ZAGREB, Croatia. This beautiful country, full of history, overflowing with gloomy and brilliant hues, mythical and bloodthirsty, now rises to the surface with profitable energy and increasing liberty, flooded by tourism and conscious of the great errors of the past. A short while ago, its President Stjepan Mesic, traveled to Israel to ask forgiveness for the complicity of the majority of the Croatian people in the destruction produced by the Holocaust, and he declared his support to the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. Now the majority of the people, pleased for having abandoned completely the socialism of Marshal Tito (one of the versions of a tyrannical socialism which has always failed and has been practiced since 1917, and with which a beguiled part of Latin America still dreams about), does its best to fulfill the adjustments of the market’s fertile liberty, (painful at first), to keep public accounts transparent, construct well signaled highways, offer security to investors and other measures demanded by the European Community, where Croatia has asked to be admitted.
Croacia does not want to go back to the nightmare of ethnic cleansing of the nineties, which only provided poisonous storms of hate and dirty dream like panoramas with corpses and desperation. Even now, it makes my heart shrink to see walls riddled by shrapnel. It’s a country tired of war, tired of the one and only stupidifying thought (fascist or socialist) which prefers executions and feels great scorn for creativity and the rights of every human being.
Croatians have a remote Slavic origin. Even though its territory was part of the Byzantine Empire, they chose the Roman Catholic Church with some hues of oriental liturgy. Half way through the IX century the first Croatian independent kingdom was formed. It had to fight against expansionistic tendencies of east Bulgaria and western Venice. Later it broke with the Byzantine Empire. The outcome was complex with many battles, victories and defeats. One part, remained during centuries under Hungarian control and the other under the Venetian one. In those times the Croatian Marco Polo was born. Further on, the Ottoman Empire made its appearance, leaving deep marks in the region and determined the conversion of a considerable part of the Balkans to the Islam.
There were enduring migrations, changing dominations and much transculturization. This lasted during a long period of instability and confusion. The attempt to produce a Croatian-Hungarian union became critical after the Napoleonic wars because the Austrian Hungarian Empire, a mosaic of nationalities, prevailed . In the XIX century they tried to unite with Slovenia and Dalmatia, but under the Habsburg crown, established in Vienna.
At the same time, a nationalistic sentiment grew, although pointing in another direction. In 1915, when the First World War had just begun, Croatian, Serbian and Slovenian leaders formed a Yugoslavian Committee in Paris. It was a very important decision because the fragmentation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire accelerated the creation, in 1918, of the Independent Kingdom of Yugoslavia. It appeared, at last, that the best solution was about to be reached and the endless conflicts were about to come to an end. But the Serbian dynasty applied a policy of fusion, disliked by those that were expecting more autonomy for Croatians. The different identities which formed Yugoslavia, kept up an unpleasant state of alert which ended at the outbreak provoked by Hitler, who dismembered the kingdom in 1941. Tragedy once again.
Ante Pavelic, a terrifying character, took the center of the stage. With his extreme nationalism, he had already made brotherly ties with the Nazis. He had been the co-founder of Ustase, the terrorist organization which had expelled various anti Serbian demonstrations abroad and was condemned to death in absence. Pavelic had trained terrorists and saboteurs clandestinely, both in Italy and in Hungary. In 1933, supported by Mussolini, Ustase formations crossed the Adriatic and invaded Yugoslavia. Failure obliged them to consider the decision to assassinate the king, Alexander the First. Ante Pavelic continued to be protected by the fascists up to the moment when the German invasion transformed Croatia into a puppet state and all authority was transferred to him.
Pavelic, known as poglavnik (leader, supreme conductor) ordered, organized and led a campaign to exterminate Serbs, Jews, gypsies and communists. His vast criminal task reached the level of genocide. Ustase was the bloodiest organization of all occupied Europe. There were no limits to all the savage acts perpetrated against civilians
There is evidence of all the atrocities committed, described by the Germans. The Ustase used to take out the eyes of the Serbian prisoners. Those actions could never be forgotten and throbbed during decades, to reach the ferocious madness of war in the 1990s, where all the vengeance that had been hidden deep down in the hearts of the people surged and produced only greater pain and injustices.
Pavelic had friendly encounters with Hitler, whom he worshipped together with other Nazi fascist leaders, such as the ex mufti of Jerusalem who had promised to clean up the Middle East, down to the last Jew.
Once the war ended, Ante Pavelic fled to Austria where confusion reigned. Then he was transferred secretly to Rome and hidden by members of the Church. Half a year later he traveled to Argentina in the operation known as ”line of rats”. President Perón had granted 34.000 visas to Nazi Croatians or to those persecuted by Marshal Tito’s communists. It has been asserted that Pavelic visited Perón many times, whilst the latter practiced a pendulous adjustment between war criminals on one side, and their victims, on the other. After Perón fell, Pavelic had to escape to Spain to avoid being arrested and sent back to his own country. Once in Spain he suffered two murder attempts and died in 1959.
The diabolic experience of the extreme right, was followed by the one of the left, led by Tito. There was no time for the oxygen of democracy. Josip Broz Tito had developed an intense political career, which led him to participate even in the Spanish Civil War. In 1937 he was named General Secretary of the Yugoslavian Communist Party, which followed directions given out by Stalin. During the Nazi occupation, the communists were the best organized and efficient resistance members. Tito was promoted to Chief of the Military Committee. As leader of his partisans, he started to free areas that had been under Nazi control, outlined the foundations that would rule the country after the war and decided that a Yugoslavian federation would be established. In 1943, when most of the country was still occupied by the Axis, Tito installed a provisional government. Even after having escaped unhurt from three rash attempts to capture and murder him, his courage and decision never failed.
In April 1945, he signed an agreement with the Soviet Union, temporarily allowing the entrance of Soviet troops in Yugoslavian territory to finally liberate the country. Tito wanted a united Yugoslavia. Even though his father was Croatian, he set up the capital in Belgrade, in the heart of Serbia. To overcome old rancor, he then began to put a distance between himself and Stalin. Stalin then threw him out of the Kominform in 1948. In 1953, thanks to a new constitution, he founded the Yugoslavian Federal Socialistic Republic of his dreams, formed by six countries: Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. Even though his type of socialism was called self-negotiated, it was not very different from the one in force in the Soviet Union. It was neither less cruel or less despotic. It immediately proceeded to execute all opponents, establish a single Party, violate the liberty of the press and displayed a strong cult to his personality. All the presents he received during his mandate, product of idealization and submission, were collected in the Museum of History, which before had been known as ”Museum of the Revolution”. Their price is incalculable, because it includes famous works of art, such as ”Los Caprichos” by Goya. Tito showed undoubtable diplomatic and military merits, but he never stopped exercising tyranny with the excuse of wanting to impose an equalitarian model. Yugoslavia was the first place where despotic socialism was accused of not putting an end to class differences, creating instead a new class, shamelessly privileged (as in the URSS, China, Korea, Cuba and now Venezuela).
After the fall of the Wall of Berlin, in the elections celebrated for the first time under different conditions, the Croatian Democratic Union led by Franjo Tudjman, defeated the communists. Croatia declared its independence. This bold move frightened the world, to such an extent that not even the European Union, or the United States dared to recognize it immediately because doing so implied the beginning of Yugoslavian fragmentation. The Croatian Serbs took control of the third part of the territory and expelled the Croatians of the eastern zone. Then, Croatia supported the Bosnia Croatians against the Bosnia Serbians and later against the Muslims. Everybody against everybody. A terrible outbreak directed towards the worst path: ethnic and religious cleansing, which sounded like an obsession of the past. Finally the European Community encouraged a long lasting peace between Serbia and Croatia.
In May 1992, the United Nations acknowledged the Independence of Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. But fighting continued with the Bosnians until the last days of 1993, when Tudjman and the President of Bosnia-Herzegovina signed the cease fire.
In February 2000, President Stejpan Mesic presided the Croatian Popular Party, a party of the center, with a far-sighted vision. He proclaimed his alliance with the East and asked to be allowed to become a member of the OTAN and the European Union. Mesic won the elections once again, in 2005.
My trip through Croatia has filled me with enthusiasm. It is there that justice takes care of criminals and the government plans always far ahead and encourages investments. All the population contributes in keeping the streets clean, the gardens are beautiful and cared for, theaters and monuments have great success and there is order in traffic. Youths study with pleasure. Art is performed everywhere. There is happiness and hope even though thousands of hearts are still shriveled by the numerous losses.
I am closing this article with the well-known contribution of this small country to universal elegance: the tie. A Croatian regiment of the light cavalry had fought against the Turks and played a visit to Louis XIV in Paris. The King was impressed by the beautiful neck kerchiefs they wore around their necks, with an original knot, which slithered and shone in the center of the thorax. He then ordered the design of a similar ornament for his royal regiment and called it cravette, which comes from the word crabete, which means Croatian. The regiment was named Royal Cravett.
The tie became famous and started its long career of colors and designs, nearly a prophecy of the colors and panoramas that the free Croatia displays, free of fanatics and tired of the grave mistakes perpetrated in one or other direction.
Translation: María Pensavalle