Croatian Franciscans: Killed by Pyre’s of Fire

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Široki only fell once, and gave her best sons
Murdered were the franciscans by pyre’s of fire, the youth of Široki Brijeg object

(Široki je samo jednom pao, i sinove najbolje je dao
Sa lomače njegovih fratara, omladina Briješka progovara)

– Petar Crljen

The affects of communism and the persecution of religion was strongly present in western Hercegovina during the communist years. The Yugoslav Communist party did not tolerate religion and because of this, religious institutions were eradicated if they did not support the communist agenda. Like political activists, most were jailed, but many were killed.

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(Picture above: Croatian priests and nuns killed by the hands of Communists)

During the Second World War, the losses of the Croatian people were immense. 300,000 Croatian civilians and soldiers lost their lives at Bleiburg at what is called the “Way of the Cross” (Put Križa). It is estimated that over 500 Croatian Catholic priests and nuns were killed by the hands of the communist party. 66 of those killed were franciscans from the province of Hercegovina (Hercegovačka Franjevačka Provincija).

Siroki-Brijeg-crkva-1956(“Assumption of the Virgin Mary” damaged in Siroki Brijeg after WWII)

The words “They killed the priests!” (Pobili su pratre!!) echoed through the mountains of Hercegovina 69 years earlier. It was 1994, I was sitting out in front of the house of my mothers birth home in Tihaljina, holding my grandfathers folded hands (Oh how I loved those soft, wrinkled hands) telling me how he wept as a 30 yr old soldier when word spread to their village about the 12 tortured franciscans. He kept repeating the words “Pobili su pratre, pobiše nam pratre”. When he spoke to me about it, his eyes welled up with tears, his tired face telling me a story that took me back to that bloody day in Široki Brijeg.

th_pobijeni_samostan(The 12 franciscans who were murdered on Feb 7, 1945)

February 7, 1945 was a horrific day for the Croatian Catholic population. Hercegovina, a poor region that was built on faith and patriotism, was deeply rocked with the news that 12 franciscan priests were killed by communists who wanted to abolish anything and everything Croatian and Catholic. The communists came to the monestary and said “Remove your habit.” And the priests responded “We cannot. I am my habit.” A soldier threw the crucifix at the feet of the Franciscans and said “Now you can choose. You can choose death or life.” One by one, they picked up the crucifix, embraced Jesus and said “You are my God and my all.” Not even thirty meters from this front door, they were burned. Gasoline was poured over them and they were set on fire. Shortly after, the church, seminary, religious and cultural artifacts over 800 years old were destroyed, in an attempt to liquidate everything Croatian and Catholic in that area.

obiljezena-65-obljetnica-mucenicke-smrti-fratara-na-sirokom-brijegu(The entrance to the cave where 12 franciscans were set on fire)

In the years following WWII, the communists tried to separate children from their national identity and their faith. The area was systematically economically neglected, with the aim of having as many people as possible leave the area. The more the Communists tried to squash all their religious practices, the more devout these people were. Where a Catholic church seems to be dying in the rest of the world, it is thriving in current day Hercegovina. Many young men follow the footsteps of these franciscans and join the priesthood, youth organizations throughout Bosna and Hercegovina and Croatia bear the name “Franciscan youth” (Franjevačka Mladež – FRAMA), and every household lives their faith.

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February is a sombre month in Hercegovina, particulary in Široki Brijeg. Out of the 66 priests that were killed, only 33 of their remains were recovered, as recently as July 2013. Every year, vigils and masses are held at the site of tortures, and at the known graves.

1095113_10151491848566330_1288469526_n Iva, Nives & Neven in front of the restored church in Siroki Brijeg July 2013

Široki Brijeg holds a special place in my heart. My husband and I were married in this church, and we bring our children here every summer to pray and light candles in honor of the martydom of the franciscans. We take them to the entrance of the cave where the franciscans were burned, and we tell them the truth – nothing is sugar coated. We hope they will one day understand that these franciscans, and many of their ancestors died brutally, so that they may enjoy the freedom of visiting their homeland.

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Croatia 2013: Year in Review

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Happy 2014! It’s been a month since I have blogged, partly due to the holidays and partly because December was a crazy month, both in my professional and personal life. 2013 was a great year, and if 2014 could be the exact same, I’ll be blessed. As we start a new year, I’d like to look back at some of the more significant events that happened in Croatia in 2013.

“PIPL MAST TRAST US”

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Ingrid Antičević Marinović demonstrated her ‘knowledge’ of the English language as a representative of Croatia in the Euro Parliament. Involved in a debate on the foreign affairs committee of the Euro Parliament, she delivered a speech in such a heavy accent that most of the speech cannot be understood. Not only did this make national headlines, but it also made international news for those now famous words “PIPL MAST TRAS AS” (People must trust us). Although this was hardly newsworthy, many concerned citizens questioned how serious the Croatian government was by sending a representative who has poor knowledge of the English language to represent Croatia in the Euro Parliament. Let’s hope the EU provides funding for basic English knowledge.

Croatia bans sex education in schools

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Earlier this year, Croatian Radio Television (HRT), Croatia’s main media entity, cancelled the program ‘Picture of Croatia’ (Slika Hrvatske) and immediately suspended journalist and host Karolina Vidović Krišto for giving counterarguments to government policies and the proposed sex ed program while including excerpts of the “Kinsey Syndrome”, a documentary showing how American Sexologist Alfred Kinsey and his reports have been used to sexualize children and awaken sexuality prematurely. Vidović-Krišto tied the documentary into the approach the government was taking into the 4th module of Croatia’s sex education program which has caused unrest amongst concerned citizens and parents. Proper legal procedure was not followed during installation of the 4th module of the sex education program, so because of this, the supreme court voted against it.

Croatia becomes a member of the EU

Croatia's accession into the European Union

On July 1st, Croatia celebrated official entry as a full member of the European Union. Celebrations were held in Croatia’s capital Zagreb, but enthusiasm was dampened by the economic and political situation in Croatia and the Eurozone crisis, even though 2/3 of Croats voted for the accession (29% voter turnout). With high unemployment and the national debt officially classed as junk, some Croatians feel joining an economic bloc with its own serious troubles will do little to improve their prospects. Citizens fear that EU competition is too strong for the Croatian economy. Only time will tell if Croatia will benefit from joining the EU, but when we think about where Croatia was 20 years ago amidst the bloodshed and post war austerity, becoming a member of the EU seems like a good cause for a fireworks show.

EU piles pressure on Croatia over extradition law

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Croatia’s centre-left government ignored a deadline set by the European Commission to change a controversial law which exempts crimes committed prior to 2002 from the European Arrest Warrant. The EU legislation breach was highlighted by the case of Lex Perković, who is wanted by Germany for his role in the murder of a Croatian dissident in 1983. (Perković has been captured in recent days). Viviene Reding of the European Commission warned of suspension of European Funds and suggested that Croatia’s membership in the EU’s Schengen area of border-free travel could be delayed.

LEX Perkovic

Croatian Defender Simunic fined for ‘Pro-Nazi” Chant

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Croatian defender, Joe Simunić, an Australian born Croat was slapped with a 10 game ban and fine after chanting “Za Dom” during a soccer match between Iceland and Croatia, a qualifying match for the World Cup in Brazil. FIFA officials have deemed “Za Dom” a pro-nazi chant, even though Simunić begged to differ and even though it was proven that this slogan has been used by Croats way before Hitler was born. Because of the 10 game ban, Simunić will not be able to play during the World Cup and this ban may very well be the end of his soccer career.

Za Dom Spremni

Croatia outlaws same-sex marriage

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On December 1st, Croatia backed ammendments to its constitution that would strictly define the union of marriage to be that of a man and a woman. Although the countries overall attitude has shifted gradually towards gay rights, over 65% of voters voted to keep marriage along traditional lines. The referendum caused a significant divide amongst Croatia’s citizens but the referendum also brought others issues to light – a very one sided government and media.

ZA ili PROTIV

Economy

Croatia’s economic growth was stagnant in 2013 and in 2014 the economy is unlikely to recover as real GDP growth is set to be marginal.  Unemployment was at 17.6%, a slight improvement (0.1%) from 2012, and 3.0% increase from 2011.

Population

The population growth rate is negative (-0.11%). Although official numbers have yet to be released for 2013, the number of Croatian citizens that have left Croatia is alarming for the last 4 years. Those numbers are expected to increase as Croatia’s borders are open and citizens can find work elsewhere in the EU.

Social Issues

There is a significant social divide amongst Croatia’s citizens which was witnessed during the events that happened throughout 2013. There is a general dissatisfaction with the government, and the Homeland War continues to haunt the country but mostly the victims. The cyrillic alphabet in Vukovar caused much unrest, and if anything, a national awakening happened in 2013. Democracy was demonstrated by having a first ever referendum and Croatian’s want to take back their country and be able to be true patriots without being called fascists.

My wish for Croatia for 2014 is for prosperity, economic growth and most importantly, democracy! Cheers!

FIFA BRUTAL DESECRATION OF CROATIAN HISTORY – DISCRIMINATION AGAINST CROATIANS

Croatia, the War, and the Future

Because he chanted “For Home” (Za Dom) and because the public at the World Cup qualifying match against Iceland on 16 November 2013 responded “Ready!” the Croatian defender Josip Simunic will miss the World Cup after being banned for 10 matches by Fifa.
World governing body Fifa on Monday confirmed Simunic’s ban will start at the World Cup in Brazil, and also announced he will be banned from entering the stadium for any of the country’s matches.
Simunic has also been ordered to pay a fine of CHF 30,000.

A Fifa statement said: ”The committee took note that the player, together with the crowd, shouted a Croatian salute that was used during World War II by the fascist ‘Ustaše’ movement.
”As a consequence, the committee agreed that this salute was discriminatory and offended the dignity of a group of persons concerning, inter alia, race, religion or origin, in a…

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Referendum: ZA ili PROTIV

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Croatians today are preparing to vote on a historic referendum – the first in 23 years of independence that was initiated by the people of Croatia. A referendum is an initiative to which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a proposal and it is a true showcase of democracy within a country. The referendum on Sunday is whether or not to constitutionally define marriage between a man and woman. Earlier this year, members of parliament hinted that same sex couples would be granted rights and treated as if they were married. The group “In the name of Family” (U ime obitelji) collected 750,000 signatures in support of the vote, which forced the parliament to call for a referendum.

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In recent weeks, Croatia’s Deputy Prime Minister Vesna Pusić has said “I am calling for all citizens, regardless of what your opinion or views are on this topic, to vote against!” In fact, Croatia’s ruling centre left coalition, including Prime Minister Zoran Milanović urged citizens to vote against (protiv). Since the start of this initiative, members of the left-wing government have been making statements, calling the initiative ‘medieval, discriminatory and imposing religious doctrine’. Zoran Milanović has also said “this will be the last time Croatia sees a referendum.” Those words are bone chilling, when a prime minister of a country threatens and says a democratic referendum will never happen again. Government controlled  media have also been using state television by ridiculing the whole campaign, bullying and terrorizing the citizens who will vote in favor of keeping marriage traditional. Since when does a government pick and choose who and what they are going to support? A government should be a true representation of ALL citizens of country, they are after all the peoples government.

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While I do not understand how a minority feel they have the power to amend a law that was passed generations ago, or how a minority can redefine marriage as it was established hundreds of years ago, I will  not debate this topic on this blog. I feel that those who are for traditional marriage, and those who are against are set in their opinions and their decisions would certainly not be swayed by my thoughts in this post. What I will say is that I am very disappointed with the governments stance and the bullying that is happening against a majority of Croatia’s citizens. The noise surrounding this referendum is yet another example of the totalitarian government and it must be stopped. If anything does come out of this referendum besides it’s sole purpose, it will be that this is the most democratic referendum the 23 year old country has seen.

Za Dom: SPREMNI!

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For the last few months, many countries around the world have been participating in soccer matches that could qualify their country for the World Cup in Brazil next summer. With a top ranked soccer team, Croatia is no exception. This week, they played a match against Iceland in Zagreb. To say this game was  very important would be an understatement – a win would  qualify Croatia for the prestigious tournament, so emotions were running high. The Croatian national team celebrated a 2-0 win against Iceland, and landed them a spot at the World Cup 2014.

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The FIFA World Cup attracts not only soccer fans but in parallel, promotes nationalism, and the two basically go hand in hand. Since Croatia’s break from Yugolsavia, the World Cup quickly became the foundation of nationalistic appeal and in this setting, soccer was utilized very clearly as a means by which to instill pride and faith into the hearts of the Croatian public. I view soccer as a form of nationalism that forges unity in countries with significant social divides and it is a way for fans to channel pride for their country in a positive setting.

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Croatian national team defender, Josip Šimunić, an Australian born and fellow diasporee, has  been scrutinized and fined by Croatian public prosecutors for allegedly chanting ‘racial’ slogans after Croatia’s victory over Iceland. He took the microphone, and saluted: “To the battle! to the battle!” (U boj! U boj!) to which the fans replied: “For our people!” (Za narod svoj!) He then continued: “For the Homeland” (Za Dom) to which 20,000 fans responded back: “Ready!” (Spremni!)  The Australian native is also facing possible suspension and hefty fines from FIFA, which has caused a divide once again with Croats.

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“For Homeland: Ready!” (Za Dom Spremni) is a CROATIAN salute that has been used by many people, over the course of a few centuries and it is  a salute used in the latest Homeland War.  Many people, specifically communist folk in Croatia, associate this salute to the Ustashe, WWII, Hitler and Ante Pavelić which is the reason why political officials have condemned  Šimunić and his supposed criminal actions. As if one would be so idiotic to believe that an Australian, born in democracy, who always wears a rosary around his neck would demonstrate such hate toward a group of people at a soccer match!? Having Ustaše in my family (grandfathers and their brothers), I don’t even associate Za dom Spremni as facist. To me ‘Za Dom Spremni’ is patriotic – love for Croatia, not hate for another ethnicity.

Political leaders and the mainstream media are having a field day with this.  Šimunić’s actions come at a perfect time, where they can deflect their own insufficiencies as political leaders. Corruption, unemployment, and a general disapproval of the government have all taken the backburner and all focus has been placed on  Šimunić. What is more laughable is these same people want to lecture ME about democracy. These people who were born in communism, and still live and breathe it today would like to give Šimunić a lesson about democracy and Croatian history. These people, who hated everything Croatian, are suddenly the experts on Croatia’s bloody history.

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But yet, when a Croatian flag was burning in the 90th minute of a soccer match between Croatia and Serbia 2 months ago, these same people didn’t condemn these actions.

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These same people who at that same match seen a 50 metre Serbian flag with the words BYKOBAP (Vukovar) didn’t speak up. They stood silent, like the nice little communists they are, for fear of rocking the peace boat with Serbia.

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What amazes me is these political leaders and their group of small followers claim the salute brings back horrible memories of the nazi’s and killings, but yet – the cyrillic alphabet in Vukovar does not. And then when FIFA banned a banner that says “Remember Vukovar” basically on the anniversary of the fall of Vukovar, they stood silent. Because apparently remembering the victims of the biggest slaughterhouse modern day Europe has seen is a crime.

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 Joe Šimunić did not incite hatred and did not give any racial speeches. His salute was love for his homeland, pride for our nation, and a guaranteed spot at the World Cup in Brazil.

Vukovar: 22 years of Fallen Angels

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Many today are familiar with the devastating scenes of inhuman cruelty which lies within this city, captured on film and camera to show to the world the very worst of the Serb aggression on Croatia. November 18th marks the 22nd anniversary of the fall of Vukovar. If you haven’t had the chance to read my previous posts about Vukovar, you can do so here:

Vukovar NIKAD Bykobap!

† Blago Zadro: Trpinja Road Hero

Milanović: The graves will never forgive you!

I would like to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the fall and capture of Vukovar in silence, leaving you with a few iconic images. Please note, some images do contain graphic material.

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Gotovina and Markač: A year of freedom

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“I declare, contrary to the opinion of judges Aguisa & Pocarda, acquittal”

(“… I izriče, uz suprotno mišljenje sudaca Agiusa i Pocarda, oslobađajuću presudu …”)

– Judge Theodor Meron

November 15, 2012: Bedtime prayers were different that night with my kids. We prayed for the release of two men I did not know personally, let alone my kids. Then came the questions: Who are they? Why are they in jail? Did they do something bad? My husband and I tried our best to explain to a 5 and 6 year old why they were in jail, even though we ourselves knew they should not be in jail. My husband then pulled up a picture of Ante Gotovina on his phone and showed them. Both my girls sighed and said “ohhhhh, we know him”.

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My family and I travel to Croatia and Hercegovina every summer. I think it is safe to say that my kids have seen hundreds of posters and grafitti like the one above while travelling all over the country. Wherever you went in Croatia, whether it was in a small village, a big city or especially driving down the coast, there were pictures of Ante Gotovina, often seen with the slogan “Hero, not a criminal!” (Heroj, ne žločinac!) Over the course of his imprisonment, Gotovina’s fame grew. He was the face of the Homeland War (Domovinski rat), and Operation Storm (Operacija Oluja).

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“Oluja” was the final chapter, the last battle of Domovinski Rat. It was strategically planned out by the Croatian Army (HV – Hrvatska Vojska) to attack a 630km frontage against the Republic of Serbian Krajina (Srpska Krajina), making it was the largest European Land Battle since World War II.

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In 1991, the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) issued sealed indictments to the Croatian government seeking the arrest of Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač for war crimes. Gotovina was indicted together with Mladen Markač, a former commander of the special police of Croatia’s interior ministry. Gotovina and Markač (along with Ivan Čermak – who was released earlier) were accused of aiding and abetting the murders of 324 Krajina Serb civilians and prisoners of war by “shooting, burning and/or stabbing” them and forcibly displacing almost 90,000 Serb civilians. Gotovina was charged with five counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of violations of the laws or customs of war.

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April 15, 2011: Hundreds of thousands of Croats around the world watched and listened in horror as Gotovina and Markač were sentenced to 24 years of imprisonment. The older folks who remember the war so vividly, including the war veterans, and the younger generation who have only read about the Croatian Independance War were equally shocked and saddened. So many questions remained unanswered, so many tears left unwiped, so many mothers without their sons and then this slap in the face. If Ante Gotovina is guilty, then we are all guilty! Gotovina’s lawyers vowed they would appeal the verdict.

A woman shows off a badge with a picture of Croatia's general Ante Gotovina during an anti-government rally at the Zagreb main square

The following day, Croats in major cities rallied against the government to protest the guilty verdict. 50,000 protesters in the main square in Zagreb carried Croatian flags and banners saying “I love Croatia, not the European Union,” as well as chanting “Treason” because of what organizers said was the failure of political leaders to protect the dignity of war veterans. Gotovina’s capture and trial was orchestrated by the Croatian Government and Croatian Intelligence so his arrest and conviction removed a serious obstacle in Croatia’s road to joining the European Union.

And so, as I was putting my kids to bed on November 15, hundreds of thousands of Croats were holding vigils, masses were held in churches and cathedrals throughout Croatia, anticipating and praying for the release of our generals. Before going to bed, I set my alarm to wake me at 3am EST. I needed to hear the verdict live. I was expecting the worst, but hoping for the best. I was watching a streamed program on Croatian news, so while the verdict was read in english, I was listenening to a Croatian translator. And then I heard those words: “I izriče, uz suprotno mišljenje sudaca Agiusa i Pocarda, oslobađajuću presudu”. OMG. Ante Gotovina is FREE. A few minutes later, the same words from Judge Meron’s mouth, only this time for Mladen Markač. OUR GENERALS ARE FREE!! I knew I didn’t hear wrong, because the translator let out a giggle, almost as if he was going to cry and his voice continued to tremble during the 4 minute verdict. I immediately went on social media and my newsfeed was flooded with images of our generals! It would be impossible to overstate the electric sense of anticipation that coursed through Croatia and diaspora that moment. I screamed. I cried sobbed. I ran upstairs to tell my husband who in a dead sleep opened his eyes and said “Hvala Ti Bože” (Thank You God).

UN tribunal overturns guilty verdicts against Croatian general

The next 4 hours I was glued to my computer, anxiously awaiting news of their arrival and the preparation for the celebrations that would take place in Croatia. I was imagining what their arrival home after 7 years would be like and wished more than anything that I could be in Zagreb for their arrival!

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I couldn’t wait to tell my kids that the two men they prayed for were finally free! As soon as they woke, I dressed them in their Croatian jerseys, called their school that they would not be there for the day and headed over to my parents. My parents still had no idea that our generals were free. As soon as I walked in with the kids, my parents said “They must be free” and immediately tears started to stream down their faces.

November 16, 2012 made Croatians proud and united again, just like they were during the war years. The release of Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač was more than about two army generals spending decades in jail. It was about the homeland war. It was about the mothers that lost their sons defending their homeland. It was about the children who were left orphans. It was about Vukovar, Škabrnja, Dubrovnik, Livno, Zadar, Kupres, Osijek. It was for the 2000 war veterans who have taken their lives since 1995. It is for the ones that still suffer daily in silence with post traumatic stress syndrome. The release of Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač changed Croatia’s history books, once and for all. The Croatian Homeland War was clean. The Croatian Homeland War was valid. Croatians were NOT the aggressors and the Croatian Army liberated our country honorably.