Croatian literature in the Diaspora has influenced my writing over the years and a constant theme has been the issue of British responsibility for the Bleiburg Genocide of Croatian people after WWII. My Open Letters to television Channels 10 and 28, and articles such as ‘Hiding Bleiburg Won’t Lessen the Guilt’ are typical of much of my earlier writings. (see Appendix) In those articles I have suggested that the genocide of Croatian people was the result of collusion between the British and the Yugoslavs as part of a deal to solve a border dispute.
In hindsight however it is clear that the genocide of Croatian people was not the intention of the British leadership. In the West, WWII had officially ended, but in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe the war was not over. Indeed, the Churchill-Tito border conflict over Trieste and Carinthia in 1945 was the reason for Churchill’s famous original Iron Curtain statement, and marked the beginning of the Cold War.
In what is also known as the ‘Klagenfurt Conspiracy’ thousands of surrendered Croats were disarmed and repatriated from the British sector of post WWII Austria, but the great majority of those Croats who were massacred by the Yugoslavs never reached the point of surrender, so were the British totally to blame for the massacres because of their relationship with Tito?
Rather, it appears in hindsight that post-WWII political decisions illustrated British naivety and the necessary evil of having to spontaneously deal with Bolshevik tactics just when they thought they had won the war against totalitarianism. The 50-50 division of Yugoslavia never transpired as intended by Churchill and Stalin at Yalta. A lot had happened since that time. Although the Soviets did not move into the Croatian territory, their Partisans allies did enter wearing the soviet-supplied red stars. In addition, at the end of WWII most of the former Serbian Chetniks had joined the Partisans, thereafter dominating the ranks of the communist Yugoslav forces. The genocide of Croatian people was ordered by a Serbian-dominated Yugoslav Communist Central Committee.
Croatian people in the Diaspora believe that Yugoslav Bolsheviks instigated and carried out the massacres, so it is ironic that they have been influenced by anti-western propaganda that it was the West’s fault. But, perhaps that is not so surprising, in the absence of an official enquiry in the West. Decades after the event some western archives have been opened, and in addition, it is now known that the West itself had been infiltrated by soviet spies preceding and during the Cold War. It is indeed unfortunate for the victims of Bleiburg, even after those discoveries, that no official British enquiry has been forthcoming.
As argued above, the responsibility for the genocide of Croatian people does not fit so easily into just one category, and so one needs to look further for answers.
There were other historical factors which led up to the tragedy. Perpetual Italian irredentism was an inextricable part of the border issues which the Allies found themselves caught-up in during May 1945. In this context between 1941 and 1945, the Croatian leadership had made flawed political decisions. Unfortunately the Croatian leadership had given in to WWII Italian demands and this decision had an direct effect on the outcome of the war.
For example, the Rome pact signed between Italy and Pavelic in 1941, was a significant cause of disunity amongst Croatian people, and as a result many Croats formed their own partisan resistance against Italian occupation. In addition, the Croatian leadership had not had the vision to change allegiance in 1943 at the time of the initial Italian capitulation. It is possible that the 50-50 Yalta agreement between Stalin and Churchill could have been facilitated if the Zagreb leadership had adopted a different foreign policy. The Croatian decision to change allegiance at the end of the war was too late to be of any interest to the Allies who had been forced instead to win the war with the help of the partisans.
The political decision to retreat from all Croatian front lines, and to take the same route as the retreating Germans in May 1945, had been made at a parliamentary level in Zagreb on April 30, and carried out after a personal appeal by Archbishop Stepinac. Military advice had not been taken into consideration. This depressing episode of Croatian political history is dealt with in detail in the book, ‘Operation Slaughterhouse’.
Another factor may have had a detrimental effect on Allied-Croatian negotiations at Bleiburg. In the poem “The Bleiburg Connection” (see Appendix) the verse “Croatian refugees, lost without a leader” refers to the mysterious disappearance of the Croatian leader Pavelic and his government Ministers in May 1945 Austria. Thus abandoned, the remainder of the Croatian army and civilians were left to deal with the ill-advised political command to abandon the front lines in Croatia, and to evacuate Zagreb en masse.
It was revealed later that many WWII Axis leaders had been smuggled out of Europe to South America with the help of the Vatican, and this included Pavelic and many Croatian government Ministers. The top secret Allied-Tito collusion over border issues was not the only clandestine activity going on. Vatican concordats existed with Mussolini, Hitler, and Yugoslavia, but not with Croatia.
A concordat between the Vatican and Yugoslavia had been the dream of Croatian pan-slavists since the 19th century. The rise to power of Tito in communist Yugoslavia was facilitated by the Allies in 1945, but Yugoslavism had its roots in the politicization of a pseudo Yugoslav culture in 19th century Zagreb.
Without the political support of the feudal estates the 19th century grass-roots Croatian national movement of Starcevic had no hope of survival. In addition, an entire culture, that of the Croatian Orthodox, albeit disappeared from the world. The disappearance of Croatian/Greek Orthodox Churches was the result of an expanding Serbian Orthodox church in the latter half of the 19th century in places it had never existed before inside Croatia and Dalmatia.
An artificial south-slavic culture was imposed on Croatian people by the clerical elite who ignored Croatian national aspirations. In 1850 an artificial Serbo-Croatian language had been standardized (Vienna Convention). In 1861 in the sabor Serbs within Croatia were given a constituent status. In 1867 a south-slav or Yugoslav Academy of Arts and Sciences was built in Zagreb, and a Yugoslav ‘National’ Party was created to foster Croatian and Serbian unity, in Zagreb, by Bishop Strossmayer in 1871. So strong was the impetus of pro-Russian slavic ecumenism in Croatia that the London Times wrote in 1870 that Strossmayer wanted to fuse the Catholic minority in South-East Europe with the Greek Orthodox Slavs for the sake of obtaining political unity of the South-Slav nations.
The political coalition between Serbs and Croats in the Croatian sabor culminated in the creation of a Yugoslav Committee and the Corfu Declaration of July 1917. In October 1918 the state of Serbs Croats and Slovenes was declared in the Zagreb sabor, which included Serbs and Croats within Croatia, and Slovenia; this union was later joined by Serbia in November 1918 to become the Kingdom of Serbs Croats & Slovenes with its capital in Belgrade.
It is clear that 19th century south-slavism, or Yugoslavism in Croatia directly led to the creation of despotic Royalist Yugoslavia and Tito’s rise to power. In the book entitled, “Hrvatski Narodni Preporod U Dalmaciji i Don Mihovil Pavlinovic”, by Benedikta Zelic-Bucan, Matica Hrvatska, Split 1992, it is clear that south slavism in particular was connected to the Croatian religious elite’s ecumenical agenda. Other books confirm this unfortunate development in Croatia, such as “Bishop J.G.Strossmayer: New Light on Vatican I”, by Ivo Sivric, Ziral, Chicago 1975.
Nearly fifty years after the Bleiburg Genocide, Croatian people won their freedom. The Yugoslav totalitarian state imploded, yes, but inside Croatia ubiquitous symbols of the artificial south-slavic culture are in every city. There is constant political opposition to public expression of the Croatian national consciousness, except perhaps in sport. Monuments to Croatia’s national leaders, heroes and kings can be only found in sparsely populated villages off the beaten track, with a few exceptions. Croatian people must accept the fact that Yugoslavia was not a British invention and that south-slavism was first politicized in Croatia, and was in fact criticized in the contemporary British press.
In conclusion the British may have been instrumental in Tito’s rise to power during WWII, for the purpose of defeating the Axis, but the genocide of Croatian people was never intended by the British, and the belief that the British created Yugoslavia is ridiculous.
Jean Lunt Marinovic
A Condensed anthology of Bleiburg articles by Jean Lunt Marinovic
2004 Tito’s Terrorism, article.
2002 Has Mesic Lost Touch With His Own People, article.
2001 Lessons From Bleiburg, Open Letter
2000 Is the West on Trial at the Hague, article.
1999 Preserve Maribor Genocide Evidence, article.
1987 Hiding Bleiburg Won’t Lessen the Guilt, article.
1986 To Live in Harmony: Open Letter to Channel 28 Vox Populi.
1986 Exodus from Yugoslavia to Australia, brochure.
1986 Not a Single Bird, After Taking Flight Stops in Mid Air, speech.
1986 UN Year of Peace, Open Letter to Australian Coordinator.
1985 Open Letter to Channel Ten in Sydney.
1985 The Ambush at Bleiburg: 40th Anniversary, poem
1984 The Bleiburg Connection, poem
1983 A Vision of Freedom, poem.
Jean Lunt Marinovic
Formatted for CROWN by Ivo Bach