WANTED: lex Perković

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With less than 3 months of membership, the Republic of Croatia is on the brink of sanctions from the EU for failure to apply EU extradition laws and of its refusal to ammend its judicial laws. Such sanctions would be of great embarassment to Croatia who is in the early stages of being the 28th star of the European Union. The EU legislation breach was highlighted by the case of “Lex” Perković.

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Josip Perković is a former agent of the Yugoslav secret police (SDS) or better known as UDBA (Uprava državne bezbednosti armije). Perković and his Yugo henchmen allegedly orchestrated Operation Dunav – the 1983 assasination of Stjepan Đureković, a Croatian entrepeneur and dissident, who fled Yugoslavia, and became involved in a Croat nationalist organization in West Germany. In 2009, Germany issued a warrant for the arrest of Perković for his involvement in the Đureković murder. The current government claims that the law was originally implemented (3 days before accession in the EU) for the protection of war veterans from the Croatian Independance War from 1991-95. However, the opposition claims that this law was only intended to protect the UDBA ghosts, such as Perković.

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The EU’s Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding (pictured above with Croatia’s premier Zoran Milanović) warned of stringent punishments earlier this week. This could include suspending monetary aid for Croatia’s border control improvements, more specifically the bloc passport-free Schengen zone. This recent diplomatic dispute between Brussels and Zagreb, has strained the relations of an already fragile relationship. On July 1st 2013, Croatia’s official entry into the European Union, celebrations were held in Zagreb, which marked a recovery from the recent war. The conspicous absence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the festivities in Zagreb caused a stir, and many were already questioning the relationship between the two European countries.

Croatia’s history has been a turbulent one, so it should come as no surprise that once again, we are the sacrificial lamb, this time at the mercy of the European Union. Only this time it will not be because of our enemy, but rather because of the communist off-spring who are leading this country into complete destruction. Croatia’s citizens will suffer all because of the protection of a few men, criminals, former UDBA agents and Yugoslav comrades.

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How arrogant of Zoran Milanović to think he was going to join the EU, only to act like a bully by deviating from EU laws and then underestimating the serious warnings of the European Justice Commissioner? Croatia is on the brink of having close to no friends in the European Union and foreign investors are already intimidated by the red tape and bureaucracy that is rampant in Croatia.  One of the most important parts of being and effective leader is building trust, and I don’t see Mr. Milanović doing that. He was deceitful to the justice commissioner, his EU colleagues and to the Croat population in regards to lex Perković.

I personally was against Croatia joining the EU for many reasons (I will not get into those reasons now) as was almost 50% of the country. But as the months go by, I have high hopes that the EU will bring anti-democrats to justice, rid them of omnipresent corruption and bring more investors to Croatia, helping the unemployment rate of 20% decline. But in order for this to happen, everyone needs to be on board (that includes you Mr. Milanović) and they need to start building trusting relationships with the other 27 stars of the European Union.

   
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Hero or Terrorist?

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When you live under a totalitarian regime and when it infringes upon your freedom, there is a sense of loss. Many people who are victims of religious or nationalistic persecution are forced to leave their homeland because the powers fighting against them have much more strength. Many Croats were opposed to the Communist ideology forcefully imposed on them in the former Yugoslavia (SFRJ), so they sought refuge in other countries in the world. Hundreds of thousands of Croats fled Yugoslavia in the last century, many of them experiencing economic hardships, but a large amount were also political refugees.

Zvonko Bušić and my father have many things in common. They were both close in age, they were from neighbouring villages in Hercegovina, and they both sought political refuge in North America. Croats in this region have been considered staunch nationalists and Catholics by others, people often referring to them being as Ustaše.

I first learned of Zvonko Bušić when I was very small. I didn’t know exactly who he was, but what I did know is that he hijacked a plane, and was consequently jailed for this action. My parents thought he was a hero. I knew he couldn’t be a horrible person, or a terrorist, because my mom and dad are very good, kind, and law abiding people, and they would never condone such actions. While he was serving time in Allenwood, PA, we wrote him cards with words of encouragement at Christmas & prayed for his release. To Croats (especially emigrees), he was known as a patriot, a freedom fighter. To many others, he was considered a terrorist.

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Activism in the ’60s and ’70s was on the rise. Students in the USA were protesting the Vietnam War, fighting for civil rights and the only way to accomplish anything was to actually do something significant. Activism was also on the rise in the former SFRJ. In 1971, thousands of students from the University of Zagreb spilled to the streets, demanding that Croats have more rights in Yugoslavia. This was known as the Croatian Spring (Hrvatsko Proljeće).

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On September 10th 1976, a 30 year old Zvonko Bušić, his American wife Julienne Eden Schultz, and 3 other Croatian compatriots hijacked a commercial flight, headed from New York to Chicago. The purpose of the hijacking was to draw attention to communist repression of national and religious beliefs and to have major newspapers bring awareness to the political situation in Yugoslavia. The hijackers were not equipped with any weapons on the plane. When later interviewed, passengers said they felt very comfortable, and did not fear for their lives. However, the hijackers did plant a bomb in a locker at New Yorks Grand Central Station with further instructions. If these instructions were followed, the bomb would deactivate and no one would get hurt. The NYPD failed to follow the instructions and they removed the device and brought it to a firing range where they attempted to dismantle the bomb. Because of lack of expertise, a police officer, Brian Murray, was killed while trying to dismantle the bomb. Zvonko Bušić and his wife Julienne were arrested for air piracy and 2nd degree murder.

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Julienne Bušić was released in 1989, and Zvonko was released and deported back to a free and independent Croatia in 2008.

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Over the years, Zvonko expressed deep regret for the life of the slain policeman, adding that it was never his intent for someone to get hurt. He was a political activist and only wanted change for Croats living in Yugoslavia. and he paid his debt to society.

The Croatian government never commented Bušić’s return to Croatia, and the Croatian news magazine Jutarnji List warned Croats to not associate themselves with a ‘terrorist’. In 2008, Croatia was in the infancy stage of joining the EU, and welcoming this hero would surely spoil Croatia’s chances of becoming a European member. Instead, they chose to ignore this man who would be so firm in his beliefs that he would actually hijack a plane. They chose to ignore his American wife Julienne, who would be so convinced by his beliefs, that they now became her own beliefs. I am Croatian, and LOVE Croatia with all my heart, but I would never be able to do what Julienne did. That woman believed so much in Zvonko’s ideology, that she helped carry out his plan and waited for him for 32 years. That’s 3 decades of loyalty not only her to husband, but loyalty for a better, properous and independent Croatia.

On September 2nd 2013, Zvonko Bušić was found dead by his wife Julienne in Rovanjska, Croatia. He was 67 years old. Zvonko took his own life, leaving behind 2 notes, stating that he could not live in Plato’s Cave (Platonova Špilja) Many believe that the reference to plato’s cave meant the Croatia he was living in was was very much different than the one he dreamed out in jail for 32 years.

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Zvonko Bušić enjoyed 5 years of freedom in Croatia, but rotted for 32 years in a jail cell for the Croatia he dreamed about. When I look at the deep lines and tired eyes on Zvonko’s face, I cannot help but grieve the loss of true patriot and a national martyr who loved his country more than anything in this world. Zvonko was not a terrorist, he was a patriot and a man who put his life on the line for the country he loved.

Zvonko was laid to rest in the Alley of Defenders in the largest cemetery in Croatia’s capital city Zagreb, Mirogoj. I will always applaud and commend Zvonko’s relentless fight for a free and independant Croatia. Mr. Zvonko Bušić, may the Croatian and Hercegovian soil that covers your tired body allows you to rest in peace …

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The Fall of Yugoslavia

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The night the Berlin Wall collapsed was certainly one of the most dramatic moments in 1989 and in history. The flame of Communism in Europe was beginning to extinguish, and this held true for the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ). In 1990, the Communist party lost to nationalist HDZ led Franjo Tudjman, in its first free election in more than 50 years. A few months later, Croatia declares independence. At 12 years old, I knew I was witnessing history.

Far away from Croatia, in a small city in Canada, I was selfishly thrilled that my teachers and peers at school would finally understand me when I said I was Croatian and why all these years I vehemently denied I was Yugoslavian. At last, there would be no pressure of persuading me to change my beloved ‘šahovnica ’ to a ‘petokraka ’ because of the “Croatia doesn’t exist, it is Yugoslavia” comments.

My parents had the most influence on me in my early years of patriotism. They would teach me about our heritage, history and how my ancestors fought for what was important over the last century. I was encouraged to read the Croatian history books, newspapers and magazines that took over their coffee table. Of course people might think it was coersive persuasion or brainwashing, but I don’t see it that way. I have kids of my own (who happen to all be of Croatian descent, thanks to my husband) and I find myself talking to them daily about these same values. Above the sofa in the living room of my parents house was a massive painting of the Croatian National Revival (Hrvatski Preporod) , a symbolic  illustration of the triumph of the Croatian nation and her people.

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It was very important that we spoke Croatian in the house. Not only so that we could communicate with our family back home, but because language is one of the most fundamental aspects of a culture and a vital tool for understanding literary culture. Language is the single most thing that unifies and maintains a strong connection to people within a culture. As part of my cultural awareness, I also danced Croatian Folklore (Kolo i tamburica) and proudly wore our costumes at various multiculutral events that took place in my Canada. One particular time, our group was scheduled to perform at a local theatre for an event. Upon arrival to the theatre, we were greeted with Yugoslavian flags everywhere. I don’t recall how old I was, but I do know it was in the late ’80’s. I remember shouting I would NOT perform under ANY circumstance. There were 100 of us Croatian kids who all shared the same sentiment. I guess we were all brainwashed. No way, no how would we have that nightmare of a flag represent us as we sing and dance our patriotic and folk songs. And in our Croatian Folklore attire, we all walked out. (The picture below was taken in 1982 when I was 4 years old. I’m the little girl  in centre, holding a Croatian flag)

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A Croatian Independent State brought me hope that my parents would whisk my sisters and I back to Croatia and we would continue with life there. Finally, my mothers tears would stop streaming down her face, my fathers broken heart could be mended and we could be reunited with my grandparents, aunts and uncles who stayed behind in Hercegovina. My family and all the other millions Croats who fled the evil borders of Yugoslavia could at last return to the land of our forefathers where we belong. However, when my sisters and I pestered our parents to move, they would angrily tell us that will never happen. WHAT???  Why was it so complicated? It was something that my adolescent mind couldn’t understand at the time. I couldn’t understand why my parents just didn’t want to pick up our lives, pack our belongings and move after 20 years in Canada. Croatia was free! 

Our family established roots here in our city, and integrated with society in Canada. My parents had good jobs, my sisters and I were furthering our studies but most importantly, we became accustomed to the Canadian way of life and our life was indeed a good life. On our frequent trips back to the homeland, we were referred to as the Canadians (Kanadjani), or foreigners. Our visits to our homeland were always happy trips but plagued with pain & nostalgia, especially prior to our departure.  So much has changed, both fundamentally & socially and there was still so much uncertainty with the political situation. So it wasn’t so simple to just move back, and make a new life, as much as we wanted to.

Life in Croatia today is wonderful for many people. Many of friends have taken the plunge and moved back, looking for their peace. Even though they are frustrated with many things, they feel that they are where they are supposed to be (svoj na svome). Unfortunately for others, Croatia is a beautiful country but full of economic and political hardship. Croatia still struggles with problems post-Communism and is still haunted by Yugoslavia’s past ghosts.

Vukovar NIKAD Bykobap

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Along the quiet Danube, lies a small city that was ravaged by war after Croatia’s declaration of independence over 20 years ago. Vukovar, bleeds again today.

It is September 4, 2013 and there is no war in Vukovar. When I open CNN’s homepage, there are talks of US intervention in Syria, but there is no mention of Vukovar, because there is no war in Croatia. There are no tanks, guns, or soldiers. Unless you count the war veterans (branitelji) who sit paralyzed in their wheelchairs. When I look at them, I see their hollow, empty eyes, observing the events happening in Vukovar. I try to process the tremendous pain they have in their hearts, equally baffled at the unthinkable: The Vukovar they fought for is now occupied by police who are safeguarding the Latin and Cyrllic signs on government buildings that have sprung in the city the last few days. (Croats use the latin alphabet, Serbs use cyrillic)

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Why is the Cyrillic alphabet igniting such outrage in a small country of 4 million people? When Croatia announced its seccession from Yugoslavia and declared independence, Serb rebels (četniks) were outraged by this and eventually captured Vukovar during a bloody 3 month siege which claimed the lives of 2,000 people and displaced thousands more. This would be the start of the 4 year war in the latest chapter of Croatia’s bloody history – The Croatian Independence War (Domovinski Rat).

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When I look at the picture above, I travel back in time to 1991. It was transitioning from fall to winter and the leaves had fallen off the trees – it was November in Canada – the start of a new dreary and grey winter season. For me personally, a depressing time of the year. This picture left an impact on me, so much, that the feeling still resonates 20 years later. I remember coming home from school that day, and upon greeting my parents, I knew something was wrong. My mother had tears in her eyes, and my father was screaming at the TV. Trying to break through the chaos and understand what my parents were so upset about, I kept hearing: Grenades, Vukovar, Serb rebels, Ovčara, Ceasefire, Vukovar, killings, Siniša Glavašević, Vukovar, Vukovar, Vukovar … The truth is, at the time, I’ve never even heard of Vukovar, Ovčara or Siniša Glavašević.

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“Slobodane Slobodane pripremi salate, bi’će mesa bi’će mesa, klat čemo Hrvate” (Slobodan, Slobodan prepare the salad, there will be meat, there will be meat, we will slaughter the Croats). The words to this song still haunt me to this day. This is what the četniks sang while marching through a destructed Vukovar. Vukovar at this point was abandoned and its citizens were the latest casualties of war. Their fate was either to be killed, or to be displaced. Vukovar was under siege, and the international media did not dare go there. However, the world did get daily radio reports all because of a young and brave reporter who stayed in the city under siege. Siniša Glavašević was the chief editor of Vukovar radio and was often known as the ‘Voice of Vukovar’.

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“The picture of Vukovar at the 22nd hour of the 87th day [of the siege] will remain forever in the memory of the witnesses of this time. There are infinite spooky sights, and you can smell the burning. We walk over bodies, building material, glass, detritus and the gruesome silence. … We hope that the torments of Vukovar are over” – Siniša Glavašević 18.11.1991

This is an exceprt from the last report he gave. Glavašević was killed in what was known as the Vukovar Hospital Massacre in Ovčara. It is estimated that 300 Croats were brutally beaten, tortured and executed there between Nov 20-21st, 1991. His body was later exhumed in 1997 from the mass grave of Ovčara. Vukovar suffered the greatest loss of human life during the war with a total of 2000 civilians killed (mostly Croat), 800 missing, and over 20,000 displaced.

Today, the population of Vukovar is divided into two ethnicities – 2/3 Croat, and 1/3 Serb. In 2009, the Croatian government voted that ethnic minorities have the right to use their respective languages for official purposes such as the names of public institutions or streets in areas where they make up more than a third of population. Croats want Vukovar to be exempt from this law because the wounds are still fresh for most Croats, especially to Marijan Živković who lost 2 sons in Vukovar.

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Earlier this week at the protest in Vukovar, Živković demonstrated his frustration with the new law and took a hammer to the newly erected bilingual sign.

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The Croatian leftist government (SDP) isn’t keeping quiet about the events in Vukovar. President Ivo Josipović condemned the protests and said that laws, which were constituted by all government parties 3 years ago, must be obeyed. He has recently said “If there exists a cafe for Serbs, and a cafe for Croats, there will never be happiness. I am for integration and not assimilation, and we must respect each other”.

My question is, who’s cafe is Mr. Ivo Josipović sitting in? Where was Mr. Josipović and all his other communist compatriots in 1991? What were they doing when barbarous Serb rebels encroached on our beloved homeland, wiping everyone and everything in sight? What was Croatia’s premier Zoran Milanović doing while my 31 yr old cousin was killed in Osijek, leaving behind a pregnant wife and 1 year old daughter? The current communists members of parliament were all young men in their 20’s during the war – did their arse even see the front lines? Did Mr. Josipović or Mr. Milanović stand side by side with the sons of Marijan Zivković, defending their beloved homeland? Mr. Josipović and Mr. Milanović, do you realize that since the war, over 2000 Croatian war veterans have taken their own lives?

So please, Mr. Josipović, don’t talk to me about integration. Don’t talk to me about forgiveness. Don’t talk to me about your old Yugo slogan “Brotherhood and Unity” (Bratstvo Jedinstvo) . Wake up and see that the country you are in charge of is bleeding!