Proud mountains, snow, rain and landslides, lush vegetation, covered the trail of tears of Serbian and Jewish victims. The Sea near the island of Pag swallowed thousands of men, women and children, Serbs and Jews.
By Danka Kojadinovich
Too many words have been spent in recent decades in attempts to analyze the civil wars of the late twentieth century in the Balkans. There were some analysts trying to atomize the Balkans in order to destabilize Europe, in the interest of the unilateral force, the US.
There were some articles dealing with the influence of local (and less of the global) media on the escalation of ethnic and religious conflicts, attributing to them an unrealistically large impact. Some authors, while denying almost identical events of the past decades and centuries, attributed all disorder to the collapse of the ideological matrix of socialism-communism in the face of the advancing so-called democratic liberalism and the era of globalization.
It is the blatant truth (or reality, as quasi-European hustlers would say) that the Balkans have been fragmented like leopard skin, in a range of small, non-functional states, and that the economic downfall in all states of former Yugoslavia has become obvious. Protests of unemployed and hungry workers are a regular part of everyday life in Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro.
The facts show that the reconciliation process among Yugoslav peoples is not progressing well, no matter how many representatives of their political elites hugged and kissed each other in
front of the cameras, doing a task given by their EU anemic governors. A particularly sensitive question is the Croatian-Serbian question.
According to statistics, Croatia has been etnichally cleansed of Serbs, reducing their share from almost one third of the total population in the eve of WWII to only 4,26 percent in the last census. Even worse, it is expected that it will fall to less than 3 percent by the next census in 2021. If part of the isappearance of Serbs was explained by the genocide policy of the Ustasha and the Independent State of Croatia, and Tito’s resettlement of the surviving Serbs to Vojvodina, then the question of all questions is now – whether there are any differences between Pavelic’s policy and the policy of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) under Tito’s ex-general Franjo Tudjman, who opted for war and secession of Croatia.
Nowadays Croatia is an ethnically cleansed Catholic Croat state with more than 90 percent of their share in total population, according to the 2011 national census. If sore annual partying at Cavoglave could be ignored as a part of the Croatian subculture, the “defenders” hysteria towards the Cyrillic alphabet in Vukovar still remains a serious unsolved question, resembling the darkest Nazi and Ustasha era, and opposing the equality of citizens and their languages declared by the EU.
The huge corpus of violated human rights and freedoms of Serbs in Croatia include: the right to get their property back, the right to be compensated for destroyed or burnt assets, the right to buy their apartments, the right for renovation of devastated buildings of the Serbian Orthodox Church and monuments… The list is long, but neither the Croatian government (occupied with inter-party squabbles and corruption scandals) nor the EU (which had no power to prevent the conflict in Ukraine) exhibit the ability and the will to solve deposited problems in accordance with European standards. Both of them are behaving just as ex Yugoslavia did once.
The war, on no account, was in the interest of Serbs or even Croats. But it perfectly suited Tudjman’s political and tycoon minions.
ME AND THE CROATS
I have not visit Croatia for decades. But I still remember Opatija and Volosko, where I was vacationing with my parents. I remember ”Kvarner” and the Opatija Music Festival. I also remember a movie director Branko Bauer dancing tango with my mother, while my father was playing chess. I remember Zagreb and “Esplanada,” where local journalists used to buy cassata cake for me, and discuss politics and circulation of a daily newspaper „Borba“ with my father Vladeta Vasovic. I remember Richard Gumzej’s boutique, where my mother spent a lot of money. I remember a student exchange and a wonderful time spent with all sorts of students of the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb. I still guard verses, book with special dedication, and a dried rose between its pages. Oh, the students’ affections!
The Independent State of Croatia genocide against Serbs was not discussed. The “Arena” magazine only somewhat and sometimes wrote about it.
As a young professor, sometime in 1985, while staying in Zagreb I also visited Jastrebarsko with its memorial collection of documents and artifacts on Ustashas’ concentration camp for children (the entire collection disappeared during the last war), and a tiny grave in Mirogoj cemetery for Serbian children killed during the rule of terror of the Independent State of Croatia. It was a little known topic in Belgrade, one of those that were almost never discussed.
In the eve of the last war, probably in 1988, I visited Zagreb with my colleagues from Vracar. On the ground floor of the „Sport“ hotel, someone, let’s say his name was Meho Spahic, celebrated his son’s wedding. Gosh, the zurlas and kettledrums echoed really loudly. On the first floor a baroness, let’s say her surname was Esterhazy, had a tea party. At the same time, the rest of institutions in Zagreb, were engaged in territorial defense military exercises.
Even then everything became clear to me – preparations for Endlozung were under way. The war was at the doors – Germany wanted access to the warm waters of the Medterranean, Vatican wanted to move its own border further to the East – to begin plowing the “Eastern field”, and the United States wanted to build one more military base in long range, getting closer to Russia.
As my late Professor and Chair of the Department of English, born in Zagreb, Dr. Vida-Eda Markovic-Milankovic used to say: „Croats have not experienced a catharsis after their crimes, the evil will repeat itself.“
The former Yugoslav republics secession has brought the wars, sufferings, tragedies. The wounds still cannot be healed. Only old photographs of a young and peaceful years that have been gone for a long time are still saying that all of this could and should have happened in another way.
The map of Serbian sufferings in the Independent State of Croatia is one of the most terrible pages of European history. And the worst Christian shame. This map is dotted with concentration camps, abysses, concentration camps for children, prisons and torture chambers…
For many years I was preparing myself to visit Jadovno, ascend to the mountain of Velebit and quietly pay respects to the souls of martyrs of the first Ustasha system of concentration camps in the Independent State of Croatia in 1941. I wanted to at least pray in front of the Saranova pit or at the site of the former death camp, and light a candel for the repose of the souls of tens of thousands of murdered Serbs.
It is impossible to visit all of the 32 bottomless karst pits where Ustashas have thrown already beaten, tormented, crucified and killed civilians and priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Proud mountains, snow, rain and landslides, lush vegetation, covered the trail of tears of Serbian and Jewish victims. The Sea near the Island of Pag swallowed thousands of men, women and children, Serbs and Jews.
Today, young Croats and their foreign peers are partying throughout the summer, in Zrce, not far from the blue tomb. Such things are unthinkable for cultured European societies. The young people do not know, and their elders are keeping silent, just as the Croatian government and the EU bureaucrats are. Or even worse, some older people deny the Independent State of Croatia genocide against Serbs, Jews and Roma, including a historian Mladen Ivezic.
Friday, June 20, 2014
Organized by the Association Jadovno 1941. we gather in front of the Saint Sava Temple at Savinac in Vracar. Mostly young and educated people. Among them I also see Mr. Zivorad Jovanovic, former Foreign Affairs Minister with his wife Anglina, Law School professor Boris Begovic, and Vladan Glisic from „ Dveri.“ Mrs. Jovanovic is for the first time going to honor the memory of her grand-father, an officer of the Serbian Royal Army, executed in Jadovno. Thanks to the data exchange at the Association Jadovno web site, her family discovered the place of his death, many decades later. After participating in a prayer sermon in the Temple we take to the road, carrying the Holy Cross and our icons. I thought long about which of my icons I should bring. My hands started moving on their own toward the consecrated icon of the Holy Mother of God of Kazan, a gift of the late Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II to my husband.
In Batrovci, at the border not only with Croatia but also the European Union, we were welcomed by customs officials. Men with broad shoulders and not exactly good manners searched our baggage and stamped our passports. They reminded me somehow of Hungarian custom officials of past times. This “exercise” in EU standards seemed to me somehow tragicomic. I saw it Portugal and Hungary years ago, and now again in Croatia, i.e.: it looks like in old Serbian saying, describing highlander who tries to put Viennese shoes on his Lika feet.
Rain, wind and stormy darkness accompanied us all the way. Are we going to be able to climb the mountain tomorrow?
Madonna shines in the darkness.
Late at night we arrive in Plaski. We are welcomed by the hosts led by a priest Goran Slavnic. We hurry to get at the promotion of the book “Jadovno Golgotha of the clergy of SOC in 1941.”
written by historian and priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Dragan Sucur. Father of four sons, the author dedicated this book to his wife Alexandra.
Dr Dusan J. Bastasic, the alpha and omega of the “Jadovno Association”, informs the visitors about the Association’s dignified efforts to present to the world the truth about the sufferings of Serbs under the Independent State of Croatia and mark the sites of their sufferings.
Although I know about the racist laws of the genocidal Independent State of Croatia and the crimes of Pavelic’s Ustasha, any new information about the pogroms of Serbs, priests, deacons and bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church is pushing the boundaries of the Ustasha inhumanity. The matrix is banally similar every time – the abolition of civil rights, discrimination of language and education, seizure of assets, prohibition of worship, wearing armbands with the letter P – for Pravoslavac (Orthodox Christian). The following are: forcible conversion to Catholicism, persecutions, deportations to concentration camps, deaths. The entire families of Serbian Orthodox Church clergy were thrown down into karst pits on Velebit (Athanasius Jevtic, ”From Kosovo to Jadovno”). European history has not recorded greater atrocities than the ones of the Ustasha.
It is hard to say what was worst – Ustashas’ bestiality or their reaperance as newborn Tito’s Partisans after September 1943. This is how many of them entered Belgrade as victors. We know, see and feel the consequences even today.
Saturday, June 21, 2014
Saturday, fortunately, was a sunny day. In absolute silence, followed by newcomers from Banja Luka, we began our pilgrimage to Jadovno. As we passed by, we enjoyed the beauty of the Lika Valley, its vegetation, rivers, endless fields and meadows. Divine beauty. Here in the Military Frontier, the Serbs have lived and worked together with their neighbors for hundreds of years.
As a local priest Milutin wrote to his son Nikola Tesla: “… mostly Serbs of Orthodox faith, and a lesser number of them of Catholic faith …” Continuous premeditated crimes against Serbs were committed under the consent of world powers, in a span of only one century– including genocide, eviction and conversion into Catholicism. Today, very few Serbs live here.
We glide along the new highway towards Velebit – with our buses led and followed by vehicles of the Croatian police. Together with Northern Ireland (due to notorious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants) as well as postwar Kosovo and Metohia, Croatia is one of the very few countries in Europe where the police have to escort the pilgrims.
We are looking at domes of churches trying to spot an Orthodox one that remained after the “cultural revolution” of the Croatian homeland “defenders”. Just a few of them are looming in the distance, tucked among the hills and hamlets. The new, modern houses belong to the Croats resettled from Bosnia and Herzegovina. But the old and destroyed ones are Serbian property.
At the turn toward Velebit, a group of “war veterans” are waiting for us with a banner: “Piety for the Croatian victims.” They are surrounded by armed policemen. Of course, we are full of piety for all innocent victims.
the trip along the road winding uphill. All around is a vast, lush, deciduous forest. As the road climbs higher in the mountain, the famous Velebit pines emerge in full splendor.
The helicopter is above us. It follows along the entire way through Croatia.
We arrived at the plateau in front of the Saranova pit, and gathered together around the monument. I carry the Kazan Mother of God icon. Young and old people gladly help me carry the icon. We descend down the winding forest paths to the Saranova pit, where around 10,000 innocent Serbs were thrown down into the abyss. We light candles, and the commemoration service begins. In the eternal silence of the Highlands the voices of the priests ascend to the canopy of the forest, obscuring the sky above the mountain of Velebit.
No birds could be heard here, even they fell silent. Only the beams of the sunlight broke through the forest canopy falling on the moss and heather-covered rocks.
In one voice, but quietly, all of us recite prayers for the repose of the souls of Jadovno victims. As the
memorial sermon ended we moved along a seven-kilometer long Path of martyrs, Via Dolorosa of Velebit Mountain. We arrive on foot to the site of the former camp. We can smell the elder tree flower, for here in the mountain it blooms later. As we pass by we stop and light candles at every known execution site, near every pit. Nearing the plateau where the camp was located, we see the Holy Cross, still standing in the middle of the meadow bordered by limestone rocks piles, the only remains of the death camp. We walk carefully through the tall grass not wanting to tread on someone’s unmarked grave.
With deep reverence, dignity and without hatred, we take our group photo with the Serbian flag waving in the wind. It’s the least we can do for our murdered ancestors. Is the “Chessboard” flag, the symbol of their Ustasha slaughterers, supposed to ridicule their bones today!?
It is indicative that Josip Broz never honored the memory of the victims killed in Jasenovac and Velebit.
Under the escort of police officers and the inevitable helicopter, we descent to the village of Smiljan.There isn’t a soul in sight. Only us, the pilgrims, and Croatian police escort.
The sun leaped high in the sky.
Birth home of Nikola Tesla and the Serbian Orthodox Church temple dedicated to the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, are located within a gated church yard. The church itself was built in 1765 with special permission from the Empress Maria Theresa. The Ustashas burned it down during World War II. It was reconstructed later. The Croatian „defenders“devastated Tesla’s home during the 1990s. Today, it is arranged as an impersonalized modern museum, with lots of data displayed in a small space. There is not a hint that it was a parish house of Milutin Tesla, the Serbian Orthodox Church arch-priest, whose generosity and wisdom equally indebted equally Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox people of the Military Border. This is why the Turkish Aga awarded his efforts with precious gifts, an Arabian horse and a Persian cat. But in his home which was transformed into a museum, there is no trace of the rich arch-priest’s library, books in several foreign languages, his furniture or icons…
Lady curator is delivering data like a robot, with no inspiration, with no empathy.
Group of beautiful children, probably members of some sport club of Zagreb, listen to her with no interest.
I ask her, pronouncing clearly and aloud my open vowels so characteristic for Belgrade:
— Do you have any artifacts here, something from the arch-priest’s library, for example?
— Everything is in Belgrade – she said, articulating now an open E. She avoids the truthful answer which is that all of the Tesla family possessions were burnt and destroyed.
“Let God save me from Croatian noblesse” – wrote Croatian writer Krleza.
— No, the Belgrade museum keeps the collection that was brought from New York by Sava Kosanovic, the nephew of Nikola Tesla – I insist.
— There is something in Zagreb, isn’t there?
The children look at me as if I were a Martian. Their teacher went pale.
Lady curator forgot to mention that Tesla befriended Mihailo Pupin, another famous Serbian scientist in America, and that he broke his finger as they played a game of their childhood; that he was active among Serbian immigrants; that he grow up listening to famous Serbian epics and legends; that he kept under his pillow the traditional homemade rug and belt together with the book of poetry written by Jovan Jovanovic – Zmaj.
– This still belongs to the Serbian Church – ads Lady curator.
– Of course, it is in the church yard of Serbian Orthodox Church – I add.
To avoid stirring up any more trouble, I thank the curator and leave the museum. I invite the children to visit Belgrade and see Tesla’s legacy.
Just to make things more improper, the museum completely misses to reflect on the fact that Nikola Tesla’s birth house was closely tied to the church, where his father Milutin observed the arch-priest duties. Nikola Tesla’s house is even physically strictly separated from the church. So, two separate gates are used to enter each of them – making sure that the children visiting the museum do not pass, God forbid, near the Serbian Orthodox Church.
I do not see what was in fact built and created here with the large sums of money invested in 2006, on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the birth of Nikola Tesla!!?
In a full Swabian dialect I greet “redarstvenik” (policeman in Croatian), who refuses to show me where the ticket box was. He was one of a dozen police officers that stood in the church yard.
The ticket seller is, however, a very friendly girl.
Nearby, there is a building (kindergarten) which Tesla’s nephew, Sava Kosanovic, left as his own endowment. The Croatian Government is blind, deaf and mute and ignores all demands to restore the proper legal status to this private legacy.
At the cemetery, upward the temple of the Serbian Orthodox Church Tesla’s brother, Dane was buried. An unmarked plate lies here from 1991 – once it was a gravestone for about 600 brutally murdered Serbs, among them 119 of Tesla’s family members and relatives.
What was his reaction when terrible news about Ustasha crimes committed against so many family members and relatives reached Nikola Tesla in the USA? How did he get over this tragedy and genocide against the Serbian Orthodox people in Croatia?!
In the light of such terrible facts today’s efforts of Croatia to associate itself with the name of Nikola Tesla and his life and work, are at the very least inappropriate.
It is hard to comprehend today the real scale of the crimes committed against Serbs in and by the Independent State of Croatia. Although many of our own and foreign authors wrote about it, from Avro Manhattan, Smilja Avramov and Vassilije Krestić to Athanasius Jevtic, and many Croatian authors, young people do not know about all these horrors. Thus, for the sake of peace and coexistence, it is a moral obligation of older people, starting with scientists, to research the history of genocide against Serbs in Croatia in all its complexity.
Sunday, June 22, 2014.
After the Liturgy held in the church of Plaski by priest Goran Slavnic, assisted by several priests from the neighboring parishes, pilgrims mingled with their very friendly hosts. It is difficult today, in the XXI century and in the middle of the EU to be a Serb in Croatia.We thank our kind hosts and with clenched hearts leave for Belgrade.
The Mother of God of Kazan returns home.
Peace to All Beings.
P.S. A few days later, Dr. Ivan Biondic from Rijeka makes a comment on our pilgrimage. Since the entire pilgrimage was videotaped by Croatian police, it could be easily proven that there was not a single common point between the pilgrimage itself and Biondic’s writings about it.
God forgive him, for he does not know what he is doing!
Transleted to English by Nada Ljubic