For centuries, it has been the ambition of the Vatican to
crush the Serbian Orthodox Church. Croatia is the anvil on which she has sought
to carry out her scheme in recent times.
Croatia is gaining economic strength at an amazing
rate. It boasts a GDP twice that of Serbia Montenegro. Amanda Lamb’s latest
Channel 4 series, Place in the Sun, began by promoting this
“increasingly accessible” and “beautiful” land for speculators. Property
prices have doubled in the last three years and the tourist industry is
buzzing. The prospect of a further huge hike in property values next year,
when Croatia is admitted to EU membership, was held out to the British
The Croatian idyll was intoxicating. It now has all
the stunning Dalmatian coastline stretching in a great sweeping finger down to
just beyond Dubrovnik. Nor does she have to share this priceless asset with
the former Yugoslav hinterland any more. Hers and hers alone is this seemingly
endless coastline with its enchanting islands and lucrative marine potential.
Pope helps Croatia join
Croatia first sought EU membership in February 2003,
proclaiming that the country “has a right to participate in this magnificent
process”. PM Ivica Racan swore that Croatia “had changed” and now desperately
wanted to “share European values”.
The Vatican immediately went public. A forthcoming
Papal visit was trumpeted, with the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano
declaring to sceptics that, “this is undoubtedly a different Croatia that is
welcoming the Holy Father”.
Scheduled for the beautiful sunshine of early June,
Croatia had scooped the publicity attached to the late pontiff’s symbolic 100th
trip. Last time the world’s eyes were on Dubrovnic, the Serbs were shelling
this beautiful medieval seaport to universal disapproval hyped by slanted
reporting. But suddenly it is 6th June 2003, and everything has been
repaired. The gleaming buildings are set off by the blue sea, with masses of
pleasure craft bobbing about where Yugoslav gunboats once took aim.
We are shown John Paul II beatifying a local Mother
Theresa, nun Marija Petkovic. And in the process, seductive footage of Dubrovnic
with the advertiser’s subliminal message – ‘Yes its safe and its beautiful,
come and visit’ ‑ is syndicated worldwide.
Beatification was just
But the acceptable, beatified nun was a just a front.
As the BBCs Brian Barron repeatedly stated, this was in reality Vatican
politics in action. John Paul II’s real task was to “publicly encourage
Croatia’s application to join the EU as part of his vision for a reborn
The Pope’s next visit was to neighbouring Bosnia
Herzegovina. But he had to be careful not to spoil the impression created by
his Croatian visit, where crowds everywhere had chanted, “We belong to the
Pope, the Pope is ours”. So he tactfully went all the way home again and then
returned to Bosnia Herzegovina later in the same month and that only for a
day. The explanation for this apparently unnecessary double journey in a short
period of time is interesting. It seems that it took a week to remove all the
anti papal posters and graffiti in Baja Luka, capital of Bosnia Herzegovina,
which had been a victim of the Vatican’s policy of breaking up the Yugoslav
Republic in order to arm Croatia against the Orthodox Serbs.
Young affluent Europeans and Britons are unaware of
Croatia’s bloody past. Their “holiday paradise” is not what it seems. We have
already described the mass murder of Serbs, together with Jews and gypsies in
World War II when Ante Pavelic and Archbishop Stepinac were in power and
responsible for wholesale barbarities that shocked even the Nazis.
Painter Edo Murti recalled the horrors of the Fascist
state of Croatia of 1941. He had never forgotten how, “as a young man, I went
with my mother to a village to get potatoes,” and then, “in the blueness of the
morning I saw a stretch of land, the size of a tennis court, completely white.
Then I caught a glimpse of a hand, head, hair appearing out of it. The Ustashi
had killed Serbs from the village of Gutovac, thrown them into a pit and poured
lime over it. That explained the whiteness.”
Franco Tudjman became President of Croatia in 1990.
He was an ardent friend of the Roman Catholic Church and spent ten years
turning Croatia into a neo‑fascist state until his death in December
1999. Even honest Croats were appalled at Tudjman’s doings.
The same Edo Murti, described as Tudjman’s “friend for
decades”, could hardly believe what was happening to his country under
Tudjman. “I have seen photographs of Croatian tanks plastered in pictures of
Ante Pavelic. I see units of the Croatian army and barracks being named after
war criminals and Ustashi cut throats Maks Luburic, Rafael Bohan and Jure
Francetic.” He bemoaned the rehabilitation of Mile Budak, the WWII minister of
education and religious worship, who with Archbishop Stepinac’s backing, “had
in 1941 publicly stated that forcible conversion, expulsion and extermination
of the ethnic Serb minority was the official national policy”. Budak was “a
kind of our Goebels” being “turned into a saint”.
In 1999 new Croatian editions of Hitler’s Mein
Kampf and the anti‑semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion were
best sellers. One sad Croat commented, “Passing through the streets of Zagreb,
Split, Dubrovnik and other cities in Croatia, countless Croatian citizens,
whose parents took part in the anti‑fascist Partisan struggle, are
ashamed to see the works and photographs of Hitler and other Nazi and Ustashe
criminals displayed in bookshop windows, adding that, “Their publication is a
disgrace to Croatia and its culture,” and insisting that, ‘This is no acccident
... in Tudjman’s Croatia”.
Tudjman even sought to have prominent Ustashes exhumed
and reburied at the Jasenovic War Memorial. The horrified Serbian Orthodox
Church in Zagreb published an open letter to Tudjman: “How would the world
react if someone were to propose that, in the name of all ‑
reconciliation, memorial monuments be erected to Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and
other SS officials in the concentration camps of Dachau, Mathausen and Bergen‑Belsen?”
In March 1998 the Zagreb Jewish community reported
that, “Catholic churches in Zagreb and Split continue to be used to propagate
Pavelic’s ideology and his Ustasa movement,” and that in these churches, “it
has become common practice to hold services for Pavelic when followers of his
political ideas get together”. There were regular reports of the desecrations
of Serb and Jewish cemeteries.
The Vatican knew its moment. A visit by John Paul II
was announced for that October. The object was to beatify Archbishop, later Cardinal,
Alojzije Stepinac ‑ the same Stepinac who had been Budic’s colleague and
the honoured tool of pope Pius XII in the Vatican‑led, Croatian Holocaust
of World War II.
This beatification would be a Vatican triumph. Such a
cynical act could only have been pushed through in the atmosphere of Tudjman’s
As one commentator mused, “At his trial in post war
Yugoslavia (Stepinac’s) only defence was ‘My conscience is clear’, a phrase
that rings oddly hollow when juxtaposed to the day to day realities of the
Ustashe state. What kind of ‘saint’ could have a clear conscience in the face
of the horrors that had been committed in the name of his religion and by
people under his own supervision? Only a morally bankrupt individual would
feel so little responsibility and so little remorse. Only a morally bankrupt
church could take such a man for a saint.”
The Jewish Simon Wiesenthal Centre appealed to the
Pope to postpone the beatification but the Vatican did not reply. Instead, on
3rd October 1998, Pope John Paul II beatified Cardinal Stepinac at a huge open‑air
mass at Croatia’s foremost pilgrim destination, the Marian shrine dedicated to
the miracle working black virgin at Marija Bistrica. A 30 foot high image of
Stepinac towered over the proceedings. And to underline Vatican defiance the
Pope also prayed before Stepinac’s scarlet clad embalmed remains encased in a
huge eye level ornate glass sided tomb behind the high altar in Zagreb
Another commentator observed, “This was meant as a
slap in the face to all Orthodox Serbs. It would be like the Nobel Peace
Committee awarding Adolf Eichmann a posthumous Nobel Prize for Peace. The
action demonstrated his (the Popes and the Vatican’s) total and profound
contempt for the Serbian people, for the Orthodox religion, and for the legacy
of 60,000 Jews killed in Ustasha death camps”.
Today’s anti‑Serb policies
Returning to the present day, even if the prosperity
under President Stjepan Mesic has damped down Croatian fascism and even if
Croatia is now on its best behaviour in order to enter the EU, it is an open
question whether Croatia is, as the Vatican claims, “undoubtedly different”.
It is interesting to recall some words of the same
Stjepan Mesic on 5 December 1991, following his resignation as President of
Yugoslavia, he told the Croatian parliament: “I think I have fulfilled my task.
Yougoslavia is no more”. Mesic has tried to explain away these shameful words
repeatedly in subsequent years. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth
speaketh.” In 1990, during a heavy downpour he said, “Also Serbs will sit
under an umbrella,” meaning that they would be so few.
The Croatian state has been forced to legislate for
religious freedom. In practice the Roman Catholic Church dominates
institutions and Croatian state Radio. Catholic Radio and Radio Maria are huge
private stations. The country has Concordats with both Roman Catholic and
Serbian Orthodox churches but the majority financial support goes to the
Catholics. All military chaplains are Roman Catholics.
Of the 400,000 Serbs deported in the 1990s, less than
half have returned. Of 200 Serbian Orthodox priests, only 30 rained in Croatia,
and by 2004 only 40 of the exiled priests had returned and that only on 3‑
to 12‑month permits which also deprive them and their families of health
care and pension benefits. An official policy of freedom to return is
conveniently strangled in bureaucracy.
Human rights groups point to frequent cases of
judicial, employment and housing discrimination against Serbs. In an
overwhelming Roman Catholic school ethos history teaching is grossly slanted in
Rome’s favour. Rome has now got back most of her property seized by the
Communists, but the Serbian Orthodox are continually frustrated. The Serbian
Orthodox clergy continue to report physical and verbal (“kill the Serb”) abuse,
vandalism and arson.
The police are reluctant to take action and
prosecutions are singularly unsuccessful.
Meanwhile Rome attempts to seduce the Serbian Orthodox
with numerous oecumenical initiatives whilst herself retaining all her old
Gotovina was a war criminal but regarded by Croatia as
a national hero. He had brutally smashed the self‑proclaimed Krajina
Serb Republic enclave in 1995. “The 72‑hour operation,” we are told,
“changed the course of the war. In a frenzy of ethnic cleansing whole Serb
communities were wiped out. About 150 Serb civilians were killed ‑ and
more than 200,000 left their houses in long columns of cars and tractors laden
Gotovina was indicted for war crimes in 2001.
Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, who was in practice the Vatican’s foreign minister,
insisted that, “the Vatican had no obligation to assist the UN’s war crimes
tribunal in the Hague”. Chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro‑Valls was
quick to back this statement publicly.
Gotovina was eventually arrested at dinner in a
Teneriffe hotel in December 2005. The arrest rate of Serbs for war crimes is
double that of the Croat rate and the Serb trials are more public and showy.