Croatia Myth&Reality: Croatia and the Croatians

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 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. The first Yugoslavia, from 1918-1941 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. King Alexander Karageorgevic followed this blow by declaring himself dictator and banning all political parties. Croatian Parliamentary Deputy Ante Pavelic then formed the Ustase or "Insurgent" Croatian Liberation Movement to gain Croatian 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 and 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 Special Operations Executive.

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 Serbian-dominated 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. Croatia joined the Axis, sent troops to the Eastern front and enacted anti- Semitic and anti-Serbian legislation. 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. Tens of thousands perished in the multi-faceted war among Communist Partisans, German, Italian, Croatian, Serbian and even Russian Cossack forces. In the end, it would be the Communist-backed Partisan army led by a Croatian, Marshal Josip Broz Tito, with the backing of the Red Army which would emerge victorious.

The Second Yugoslavia

After World War II, Yugoslavia was reconstituted as a Communist federal republic with the promise of equality for all its nations and peoples. As in most Communist states, promises were not fulfilled. A ruthless secret police compounded by the 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 Aleksandar Rankovic in 1966, a new air of freedom developed in Croatia 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 Partisan hero 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 quickly 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 in over half a century.

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 in those Republics. Croatia immediately 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 Kosovo, dismantling its Parliament and purging its government, media, and educational system of Muslims and non-Communists. 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, the Croatians 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 Serbian-Yugoslav armed forces and Serbian militias. Croatia abided by over a dozen cease fires only to see the army regroup and attack again. By the end of 1991, over one-third of Croatia's territory had been seized, the city of Vukovar and others totally destroyed and thousands of Croatians had been killed. 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 14, 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 the United Nations peace-keeping 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.

On April 26, 1992, Serbia declared the birth of a new Federal Yugoslavia and became the last nation in Europe to remove the red star from its flag. The history of the three Yugoslavias has been filled with mythology, but no myth was greater than the myth that Yugoslavia ever really existed.