Croatia and Israel victims of similar intolerance
Victims of a common intolerance by Vitomir Miles Raguz
July 13, 2003
President Moshe Katsav's weekend visit to Croatia makes him the first senior Israeli leader to visit the country since it gained independence 12 years ago. The wait is not surprising given Croatia's World War Two record as well as the controversial writings about the Holocaust by Croatia's founder Franjo Tudjman.
But Zagreb has a new leadership now, and its wartime history is being deconstructed in a new light. Katsav and his counterpart, President Stipe Mesic, are scheduled to spend three days together, with the itinerary that includes a visit to the Jasenovac memorial and a tour of the ancient city of Dubrovnik, home to the second-oldest synagogue in Europe.
One has to wonder whether in their talks the two leaders will have moved from the troubled past to a present in which Israel and Croatia share a common predicament.
By now a strong case has been made that the European Left is intolerant of Israel, to some bordering on anti-Semitic. But Israelis are not the only people to face the wrath of the internationalist elite in Brussels. Croats remain at a loss to explain their exclusion from the European mainstream by Left-led Brussels. Zagreb's applications for EU and NATO membership continue to be fobbed off regularly by new conditions.
Croatia certainly deserves candidate status in both organizations. It has earned entry by managing its economy admirably during the double transition to privatization and from war with virtually no international assistance. Moreover, it should be rewarded for ending the catastrophe in Bosnia in 1995, and saving the country's Muslim population when Brussels was powerless.
But at the November 2002 Prague summit NATO humiliated Croatia by placing it on a waiting list for membership, saying that Croatia needed to further democratize and upgrade its army. Military experts know, however, that Croatia and Slovenia are the only two transition countries whose armies meet Western standards of readiness. On the issue of democracy, Croatia's top leaders, Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan, are usually heralded in the West as prime examples of democracy. Yet this reality evaporates at invitation time.
Why is the European Left so cold toward Croatia? To the big powers it is a strategically irrelevant country. And, like Israel, Croatia has no allies in today's Europe.
Ideological issues come into play as well. Israel is despised for rejecting its socialist Kibbutz paradise roots. Similarly, Croatia is viewed as having betrayed the utopian ideal of Yugoslavia, once revered by the Left as the epitome of modern socialism and worker self-management.
Internal criticism also plays a role. Israel's left-leaning elite indulges in extensive self-criticism that serves to provide fodder to anti-Israel partisans abroad. Croatia has a similar problem. Zagreb's elite has taken the concept of the proverbial self-hating Jew to unseen heights. Trashing the young state abroad has become a badge of honor in high society.
Then there is the issue of guilt. The Left's uneasy feeling that its early support for Israel allowed it to become too strong is similar to its uneasiness over seeing Croatia move quickly ahead of its eastern neighbors. That's because EU policy toward the Balkans calls for no winners, no losers. To the European Left Croatia is a winner; something pointed out by Greek foreign minister George Papandreou during his January stopover in Zagreb. And since the adjoining states are not winners, Croatia is expected to wait in line with the slower bunch.
Friends of Israel point to notoriously Arabist-leaning foreign offices of certain European governments. In the Balkans the "foreign office" plays a similarly biased role. Since 1993, it has favored a policy of compensating the Muslim community in Bosnia-Herzegovina at the expense of the Croats. This, because the West could not stand up to Serb radicals.
Such a policy also demands a feeble Croatia, one compelled to control the disillusioned Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina in hope of being rewarded. Also keeping Croatia in check are spurious charges at the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague against fugitive general Ante Gotovina concerning alleged ethnic cleansing, and assertions against Croatia itself about its policies in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992-93.
One would expect that the West could never be so cynical. But consider that during the 50-year communist rule in Yugoslavia, Croat pleas for democracy and human rights were consistently labeled as dangerous nationalism. Croat grievances were seen as threatening the unity of Yugoslavia, and its strategic position as a dividing line between East and West.
To weaken the Croat case, the West readily perpetuates the view that during World War Two Croatians sided with the Nazis to the last man, while the pro-Yugoslavia Serbs fought with the Allies. A fresh look at history reveals that both Serbia and Croatia had Nazi puppet regimes, but the Croats and not the Serbs initiated the Yugoslav antifascist Partizan movement. Croats were its senior leaders and disproportionately its most numerous foot soldiers.
Regrettably, some Jews too have embraced this fallacy about Croats for decades.
Clearly, both Israel and Croatia are victims of similarly convoluted European tendencies that are worrisome for Jews and saddening for Croats. What should come out of the Katsav-Mesic meetings is a realization that Israel and Croatia share a common cause vis-a-vis Europe's leadership.
The writer was Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the EU and NATO in 1998-2000. He now lives and works in Vienna.
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