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Greater CroatiaMark Thompson
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Vol. 15 No. 9 · 13 May 1993

Greater Croatia

Mark Thompson

4898 words

The famous gentility of Zagreb is wearing thin. Croatia’s tidy capital has been degraded by almost two years of war, as has the regime which has held power since the free elections of 1990. Across the country, queues for black bread form before dawn. Subsidised by the state, black bread is far cheaper than other kinds; with the average monthly wage sinking below the equivalent of £40, only one in five Croatians employed, quarter of a million displaced persons, and half a million destitute Bosnian refugees, many people need to save about 20p on the daily loaf.

The shops sell out their quotas on arrival, so deliveries are staggered through the morning. Shoppers bring their old carrier bags to save 5p on a new one. Last summer’s bags, printed with the Olympic symbol from the Barcelona Games, are still in evidence. Below the symbol the caption reads: CROATIAN OLYMPIC COMMITTEE. Never mind the superb basketball team, or Goran Ivanisevic the patriotic tennis star: the committee comes first, and everyone has to know it. Communists become nationalists, liberals mostly follow suit, but bureaucrats are bureaucrats for life, and their pre-eminence in Croatia has not been eroded or bound by law.

The Olympic Committee was led by Antun Vrdoljak, better known for running state television and radio with an iron hand. Said to be one of only two people in President Tudjman’s inner circle with the will to speak his mind, Vrdoljak has purged the main media of sceptics, Serbs and other undesirables, and ensured that they stay unpolluted by criticism of the powers and policies that be. Rumour has it that he will shortly be appointed ambassador to Peru. Perhaps he has served his usefulness. He makes a dismal impression on Western media-monitoring delegations, and is currently embroiled in an undignified court case with one of Croatia’s best known journalists, a woman he described in an open letter as ‘a barren sow’. (Anti-abortionist misogyny can make democratic Croatia a brutal environment for women.)

Television à la Vrdoljak takes some getting used to. A prestige series called Croats Who Made the World began with Pope Sixtus V, who wasn’t, so far as anyone knows, a Croat. The evening news on 14 April featured an attack on the previous night’s flagship current-affairs programme for interviewing an analyst whose pessimistic forecast had ‘disturbed the public’. Far worse was the moment in mid-January when the newscaster, after alleging that Muslim extremists were killing Croat civilians in central Bosnia, looked up from his script to ask a question. What did the extremists suppose would happen to the refugees in Croatia if these attacks persisted? This unembarrassed threat, part of a media offensive against ‘mujahedin’, coincided with the moment when Croat forces were clearing Muslims from areas in central Bosnia allocated to the Croats by the Vance-Owen plan. No reprimand came from the Security Council: it knew very well the part played by the plan in causing the violence. The recent atrocities around Vitez are an entirely logical development, aggravated by Croat fear that the plan might be dropped altogether because of Serb intransigence. Western armed intervention, should it ever come, probably would not meet active Croat resistance. The Croats have no wish to take on all-comers. More likely, intervention would dent Croat arrogance towards Bosnian Muslims and provoke a serious reappraisal in Zagreb.

The Croats’ haste to enforce the Vance-Owen ‘solution’ for Bosnia-Herzegovina before it had been agreed by the other two sides is soon explained. It is a tenet of Croatian nationalism that Bosnia – Herzegovina cannot be viable as an independent state because too much of it – in the most extreme version, all of it – belongs to Croatian ‘historic and ethnic space’. In other words, because the medieval kingdom of Croatia included the present territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina, that territory is forever and essentially Croatian. (Serb nationalists take the same view of Kosovo.) It follows that Bosnian Muslims are really Croats whose ancestors adopted Islam under the Ottomans; hence they cannot be a nation, with equal rights to statehood. The elected Sarajevo government’s idea, abandoned under pressure from Vance-Owen, of restoring the republic as a unitary, secular ‘civil state’ with national guarantees appears to Croat (and Serb) believers as nothing more than a liberal veil for majorizacija or ‘majorisation’ by the Muslims, who before this war formed 43 per cent of the population. Were that to rise to 50 per cent, they would be in a position to capture the machinery of state by a putsch or by creeping occupation, and sooner rather than later, the Croats (and Serbs) would be stripped of their rights.

Tudjman himself is a firm believer in this scenario, and loses no chance to warn against majorizacija. Meanwhile the Muslim leaders have shown no sign of trying to copy Zagreb or Belgrade: their priority has been survival. But the mind of the latterday Balkan nationalist is walled with mirrors and lit by paranoia. Tudjman doubtless recalls the alacrity with which his government reduced the constitutional status of Croatia’s Serbs in 1990. The President sees himself as leader of Croats everywhere, from Zagreb to Buenos Aires, and believes that only a comprehensive accord with the Serbs (likewise envisaged as a totality) can resolve the Balkan Question. In a sense he is right: there has to be some accord between these two nations. But if Croats and Serbs are the negotiating parties, then Bosnia-Herzegovina represents only small change in the larger deal. The territorial model Tudjman favours is broadly the 1939 settlement, which annexed a quarter of Bosnia-Herzegovina to Croatia proper. The Second World War happened too soon for anyone to know whether that experiment would have saved royal Yugoslavia from permanent national crisis. Extreme vulnerability obliged Tudjman to recognise Bosnia-Herzegovina’s independence in April 1992, but his deeper convictions continued to steer policy even when Croat and Bosnian forces were fighting side by side, and Croatia was absorbing hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Imagine then his and his government’s delight when Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen proposed to restore the outline of the 1939 settlement almost exactly. A quarter of the republic’s territory for 17 per cent of the population! And the right quarter at that: the historic ethnic space of western Herzegovina and Posavina. The arid ranges of western Herzegovina have a special place in the national mythology. Some communities there are more nearly pure Croat than almost any inside Croatia, and many feel their national identity with a blind passion which, inside Croatia, is common only in the Dinaric regions adjacent to Herzegovina and farther north, between the Dalmatian coast and the border with Bosnia. The role of such sparse, backward, clannish, patriarchal, arms-bearing communities was important on both sides in the Serb-Croat war. The Serbs of Knin led the original rebellion against Croatia in the summer of 1990, and the Dinaric Croats were readier than others to respond in kind.

As the conflict escalated through the spring and summer of 1991, these Croats volunteered to join the new militia and paramilitary forces. And, just as important, émigré Croats from these parts sent money to buy the arms which Croatia desperately lacked. (Because the region is poor and because it supplied the Croatian Fascist state of 1941-5 with most of its support, there is a large pool of such émigrés.) When the Germans retreated before Tito’s Partisans, the Croat Fascists fled too, along with their more and less willing collaborators and others caught up in the storm. For the next forty-five years the flame of anti-Communist, anti-Yugoslav nationalism burned bright within émigré communities, from Australia to Canada to Germany, though not with the same brightness everywhere, nor unopposed by other ideas and loyalties. Branka Magas’s new book, for example, proves that a pro-Yugoslav leftist carrying the full weight of anti-nationalist baggage was quite capable of discerning which forces were killing the federation, and of opposing them without lapsing into the resignation that wishes a plague on all national projects alike.*

Before the 1990 elections, nationalist émigrés stumped up for Tudjman and his party, the HDZ (Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica, or Croatian Democratic Community), in their campaign against the Communists and a Yugoslavia now dominated by Milosevic’s Serbia. In victory, Tudjman urged the émigrés to return: he promised that Croatia was theirs too. Some were even given seats in the Cabinet. Meanwhile, Serbs whose families had lived in Croatia for generations were made to feel like outsiders.

As the emergency became a war, more émigrés and Herzegovinans rallied to the cause. A ‘Herzegovina lobby’ based in Zagreb began to make itself felt, influencing military decisions, using imported capital to wreck the socialist economy, and generally dragging policy farther in a rightward, Catholic direction. The defenders of Vukovar, for example, claimed that arms which should have gone east to Slavonia in autumn 1991 were diverted south to Herzegovina, which may have been threatened, but wasn’t fighting for its life. The Croat communities in Herzegovina declared autonomy from the government in Sarajevo; and when the Bosnian Serbs and the Yugoslav Army launched their war in April 1992, the bonds between these communities and Zagreb were drawn still tighter. The Croatian media treat Herzegovina as a part of Croatia like any other; the Defence Minister – prominent in the ‘lobby’ – describes it in that way in the Parliament.

No wonder then that the names of Vance and Owen were blessed for promising to drop the forbidden fruit into outstretched hands. Yet Tudjman’s Bosnia policy, whether or not it achieves its end, is proving a disaster for Croatia. It may well be seen as his worst failure, more damaging even than his refusal, in 1990, to discriminate between Serbs who were implacably opposed to Croatian independence and the greater number who remained open to persuasion. Croatia’s moral head-start, gained at such cost in the 1991 war, has been squandered. The country’s fate is now bound to that of its neighbour; Croatian politics are filled with subterfuge and irrationality; every question of internal democracy and development is sacrificed to the murky, catch-all imperatives of the national interest and national mission – even queuing for black bread is seen as the price of solidarity with the just struggle of Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The liberal opposition, such as it is, will not challenge the policy or the wretched Vance-Owen plan for fear of being branded unpatriotic. In any case, why should Zagreb liberals lay their heads on the line for a principle which the Western mediators have trampled on by reducing the Sarajevo Government to the status of ‘Muslim leaders’? There is no public discussion of the policy, of its nationalist premise (endorsed by the Security Council) that different bits of Bosnia-Herzegovina belong to different nations, or of its immense implications for Croatia’s future. Foreign affairs are never discussed in Parliament, and open debate has practically disappeared from the media.

Significantly, it is the Dalmatian press which has fought hardest for honest reporting; but one of its papers is no longer distributed in the capital (Novi List from Rijeka), another is the paper of the Italian minority, hence unread by Croats, while the third and most important has been neutered by a government board installed, ostensibly, to safeguard public investment during privatisation. This paper, Slobodna Dalmacija, still looks the same, some of its bylines are the same, but, like the weekly news magazine Danas, it is a fake. Danas was the best in the country until it was hunted down last summer, stuffed with tame views, and then put back on the news-stands. This fondness for simulacra puts one in mind of the ersatz Marlboro cigarettes manufactured hereabouts under licence, which people buy when they can’t afford the real thing.

As for Slobodna, its appearance is in fact not quite unchanged. The new regency set its seal on it at once by removing a little box on page two which explained the paper’s origin in 1943 as ‘a herald of truth from the Croatian littoral about the people’s struggle for freedom’ – a neat example of the current drive to downplay the anti-Fascist cause in Croatia during the Second World War. And as the Croat Partisans are now belittled, so their domestic adversary – the quisling state run by Ante Pavelic and his ustashe movement – is nudgingly rehabilitated. Early this year, the Zagreb commission for such matters was only deterred by public pressure at the last moment from renaming Marshal Tito Square after Mile Budak, whose name the commission then wanted to give to Djuro Salaj Street. Salaj was one of Tito’s Partisan heroes, Budak some kind of writer who served Pavelic as Minister of Religion and Education. When Slobodna got wind of this, it reminded readers that Budak’s collected works ought properly to include the Law to Protect the Popular and Aryan Culture of the Croatian People, enacted on 1 July 1941 (‘Jews are banned by race from collaborating in, or influencing in any way, the development of popular and Aryan culture, and from participating in any way in the work, organisations, and social, youth, sporting and cultural institutions of the Croatian people generally, and especially in literature, journalism, plastic and musical arts, urbanism, drama and film’). The fact that Salaj Street is lined with university buildings added insult to infamy. A university delegation protested, as did the Jewish community, and Salaj’s name remains – for now. As if to confirm that since the putsch at Slobodna, there is no sure way of learning about such schemes until it is too late, the 7 April edition reported that a street in Split – the capital of Dalmatia, the paper’s home town – had been given Budak’ s name a week before.

It may seem bizarre that meddling with street names should be a strategy in a grand ideological project, but this is Tudjman’s way. The President has a mission beyond winning recognition for an independent Croatia: to heal the schism between pro and anti-Yugoslav Croats which has existed since the Nazis created Pavelic’s Fascist state in 1941. In its mixture of naive dogmatism and right-wing revisionism, this is very much the project of an elderly Communist, now a born-again nationalist. Implicitly, it proposes that both sides in the civil war of 1941-5 were patriots led more or less tragically astray by Partisan promises of Communist ‘brotherhood and unity’ or Nazi promises to create a Croatian state. Either way, the real villain is, was and ever shall be ‘dogmatic-Communist, Yugoslav-unitaristic and Greater Serbian hegemonistic forces’ – to quote one of Tudjman’s favourite categories.

Anyone can agree that reconciliation would greatly benefit the Croats as they develop their state. Tudjman and his vanguard are not physicians, however: fear and dismay, smugness and bullying, are more evident than sweetness and light. The nationalists believe that nothing matters more for the new state than unity. Thus former anti-Fascist and pro-Yugoslav Croats are slighted and harangued while the other lot are welcomed back into the fold on condition they do not boast openly about Pavelic and his achievement.

Promulgating the new constitution in 1990, Tudjman spoke of ‘the ideas expressed from Starcevic and Radic to Stepinac and Hebrang, but also from Strossmayer to Tito, and especially any synthesis of these ideas’. What synthesis can be made of a pioneer theorist of state-making (one Croatia from the Alps to Bulgaria), a mercurial republican who served in the royal Yugoslav government, a cardinal who served under Pavelic, a Partisan leader, an archbishop with ecumenical and South Slav visions, and a Stalinist revolutionary trained in the Comintern? The fact of their all being Croats isn’t, of course, enough; only a benighted nationalist would think it might be.

The nationalist’s riposte would be that Tito and Stepinac were enemies in their day, but the grounds for their enmity have gone because Yugoslavia has gone and a recognised Croatian state exists. It does, and a good thing too: Yugoslavia had become a monstrosity. But Tudjman and his party have no programme for renovation and development: they only know how to drive looking in the rear-view mirror.

The HDZ is a sprawling coalition, thrown together in the months before the 1990 elections. Clerical dissidents, émigrés, passionate nationalists, careerists, lifelong Communists and anti-Communists, all clubbed together and won. Three years on, the coalition is badly frayed. Top-level feuds inside the Party generate more interest these days than the latest news from Serb-occupied zones. A former Partisan general who was jailed for nationalist deviations in the Seventies and then led the struggle to leave Yugoslavia, Tudjman is unique in straddling the divide. Recently, he has tilted a little more in favour of the anti-fascists, but his general policy is to use the rhetoric of reconciliation as a way of maintaining discipline among colleagues who detest one another.

The HDZ is unlikely to survive Tudjman’s eventual retirement. A more serious – or, at any rate, urgent – problem is that he seems to have fallen for his own propaganda and now actually believes that party unity is a true reflection of national unity, that the one entails the other. Given his background, it is not surprising that the 70-year-old Tudjman has not noticed or does not care that an overwhelming majority of Croats harbour no wish to see the ustashe rehabilitated or the 1939 borders restored in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The anti-Fascists should not be glorified, or the other side demonised, and western Herzegovina should be able to defend itself. But that, in the general reckoning, is probably enough.

To test my impression that only a minority wants to worship in a new, anti-Communist national pantheon, I went recently to a street renamed after Bruno Busic, a national freedom-fighter or terrorist, depending on your point of view, who was assassinated in Paris fifteen years ago by the Yugoslav secret service. Of the first ten people I met, four were in favour of the name-change, two were mildly positive, four were indifferent or sarcastic. And Busic was not an apologist for the ustashe.

Meanwhile, the business of reconciliation bolsters the abiding suspicion abroad that Croat aspirations are inveterately fascistic. Most prominent among the old Communists in the Cabinet, after the President, is Josip Manolic. He has warned that a recent television film about Busic ‘caused great damage to Croatia’. Vice Vukojevic, a former émigré from Herzegovina who heads the right wing in the HDZ, disdains such qualms. We Croats ‘have had ugly experience of every kind of internationalism’, he declared in the Easter edition of Slobodna. ‘HDZ is an autochthonous party with a pure Croatian purpose of state-making on the foundations of Starcevic and Radic. We cannot accept the programme of any international ... First we had the Communist, then the socialist, and now the liberal international.’ He then went on to denounce the Masonic conspiracy intent on preventing a community of Catholic states in Danubian and Central Europe.

This is not a man living in 1993. To give Vukojevic his due, he doesn’t really claim to be: these, he cries, ‘are our Biblical times’. ‘What our leaders cannot grasp,’ says a lecturer at the university, ‘is that history for Croatia starts now.’ Perhaps it takes a professional historian to see the full damage being wrought in the name of a falsified history. The notion of a nine hundred-year struggle for statehood is all well and good as myth, but Croatia’s real history is regional and international. It is only national in an ideological (or literary) sense. The existing borders are mostly historic, yet before the Partisan victory the territory they enclosed was not a political entity; in recent centuries it had belonged to Venice, the Republic of Dubrovnik, Austria, Hungary, the Military Frontier, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Pavelic’s puppet Great Croatia. Since the Socialist Republic of Croatia belonged to the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, Croatia’s history might be said to start in 1991.

The current campaign against regionalism should be seen in this light, though it has to be said that authoritarian governments always want to centralise power. Nothing shows the regime’s reactionary instincts more clearly than its hatred of the constructive criticism that comes from Istria, Dalmatia and Slavonia, three regions with distinctly multinational identities. The response to the Serb assault in 1991 proved the depth of regional consciousness. When eastern Slavonia was under daily bombardment, life went on as usual in Istria and Dubrovnik, and pretty much so in Zagreb. Had Herzegovinans not smuggled weapons and raised illegal militias, Croatia would surely have lost even more than 26 per cent of its territory. The trauma of war welded the regions together as nothing else could have.

With the assault by the Serbs at least contained, traditional doubts about Zagreb resurfaced. The regime characterises these as ‘Yugonostalgia’, ‘anti-Croatism’, ‘autonomism’, even as ‘separatism’ – anything to avoid thinking of it as normal resistance to the loss of prerogatives and capital. Istria is the principal villain because it has an efficient regional party which trounces the HDZ in elections, and because it is the only place where tourism has reached even half the pre-war levels, and Zagreb desperately wants the hard currency tourism provides. In truth, there is no separatism to speak of, yet the regime’s foolish hostility is provoking a reaction, and with Italy now in chaos, more Italian politicians will be tempted to play the irredentist card.

The Dalmatian case is different. Because of the Serb occupation in the south, all land traffic there is diverted via the island of Pag – Dalmatia is cut off when high winds stop the ferry. What’s more, the war in Bosnia and the worst drought for forty years have caused an energy crisis: Dalmatians get eight and a half hours of electricity daily. Rising discontent, however, receives short shrift from the nationalists, who have dubbed Dalmatia ‘South Croatia’. The need to restore a north-south link partly explains why Croatia reopened hostilities on 22 January this year, seizing back the Maslenica channel, Zadar airport and the Peruca dam. And military success won political dividends. The Security Council extended the peace-keeping mandate in Croatia, ending months of uncertainty. At home, the vague pressure for action – born of a bitter perception that Croatia was losing the peace – found release.

What the military action cannot guarantee is the land link. Maslenica bridge cannot be rebuilt until local Serb forces give their consent. Otherwise they will shell it with the same artillery which has been killing civilians in nearby Zadar and Sibenik since 22 January. Serb consent can be won either by sheer force or politically, but the first is impossible and the second taboo. It may be that nothing can be done to improve relations between Zagreb and the occupied zones without a change of heart in Belgrade. But Zagreb acts as if there is nothing to be gained by appealing to the interests of those zones. While the HDZ fiddles with street names, an infinitely more urgent and practical reconciliation is postponed, or ignored altogether. Professor Ivo Banac of Yale, the foremost liberal émigré critic of the regime, has said that the aggression against Croatia in 1991 would have been no less had Tudjman acted like a saint – an important truth. But what about the response to that aggression as it affected Croatia’s nearly six hundred thousand Serbs, 12 per cent of the population? Then as now, they were treated as enemies within.

Croatia needs to be pragmatic, needs, for a start, to respect the legal rights of the 70,000 Serbs who remain. But even to speak like this is to invite curses or hopeless shrugs. The existence of anti-Serb terrorism is an open secret in Croatia. According to Ivan Zvonimir Cicak, president of the Croatian Helsinki Committee, 11,000 Serb homes have been destroyed since the January 1992 ceasefire. Eight thousand people, almost all Serbs, have been denied citizenship. No one has challenged Cicak’s figures. If Herzegovina’s Croats are playing the role of the Kosovo Serbs, then Croatian Serbs have been cast since the ceasefire as Kosovo Albanians. The strategy, transparently, is to end up with a negligible number of them. The regime wants the occupied zones back without Serbs. It exploits the fact that its crimes can never rival those of the Serbian regime; and the longer it remains in power, the smaller the chance of reform, for it is expediently more than viscerally anti-Serb, veiling its own corrupt activities behind easy appeals to national unity. And as HDZ has become the only forum for ambitious politicians and executives, an enormous number of careers depend on its supremacy.

Conditions in the occupied zones are far worse. Not only has the UN presence failed to return any non-Serbs to their homes: thousands more have been expelled in the past year, and hundreds killed. However, one should do the HDZ regime the credit of not judging it by the standards of the occupied zones. The ‘Republic of Serbian Krajina’ is a twilit land ruled by paramilitary bandits, sustained by plunder and contraband. Croatia by contrast is a legal state, – though one wouldn’t recognise it from its President’s latest panegyric: ‘the democratic system in the new Croatian state is stronger and more stable than in any other post-Communist state.’

Should the fact that so few Croats are ready to stand up for the rights of Croatian Serbs be taken as confirmation that the HDZ has its finger on the national pulse? A recent newspaper survey suggests that the stark contradictions in people’s ideas of patriotism are beyond the reach of a coercive, purifying ‘synthesis’, that the only synthesis which really matters is the living fabric of Croatian history, with its unruly tensions intact. The respondents chose Miroslav Krleza (1893-1981) as the intellectual who loved Croatia best – above Starcevic, and above Tudjman. Born in Habsburg Zagreb, he volunteered for the Serbian Army in 1913, only to be arrested as an Austrian spy. Arrested as a Communist by the ustashe in 1941, he was saved by none other than Mile Budak. Later, Tito took him under his wing. Danilo Kis called him a ‘Communist Voltaire’. Tudjman recently intervened to stop the budget being axed for a Krleza encyclopedia, long planned to coincide with the centenary of his birth in July.

The boyish nouveau philosophe Alain Finkielkraut got a rousing reception in Zagreb when he came here for the launch of his new book, How Can One Be A Croat? In the darkest days of 1991, when commentators and politicians – French and British ones perhaps above all – were turning up their noses or equivocating or speaking of ustashe genocide as if it explained the bombardment of Vukovar and Dubrovnik, Finkielkraut spoke up for Croatia. Now, students and pensioners queued in the stair-well to hear him explain that France was immersed in a Hollywood fantasy of ‘Europe’ as the new land of opportunity, while the Croats and Slovenes were affirming a better, truer idea of Europe by their readiness to die for hearth, homeland and culture.

If Finkielkraut had anything to say about democracy in Croatia today, I missed it. Was he wisely shunning the self-righteousness which expects politics to be more ethical in small new states than big old ones? Or was he loath to spoil the clear Parisian outlines of the utopia he was sketching, a utopia of authentic patriotism? Krleza would not, one suspects, have been impressed by Finkielkraut’s stylish thesis; the Communist Voltaire had no lime for romantic idealism about small nations in Central Europe.

Another centenary passed last December with barely a word. It is a sign of the times that his English translator, celia Hawkesworth, did more for Ivo Andric in 1992 than anyone in Zagreb did, though that is where the Nobel laureate studied and published his early work. Andric, who died in 1975, is an ambiguous case, nationally speaking: born in Bosnia to a Croat father, he defined himself as a Serbian writer. Krleza placed Andric’s work within ‘Croatian and South Slav literature’. Kis, in his warm, ironic way, spoke of ‘the monstre sacré Ivo Andric, Serb or Croat, as you wish’. Now Andric has been abandoned by Zagreb and appropriated by the Serbia of Slobodan Milosevic. His portrait gazes stoically out from a new Yugoslav banknote, and the centenary was celebrated in Belgrade, where he wrote his novels in wartime seclusion.

Given that Andric’s work is devoted to Bosnia and its concentration of differences, Dr Hawkesworth could hardly avoid alluding to the Bosnian horrors in introducing her translations: ‘Sarajevo is racked once again by senseless violence’; ‘the hatred stirred up between the different groups’: ‘the catastrophic conflict afflicting his native Bosnia’. It has to be said, however, that the siege of Sarajevo has an intelligible and terrible purpose. Whatever schemes were brewed in Zagreb and Herzegovina, the onslaught was not launched by Croats. As for the Muslims, their lack of mobilising hatred hastened their destruction. But Dr Hawkesworth is true to the spirit of her author. In a famous story, ‘A Letter from 1920’, as well as in certain passages of The Days of the Consuls, Andric expresses the view that ‘hatred and fear’ were the deepest characteristics of a ‘poor, backward country in which four different faiths live cheek by jowl’. This Bosnia was a ‘nightmare’ from which the tormented natives could never awake. Today the sufferings of Bosnia’s Muslims seems at times to darken the very air in Zagreb, stirring a sense of dread.

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Letters

Vol. 15 No. 10 · 27 May 1993

In an otherwise illuminating survey of modern Croatia (LRB, 13 May) Mark Thompson states of Branka Magas that her book The Destruction of Yugoslavia ‘proves that a pro-Yugoslav leftist carrying the full weight of anti-nationalist baggage was quite capable of discerning which forces were killing the federation, and of opposing them, without lapsing into the resignation that wishes a plague on all national projects alike.’ Few people will recognise Magas in this description. A virulent pro-Croatian nationalist is how most of us on the left would describe her. When she talks of Serbia as a regime as oppressive as Pol Pot’s Cambodia she is perhaps using allowable rhetorical means. But her recent claims that Serbia is ‘intrinsically evil’ have led even some of her former comrades in the International Group to distance themselves from her position. Magas was one of the signatories of a letter to the Guardian on 10 April which called for military action against Serbia: the deployment of ground troops, to punish the Serbs, is even more problematic. Backers of such acts would not, conventionally, be described as ‘leftist’, though Mark Thompson is free to find creative uses of the word in his desire to find something to admire in the wreck that is modern Croatia.

Andrew Coates
Ipswich

Vol. 15 No. 12 · 24 June 1993

Having been described in the former Yugoslav press as a ‘counter-revolutionary’ and ‘supporter of Albanian separatism’, by Croat chauvinists as ‘pro-Chetnik’, ‘Yugo-nostalgic’ and a ‘rotten left-wing feminist’, to be called, as Andrew Coates (Letters, 27 May) calls me, a ‘virulent pro-Croatian nationalist’ simply rounds off the list. Those who wish to know what my views really are can, of course, read my book, Destruction of Yugoslavia – which includes two articles that first appeared in the London Review of Books.

Let me say for the record that I have never compared the Serbian regime to that of Pol Pot – though evidently they do have certain common features. Nor have I described Serbia as ‘intrinsically evil’ (though its regime could no doubt be described thus), partly because I do not subscribe to the notion of collective guilt and partly because I am very well aware that Serbs are also victims of this war. (This does not, of course, mean that Serb – and non-Serb – war criminals should not be punished.) In the letter to the Guardian to which Coates refers, which I co-signed with members of Action for Bosnia (some of whom are Serbs), we called for the lifting of the arms embargo and endorsed military action in support of Bosnian sovereignty and against Serbia’s war machine in Bosnia-Herzegovina, for reasons that were specified and which, moreover, are shared by the multi-national government of that country. Indeed, we insisted that ‘capitulation to the forces of aggression would mortgage any democratic future for Serbia itself.’ This is the view of all Serbian democrats – who, incidentally, have not shirked from comparing Slobodan Milosevic to Saddam Hussein and describing his regime as ‘national-socialist’, denouncing Dobrica Cosic as the chief ideologue of the Serbian war, naming Radovan Karadjic as ‘the murderer of Sarajevo’, or defining what the three have done collectively as a ‘historic defeat of Serbia’. Finally, I have never belonged to an ‘International Group’, nor to my knowledge does any such organisation exist.

Writing in the LRB, I stressed how ‘the Serbs – pushed into the role of aggressors – are, of course, victims of [Milosevic’s] policy equally with the rest. In Serbia, as in other parts of Yugoslavia, right-wing nationalism threatens the home nation as much as it does the alleged national enemy.’ I also paid tribute to ‘the courage of the few [in Serbia] who, despite physical attacks and constant threat to their lives, continue to oppose the war’ and to ‘the tens of thousands of young Serbs who rallied against Milosevic in March of this year [1991] and who form the lifeblood of the anti-war movement’. I saw them – then as now – as ‘proof that Serbia’s democratic tradition is by no means exhausted’. What separates me from people like Coates is the refusal to reduce Serbia and the Serbs to the political project represented by Milosevic, Cosic, Karadjic and Mladic. If this amounts to ‘virulent pro-Croatian nationalism’, then so be it.

Branka Magaš
London W11

Vol. 15 No. 13 · 8 July 1993

Mark Thompson
Zagreb, Croatia

Vol. 15 No. 17 · 9 September 1993

Replying to Mark Thompson, Joan Phillips of Living Marxism claims that the latter is ‘neither pro-Serb nor anti-Croat’ (Letters, 19 August). Yet it was the same Joan Phillips who in the March 1993 issue of Living Marxism portrayed the Serbian destruction of Vukovar as simply a response to Croatian oppression of Serbs, and complained that because of media bias the public was ‘left to conclude that the Serbian forces who laid waste to Vukovar were evil men.’ In the March 1992 issue, Phillips claimed that ‘Croatian politicians have succeeded in inventing a national identity which did not exist a few years ago.’ In the January 1992 issue, she claimed that ‘what we have in Yugoslavia is the invention of ethnic differences by Croatian nationalists who want to justify their claim to independent nationhood … Not all that long ago, most people in Yugoslavia would have identified themselves as Yugoslavian, not Croatian or Serbian.’ These statements, self-evidently anti-Croat, are factually untrue: every Yugoslav constitution from the founding of Communist Yugoslavia until its break-up recognised the Croats and Serbs as different nations, while the Census of 1981 shows that only 8.2 per cent of Croatian citizens and 4.8 per cent of Serbian citizens identified themselves as Yugoslavs rather than as Serbs, Croats or members of the ethnic minorities (the figures for the 1961 Census are 0.4 per cent and 0.3 per cent respectively).

Living Marxism also accepts the interpretation of the Second World War in Yugoslavia favoured by Serbian racists. In the April 1993 issue, Phillips described the view that large numbers of Croats as well as Serbs joined the Anti-Fascist struggle as putting an ‘undeserved positive sheen on the reputation of Croatia’. According to Phillips, ‘some Anti-Fascist Croats certainly did join the Partisans, but they were always a very small minority.’ This despite the fact that in late 1943, in the middle of the war, 11 out of the Partisans’ 26 divisions were Croatian and composed mostly of Croats. Phillips even goes so far as to suggest that Serbian Fascists were essentially blameless with regard to the extermination of Serbia’s Jews during World War Two, describing reports to the contrary as Croatian nationalist propaganda. Equal numbers of Jews were killed in wartime Serbia and wartime Croatia – 24,000 and 23,000 respectively – and the Serbian Nazi quisling regime of Milan Nedic participated enthusiastically in the holocaust and indeed built its own death camps, such as the Banjica camp in Belgrade, which was staffed by Serbs. Thus Living Marxism tars the whole Croat nation with the fascist brush yet actually denies the crimes of Serbian Fascism. How much more anti-Croat can one get?

Whatever the intentions of Phillips, Living Marxism is little better than a propaganda sheet for right-wing Serbian nationalism. That this is so was made clear in the spring of this year, when it organised the transfer to Britain of an exhibition funded by the Serbian Government which had previously been on display in Belgrade. This exhibition showed pictures of Serb victims of the Ustasha genocide during World War Two alongside pictures of Serb – and only Serb victims of the present war, in a perverse attempt to equate the two.

Attila Hoare
Robinson College, Cambridge

Vol. 15 No. 19 · 7 October 1993

Attila Hoare’s assertion (Letters, 9 September) that Serbia was a fascist state led by a ‘Nazi quisling’ during the Second World War is incorrect. Serbia was under German occupation for most of the war. The Serbs defied Hitler in March 1941 by refusing to accept the Tripartite Pact. Many Serbs marched through Belgrade shouting ‘Better death than the Pact.’ Soon after, Hitler launched Operation Punishment and invaded Serbia. Nazi bombers reduced Belgrade to rubble.

By contrast, the Nazis were greeted with flowers as they marched into Croatia. Hitler rewarded the Croats with an enlarged state that included most of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Croat Ustashe regime immediately set about exterminating its Serbian and Jewish population. Croatia became one of Hitler’s staunchest allies. Three Croat divisions (the 369th, 373rd and 392nd) fought alongside the Nazis on the Russian front.

A rump Serbia was established by Hitler after much of its territory was annexed to Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria and Albania. The puppet government of Milan Nedich was installed in Serbia to handle local administration. Although a servant of the Germans, Nedich was not a ‘Nazi quisling’. The extermination of Jews in Serbia was carried out almost entirely by the German Army. It was Harald Turner, chief of the civilian branch of the German command in occupied Serbia, who proclaimed Serbia cleansed of Jews.

George Tintor
London EC2

Vol. 15 No. 20 · 21 October 1993

George Tintor (Letters, 7 October) seems unable to distinguish either between Fascist and Anti-Fascist Croats, or between Fascist and Anti-Fascist Serbs. He writes that ‘the Nazis were greeted with flowers as they marched into Croatia. Hitler rewarded the Croats with an enlarged state that included most of Bosnia-Herzegovina.’ Which Croats did Hitler reward? Not the Croats of Dalmatia and Medjimurje whose land was annexed to Italy and Hungary by the Nazis. Not the Croats who resented having their country treated as a colony by the German and Italian occupiers. Not the countless Croats who opposed the Ustashe Fascists and paid for opposition with their lives. Not the supporters of Vladko Macek, Croatia’s leading pre-war politician, who was incarcerated by the Ustashe throughout the war for refusing to collaborate (the Nazis used the Ustashe to rule Croatia precisely because no popular mainstream Croat politicians would do the job). Some Croats had indeed initially viewed the Germans as liberators from Serbian oppression, but most soon saw that German rule was even worse than Serbian. By the end of the war the Croatian Partisans had an army of 150,000 fighting the Nazis and Ustashe (compared to only eight thousand or so Croat troops whom Hitler was able to use on the Russian front).

Tintor claims that ‘the Serbs defied Hitler in March 1941 by refusing to accept the Tripartite Pact.’ Ordinary Serbs certainly were opposed to the Pact, but the same cannot be said for Serbia’s rulers. On 25 March 1941 Yugoslavia joined the Tripartite Pact. On 26-27 March a Serbian nationalist coup installed the Government of General Simovic, who reaffirmed Yugoslavia’s adherence to the Pact on 30 March. Tintor claims that wartime Serbia was not a Fascist state and that its ruler, Nedic, ‘was not a Nazi quisling’. Nedic was, like Norway’s Vidkun Quisling, a former government minister who helped rule his country on behalf of the Nazis and helped implement the Holocaust. Like their Croat counterparts, Serbian Fascists under Nedic massacred Jews themselves, or rounded them up for the Nazis to kill. In August 1942, Nedic’s Government claimed all Jewish property for Serbs. In autumn 1941, many Serbs rose against the Nedic regime but were crushed by the Germans in alliance with the Serbian royalist Chetniks under Draza Mihailovic. The Chetniks later carried out mass killings of Muslims and Croats in Bosnia, which paralleled the massacres of Serbs by the Ustashe.

Thousands of Serbs, Croats and Muslims fought together against the Fascists. In February 1943, the multinational Partisan Army fought the decisive battle of the war at the Neretva River, near Mostar, against the combined forces of the Germans, Italians, Ustashe and Chetniks. The Croat, Serb and Muslim nations thus have a shared heritage of common struggle. Tintor does no favours to the Serbs by defending those Serbian Fascists who oppressed their own people, or by denigrating the Croats who also suffered under Fascism.

Attila Hoare
Robinson College, Cambridge

Vol. 15 No. 22 · 18 November 1993

In the present propaganda battle among the warring factions in former Yugoslavia the history of the Holocaust is insistently revised with the aim of making the opposing faction guilty of the killing of Jews. This mud-throwing at the local enemy belittles the role of the Germans in the destruction of Jews in Yugoslavia. Thus Attila Hoare (Letters, 9 September) alleged: ‘Equal numbers of Jews were killed in wartime Croatia and wartime Serbia – 24,000 and 23,000 respectively – and the Serbian Nazi quisling regime of Milan Nedic participated enthusiastically in the Holocaust and indeed built its own death camps, such as the Banjica camp in Belgrade, which was staffed by Serbs.’ These allegations contain two incorrect statements and one half-truth. According to research by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia, published in 1952 in The Crimes of the Fascist Occupants and their Collaborators Against Jews in Yugoslavia, there was a great difference in both the number and the way Jews perished in Croatia and Serbia.

In the Fascist Independent State of Croatia, which was Hitler’s ally during the Second World War, not 24,000 but over 33,000 Jews lost their lives, about 21,000 from Croatia proper and 12,000 from Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was annexed to Croatia with Germany’s blessing. The great majority of the 33,000 Jewish victims were killed or starved and tortured to death in concentration camps in Croatia proper run by Croatian Ustashe guards. About five thousand were handed to the Germans to be deported to Auschwitz.

In Serbia, which was under German military occupation, not 23,000 but about 14,000 Jews lost their lives, almost exclusively at the hands of the Germans. About five thousand Jewish males were shot by the German Army in reprisals for losses inflicted on them by Serbian Partisans. About seven and a half thousand widows and orphans of executed males were gassed in a German concentration camp near Belgrade; about eight hundred were taken from the Jewish hospital in Belgrade and also gassed; and several hundred were killed by the Germans in small towns.

The allegation that the regime of Milan Nedic, installed by the Germans in Serbia in August 1941, enthusiastically participated in the Holocaust, is the second incorrect statement in Mr Hoare’s letter. No anti-Jewish legislation was passed by this regime, no death camp for Jews was established or run by it and virtually no killing perpetrated. All that was done by the German Army, police and SS which had almost entirely destroyed the Serbian Jewish population by May 1942 although several hundred Jews were still hiding with Serbian friends. The German police were hunting them and many were caught with the help of police loyal to Nedic’s regime, attracted by the financial reward the Germans were paying. This is all that can be found about Nedic in the published research of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia. The Germans themselves dealt with the Jews in Serbia; the duty of Nedic’s regime was to carry out internal administration.

The half-truth in Mr Hoare’s letter refers to the concentration camp Banjica in Belgrade. It was indeed a death camp and staffed by Serbian policemen, but it was not destined for Jews. This camp was established by German order and the Serbian personnel were subject to the control of the Gestapo. The camp was intended for Serbs who opposed the German occupation, for Partisans, Communists and liberal patriots. Out of 23,697 persons who were imprisoned in this camp only 455 were Jews.

As the former president of the Jewish Community in Belgrade and former vice-president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia, I plead with the warring factions in former Yugoslavia, and with their respective friends abroad, to stop using Jews in their propaganda warfare.

Jasa Almuli
London N3

Vol. 15 No. 24 · 16 December 1993

Having condemned both Serb and Croat Fascists as quislings who oppressed their own peoples on behalf of the Nazis, and who together with the Nazis helped implement the Holocaust (Letters, 21 October), I am condemned by Jasa Almuli (Letters, 18 November) as a supporter of a Croat ‘warring faction’ who has the aim of ‘making the opposing [Serb] faction guilty of killing the Jews’, and of ‘using Jews’ for ‘propaganda warfare’. Yet the truth is that the history of the Holocaust in Yugoslavia has become a major propaganda weapon of a Serbian regime seeking to justify its present-day genocide. The Serbian nationalist propagandists of today have attributed the anti-Jewish crimes of Croatian Fascists during World War Two to the Croatian people as a whole, while whitewashing the crimes of Serbian Fascists.

Anti-Jewish legislation was passed in Serbia even before the Nazi occupation: the legislation of October 1940, which restricted Jewish rights in commerce, industry and education, is reproduced in The Jews of Yugoslavia by Harriet Pass Friedenreich (1979). After the German invasion, the worst elements in Serbian society came to the fore, and the suffering of the Jews increased greatly. The source cited by Mr Almuli himself, The Crimes of the Fascist Occupants and the Collaborators against Jews in Yugoslavia, describes the anti-Jewish decree of 31 May 1941 in Serbia, which banned Jews from various jobs and from admission to cafés, trams and other public conveniences. The decree was enforced by the Nedic regime. The authorities of the city of Belgrade on 19 April 1941 helped the Nazis set up the Policija za Jevreje (Police for Jews), a Serbian police force who, between August and October 1941, rounded up about five thousand Jews for internment. On 22 October 1941, a Grand Anti-Masonic Exhibition opened in Belgrade, funded by the city council and depicting a Jewish-Masonic-Communist plot for world domination. On 30 January 1942, Metropolitan Josif, acting head of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, officially prohibited conversions of Jews to Serbian Orthodoxy. In August 1942 the Nedic Government claimed all Jewish property for the Serbian state. The Nedic regime set up the Serbian Volunteer Corps of several thousand under the Fascist ideologue Dimitrijc Ljotic, which captured and delivered Jews and Gypsies to the Nazis for execution. Serbian guards were used by the Nazis to push Jewish victims into mobile gassing vans. Mr Almuli accuses me of a ‘half-truth’ for mentioning the Banjica death camp in connection with the Holocaust. Yet he incorrectly puts the number of Jewish inmates of this camp at 455. At least 798 Jewish children alone passed through this camp.

To make political or moral distinctions between the Nedic regime and its Croatian Ustashe counterpart is to make distinctions between different shades of black. This serves only to present the Croats as a ‘genocidal nation’, while Serbian accomplices to the Holocaust are ‘only obeying orders’. Yet even in Croatia Jews fell victim to the Serbian Chetniks, acting independently of any German control, just as the Ustashe conducted their own massacres. Since in none of my letters have I written one word in defence of the Ustashe or against the Serb people, and since I have called in public and in writing for the military defeat of all Croatian forces in Bosnia today, I cannot be described as a spokesman of the Croatian ‘warring faction’.

Attila Hoare
Robinson College, Cambridge

Vol. 15 No. 16 · 19 August 1993

Mark Thompson’s letter (Letters, 8 July) was full of inaccuracies. We at Living Marxism never believed that Yugoslavia was socialist, nor that it was ‘untainted by Stalinism’. Living Marxism is neither pro-Serb nor anti-Croat. We have no brief for Slobodan Milosevic any more than for Franjo Tudjman, two former Stalinist bureaucrats who have embraced nationalism to save their own skins. We take no satisfaction from the suffering of any of the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, who are all victims of the cynical power-games being played by the great powers as well as by their own leaders.

Contrary to what Thompson implies, most of those who were once part of the Left in this country, far from being pro-Serb, have been demanding Western military intervention against the Serbs. They would do well to recall that there was no war in Yugoslavia until the West interfered.

Joan Phillips
Living Marxism

Vol. 16 No. 2 · 27 January 1994

Attila Hoare (Letters, 16 December 1993) tries to equate the fate of Jews in the Independent State of Croatia, a German creation where the Jews were destroyed by local Croatian Fascist Ustashe, and in wartime Serbia, which was occupied by the German Army. Mr Hoare is imputing to the Serbs crimes which they did not and even could not commit. In the Semlin Jewish concentration camp near Belgrade, which was run by the Gestapo, guarded by the German 64 Police Battalion, and whose Jewish inmates were gassed by two SS non-commissioned officers in a gas van brought from Berlin, Mr Hoare alleges that ‘Serbian guards were used by the Nazis to push Jewish victims into mobile gas vans.’ This could not have happened because the Semlin camp was not on Serbian territory but on the left bank of the Sava River, annexed to Croatia. Christopher Browning has established that the Germans decided on 28 October 1941 to establish a new camp on the exhibition grounds across the Sava from Belgrade and states: ‘As this side of the Sava was Croatian territory, Benzler asked the German Embassy in Zagreb to inquire if the exhibition grounds could be used, for a transit camp to which at first Jewish women and children should be brought … The Croatians agreed, provided the camp was guarded by Germans, not Serbs, and supplies came from Serbian, not Croatian territory.’ No history of the Holocaust has ever recorded any Serbian participation in the gassing of 7500 Jewish women and children in the Semlin camp. It was exclusively a German Nazi crime. Hoare refers to ‘the anti-Jewish decree of 31 May 1941 in Serbia … enforced by the Nedic regime’ without mentioning that it was a German decree and that the Government of the quisling Nedic was established by the Germans to fight Tito’s partisans only on 28 August 1941, three months after the decree was passed.

It was not the Metropolitan Josif, acting head of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church who officially prohibited conversions of Jews to Serbian Orthodoxy, as Hoare alleges, but the German commanding officer in Serbia. This German order was transmitted to the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs, which recommended that all registrars be informed and the Metropolitan Josif acknowledged receipt of the order.

The ‘Police for Jews’ in occupied Belgrade was not a ‘Serbian police force’, but a section within the Metropolitan Police staffed by several Serbian policemen but headed by a German, Otto Winzet, and under the command of the Gestapo.

Hoare states that even before the Nazi occupation (in October 1940) ‘anti-Jewish legislation was passed in Serbia.’ That is incorrect. It was passed in Yugoslavia under German pressure to which a coalition government yielded. The Yugoslavian Prime Minister was a Serb and his deputy a Croat.

It is incorrect to state that in August 1942 Nedic’s Government ‘claimed all Jewish property for the Serbian state’, as Hoare alleges. According to research done by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia, the Germans ceded all Jewish property to the Serbian authorities with the proviso that they be paid a specified sum as ‘war reparations’. ‘The result of this transaction was that the State Mortgage Bank delivered to the Germans all the proceeds of the sales of Jewish property and the sum of 364,868,368 dinars in addition.’

For us Jews of Yugoslavia the quisling Nedic regime in occupied Serbia and the Fascist Ustashe regime in the wartime Independent State of Croatia are not ‘different shades of black’, as Mr Hoare asserts. The main task of the Nedic regime was to fight Serbs who were rebelling against the Germans; he had no authority in the Jewish question, which the Nazis were determined to resolve alone in their murderous way. Historians have not discovered a single speech made by Nedic devoted to vilifying Jews, while Croatia was the only puppet state which murdered the majority of its Jews with its own hands on its own soil. Even Slovakia did not do that: it handed its Jews to the Germans, who sent them to the death-camps in Poland.

Jasa Almuli
London N3

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