Croatia and the Splintering of Yugoslavia

Usually we look for connections when we travel, to people or places, such as Heather’s birthplace in France, or the church where my great great grandparents were married in Ireland.  Croatia had a different kind of connection.

In the early 1990s Yugoslavia was breaking up after the demise of Tito.  As nationalism took hold, Serbs went after Croats and Bosnians in a brutal ethnic conflict that pitted neighbour against neighbour.

At that time as manager of an immigration office in Canada I had an opportunity to work in Belgrade.  There was an air embargo over the former Yugoslavia, so Canadian staff flew into Budapest then were driven across the border to Belgrade.  After discussing it with my wife, although Canadian staff were absolutely safe, we decided the worry in Canada about something happening to me was too great and I declined.

A curling colleague of mine went to serve there on loan to the United Nations.  There she witnessed gut wrenching brutality.  In one instance as a UN observer, she had to stand by while a Bosnian was severely beaten by Serbs.  There were many many instances of brutal violence.

Then there was Srebrenica– a mass killing that was beyond belief as the world stood and watched.  I was sickened as the Serbs closed in on Srebrenica – the population was under the ‘protection’ of the UN.  Gradually the noose tightened, with boys and men targeted and murdered, and women were raped and murdered, while the world stood by and watched.  In eleven days, over 8,300 were murdered.

It later generated many trials for Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes.

It is too bad some of those who stood by and watched, such as Bill Clinton, could not be put on trial for standing idle.  For a more detailed story you can find it here.

“I grieve that it took us so long to unify all of your friends behind using the amount of force that was necessary to stop this violence. And I’m thrilled that the peace has been maintained. On behalf of my country and from the bottom of my heart – I love this place. I never want to see another killing field like this within thousands of miles from here.”

– Bill Clinton, 2015.

What to make of this speech?  I have a harsh view if it as Clinton’s inaction and failure to prevent a massacre.  The mentality of the holocaust and killing fields of Cambodia is alive and well.

A warning — the article below has very disturbing information and photographs.

I thought we had learned something after World War II and Nazi extermination camps.   Apparently not as this year we watch Assad and Syria, with the Russians triumphing over the U.S., as the U.S. sits on its hands.

One of the more interesting tasks  I had in the 1990’s was to coordinate the arrival of a large number of Bosnians to my city in Canada.  Many were of mixed marriages. It was those in mixed marriages who often bore the brunt of violence.  If you married a non-Serb, you were a traitor.  If you were not Serbian and married a Serb, your fate was much worse.  In co-operation with the U.N. families were driven directly from a camp in former Yugoslavia, to an airport in Austria.

In Canada when they arrived, there was a large amount of media interest.  In the city where I was, there was a joint operation to receive them by the federal government and the NGO community.  When the plane landed, I went onboard simply to greet them and explain through an interpreter what was happening and that there was a large media presence at the airport.  The plane full of men, women and children looked tired and exhausted.

They told me they were very worried that their voices could be heard on the media and anything they said could work its way back to their country and their relatives would face further retribution.  Although I thought this unlikely foremost in my mind was their fear.

As a consequence I went out to address the media, and explained to them the situation and fears they had for their relatives.   Many of the media present were understanding.  And so the arrival went, a large number of families arrived and began their more peaceful life in Canada.

The next day I received a blistering phone call from the regional director of CBC news.  He was livid.  Why had I prevented the reporters from talking to the new arrivals, I had no right, I was a ‘control freak’, etc. etc.  He also called my boss the Director General to vent.  Frankly weighing the matters at hand I believe it was one of the easier  ‘right’ choices to make and one of the better choices I made as public servant.

One person’s ‘control freak’ sometimes is another’s protector of privacy.

I was fortunate that out of personal interest the director general had visited the airport just to see what was happening.  I was not aware he was there but he saw how I handled the media and provided his support through several days of heated back and forth with CBC.

So that is my connection to Croatia, formerly part of Yugoslavia.  The former Yugoslavia is now Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzogovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia.

Today the country is relatively peaceful.  Our host explained the area we were in more in terms of the second world war.  First Mussolini came and it was the Italians pushing out the Croatians, then after the war it was Croatians pushing out the Italians.  So there remains a mixture of Croatian with Italian influence.

The history of ultra-nationalism has some lessons for us, as we live in the shadow of two dangerous figures – Putin and Trump.

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