Origins of civil war in Croatia
Civil wars on Balkans which started in 1991 and only ended in 1999 due to the penetration of NATO and world community resulted in the collapse of former federation of Yugoslavia and finished with 200 000 people dead. There are many reasons which led to the war; economic, political, ethnic. But today historians outline two the most important goals: racial which defined conflicts of Catholic Croatians and Orthodox Serbs and political resulted by manipulations of ambitious and selfish Serbian and Croatian politicians who wanted to gain popularity as solving national and ethnic problems on their territories. Many historians agree that Croats in the majority are Serbs converted to Catholicism and that there is a small difference between these nations as both of them represent Southern Slavs. Today a lot of western historians and politicians agree that religious difference set the first premises for future ethnic conflicts of Serbs and Croats: “… feelings both of mutual attraction and of competition and enmity” (Jelavich 1990:1).
Nationalist sentiments and claims to separateness (and often superiority of one group over another) are evident in the written histories of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. At the same time, there have been individuals and groups who have claimed that all or some of the South Slav nationalities are in reality a single people. The latter claims have alternatively made use of or ignored similarities and differences in language, religion, political history and local customs” (Jelavich 1990, esp. 7, 219, 256-7).
Croats were often regarded as allies of Italians in religious wars against Serbs and Greeks in Mediaeval Ages. The further history of this two neighboring nations was also disintegrated as when these two countries were under Austrian rule, Austrian aristocracy decided to save disintegrations so that villages, settlements and even regiments in Austrian army were formed according to nationality which minimized integration of Croats and Serbs. So if to speak about the interaction of Serbs and Croats in Croatia then it’ll be clear that Serbs never lived under Croatian rule as Croats had a very long history of being dependent from different powerful neighbors mostly from Hapsburg Austria.
After WW2 when Yugoslavian lands were united under the leading role of Serbia, Josip Broz Tito promoted the politics of internationalism and friendship where there was no place for nationalism and chauvinism. Many ethnic Croats took leading posts not only in Croatian republic but also in Serbia, the federal government and even in Communist party of Yugoslavia. Starting from 1980’s when a new nationalistic leader of Yugoslavian Communist party proclaimed the decentralization policy and liberation from communist authoritarian principles of the command economy, many conflicts and disputes, which had the religious and nationalistic background, appeared.
Antibureaucratic revolution initiated by Milosevic, as a result, came with nationalist slogans of protecting Serbs and their rights all over Yugoslavia, which was collapsing. Ethnic Serbs in Croatia took high posts in government administration in the districts which Serbian majority and in case Croatia became independent most of them would, of course, lose their political, administrative and economic power. As there always existed differences and sometimes even hostility of two nations to each other mainly as a result of religious differences discrimination of significant Serbian minority which was nearly 12% of Croatia’s population could easily result in the outbreak of war as Croatian Serbians would be aided by more militarily powerful and advanced Serbia. Croatian nationalism has profound roots mainly in Catholicism and its policy of expansion of Orthodox lands of Balkans and Russia in Medieval times. Many Croatian nationalistic writers and philosophers of the nineteenth century also marked the possible solution to the Serbian problem in Croatian territory as follows: “third of them had to be murdered, third exiled and third converted to Catholicism.”
The political and economic premises of the civil war in Croatia started long before 1991. Croatian nationalism which was oppressed by Tito’s flexible communist ideology had very deep roots, which started in 1940’s as Croatian was in Hitler’s coalition and had the fascist government of Pavelic, known for discrimination against Serbs, Ethnic Jews, and Gypsies. After the fall of the Nazi Pavelic dictatorship and his party “Ustash” Croatia and other Balkan states where united into the federation of Yugoslavia by communist leader Josip Tito who proclaimed the slogan of “brotherhood and unity.” Tito understood that situation was very complicated, and the country was represented by different ethnic groups which never lived in brotherhood relations, so he had not only to save his power but also achieve agreement with Western bloc and the USA, which could quickly aid nationalist movements in the provinces with Serbian minorities. He skillfully achieved such balance receiving aid from both the USSR and the USA and even signed Marshall’s plan which allowed Yugoslavia to make the highest prosperity among all other countries of the socialist bloc. But after Tito’s death country as slowly moving to the collapse as the economic and political crisis was apparent all over the federation. The absence of durable power in the country resulted to the growth of political and economic independence in different parts of alliance which were looking forward favorable geopolitical conditions to gain full independence from Yugoslavia, which was reached after the collapse of Soviet Union. Starting from 1989 the political crisis in Yugoslavian government on ethnic basis was evident, and Serbian leader Milosevic declared that he would promote the policy of Serbian nationalism countrywide in Serbia and would protect Serbian minorities especially in Croatia. The beginning of the 1990’s was characterized by growing economic crisis in the Yugoslavian federation, so losing Slovenia and Croatia the country would lose 44 % of its funds, as these two countries were the most economically developed in the alliance. In 1991 European politicians and economists made evident forecasts.
Origins of ethnic hatred of Serbs towards Croatians.
The roots of ethnic conflict of Serbs and Croats started long before 1991 and desire of Croatia to become independent from Yugoslavia. They have an ancient history, which by the way rarely caused the episodes of the massacre on ethnic base. Serbs have been living on the historical lands of Croats for a long time since the 14th century, and they have there a unique culture, identity, and religion which was different from Croatian. Croatians, as they were Catholics in the majority, felt much influence from the side of Italy and Western Europe, while Serbs were in close ties with Byzantine empire, Greeks, and Orthodox civilization. Even though that the languages of Croats and Serbs are very similar it’s hard to talk about identities. Being an ethnic minority on historically Croatian lands Serbs of cause experienced different sorts of hidden discrimination from the side of Croats, I say hidden because Croats didn’t have administrative power as they were dependent from Austria for more than 200 years. It was a very at issue for Croatian aristocracy as it had no control and power over Serbian settlements which were submitted directly to Austrian military administration. Serbs received broad rights for cultural autonomy from the side of Austrians, which allowed them to save their language and Orthodox Christianity, even though that Austrians were Catholics. During the growth of nationalism movement in the 19th century, a number of representatives of Croatian intelligentsia had chauvinistic ideas of Croats domination in the region refer to the historical identification of Serbs as “barbarians” and of Croats as an educated and enlightened Catholic nation. That’s why some of them stated that Serbian question has to be solved simply in the following way:” third of them had to be murdered, third exiled and third converted to Catholicism.” During the fascist occupation of Yugoslavia, the growth of nationalistic and chauvinistic ideas in society led by fascist dictator Ante Pavelic led to the genocide of Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies. Parick Moore makes clear statement that such policies were promoted by the fascist regime of Pavelic even without the direct order from Hitler:
Ethnics cleansing and purges were often made not only by army or police, but also by civilian voluntaries and militia members who in the majority were Croats or Hungarians. Even the murder of Serb civilians was often not considered to be a serious crime if Croat would find a serious reason for it (revenge for example). Later, under the regime of Tito when police or secret police suppressed all ethnic confrontations hidden hatred remained. Reasons were obvious: Croatia wasn’t independent and was part of the Yugoslavian federation, ruled by the leader of Serbian origin. Besides, discontent was expressed because of many economic reasons: in many respects, Croatia and Slovenia had turned into economical donors of the federation due to its favorable geographic position and proximity of borders with Italy and Austria. Besides havening favorable climatic and geographical conditions, Croatia had developed tourist industry sector, which later became the main source of currency exchange in the federation and stimulated the currency flow from abroad. For a centralized communist economy of Yugoslavia, it guaranteed economical stability and relatively insured its economy from the economic crisis and commodity deficit, which was common for all socialist countries of Eastern Europe. Such situation didn’t satisfy Croats who had to share their budget incomes with the rest of federation provinces, and the biggest part of currency funds went from Zagreb to the capital of Yugoslavia and capital of Serbia- Belgrade. After Tito’s death domination of Croats in the bureaucratic system of the country grew, and Serbs began to feel what does ethnic discrimination mean. Even in the regions where Serbs were ethnic majorities, their administrative power was reduced as many posts were occupied by ethnic Croats who continued policies based on nationalism and oppression of Serbian population. The centralized economy of Croatia in 1980’s allowed distributing funds unequally, so that rural region populated mostly by Serbs were poorly funded, which reflected on their prosperity and income. Any attempts to change the situation failed as ethnic Serbs didn’t have power in corrupted bureaucratic apparatus of Croatia, where nationalist ideas dominated.
After the start of the civil war repressions against Serbs in predominantly, Croatian parts of the country became unbearable. Thousands of people were forced to leave the country:
Bunarevic, aged 75 said:”For four years we Serbs in Croatia have been living on the doorstep of hell. The door has just opened.” Mrs. Bunarevic looked every inch the stereotype of the Balkan peasant, her crumpled, wrinkled face wrapped in a black shawl. In fact, she was one of Yugoslavia’s most distinguished pathologists, is president of Zagreb’s Serb Orthodox Council and has spent more than half a century not working the fields, but living in this city.
“This is a tragedy for Serbs. But it is also a tragedy Croats and for the many mixed families,” said Milorad Pupovac, a moderate political leader of the Serb minority. “It looks like it means the end of 400 years of Serb life in these territories.”< P> Before the war erupted in Croatia in 1991, about 100,000 Serbs lived in the Croatian capital. The majority of Croatia’s Serbs -400,000 of 600,000- were urbanized; many had roots and relatives in rural Krajina. Mr. Pupovac estimates that the ethnic cleansing of the past four years has left some 130,000 Serbs in Croatia’s cities, 40,000 in Zagreb.”(from Ian Traynor Six Women Tremble As They See The ‘Door Of Hell’ Open The Guardian 8/9/95, London, UK)
Even after the end of the conflict discrimination against ethnic Serbs continues to take place as Christian Science Monitor writes:
“The Croatians wrote a new constitution, giving no special rights to Croatia’s Serbs…” (from Smith, A 1991 The Christian Science Monitor on September 19)
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