Croatia: Myth and Reality (Introduction)


It is often said that truth is the first casualty in war. In June of 1991 war broke out in Europe for the first time since World War II as Serbia attacked Slovenia and Croatia. At the same time another war, a war of propaganda and mythology was launched in the world press. Identical stories surfaced with identical words in different publications and written by different journalists throughout the war. The attack was two- pronged. One goal was to tar the fledgling Croatian government with the brush of Fascism, despite the fact that the President of Croatia was a Partisan war hero who fought against Fascism during World War II.

Another purpose was to mask the reasons for Serbian aggression and to blur the realities of a war prosecuted solely to gain territory and to maintain centralized Communism in what was Yugoslavia. At first the disinformation was limited to the writings of avowed leftists such as Alexander Cockburn and Serbian apologists like Congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley, David Martin and Nora Beloff. As the war dragged on from weeks to months, the words and phrases of Serbian mythology appeared over and over again in an ever widening circle that would eventually include the editorial pages of such highly respected journals as the Christian Science Monitor and New York Times. Yet few of the charges and allegations of the campaign were new. The history of Serbian disinformation can be traced to the origins of Yugoslavia in 1918. The Communist Party controlled Tanjug news agency and Television Belgrade continued the battle that was lost in the diplomatic community as one nation after another recognized a free and independent Croatia.

On November 20, 1991 headlines around the world screamed "Croatian Militias Slit Throats of 41 Children". Reuters news agency reported: The children, between 5 and 7 years old, reportedly were found with their throats cut in the cellar of the kindergarten in Borovo Naselje after Croatian forces abandoned it during the weekend". The children were, according to the report, all Serbs.

This story demonstrates mythology in the making. It was carried on every electronic network and in newspapers throughout the world without any form of confirmation. That the village in question had been under siege for months, that all children had been evacuated months before, and that obviously no kindergarten classes had been held anywhere in the war zone for some time did not seem to catch the attention of a single editor. The following day some papers ran the Reuters retraction in small print after the twenty-two year Serbian photographer, Goran Mikic, admitted that he had fabricated the story. In Belgrade, the press never printed the retraction and in fact later cited the non-incident in its news coverage as a part of its propaganda campaign against Croatia.

Propaganda is defined as information and opinions, especially prejudiced ones, spread to influence people in favor of or against some doctrine or idea. Myth is defined as an old traditional story or legend. Mythology represents a body of myths. Over the past seventy years a great deal of propaganda has become mythology with a life of its own, growing and changing with each retelling. Myths were not only resurrected and embellished by propagandists, but by well-intended journalists and others attempting to understand and to justify the Serbian wars of aggression. Regardless of the motivation of those who repeat the myths, the result is always the same. Another generation is introduced to the mythology created to keep the Croatian nation in bondage.

Some myths are new, others are very old. The myth of the forty-one children reported on one day and retracted the next will no doubt find its way into some history book, somewhere, as fact. It will become a part of the negative mythology or "black legend" that casts its shadow on the Croatian nation.

On the following pages both the established myths and merging myths will be explored and exposed to reality. Some have simple explanations, others are more complex. Some are gruesome, and distasteful. This monograph is intended to shed light, not heat and to bring the myths from the shadows into the realm of reality.