Books on Croatia
Update No: 124 - (28/09/07)
A country with a controversial past
Croatia is very much a Roman Catholic country. Half a century of communism only
strengthened people's faith. For the Ottoman centuries in the Balkans, the
Croatian borders were also those of Christian Europe with Moslem Turkey.
Long before, when Rome divided into two empires, Croatia was in western Rome
with its catholic faith, whilst Serbia in the eastern empire with its orthodox
But the WWII wartime period is a highly controversial affair even now, as is the
build up to it. With a papal visit impending, it is worth recapitulating the
In 1918 the Croats joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In the
1920s politics there was dominated by the Croatian Peasant Party, led by Sjtepan
Radic. After he was assassinated in 1928, and with nationalist attempts to form
a separatist assembly, Yugoslav politics took an extremist course, embracing
first the far right and then the far left. It is only now after sowing their
wild oats on the extremes that the Croats, indeed the peoples of the Balkans as
a whole, are settling down to a more secure central ground.
King Aleksander bears some responsibility for this dire business. In the late
1920s he instituted a royal dictatorship, centralising power in Belgrade. This
provoked a nationalist backlash that first assumed a fascist form. In keeping
with developments elsewhere in Europe, which showed it had a multiple provenance
all the same, a specifically Croat fascist group emerged, known as the Ustasa
(Rebel), and began to gain widespread support among the Croatian peasantry. The
parallel with Mussolini and Hitler and their ardent peasant support is obvious.
In 1934 the Ustasa sponsored the assassination of King Aleksander in Fance,
along with a strongly anti-Nazi French foreign minister, an event, which was one
of the main steps leading inexorably on towards the Second World War. When the
first Yugoslavia collapsed in 1941, with the invasion of German and Italian
forces, the Ustasa, who at the outbreak of war had only one MP, now founded a
fascist Croatian state, with an Italian duke, Aimone of Spileto, as national
sovereign, but in reality led by the head of the Ustasa, Ante Pavelic. Its
staunch anti-communism assured it papal blessing. Pius X11, who as Vatican
Secretary of State in the 1920s and 1930s (until becoming Pope in 1938) had
followed a policy of accommodation with the dictators, was even more well
disposed towards the Ustasa for their proclaimed Catholicism.
During the following three years the Ustasa state enthusiastically collaborated
with the Nazis, and persecuted non-Croats (Jews, Serbs, Muslims and Roma -
Gypsies). They established a number of extermination camps, including the
notorious camp at Jasenovac. It is hardly surprising that this genocidal policy
provoked a backlash among the civilised Croats. It took the form of support for
By 1943 the all-Yugoslav, Communist-led Partisans, led by Josef Tito, himself
born a Croatian, had made significant incursions into Croatia, as elsewhere in
the former first Yugoslavia. British aid on a substantial scale came pouring in
and guaranteed what was anyway likely, a Partisan victory over not just the
Germans, but the royalist Cetniks. Fascism had paved the way for communism, just
as Nazism had done over much of Central and Eastern Europe.
A Socialist Republic of Croatia was a constituent part of the second Yugoslavia
after the war, but the communist authorities emphasised the adjective over the
nouns. Croatian nationalism, associated as it was with wartime fascism, was
frowned upon and socialism and Yugoslavia exalted. A new Yugoslav nationalism
was born, associated with socialism instead, especially after the break with the
USSR in 1948.
This was to be its Achilles' Heel, come the collapse of communism in Europe in
1989-91. Croatian nationalism was reborn in the grisliest of forms again. Franjo
Tudjman played the role of Pavelic, albeit without the same degree of barbarity
as the Ustasa. There had been some progress in educational and ethical standards
under the communists, enough to stigmatise fascism and genocide, but not enough
to prevent an ugly atavism in the wars that accompanied the break-up of
Yugoslavia, as all the world knows.
Since Tudjman's death in December 1999, as if on cue, the Croats have had the
chance and genuinely have tried to put the horrors of the twentieth century
behind them. They are cooperating with The Hague and Brussels in handing over
war criminals and aspire to join the EU and the modern Western world.
Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has invited Pope Benedict XVI to visit
According to Zagreb-based Vecernji List newspaper, Sanader, who is also the
leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), attended the Demo-Christian
International Assembly in Rome where he was elected the organization's
The pope received the Demo-Christian International delegation in his villa near
Rome, where Sanader extended his invitation on behalf of Cardinal Josip Bozanic,
president of the Croatian Bishops Conference. According to Sanader, Pope
Benedict XVI's visit to Croatia is highly likely to coincide with the
canonization ceremony of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac.
The pope accepted the invitation, but a date has yet to be set.