Croatia's Untold Story in Film
Freedom from Despair
This feature-length documentary by Brenda Brkusic tells about the war against Croatian civilians within the context of decades of Serbian-led totalitarian rule. In this film the blueprint to create an ethnically pure greater-Serbian state beyond Serbia's borders is exposed. The untold Croatian story unfolds through the autobiography of the main character Kruno Brkusic, eye witness testimony, and archival footage.
Scenes of the calm blue Adriatic Sea and Kruno's gentle melodies are contrasted with the insecurity of daily life in communist Yugoslavia which climaxed in full-scale Serbian aggression. These scenes of the Serbian bombardment of Croatia still have the power to shock us as we remember when the world looked-on as if gagged and bound.
On one level Freedom from Despair informs us about the Croatian struggle for human rights and independence. But for its Croatian audience the film has an emotional dimension. Through Kruno's story, from Hvar to the forced annual free labour of youth in Yugoslavia, to the streets of Washington DC, the struggle of Croatian people is revealed. We are transported into a totalitarian society where ideological brainwashing, psychological abuse, and surveillance by secret police (UDBA) against the Croatian population begins in the primary school classroom, and follows them to the far corners of the world. According to interviewees in the film, even children had been expelled from school as an ‘anti-state element' or ‘reactionary', illustrating the role of ideology in former Yugoslav society. You were taught one thing at school and another at home. The personality cult of Tito was entrenched in former Yugoslav society.
Croatian political refugees identify with the film's escape scene in the forest. The dialogue between young Kruno and his friends, about a better future in America, is contrasted to the American government's refusal to stop the Serbian bombardment. The film's pace slowly builds, through interviews about the Serbian-dominated communist party, and it increases in momentum with scenes of grief and bombardment. The climax of the film is reached when we learn that the protests and human rights of tens of thousands of Croats in the streets of Washington DC have been ignored by the media. The mood of despair and hope is captured in the bittersweet music of Nenad Bach, ‘Everything is Forever'.
Croatia's Untold Story
Bosnia, not Croatia, is the focus of most contemporary documentaries on the violent break-up of Yugoslavia. Often the inference is that the so-called third ‘Balkan' war was equally Croatia's fault, and that the alleged premature recognition of Croatia was also to blame. The one-sided Serbian aggression against Croatia must be left out of such documentaries in order to justify the allegation of equal guilt. Because the philosophy of equal guilt is central to post-Cold War conflict resolution strategies of containment, it has profoundly saturated the media today.
I will argue that Freedom from Despair, set in post WWII Yugoslavia, shows how decades of Serbian-led oppression have led to the violent break-up of Yugoslavia. I have learned to be objective in my arguments because revolution and communist political systems was my university major. If there had been any bias on the topic of Yugoslav/Balkan politics in my essays I would not have a degree today. At the time university lectures on Yugoslavia generally reflected the status quo, but freedom of speech was not discouraged in tutorials or in essays.
It's possible I was one of the first to write an essay on the causes of the break-up of Yugoslavia. ‘Yugoslavia and the Serbian Revolutionary Tradition' was the title of my ‘Balkans Special Readings' essay in April 1992. In that essay I argued that the political collapse of the rotating presidency and the transformation of the Yugoslav Peoples Army into a purely Serbian Army was part of a long term plan to create a greater-Serbian state.
According to the Serbian dissident Djilas, Croats had to die so that Yugoslavia could live. By 1948 we witnessed the totalitarian takeover of the Yugoslav political, and military infrastructure by the Serbian ‘staatsvolk' or ‘nation builders'.
Post WWII massacres discussed in Freedom from Despair included the murder of over 700 priests and Franciscans. Massacre sites were uncovered and eye witness accounts given. This immediate post-WWII period of communist Yugoslavia is known to Croats as the time of the Bleiburg Genocide, when hundreds of thousands of Croats were massacred. Ironically many Croatian communists or Croatian partisans had not escaped execution. One professor of communist political systems in Australia, J. Miller described the fanatical Yugoslav Central Committee before 1948 as “more Bolshevik than Bolsheviks” (La Trobe University, Lecture, 3 Aug 1989).
The argument that nationalism was controlled under Tito is flawed. Serbian nationalism actually expanded under Titoism at the expense of Croatian human rights, and it was Tito who created a ‘Moslem' nationality in the 1974 constitution. Serbian nationalism was part of every day life. For example in the film we learn that Serbian songs were openly sung in public places in Croatia, but singing traditional Croatian songs was not permitted.
The 1971 ‘Croatian Spring', virtually unheard of in contrast to other soviet crackdowns in Hungary or Czechoslovakia, is described in Freedom From Despair. Marko Dizdar's testimony, (a former Amnesty International political prisoner of conscience) described how the Serbian-led state “ignored the historical presence of Croatian people”. The fact that 32,000 Croatian party members were purged from their positions and found themselves on trial, in gulags, and assassinated as “enemies of the state” is central to why Yugoslavia broke-up violently.
Over the ensuing decades operations for a greater-Serbia were coordinated on other fronts besides politics: during the Cold War Yugoslavia also built Europe's third best-equipped army. As elsewhere in Croatia, in Dalmatia the Serbian usurpation of power, and genocide and an accompanying Croatian exodus due to economic exploitation occurred. In Freedom from Despair, we see an example of this exodus from the island of Hvar, Kruno's birthplace.
Thus, after WWII the demographics in some parts of Croatia had been deliberately altered, as in Zadar County. For example there was a post WWII Serbian influx into Knin, which had been included in Zadar's post-WWII enlarged boundaries. Knin was one of many army barracks in the region and because the Yugoslav Peoples Army leadership was dominated by Serbs their numbers and influence increased. Before WWII Knin had been in the Hrvatska Banovina region which had a majority of Croats.
The plan for a greater-Serbia had its head in Belgrade and its feet in Knin. But Knin had never been in Vojna Krajina in history. The invention of a so-called ‘Krajina' was never the same as the Vojna Krajina. Most Orthodox Morlachi (Vlachs) in the region had originally been integrated into Croatian society and politics, not Serbian. Zadar boundaries had never included Lika. In the case of Zadar County, post WWII western loans ended up as investment in outlying Serbian-controlled townships, enforced by Serbian communist party members and Serbian police. Between 1990 and 1992, thousands of Croats were massacred or forcibly removed from those Serbian-controlled townships. Still others outside of the self-declared Serbian Krajina had to flee because of continued shelling which came from inside the UN ‘pink zone' in Sector South. In Croatia UNPROFOR had failed in its mandate to disarm the well-armed Serbs, who had kept an advantage due to the UN Arms Embargo. Yet all we hear is the fabrication that the Croatian constitution did not respect the ‘minority' rights of Serbs in Croatia.
Human rights abuse so well documented in the film Freedom from Despair was being upstaged by the issue of ‘minority rights' as Serbian bombs struck Croatian civilian targets. The post Cold War lobby for a new definition of ‘minority rights' or ‘human security' in the OSCE in 1991 was unsuccessful, but by that time the commander of Yugoslav Peoples Army in Croatia, Mladic, had been transferred from Knin to Bosnia. When similar massacres later occurred in Bosnia it was called genocide, but in Croatia it has even been described as ethnic strife!
Freedom from Despair documents the experience of Kruno with the American media and government which led him to the conclusion that the pro-Serbian bias of the US State Department led to a ‘green light' for the Serbian aggression. In the accusation against Eagleburger and his financial connections with Milosevic, Brkusic is not alone, as it has also come from more than one journalist, including Robert Manne, or Roy Gutman, author of ‘Witness to Genocide'.
Richard Holbrooke in his book, ‘To End a War', discussed “the greatest collective security failure of the West since the 1930s”. But his claim is absurd, that President Clinton did nothing to stop the Serbian bombing because he had been brainwashed by Rebecca West's book, ‘Black Lamb & Grey Falcon'. You can fool some of the people some of the time but are we to seriously believe that one pro-Serbian author had the American intelligence community outfoxed?
Canada's General Mackenzie is the ‘fox' in Carol Off's book, ‘The Lion, The Fox, & The Eagle'. This book criticizes the role of UNPROFOR's first general. Page 200 describes a meeting between the Canadian Prime Minister, his “Sarajevo-born” (Serbian) wife Mila and General Mackenzie in 1992; and how the responsibility for all decisions had been Canada's during the first months of the horror that ensued. It is well known that for decades Canada's internationalist foreign and defence policies had become inseparable from United Nations policy, and that this had placed Canada in a prominent position to influence the outcome of events unfolding in the former Yugoslavia. Canadian peacekeeping involvement ranged from participating in Europe's OSCE debate, to acting as European Monitors, and to leading the first UNPROFOR operation.
Serbia didn't only have allies in the USA or in Canada, but also in Russia and Great Britain. For example, Russia's fanatical Zironovski stood on the bones of Croatian civilians in Vukovar and declared it to be Serbia, amongst a sea of Russian-UN Blue Helmets.
A former Australian Labour Party Prime Minister has recently delivered a speech about how Australian patriotism can be defined. In 2004, at the launch of the Serbian St. Sava's Orthodox College in Australia, Mr Gough Whitlam's speech began with the words, “No patriotic Australian can vilify the Serbs”. This speech, on a web page devoted to Whitlam, enlightens us with the reasons for the traditional and unquestioning support for Serbs. He extolled the virtues of the ever-close Serbian monarchical ties to the British and Greek monarchy, along with claims about the importance of the West's Serbian alliance during WWII.
The Siege on Croatia
The climax of Freedom from Despair, for me, comes with the shock that there was a media blackout of the peaceful Croatian demonstration in Washington DC. Fortunately some rare support could be found in the Australian media. ‘We Must Rescue Croatia' was the title of an article in an Australian newspaper by Robert Manne, a regular columnist and La Trobe University lecturer of communist history (Herald Sun, Melbourne).
On 13 December 1991, he wrote that the Yugoslav Army's one-sided military aggression (using Navy, Air Force and Army) against Croatia is the most savage since the end of WWII. The deaths of up to 10,000 people to date are all mostly innocent Croatian civilians, according to this article. Manne continued that over 100,000 homes and 200 Catholic churches have been reduced to rubble, and that in Croatia's case, only one side is perpetrating the military operations. According to Manne, the American State Department had given Belgrade a green light, that the Europeans' response has been futile and shameful, and he criticized the Australian peace movement's “vow of silence”.
This documentary exposes the human rights abuse of Croatian people under the former Yugoslavia. In addition, Freedom from Despair helps us to understand how Serbia's role was central to the violent break-up of Yugoslavia. I have also argued in the same theme as the film, that the traditional allies of Serbia and the United Nations were responsible for the spread of war to Bosnia. The ineffective international response to this one-sided aggression, and the dire consequences of re-defining terrorism as ethnic cleansing or ethnic tensions have led to the death of 250,000 innocent people. A further two million innocent civilians should not have been displaced to appease Serbian aggression (half a million Croats amongst them). The Croatian victims should not be on trial today for defending their homeland and their lives.
Jean Lunt Marinovic
July 30, 2005