The “Serb Question” and its “Final Solution” in Euro-Croatia

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On September 10th, 2015 a City Council of Croatia’s capital Zagreb decided to promote a war criminal General Ante Gotovina to “honorable citizen of the City of Zagreb” for his “contribution to the defending of Croatia’s independence and territorial integrity”. The General, however, as a Commander-in-Chief of Croatia’s army, is directly responsible for a brutal ethnic cleansing and war crimes committed by Croatia’s army, police forces and state authorities over the Serbs during the SS-punishment-style military-police operation “Storm” (Oluja) in August 1995 when around 3000 ethnic Serbs in the Krajina region were killed and 250.000 expelled from their homes. That was the biggest and most terrible ethnic cleansing and genocide committed after the WWII in Europe. The promotion of Gotovina, nevertheless, shows that present-day Croatia is founded on the basis of the WWII Nazi-Ustashi-regime’s Independent State of Croatia (the NDH) that had as its crucial political task to solve the “Serb Question” within its borders (Croatia, Dalmatia, Srem, Slavonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina) according to the German-Nazi pattern of solving the “Jewish Question” during the WWII.

A “Serb Question” and its Nazi solution in Croatia

A question of the Serb existence on the “ethnohistorical” lands of the Croat nation was at least during the last hundred years a very fundamental element of any ultraright Croat ideology, party, organization or movement, but above all of the Ustashi, as the Orthodox Serb were seen and declared as the most dangerous “natural enemy” to both Croatia and the Croat people. The Anti-Serbism became, however, the main cornerstone of making the Croat national unity and gathering all Croats around a common focus of ethnopolitical coherence.[1] The Serbs were accused for the territorial expansionism, occupation of the Croat land and its exploitation at the time of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (1918−1929), the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1929−1941) and the Socialist Yugoslavia (1945−1991) as all of these three multiethnic states were proclaimed as a Greater Serbia. The Serbs and Serbia were seen as the main cause of all Croatia’s misfortunes and above all as the only obstacle for Croatia’s independence.[2] The Croatia’s Government together with other right-wing nationalistic structures tried from the very beginning of the preparations for the proclamation of the new independence of Croatia in 1991 (the second Independent State of Croatia) formally, but unsuccessfully, to convince the Serbs and Serbia that there was no real “Serb Question” in Croatia and that the Serbs had nothing to fear in independent and democratic post-Yugoslav Croatia. However, for the majority of Serbs from both sides of the Drina River it was completely clear that a new independent Croatia will be just a replica of the WWII Nazi-Ustashi Independent State of Croatia in regard to the “Serb Question” just covered by declarative and formal democracy. It was visible for them either from the practical rehabilitation of the NDH in Tudjman’s Croatia and the harsh anti-Serb rhetoric by the officials or from the very fact that no one political party or official in Croatia did not want to discuss with the Serbs about their cultural and/or political autonomy.

A policy of opposing and hating the Serbs in the HDZ’s Croatia[3] had political, confessional and moral connotation. To fight “natural enemies” was all the time one of the fundamental requirements of any nationalistic ideology. Hence, the national education system has to be rearranged on this way to teach the nation who, and why, is the national enemy and how the nation has to struggle against the enemy. In the case of Tudjman’s Croatia, the main national enemy ware proclaimed to be the Serbs. Subsequently, the Serb traces in Croatia had to be erased by different techniques including the ban of Cyrillic alphabet or cleansing Croatia’s libraries from the Serb authors. Nevertheless, a public vilification of the Serbs as a nation in Croatia had and its own racial dimension as it was exactly during the existence of the WWII NDH. Probably the most racist MP from the HDZ – Shime Djodan, made a very abusing remark on the Serb physiognomy during his speech in the Parliament. Usually, the Serbs were considered as a racially inferior having the “Byzantine” or/and “Turkish” blood as it was noticed, for instance in 1995, by the HDZ’s member Anton Vrdoljak, head of Croatia’s Radio Television (the HRT).[4] The political consequences of a Croat nationalistic picturing of the Serbs as a root of all evil in Croatia lead the nationalists to require the maximal restriction of political rights of the Serbs in Croatia including and the right to citizenship and therefore to vote. Such calling for political discrimination on the ethnic basis was, however, formally not presented in the official party’s statutes in which there was a proclamation of no discrimination on the basis on the national identity, as it was the case, for instance, with the HSP.[5] A leader of this party, Ante Djapic was quite clear about the position of the Serbs in the post-Yugoslav Croatia: “[the Serbs should] either bow down or get out of the way”.[6] Subsequently, all Croat nationalists firmly opposed any kind of political negotiations with Croatia’s (Krajina) Serbs, rejected their representation in the Parliament and arguing that the Serb Orthodox Church in Croatia has to be abolished and instead of it the Orthodox Church of Croatia should be established (like in the WWII NDH). Since the Croat military-police operation “Oluja” (Storm) of ethnic cleansing of the Krajina Serbs in August 1995, all Croat nationalistic parties, including above all the ruling HDZ, did everything in order to prevent the return of the Serb refugees (about 250,000)[7] to their homes. In order to achieve this goal, usually three methods were used:

  1. Demolition of the Serb houses.
  2. Public announcing the Serb names as wanted war criminals.
  3. Physical attacking, or even killing, the Serb refugees.

Nevertheless, either the HDZ or other right-wing Croat parties never recognized the mass exodus of Krajina Serbs from Croatia in August 1995 as the ethnic cleansing as for them it was rather a free choice of homeland as it was officially stated by the President Franjo Tudjman. The official Croatia as well never recognized the existence of the concentration camps for the Serbs in the 1990s on the territory of Croatia like it was in the Pakrac poljana, around Gospic, and in Sisak.[8] According to the Croat nationalists, the problem of depopulated parts of Croatia (once inhabited by the Serbs) after August 1995, should be solved by housing the ethnic Croat diaspora and the Croat refugees. That was exactly the best option of the final solution of the “Serb Question” in Croatia which mostly satisfied Franjo Tudjman who when he took his “freedom train” on August 26th, 1995 from Zagreb to Split via depopulated Krajina region said that the Serbs: “had disappeared ignominiously, as if they had never populated this land. We urged them to stay, but they didn’t listen to us and, well bon voyage”.[9] Regardless that the HSP urged the Government to introduce a special legislation on restricting the return of the Serb refugees, it was, nevertheless, activated a law according to which the refugees had right to reclaim their property during the three-month period. That was a legal mechanism used in order not to create real conditions for the Serb refugees to return back. Therefore, the “Serb Question” in Tudjman’s Croatia was solved on the way that today there are only 4 percent of the Serbs out of total Croatia’s population in comparison to 12 percent according to the 1991 census.[10] The task from 1991, when Croatia’s governmental forces started the war against their own citizens of the Serb origin,[11] was finally realized in August 1995: the Serbs who remained in Croatia became politically not dangerous and under complete governmental control and served as a proof to the international community that Croatia is formally multiethnic society.

Against the western liberalism for conservative order  

The Croat ultranationalistic parties and other organizations expressed a visible form of anomaly in their ideological and programmatic concepts as on the one hand promoted an idea of protection of the West European culture and civilization but at the same time, on the other hand, expressed a great extent of suspicion and even hostility towards the western liberalism.[12] The western liberalism, in their opinion, was speaking in the favor of an individual, his/her freedom, rights and prosperity but not in the favor of a nation and national interest. As for all ultranationalists, a nation was über alles and therefore any ideology that was not speaking primarily in the favor of a nation was not acceptable and even seen as destructive since only the particularity of the nation is giving a real meaning to the life of the individual. A destructive nature of the western liberalism was primarily seen in regard to the liberal approach toward the family question as the ultranationalists reject the liberal emphasis on individual freedom of choice and rights and on personal benefits from such choice. What they support instead of liberal ideology of personal free choice is an ideology which is advocating the promotion of welfare of the nation and realization of the national state policy. As for the Croat ultranationalists the main problem and obstacle for prosperity of Croatia and Croats were the Serbs, their requirement for demographic renewal of the Croat nation was politically pointed against the Serbs. Basically they adopted a demographic (boom) policy of Kosovo Albanians after the WWII in their fight against the local Serbs. For the Croat ultraright parties, a family structure has to be framed within the conservative-patriarchal order as the best way to biologically increase the population of the ethnic Croats as, for instance, Franjo Tudjman stated in one of his speeches in the Parliament.[13] Subsequently, in order to ensure a higher rate of the ethnic Croat population growth, the abortion was seen as a national suicide. Such clear calling for national duties instead of individual right of free choice was a direct rejection of the West European liberal political foundation of the society and state.

The HDZ’s economic policy was as well framed for the sake to subordinate state economy to state-building task. For that reason, the members of HDZ supported an idea and practice of significant state ownership that was also in odd to the western liberalism. However, in the HDZ’s Croatia a process of corruption and taycoonization of economic resources and infrastructure by well-placed HDZ’s political leaders was well-known practice which led to their personal and family enrichment.

As a part of anti-liberal policy, the liberal-democratic notion of the citizenship was crucially challanged by the HDZ’s rulling authority as the voting rights for the state and the other public officials became based on the ethnic (Croat) background rather than on the residence criteria. Therefore, it was practically reserved twelve seats in Croatia’s Parliament for the ethic Croat diaspora for the very reason that the HDZ was and is traditionally supported by the Croat diaspora especially from Bosnia-Herzegovina. The citizenship law was also changed in the favor of the ethnic Croat diaspora as Croatia was proclaimed as the motherland of all ethnic Croats.[14] However, a similar ethno-citizenship/voting law in Miloshevic’s Serbia was never introduced at least for the very political reason that the Serb diaspora in the West opposed his policy as anti-Serbian. In the other words, Miloshevic’s Serbia was seen, by the Constitution, as a homeland of all her inhabitants, rather than only of all ethic Serbs wherever they live.

Probably, the HDZ’s deny of any kind of the regional autonomy in Croatia was the expression of the policy of anti-liberal democracy concept of minority rights. Therefore, the regional parties of Istria, (the Serb populated) Krajina and Dalmatia suffered mostly from such policy of a brutal centralization of Croatia. However, in Miloshevic’s Serbia, two regions of Vojvodina and Kosovo-Metochia enjoyed at least ethno-cultural regional autonomy if not political one as it was fixed at the time of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia according to the 1974 Constitution (up to 1989).

In general, the Croat ultranationalists were against the basic values of the western liberalism but also and against many segments of the western culture especially of the U.S. as they perceived such culture as an attempt to destroy the authentic values of the Croat nation. The West became accused and for the attempts to undermine the independence of Croatia and even to recreate some form of the Yugoslav (or Balkan) confederation with the Serbs and Serbia. Therefore, the U.N.’s UNPROFOR’s detachments, deployed on the territory of the Republic of Serb Krajina (as the U.N.’ protection zone) were called to be removed from the territory of Croatia as the main obstacle for her territorial reunification. Nevertheless, Croatia became finally reunited within the borders of a Greater Croatia of Josip Broz Tito after the WWII when Croatia’s military and police reoccupied the territory of Krajina in August 1995 under the blessing of both the U.S.’s administration and the UNPROFOR’s command. Therefore, for the Croat ultranationalists the suspicions of possible Western designs to recreate a form of Yugoslavia disappeared after the operation “Storm” but their suspicions to the Western political liberalism and cultural and social values of the liberal ideology are present up today.

Prof. Dr. Vladislav B. Sotirović

www.global-politics.eu/sotirovic

sotirovic@global-politics.eu

© Vladislav B. Sotirovic 2015

Endnotes:

 

[1] The same ethnopolitical role of national coherence played anti-Semitism in the ideology of the Nazi Germany. In the Croat case, the anti-Semitism was not important factor in the ultranationalist ideology, at least up to the WWII.

[2] For instance, see: J. Jareb, Pola stoljeća hrvatske politike: Povodom Mačekove autobiografije, Zagreb: Institut za suvremenu povijest, 1995, V−X.

[3] The HDZ = A Croat Democratic Union, a political ruling party of Franjo Tudjman.

[4] Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Daily Report: Eastern Europe, 1995-08-10.

[5] Temeljna načela i statut, Hrvatska stranka prava, 1991-02-24.

[6] Interview with Ante Djapic, Glas Slavonije, 1995-08-19.

[7] В. Ђ. Мишина (уредник), Република Српска Крајина: Десет година послије, Београд: Добра воља, 2005, 48.

[8] J. Guskova, Istorija jugoslovenske krize (1990−2000), 1, Beograd: Izdavački grafički atelje “M”, 2003, 223.

[9] J. A. Irvine, “Ultranationalist Ideology and State-Building in Croatia, 1990−1996”, Problems of Post-Communism, July/August 1997, 40. It is clear from the transcripts of the meeting between Croatia’s Government and military officials at Brioni just before the operation “Storm” started that Tudjman’s requirement was that the Serbs have to disappear from Croatia [http://www.nspm.rs/dokumenti/tudjmanovi-brionski-transkripti-udariti-srbe-da-nestanu.html].

[10] On the present-day territory of Croatia there were 24 percent of the Serbs before the WWII.

[11] That Croatia’s Government launched the war against the Serbs in 1991 in order to provoke them is confirmed by Tudjman’s first minister of police, Josip Boljkovac in his interview in 2014 [http://www.jugoslavologija.eu/2014/12/24/tudmanov-ministar-priznao-prvi-smo-napali-srbe-da-bi-poceo-rat/].

[12] On the western liberalism, see [L. Mises, Liberalism in the Classical Tradition, San Francisco, California: Cobden Press, 1985; E. Fawcett, Liberalism: The Life of an Idea, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014; M. Freeden, Liberalism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2015].

[13] F. Tudjman, S vjerom u samostalnu Hrvatsku, Zagreb: Narodne novine, 1995, 79−90.

[14] On the concept of citizenship, see: W. Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 1995; R. Bellamy, Citizenship: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2008; É. Balibar, Citizenship, Cambridge, UK−Malden, USA: Polity Press, 2015. The same citizenship concept, for example, is accepted by all three Baltic States after the collapse of the Soviet Union: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.


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