STEREOTYPES CAN LET YOU DOWN
VIEWPOINT FROM LONDON
by Brian Gallagher
The Croatian Herald, Australia No. 1000 - 30.01.04
Recently, it transpired that the HDZ victory in
Croatia had a helping hand from spin doctors from
Ireland's governing party Fianna Fail. This led to an
angry response from Sinn Fein, the political wing of
the Irish Republican Army terrorist group who accused
Fianna Fail of helping a party guilty of war crimes.
This may puzzle some in Croatia who may be under the
misapprehension that the IRA are somehow sympathetic
to the Croatian cause because of a perceived
stereotype of Catholic IRA fighting oppressive
pro-Serb Britain. In reality, Sinn Fein was
sympathetic to the former Serb dominated Yugoslavia.
This demonstrates that many Croats must adopt more
sophisticated thinking to establish who their friends
and foes are.
The UK Sunday Times of 21 December ran a story stating
that Croatia's HDZ hired a Irish consultancy group
headed by PJ Mara, a former director of elections for
Fianna Fail to help HDZ reform itself and win the
elections. Mara hired other Fianna Fail figures such
as former general secretary Martin Mackin and Jackie
Gallagher - former adviser to Irish Prime Minister
Bertie Ahern. The HDZ campaign featured images of
Bertie Ahern. The article was distinctly unsympathetic
to Croatia, making unsubstantiated claims that HDZ had
"forcibly expelled" Serbs from Croatia.
Aengus O'Snodaigh, a Sinn Fein MP, attacked Irish
Prime Minister Ahern. "Ahern has to ask himself
whether it is right that his image as an incoming EU
president was used by a foreign party that has
harboured war criminals, just because his buddies are
helping them out," O'Snodaigh said.
This is a bit much coming from Sinn Fein. The IRA are
experts in atrocity; they murdered and tortured
civilians, police, soldiers, protestants and catholics
over the years. At least some in Fianna Fail clearly
have a greater understanding of Croatia.
It is worth pausing to remember that when people in
the EU - especially the UK - attack "HDZ" and "Franjo
Tudjman" they are actually using code to attack
Croatia itself. This makes them look "fair" rather
than simply anti-Croat which in reality is usually the
case. After all, if these people were really concerned
about matters such as human rights in Croatia they
would be demanding the arrest of all those involved in
the slaughter of up to 20,000 Croats during the war.
Instead, all they speak of is Serb rights.
Unfortunately, the former government of Ivica Racan
never understood this and appeared to seriously
believe such criticism really was about the HDZ. This
was never the case as shown by Britain's hostile
attitude towards Racan's efforts to get Croatia into
This code can equally be applied to Sinn Fein. Sinn
Fein has an extreme left wing background and indeed
draws sympathy from left wing characters in the UK who
also sympathised with the Serbs during the war, such
as former MP Tony Benn.
This may seem rather confusing but other pro-Serb
sympathisers in the UK have often tried to link the
IRA with Croats. The commentator Richard West did so
in his biography of Tito. The Yugoslav state also
appeared to play on this by ostensibly backing the UK
in Northern Ireland. Yugoslavia always went to great
pains to equate Croats with terrorism.
That said, Croats have not been helped by recent
allegations of Croat arms smuggling to the Real IRA
terrorist splinter group. Fortunately, this has been
effectively counter-balanced by Croat officials
cracking down on such activities - which were probably
due more to organised crime than terrorist sympathies.
Pre-World War 2, Sinn Fein and the Ustasha were also
compared by commentators.
But it may come as a great surprise to some Croats -
and perhaps to some Serbs and their friends - that
Sinn Fein was sympathetic to the Yugoslav state and
found it to be a source of inspiration. Articles in
Irish magazine The Blanket - which covers Irish
Republican affairs - quote Sinn Fein's Republican News
on the party's policies in the 1970's, when IRA
terrorism was at it's height. They based economic
policies on Yugoslavia, amongst other states, and even
considered it a model for a united Ireland.
Furthermore, Tito's death elicited a fulsome tribute
from the then Sinn Fein President.
Clearly the rights of Croats in Serb dominated
Yugoslavia was not something Sinn Fein cared about,
and from O'Snodaigh's remarks they remain none too
sympathetic today. Given Sinn Fein's background in the
international left - never a friend of Croatia - none
of this should be too surprising.
It's also worth pointing out that Margaret Thatcher,
who championed Croatia's cause on the world stage was
an implacable foe of the IRA. The IRA narrowly failed
to assassinate her in the Brighton bomb in 1984.
Suppose they had succeeded? Croatia would not have
benefited from her powerful voice.
The point here is that Croats need to understand that
things are not always what they seem. Just because
something is identified as Catholic does not mean it's
pro-Croat. Catholic France is notoriously pro-Serb and
has little time for Croatia. Another example is in
Northern Ireland. As author Brendan Simms has pointed
out, Nationalist (Catholic) politicians such as John
Hume kept silent on the wars in Croatia and
Bosnia-Herzegovina. By contrast, Unionist (Protestant)
David Trimble criticized Milosevic.
Croats need to assess matters as how they are, rather
than on stereotypes that may not be grounded in
reality. Many people do view things on nationalist or
religious grounds; but some do on the basis of
ideology, and Croats should understand this when
seeking support in the world.
© Brian Gallagher
My 'Viewpoint from London' column appears fortnightly
in the Australian 'Croatian Herald' and thereafter at