canadian forces. His replacement, Major General Alexander Perelyakin, was fired in April 1995 for his open collaboration with the Serbian occupation forces.
The UN mandate in Croatia expired on March 31, 1995, and the UN force was reduced in size from 12,000 to 5,000. At the same time, UN plans for Bosnia-Hercegovina changed almost weekly. Most plans represented little more than a repeat of Munich in 1938, where the socalled "Great Powers" handed over Czechoslovakia to Hitler a piece at a time. The final plan divided Bosnia-Hercegovina giving 49% of the country to the Serbs who constituted only 31 % of the pre-war population, rewarding Serbian aggression and punishing the victims. But even this plan was rejected by the Serbs who wanted 70% of Bosnia and access to the Adriatic Sea for the first time in history. Since the world refused to take any real action, against Serbia, the division of Bosnia became inevitable. The destruction, the barbarity, and the death brought on by the war assured that Orthodox, Muslim, and Catholic peoples could never again live together as "Bosnians".
Just as it appeared that Serbian aggression could not be contained, the Croatian Army (HV) proved that Serbia was not invincible despite numerical and hardware superiority. The Serbian army's basic tactic was to lob tons of ordinance on defenseless cities, towns and villages. But in actual combat, the Serb forces were demoralized, disorganized, and usually drunk.
In early May 1995, the government of Croatia moved against the Serbs by launching an offensive to reopen a vital highway and rail link that joined eastern Croatia (Slavonia) with the rest of the country. That link was broken on April 24th when Serb terrorists blocked the Dragalic-Novska section of the highway in violation of a standing cease-fire agreement of December 2, 1994, and a number of UN resolutions.
By the end of April, Serbs were randomly shooting at motorists who tried to travel the road resulting in four deaths and a number of wounded as UN Jordanian and Nepalese "peacekeepers" looked on. When Serb forces moved to strengthen their hold on the highway, all 2,750 UN "peacekeepers" in the region took shelter in their base camps. On April 30th the Croatian government demanded that the UN forces follow their mandate by preventing attacks on Croatian civilians.
When the UN again refused to take action the Croatian police and army moved to restore control over the motorway on May lst. Thirty-three hours later the Croatian Army had liberated a two hundred square mile pocket that had been under Serbian occupation since 1991. UN and EC observers, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and the Red Cross were immediately brought into the area to assure that no ethnic Serb residents were mistreated. Rumors of such mistreatment (some of which made it into the Western press) were immediately proved false by UN and EC observers.
The Serbs responded with their only proven tactic, firing missiles into Zagreb and six other cities. Serb targets included the airport, the National Theater where 43 ballet dancers from a dozen countries were wounded, the Academy of Arts and Sciences (missing by a few yards and almost hitting the US Embassy), and the Children's Hospital wounding a number of ill children and killing one police officer.
Other targets of the internationally-banned "cluster rockets" included a school and the Zagreb cathedral. Despite the fact that Croatian and Bosnian forces had heavy artillery within visual range of the rebel Serbs capital of Knin, there was no retaliation.
By May 8th most ethnic Serbs in the liberated territories had returned to their homes, including the Serbian-installed mayor. Most of the 1500 Serb soldiers captured were granted amnesty. One hundred and eighty-six were held on charges of rape, mass murder, and service in concentration camps. The Croatian government allowed UN troops to return and reestablish a buffer zone between their forces and remaining pockets of Serbian occupation despite the UN's obvious inaction in preventing Serbian aggression of the previous four years. The swift and decisive action took the so-called "Great Powers" by surprise and was an embarrassing reminder of the total inaction of the United Nations of the previous four years. Rather than being praised, Croatia was condemned by some for violating the "truce," which in fact had never existed for front-line towns and villages throughout Croatia. The United Nations Security Council went so far as to condemn Croatia and the news was filled with accounts of "Croatia's spring offensive." As had happened so often in this war, the victim of aggression became the aggressor in the eyes of the UN.
Unlike the UN, the European Community, NATO and the United States, Croatia now appeared willing and indeed able to contain Serbian expansionism and aggression despite the illegal and immoral arms embargo against it.
Strike Two: Operation Storm
In August of 1995 the world again looked on in disbelief as the small Croatian army launched "Operation Storm" to liberate remaining lands occupied by "rebel Serbs" supported by Belgrade. Despite years of warnings by the socalled "Great Powers" that the Serbs were virtually invincible and that such an assault would take months, if not years, and thousands of lives, the Croatian operation was over in days with few casualties.
For four years the Serbs of the occupied area known as Krajina ("Borderland") had shelled Croatian cities on a daily basis. Despite the assaults, the Croatian government continued to negotiate without success. In late July 1995 a tentative agreement was reached to give the Krajina Serbs, three percent of Croatia's population, their own mini-state with its own flag, currency, and local police, and the Serbian language protected by Croatia. The response was more shelling. The government then warned the Krajina Serbs that further shelling would be met with a military response. Before Croatia took any action, it notified the UN which dutifully notified the Serbian army. The first pin-point Croatian artillery knocked out key military posts and communications with virtually no damage to the city of Knin. The Serbian army turned and ran while intentionally panicking the civilian population, integrating its fleeing forces, tanks, and artillery with the civilian exodus.
When the first units of the Croatian Army arrived, they found a deserted city, virtually untouched by shelling but thoroughly looted. The President of Croatia immediately arrived and called upon the refugees to return home and asked those who had not left to stay and help rebuild a multi-ethnic society. Some chose to do so; most did not. Some who fled were guilty of murder, rape, "ethnic cleansing" (genocide) and the continued daily shelling of a dozen cities from Karlovac to Dubrovnik during the previous four years. Many of the fleeing Serbs were still wearing the uniform of the dreaded Cetnik death squads. Croatia could have arrested the criminals and deported them to the Netherlands for trial. Instead, it kept the escape corridor open and allowed the UN and the press to observe the retreat of Serbian army and their civilian cover back to Serbia. The Croatian government reiterated that any Krajina Serb not guilty of war crimes was welcome to return and live in peace. The Western media immediately labeled the exodus as "ethnic cleansing" by the Croatians. When the Krajina authorities later admitted in the Belgrade press that they had ordered and organized the mass evacuation, little notice was taken.
For four years of over one million non-Serbs were herded out of their homes with little more than the shirts on their backs. Women were taken to rape camps. Tens of thousands were slaughtered and buried in mass graves (such as those that are still being unearthed in Bosnia). Yet the world press was almost gleeful in blaming Croatia for the plight of more refugees fleeing from the so-called Krajina.
Although the media referred to Knin as being "devastated" by the brutal standards of the war, the city was barely touched. To illustrate the devastation, some media unwittingly showed the totally destroyed Roman Catholic church, which was blown up by the Serbs in 1991. The Serhian Orthodox church was untouched and protected by Croatian police. It would later be learned that only 2,000 shells were used in the liberation of Knin. In comparison the Serbs lobbed an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 shells on Sarajevo in a single day.
After the army withdrew from the liberated areas, thousands of Croatians who had been living in refugee camps for the previous four years returned to find their homes, churches and businesses destroyed. Enraged, some took retribution upon the Serbs - looting, burning, and committing as many as twenty-six killings that may not have been war related. While these crimes paled in comparison to the tens of thousands murdered by the Serbs and the entire cities, such as Vukovar, that had been wiped from the earth, they were no less reprehensible. While Serbian leaders had been photographed repeatedly forcing civilians from their homes and the highest ranking Bosnian Serb leaders were named by the International War Crimes Tribunal as war criminals, the Croatian leadership moved quickly to clean its own house.
By late September almost four hundred people had been arrested, and in early October Croatian President Franjo Tudjman announced that legal proceedings had been launched in cases of looting, destruction, and the twenty-six murders. He announced, "We expect the courts in Croatia, which are indeed completely independent, to perform their duty in all of these cases." By January 1996, most of the crimes had been prosecuted. When Croatia was attacked in 1991, many Serbs fled not to Belgrade but to the Croatian capital of Zagreb and to other non-occupied areas. More Serbs chose to live at peace in free Croatia than chose to live under Serbian occupation. As late as March 31, 1995, some 218,000 ethnic Serbs lived in free Croatia as opposed to 184,000 in occupied Croatia. Peaceful urban Serbs were not mistreated in free Croatia where some were members of Parliament and one was its Vice President.
The Changing Balance
By late 1995 Croatia had become a military power in the region in its own right, sending the seemingly invincible Serbs into full retreat from Croatia. In Bosnia, the outnumbered and out-gunned Army of the Republic of Bosnia- Hercegovina somehow held the city of Sarajevo and little more than one quarter of the country for three years. The siege of Sarajevo became the longest in modern European history. In much of Hercegovina it was the Croatian Military Organization (HVO) that held the Serbs at bay. While nominally independent and made-up of Bosnian Croatians, the HVO was in reality an extension of the Croatian Army.
Even though the Muslim-led Bosnian Army and the HVO were fighting the same enemy, clashes started as early as 1992 between the two forces, especially in and around the city of Mostar. In March of 1994 US President Bill Clinton presided over a forced marriage of Croatia and Bosnia into a federation. For both it was a marriage of convenience resented by many in the populations of both sides.
The Federation was promised US economic assistance and covert military support in the form of supplies, (technically banned under the universal embargo), training, and most importantly, intelligence. Slowly, the Federation gained greater advantage in western Bosnia while the United Nations abandoned one "safe area" after another in eastern Bosnia allowing the Serbs to swallow up Bosnian towns and, in the case of Srebrenica, Zepa and others, murder thousands of Bosnian Muslims in UN "protected" areas.
Late in 1995 the powerful Croatian Army, under the authority of the Federation, moved to relieve Bosnian forces in northwest Bosnia. Together the forces drove the Serbs back on almost everv front. The United Nations had turned its back on the people it was supposed to protect and it seemed possible that Croatia and Bosnia united might push Serbian forces back into Serbia. Suddenly, settling for half of Bosnia seemed more attractive to dictator Milosevic and his puppets than before.
In April and May of 1995 the first NATO air strikes against Serbs were launched, and in August NATO began a two-week bombing campaign to break the siege of Sarajevo just as Croatian forces were liberating the Krajina. With thousands of refugees fleeing into Serbia, world-wide condemnation of Serbia resulting in real bombs, not words, and a combined Croatian-Bosnian army pressing on every front, Milosevic decided it was time to talk.
In September 1995 a US agreement was accepted by the Croatian and Bosnian sides. That agreement would sacrifice one-half of Bosnia to the Serbian aggressor. However, distasteful, the US made it clear that the offer was final and only the details could be negotiated. With a sixty-day cease fire in effect, the presidents of Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia were summoned by President Bill Clinton to a US Air Force base near Dayton, Ohio. From November 1, 1995, for twenty days and nights the details of what would come to be called the "Dayton Agreement" were hammered out and signed on November 21, 1995.
To reinforce the fact that Milosevic was in charge of all "Bosnian Serb" forces, Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic (who was neither Bosnian or Serb), and his chief henchman General Ratko Mladic were not invited and threatened with arrest for war crimes if they attempted to join the talks. A final signing was held in Paris the following month as the first of tens of thousands of NATO, with a symbolic detachment of Russians, moved into Bosnia to begin the difficult task of physically dividing Bosnia into the "Bosnian Federation" and the "Serbian Republic."
At Dayton another less noticed agreement was reached that established a one to two year transition of the remaining Serb-occupied lands in Croatia back to Croatian civil control. Since the transition was to be overseen by the only remaining UN force in Croatia, and not NATO as in Bosnia, the threat of renewed war remained high. The Serbian population that drove out or slaughtered thousands of Croatians and reduced the city of Vukovar to rubble, did not look forward to their neighbors return. Given previous UN incompetence and open support of the Serbs, the two-year "transition" could fail. Croatia let the Serb population know that it is willing to work with an open hand. But unlike 1991, Croatia's open hand in 1996 was backed by a powerful fist in the form of the combat-proven Croatian Army.
The New Mythology: Equal Guilt or Serbian Innocence
For the first time since World War II, an International Tribunal was established at The Hague in the Netherlands to investigate and prosecute rape, murder, slavery, and crimes against humanity. Among the first to be charged with crimes in November of 1995 were "Bosnian Serb" leaders Karadzic, Mladic and over forty others. In February 1996, two other high ranking Serb officers were captured in Bosnia and extradited. Whether the true architect of the war and the crimes, Slobodan Milosevic will be charged remains to be seen at this writing. The magnitude of the crimes may never be known as concerted efforts were made to hide evidence, destroy documents and bury bodies. As many as 8,500 Muslim men may have been executed at a single site after Serb forces over ran the UN "safe haven" of Srebrenica in July, 1995. The total number of deaths was over one quarter million. Rapes were estimated at twenty to forty thousand, and well into 1996 thousands were still be held in Serbian concentration camps or in forced labor for the Serbian Yet even as the entire world took notice and as one first-hand report after another appeared, the Serbian disinformation campaign to hide the crimes began. The New York Times labeled it "a war against memory." As early as 1993 Texas journalist Peter Brock, writing in the journal Foreign Policy, lamented the unfair treatment that Serbs received in the press. He wrote of "minimally damaged Dubrovnik," Muslim provocation of the Serbian army and even hinted that Muslims had shelled themselves to gain Western sympathy. In the same article, the reporter for the El Paso Herald-Post dismissed the Pulitzer Prize winning works of Roy Gutman of Newsday and John Burns of the New York Times on Serbian atrocities.
In early 1996 the blatantly propagandistic film Vukovar made its debut in the United States. The movie was to have been shown at the United Nations in late 1995 but was rejected for its revisionist character and because it was made in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. The movie was made in Serbian occupied Croatia and violated a number of UN sanctions. Despite that, it made the rounds of North American theaters with its less than subtle message that the Croatians had started the war and they were responsible for the destruction of Vukovar.
At the same time, a Croatian film Vukovar - The Way Home, describing the plight of the true victims of Vukovar living in train box cars, drew little notice. While critics from a number of leading papers panned the Serbian film as obvious propaganda, a United States Senator called it "prophetic and lyrical" and urged a White House screening and the Los Angeles Times wrote in March 1996, that despite the film's "...clear attempt at objectivity the Croatian government blocked the screening of this courageous and power anti-war film at the United Nations."
Despite such mythology, and unlike the crimes of the past, Serbia will not be able to make these crimes disappear. Far too much was seen by far too many. The facts recognized by the entire world were that Kosova, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina were the victims of Serbian aggression. A quarter of a million died, tens of thousands of women and men were raped, two million were made homeless, hundreds of towns, villages and cities were laid to waste. But not one shot was fired in Serbia; no blade of grass was bent; no window was broken. Serbia emerged untouched with half of Bosnia as its prize for rape and pillage. No amount of ancient fiction or new mythology will ever make Serbia the victim or erase these crimes. From this war, myth will not triumph over reality.
The Croatian Republic was born into hostility, war and suffering. It attempted to build new institutions of commerce and government while restructuring existing ones. Many in the Western press criticized the young Croatian state as being less than a perfect democracy, sometimes with good cause. Yet during its first five war-torn years, with thousands of refugees, cities ablaze and a dozen competing political parties, Croatia began the development of institutions that would serve well into the future. During the chaotic transition from communism to capitalism and from totalitarianism to democracy, the Croatian people relied on a great inner continuity, one much older and deeper than that of many nations.
Croatian continuity can be illustrated by the troplet, the triple braid that has been found in Croatian art, architecture, and design for centuries. Often the triple braid is unbroken forming a circle of continuity. There are many explanations for the design, which was probably borrowed from the ancient Celts. One explanation is linked to the Christian Trinity representing the body of Jesus, the blood of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
Croatia's continuity can be compared to that Trinity. The body of Croatia is its culture. Its lifeblood is its language. History is its spirit. Without the preservation of Croatian tradition, language, and history, Croatians would not exist today. Unless Croatian culture, language, and history are preserved, Croatia will not survive, regardless of political will. Croatia was robbed of political continuity by the actions of outside powers but found stability in its rich culture and history while building a stable political foundation.
That foundation gives every man and woman in a democracy the right to criticize the government, form political parties and exercise the franchise at election. After 1989 Croatia experienced tumultuous change from a singleparty captive nation within Yugoslavia, to a multi-party Republic. The wars of aggression against Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina made that transformation even more difficult. Numerous political parties emerged with many leaders and voices in Croatia, Bosnia and abroad. Some parties consolidated, others split, still others disappeared entirely. In war-torn Bosnia governance was sporadic and difficult. In the Croatian Republic, there was chaos and finger-pointing in Parliament and the government. A few voices even called for a return to communism or to some form of Yugoslavia.
Despite these tumultuous beginnings, Croatia can build democratic institutions for the future through its presidency and parliament. In order to achieve the continuity to preserve future democracy, the institutions must be held as separate and above the men and women who ocupy them. These are the institutions that will provide political continuity for the future. Although Franjo Tudjman and Alija Izetbegovic will be recorded in history as the first democratically elected presidents of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, it is more important that they not be the last democratically elected presidents of their nations. They must be followed in future generations by men and women of many political persuasions. And with each new election, each peaceful change of government, the political continuity will grow.
Democratic institutions are not born overnight. They are grown and nurtured with, as Winston Churchill said, blood, sweat and tears. After hundreds of years, the United States, Canada and Australia are still defining themselves, just as Croatia is doing. The first U.S. President, George Washington, insisted on a one-party state and owned slaves. Australia was born as a prison colony. Canada was formed as a patchwork of very different provinces held together by the thinnest of threads. Yet each evolved into less-than-perfect democracies, but democracies none the less.
The Croatian people face many challenges, in Croatia, in Bosnia-Hercegovina and abroad. The weight of the war, hundreds of thousands of refugees, rebuilding destroyed cities, and a weakened economy took their toll. Many became cynical about politics and democracy during that trying time but there was ample cause for hope. Throughout the world, Croatia found friends to assist in the development of democracy - friends in the true sense.
There were also those in the United States and other countries who wanted to dictate the terms of "democracy" to nations emerging from communism. Croatia must build a democratic republic reflecting its own rich heritage, its diverse regions and its unique social and cultural institutions. The United States and other democracies can perhaps serve as an example of what to do, and what not to do, but no nation can dictate the terms of "democracy." In 1791 the Croatian Ban John Count Erdodi at the Congress of Bratislava stood to inform the Hungarian council "Regnum regno non praescribit leges!" (One kingdom cannot make the laws for another!). Those words were no less true two hundred years later. Croatia can survive and build on its democratic foundations. And while those foundations are being laid, the bedrock of the Croatian Trinity, language, culture and history, will continue to serve. The Croatian spirit, which has lasted over a thousand years, must never again the sacrificed at the international altar.
Author's Preface to the Third Edition
Croatia and the Croatians
Myth: "Croatians asked to join Yugoslavia
Myth: "Croatian Assassinated King Alexander
Myth: "All Croatians were Fascists
Myth: "The Basket of Human Eyeballs"
Myth: "Two Million Serbs Died"
Myth: "Croatians Executed American Airmen"
Myth: "No Retribution Against Croatia"
Myth: "Borders were Drawn to Benefit Croatia"
Myth: "The Serbo-Croatian Language"
Myth: "Tudjman and Milosevic were Late Converts"
Myth: "Serbs had no Guaranteed Rights in Croatia"
Myth: "The Fascist Finders"
Myth: "The Croatian Coat of Arms is Fascist"
Myth: "The Fascist Ferret"