Croatian President Franjo Tudjman had fought in World War II with Tito's Partisans. By the time of Croatia's independence in 1991, he had changed from a communist into a religious nationalist. In his 1990 book Wastelands of Historical Reality , Tudjman revealed an anti-Semitic tendency. He suggested that Jews are genocidal by nature and that Jews were the major executioners in the Ustashe death camp of Jasenovac where an estimated
300,000 Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies were killed. Earlier Tudjman had claimed that as few as 60,000 people died in all the camps in Croatia during World War II, a number far below the estimates by serious scholars of the Holocaust. The problems of the Jews are of their own making, Tudjman implies; Jews could have avoided them had they heeded what he calls, vaguely, "the traffic signs."
A clue to what Tudjman means by "traffic signs" can be found in his views on Muslims. In 1991, Tudjman stunned U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia Warren Zimmerman with his ignorance of and contempt for Bosnian Muslims and with his plan to carve up Bosnia between a "Greater Croatia" and a "Greater Serbia." Tudjman wanted Croatia to be considered part of Europe. He wanted to eradicate what he sees as contamination by the "Orient" (Turkish and Islamic cultures). In September 1995, after his forces had destroyed much of the interreligious culture of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tudjman asserted that "Croatia accepts the task of Europeanization of Bosnian Muslims." The task, Tudjman claimed, was undertaken at the behest of the Western European powers.
It is now well documented that at a meeting with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in the town of Karadjordjevo, Tudjman and Milosevic decided on a plan to partition Bosnia between Croatia and Serbia and to neutralize any political or social aspirations of Bosnia's Muslim community. Tudjman began his "Europeanization" with the establishment of the Croatian Defense Council (Hrvatsko Vijece Obrane, or HVO), as the military arm in Bosnia for his political party, the Croatian Democratic Union (Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica, or HDZ).
The HVO was formed outside of the Bosnian army, on the pretext that it would fight to repel aggression by the Serb army. The underarmed Bosnians had no choice but to accept the arrangement.
The alliance between the HVO and the Bosnian government succeeded in the spring of 1992 in repelling the Serb army's assault on the city of Mostar. In July 1992, however, Croat nationalists declared their own "Union of Herceg-Bosna," a Croat state in Bosnia based upon the same ideals of ethnoreligious purity espoused by the Republika Srpska, only in the name of Catholicism rather than Serb Orthodoxy. Tudjman helped overthrow the moderate Bosnian Croat leader, Stjepan Kljuic, who had been elected Bosnian representative of the HDZ. Kljuic was replaced with nationalist warlord Mate Boban.
In May 1992, Boban had met with Radovan Karadzic in Graz, Austria, to draw up plans for dividing Bosnia between Croat and Serb nationalists. By October 1992, Boban had given up all pretense of alliance with the Bosnian government and ceased all hostilities with the Serb radicals of Radovan Karadzic. In late October 1992, Croat religious nationalists took over much of the town of Novi Travnik. They attacked the town of Prozor, killing, raping, attacking the mosque, and burning Muslim property, in imitation of Serb nationalist actions in eastern Bosnia. Spokesmen for Boban's government of Herceg-Bosna and for Tudjman's government in Croatia claimed that Muslims had attacked Croats and that some Muslim property had been damaged in the fighting. What reporters saw in Prozor contradicted this story: burned-out Muslim homes and businesses sat ruined next to intact Croat structures. When asked why only the
Muslim properties were damaged, a Croat militiaman grinned and said: "The Muslims burned their own homes down with candles." Before Serb nationalist attacks on Muslim populations, Serb inhabitants were told to evacuate; similarly, Croats in Prozor were ordered to leave before the killing began.
For the next eighteen months, Croat and Serb religious nationalists collaborated in "Europeanizing" Bosnia. As the HVO attacked from the west, the Serb army moved in on the last remaining Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia: Gorazde, Zepa, Cerska, and Srebrenica. Since spring 1992, these towns had held out against the Serb army and had taken in tens of thousands of refugees driven from the surrounding areas. Day by day, mosques were dynamited by the advancing Croat and Serb militias. Tudjman's "Europeanization" was a euphemism, like "ethnic cleansing," for the annihilation of Slavic Muslim people and culture and the creation of pure Christian states on the rubble of the once multireligious Bosnia.
It is too late for the Muslims of Stolac to "heed the traffic signs." Stolac was a magnificent small town, built along a rushing river beneath rugged hills with ancient Ottoman fortifications and ancient pre-Ottoman Bosnian tombstones known as stecaks . It was also known for its exquisite, small-scale, seventeenth-century mosques. Stolac was occupied in 1992 by the Serb army; when Serb forces were driven out, they began shelling the town from nearby mountains. Then the HVO, wearing the masks favored by Serb militias during such operations, turned on the people it had helped save from the Serb army only months before. Here is an account from the UN High Commission for Refugees: "On 23 August 1993, four mosques in Stolac were
blown up. That night, witnesses said, military trucks carrying [Croatian] soldiers firing their weapons in the air went through the town terrorizing and rounding up all Muslim women, children, and elderly. The cries and screams of women and children could be heard throughout the town as the soldiers looted and destroyed Muslim homes. The soldiers, who wore handkerchiefs, stockings or paint to hide their faces, took the civilians to Blagaj, an area of heavy fighting northwest of Stolac."
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