The fall of the Berlin Wall, so symbolic of the
collapse of Communism in Europe, occurred on the 19th November 1989.
Yet long before that, the banned Croatian Democratic
Union had been planning a coup with a view to detaching Croatia from the
Yugoslav federation and creating a new, ethnically pure, Roman Catholic,
The death of Tito in 1980 opened the way. On 30 May
1990, to the delight of the Vatican, President Franjo Tudjman announced his ten
point plan to the newly elected parliament in the capital Zagreb. This
included “the carving out of a new position for Croatia within Yugoslavia;” together with, “the re‑Europeanisation of Croatia,” and, “the
spiritual rejuvenation of the Croatian people”.
Then on June 25th 1991, Croatia and its Roman Catholic
neighbour to the north, Slovenia, declared independence.
On 8th November Croatia severed all legal and
constitutional ties with the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
The overjoyed, but ever cautious, Vatican felt it safe
to recognise the new state on 13th January 1992.
Two days later the European Union followed suit. A
huge thanksgiving mass was held in Zagreb Cathedral.
On 22nd May 1992, Croatia’s security was guaranteed by
her admission to the United Nations, “the highest level of international
recognition that can be achieved by any country”.
On 19th Septtember 1992 the UN Security Council issued
Resolution 777, declaring that the, “state formerly known as Socialist Federal
Republic Yugoslavia, what we simply called Yugoslavia, no longer existed”.
As a consequence the area south west of Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, was cut off and became a nation state by default.
The other major partner in the now much shrunken Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, lay to the south east. It too suddenly found itself
completely isolated. Though still defiantly calling itself the Federal
Republic of Yigoslavia, it was in reality only small Serbia and Montenegro.
The Serbs were scattered throughout the whole of
former Yugoslavia, with sizeable enclaves even in Croatia. They felt aggrieved
and sought forcibly to carve out a “Greater Serbia” of a size more in keeping
with their former historical dominance in the region. They attempted to
capture corridors of land to link their isolated enclaves. More than a
millennium of history lay behind the Serbs desire to preserve their national identity
and protect their Serbian Orthodox Religion, with its far flung shrines and
holy places now widely scattered and ill protected.
The Vatican rubbed salt into Serbian wounds when on
10th and l1th September 1994 Pope John Paul II made a high profile visit to the
new Croatia, a bowl of former Yugoslav soil being raised for the papal kiss of
this King of Kings. The Pope’s arrival was eagerly greeted by a million strong
crowd at an open air mass in Zagreb. His itinerary had originally included a
visit to Sarajevo, capital of the new Bosnia Herzegovina. But the Vatican suddenly cancelled without explanation. Nevertheless one was soon forthcoming.
Under the headline, ‘The Catholic Church is Accused of Complicity in the
killing of Serbs,’ The New York Times of September 6, 1994, gave the
real reasons for the cancellation of the Pope’s visit to Sarajevo as follows:
“Serbian anger, which is evident in the Bosnian Serbs
refusal to assure the Pope’s visit, is essentially rooted in the events of World War II, so a papal visit might
have been greeted with whistles and boos. During the War, Roman Catholic
Archbishop of Zagreb, Alojzije Stepinac, greeted the installation of the
Pavelic regime as ‘God’s hand at work’ and never publicly denounced the
onslaught on Serbian civilians. The ferocity of this onslaught, which often
involved conversion of Greek orthodox Serbs to Roman Catholicism at gun point
or their massacre in churches, was well known in the Vatican.” Too true.
The new Bosnia Herzegovina’s ethnicity profile tells it all: Muslims 40%,
Serbian Orthodox 31%, and Roman Catholics 15%. We can forget “whistles and
boos”. The Pope would more likely have been assassinated, even had the Bosnian
Serbs not known that, after vespers in Croatia’s Zagreb Cathedral, the Pope
prayed at Stepinac’s tomb to the applause of monks and nuns!
To get events into perspective we must go back to 1914
when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Roman Catholic Austro-Hungary was
assassinated by a Serbian activist in Sarajevo. Thereupon Jesuit Cardinal
Merry del Val insisted that Serbia which for him represented Rome’s mortal
enemy the Eastern Orthodox Church ‑ be firmly “chastised”. The
instrument of that chastisement was to be Germany. But Germany and hence the Vatican lost the war.
|Cardinal Merry del Val, second from left.|
So Roman Catholicism, which had spread so freely from
Italy westwards through Savoy, France, Spain, Belgium, and northwards through
Switzerland, Austro‑Hungary, Germany and Poland, was still insolently
damned up at Italy’s North east border by a stubborn Eastern Orthodox wall of
This resistance now took the shape of a new,
independent Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes created on 29th October 1918.
But the Vatican had a Trojan horse in the area, namely
the Croats. If it could foment nationalism among the Croats, who were
culturally Latin and had been devoted to the papacy for 1300 years, and if the
Croats could dominate the area, Serb Orthodoxy would inevitably wither.
In 1929 Alexander became King of this new country, now
named Yugoslavia, meaning Southern Slavs. He was a fair man who tried to unite
his Slav people. But unfortunately this had the effect of bringing together
disparate Croat nationalists into a Ustashe party committed to founding a Croatian State using violent methods similar to those of the IRA.
In 1934, exiled Ustashe Ante Pavelic was widely
implicated in the assassination of King Alexander on a state visit to France, though it was carried out by a Macedonian. Pavelic was subsequently given safe
haven in Italy by Mussolini. There Pavelic built up the Ustashe, in secret
camps, from mere rebels with guns into a disciplined army in waiting, sporting
the feared red and white chequer board flag which Tudjman was later
insensitively to incorporate into the current Croatian flag on the basis of it
having appeared on past Croatian flags.
The Vatican's bloody triumph
The Vatican’s hour arrived in 1941. Yugoslavia was then ruled by a pro‑British regent, Prince Paul. It was offcially neutral
but the Croats brought about a panicky political U turn away from the Allies,
who just then looked likely to lose the war. Britain’s Serb friends acted
quickly, organised a coup, and in two days overthrew the regent, putting
Alexander’s son Peter on the throne at the head of a pro‑British
Hitler was furious and the Wehrmacht invaded, placing
all of Yugoslavia under Nazi rule in 10 days. Belgrade was smashed but Zagreb was preserved for the Croats to hail their Nazi liberators.
Pavelic was brought in as head of a new puppet Independent Croatian State. He was supported by Archbishop Stepinac and his RC hierarchy
and monks and nuns. Pavelic was soon to make even the Germans and Italians
shudder with the ferocity of his racial cleansing. At least 500,000 and
probably 700,000 (after allowing for 10% of all killed being Jews and Gypsies)
of the country’s two million Serbs were slaughtered with horrific medieval
brutality using hammers and knives, hatchets and saws, and even crucifixion. Much
of the killing took place at the Croatian Concentration Complex of Jasenovac
which consisted of five death camps run by Franciscan Monk Father Miroslav
Filipovic, and his Franciscan assistants Frs Brekalo, Lipovac and Culina.
One night in 1942 the camp guards held a competition
to see how many Serbs they could slaughter by hand. Catholic Crusader member
Peter Brzica won the title King of Cut‑throats by slitting 1,360 throats
with a special knife. During this period Plus XII twice received Pavelic in the
Tito to Milosevic
The Serbs rallied under the Communist partisans of
Tito’s post war Yugoslavia was held together by his
personal popularity and communist ideology. In the political vacuum that
followed his death in 1980, rifts along ethnic fault lines slowly appeared.
The Serbs witnessed the rise of Franjo Tudjman in Croatia with a shudder. The minor politician Slobodan Milosevic who happened to be in the
right place at the right time shot to power on a wave of Serb national consciousness.
The world media immediately turned against the Serbs.
In an ongoing and increasingly successful campaign, the Serbs were styled evil
aggressors. No allowance was made for their terrible memories of the fascist
state of Croatia and what it had done to them in WWII. The Serbs just behaved
as any threatened people would.
The emergence of the new Roman Catholic state of Croatia, created by the EU, the UN and the Vatican, had suddenly determined the future of the whole
of former Yugoslavia. The new Croatia had an amazing 96% Croat population
with over 90% claiming Roman Catholicism as their religion, while the Serb
encalves shrunk to a mere 1%.
The trial of Slobodan Milosevic, formerly President of the
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, now Serbia Montenegro, at the Hague for war
crimes, has portrayed him as the “Butcher of Belgrade” and “evil personified”.
This is much to the delight of the Vatican whose prospects in the area have
never been better.
Yet all Milosevic did was to lead the Serbs in their
attempt to safeguard 1500 years of their heritage with the horrors and
injustices of their World War II genocide ever before them. Philip Cunliffe of
Kings College London has posted a well balanced article on the internet at
www.spiked‑online.com/ Articles/0000000CAFC7.htm”. He says:
“The dynamics of Yugoslav disintegration were set in
motion, not by the expansionist instincts of the Serbian masses, but by the
Western powers, who began competing with each other legally to recognise and
give support to one ethnic group against another in the early 1990s. German
and EU recognition of Croatia and Slovenia in 1991 was followed by US recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992. Granting diplomatic recognition to
secessionist groups arbitrarily elevated the wishes of one group of Yugoslavs
over those, including the large Serbian minorities scattered throughout the
former Yugoslavia, who wanted to remain part of the federation. Thus the stage
was set for inter‑communal conflict. The bias against the Serbs
encouraged the other ethnic groups to resist a negotiated settlement, and to
precipitate further outside intervention on their behalf.”
The present writer has reviewed hours of old VHS
newscasts, including those of the BBC, which he collected in the 1990s. The
widespread anti‑Serb bias is obvious. It was therefore interesting to
note that in a postscript to the Milosevic funeral the BBC’s Mark Mardell in
his Europe Diary of 17th March reflected on whether Milosevic was a “War
criminal or a defender of Yogoslavia singled out for persecution by the West?”
He concludes, “I do not get the sense that many in Serbia will deeply mourn
Milosevic but perhaps he has become a symbol for a feeling that the Serbs have
been singled out as the international bad guys”.