Croatian Victims of the Yugoslav Secret Police outside Yugoslavia, 1945-1990

Published: 2004-05-01

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The ongoing legal proceedings in the Hague against Serb and Croat war crimes suspects, including the Serbian ex-president Slobodan Milosevic, must be put into wider perspective. The unfortunate and often irrational hatred between Serbs and Croats had for decades been stirred up and kept alive by the Communist Yugoslav secret police. The longevity of the artificial, multi-ethnic Yugoslavia was not in the interest just of Yugoslav Communists but also of Western states. The long-time Western darling, the late Yugoslav Communist leader Marshal Josip Broz Tito, had a far bigger record of ethnic cleansings and mass killings. Yet for decades, his crimes were hidden and went unreported in the West.

The following essay represents a brief excursion into the Croat victimology.

When talking or writing about state terror in the former Communist Yugoslavia, one must inevitably mention those who were either assassinated or wounded outside the jurisdiction of that state. The assassination attempts were carried out by Yugoslav secret police (OZNA, UDBA) agents – although the decision "to make a kill" had first to be reached at the very top of the late Yugoslav Communist regime. During the rule of Communist Yugoslavia, there was the whole spectrum of UDBA victims, particularly among former Croatian political émigrés living under foreign Western jurisdictions.

Of course, this sensitive theme can be addressed from a variety of different perspectives: historical, socio-political, psychological, ethical, and theological. Statistics or the "body count" of the UDBA terror is very important – but what appears to be even more relevant is to distinguish the persons who carried out those killings. Who gave the orders, and what were their motives? Such a wide-range analysis can, hopefully, be of some help, particularly in understanding today the poor legitimacy of the Tribunal in the Hague.

Moreover, such a broad-based approach is all the more important because the results of UDBA lawlessness went beyond its immediate victims. Each act of silencing a different- or dissident-minded opponent, or physically eliminating somebody who refuses to pledge allegiance to a given state ideology, often exacerbates opposing views. Indeed, it can lead to a wider armed conflict, resulting in wars, mass killings, ethnic cleansings, etc. These end results, which were recently confirmed by the violent break-up of ex-Yugoslavia and the subsequent Communist party-inspired aggression on Croatia, were also part and parcel of a larger socio-political package, leading to, but also deriving from, the spiral of mass psychosis, nationalist mythologies, general insecurity, the culture of resentment, and the resurgence of most primeval animal instincts amidst wide layers of the population.

The Sense of Victimhood and the Meaning of Forgiveness

Regarding the scope of the Yugoslav secret police (UDBA) terror, one must not attribute to them an excessive importance. In the last analysis, victims, following World War II in Yugoslavia, can be counted in hundreds of thousands, and victims in the recent war in the Balkans in several dozens of thousands. Therefore, attributing special significance to a relatively small number, i.e., over a hundred victims of the UDBA terror in foreign countries, may sound biased – particularly when one compares this relatively low figure to the much higher figures mentioned above. Yet the difference in significance regarding the volume of the crimes does not minimize their gravity; all victims are equally important. The only difference is how and in which historical circumstances these killings took place, and what is the causal relationship between the post- World War II victims, UDBA victims, and Croat and Serb victims of the recent war.

It is more or less taken for granted that mass killings occur in a war-like scenario. Yet victims of the UDBA terror, which are discussed here, happened in peace time, in free and democratic Western countries, i.e., in societies in which everybody is entitled to his opinion and his pursuit of happiness. The criminal acts by the UDBA were committed abroad, and for them the Yugoslav Communist government (and their today-recycled followers both in Croatia and Serbia) bear direct responsibility. Moreover, those post-World War II crimes went beyond the legal framework of Communist ex-Yugoslavia.

The question must be raised as to why the Communist regime, even after the establishment of Communist Yugoslavia in 1945, continued to assassinate its political opponents, including those who resided in Western countries. One might believe that political opponents of Communist Yugoslavia who lived in the West did not pose a tangible threat to the ruling Yugoslav Communist League. This is all the more important considering the fact that Western countries, in which Croatian political émigrés lived, or still live, were by no means sympathetic to the vision of establishing an independent Croatian state. Quite to the contrary; Western countries often did their utmost to preserve the "unity and integrity" of Communist Yugoslavia. But a threat to Communist Yugoslavia from Croatian émigré Western-based circles did exist – for a simple reason that the state of Yugoslavia and its Communist elite could not rely on the good will of the Croatian people. This weakness of Communist Yugoslavia did represent a problem to the Yugoslav authorities, because any state and any regime without legitimacy (regardless of its claim to legality), unless founded on the will of its citizens, does not have long-term survivability. The regime in place could be upheld only by sheer force. In an uncompromising effort to secure its survival, the Yugoslav Communist regime decided, very early on, to "neutralize" all separatist Croats, including those living in Western countries. This program of "neutralization" often took place in a brutal manner.

The new Republic of Croatia, today, does not need to be kept alive by using force against its dissidents, because its support is solidly anchored amidst the majority of its citizens. It does not have to fear a handful of individuals, or a handful of small extremist parties. Far more dangerous for the survival of Croatia are the individuals who, in the name of some "ultra-Croatiandom" or some "mega-Croatian" statehood, continue to act in a way radically opposite to their much vaunted agendas. This danger is all the more great because it often operates under cover of fake Croat patriotism.

Very early on, the ring-leaders of the Communist machinery realized that their policy of "Yugoslavianization" or "Titoization" could not have positive effects among the Croatian people. Therefore, they viewed anybody who dared advocate the idea of Croatian state independence as a mortal enemy. On August 10, 1941, at the very beginning of the formation of Yugoslav Communist partisans units, the late President Josip Broz Tito stipulated that the "provocateurs, traitors must be immediately liquidated." Those who fell into this category were often advocates of Croatian state independence. Following these official Titoist stipulations, only a few months later, the leader of Slovenian Communist Partisan units, Mr. Evard Kardelj (under his conspiratorial name "Bevac"), noted in a written report sent to Tito regarding the liquidation of opponents, carried out by his partisan units:

"Our machinery of execution is made up of 50 well-trained men, armed with pistols and hand grenades. In view of the much increased terror undertaken by the Italian [Fascist] occupying forces and local Slovenian ‘Bela Garda’ collaborators, we had to increase the number of our activities. These men are capable of everything. Almost every day collaborators and traitors are eliminated along with members of the occupying [Fascist] units, etc. There is no police protection for those whom our VOS takes for a target."

Classical UDBA Terror

Here is a typical example of Communist terror. On the one hand, Partisan and Communist executions were carried out during WWII in the Balkans in order to scare the local population; on the other hand in order to incite the occupying Fascist and pro-fascist forces to carry out reprisal killings, thus creating additional mass psychosis, along with the sense of insecurity, further prompting local populations to join the Partisan movement directed by the Yugoslav Communist Party – and the Red International.

The task of carrying out this mission was handed over to the OZNA, which later, after Word War II, changed its name to the civilian police security apparatus under the names of UDBA and the KOS. In fact, as the Communist Partisan movement grew stronger due to Allied help, the Yugoslav Partisans formally founded the "Section for the People’s Protection" (i.e. OZNA) on May 13, 1944. Among the Croatian people, this organization brings back bad memories, because it was through the OZNA that the Communist leadership carried out mass or individual killings during and immediately after Word War II. Following the dissolution of the pro-fascist NDH ("Independent State of Croatia") in 1945, the OZNA, immediately after its first round of killings in post-World War II war months, received the order to continue eliminating well-known Croats who had managed to escape and hide in foreign countries after Word War II.

The early OZNA chose as its first victim Dr. Ivan Protulipac, who was assassinated in Trieste, Italy, on January 31, 1946. Dr. Protulipac was a founder of "The Eagle and Crusading Youth" in the former monarchic Yugoslavia. He was also a successor to Dr. Ivan Merz, the much-praised leader of the Croatian Catholic Youth.

Two and a half years later, on August 22, 1948, the UDBA tried to kidnap Dr. Mato Frkovic in Salzburg, Austria, who had held a high-ranking position in the government of the short lived NDH during Word War II. The same year, the OZNA (from then on UDBA), assassinated Mr. Ilija Abramovic in Austria. Only a few months later, on March 16, 1949, the UDBA kidnapped Mr. Drago Jilek in Rome, who had worked as the interim Head of the Intelligence Service of the NDH during Word War II. After the former Chief of Security of the NDH, Mr. Dido Kvaternik, had been deposed from office, Jilek assumed control of the pro-fascist World War II, Croatian UNS (Ustasha Security Service).

The kidnapping of Drago Jilek by the Yugoslav Communist police agents coincided, strangely enough, with a tragic case of the most prominent Croatian Communist leader, Mr. Andrija Hebrang. It is generally considered that the UDBA wanted to find out what kind of contacts existed during and before World War II between high-ranking Croat pro-fascist Ustasha officials and high-ranking Croatian Communist and Croatian anti-fascist officials and intellectuals – whose common and apparent goal was, or may have been, the establishment of an independent Croatian state.

Victims of the Yugoslav Communist Security Service, i.e., the UDBA, included not just pro-fascist Ustashi or anti-Communist Domobran ("Home Guard") individuals or members of former Croatian military units, but also prominent Croatian Communist and Partisan figures, such as the poet Ivan Goran Kovacic, Dr. Andrija Hebrang, and former Croatian Communist military officer – turned dissident – Mr. Zvonko Kucar. This further confirms that for the UDBA and the Yugoslav Communist regime, the main criterion for coming to terms with "hostile elements" was not ideological affiliation of the target-victim (left vs. right), but primarily the removal of all those who showed any inclination towards any form of Croatian statehood or/and Croatian nationhood.

More than One Hundred Cases of Assassinations and Kidnapping

Obviously, not all details can be mentioned about every UDBA victim; neither can one separately cover all the facts leading to the death or kidnapping of the victims. One must, therefore, focus only on some salient examples of UDBA state terrorist activity: From 1946 to 1949 two assassinations were carried out; one failed attempt of assassination and one kidnapping; one person was reported missing.

From 1950 until 1959 no assassination took place, but two failed assassination attempts (against the former Ustashi exiled leader Dr. Ante Pavelic and against Dr. Branimir Jelic); one kidnapping; one failed attempt at kidnapping.

From 1960 until 1969, twenty assassinations took place – all except one during the period from 1966 to 1969; four failed assassination attempts; one kidnapping (Dr. Krunoslav Draganovic, in Italy); two persons reported missing (Mr. Zvonimir Kucar, 1960, and Mr. Geza Pesti, 1965).

From these figures it may be concluded that the number of assassinations by the UDBA increased dramatically during that period. The reason for that was the fact that the Yugoslav President Tito, as a follow-up to the important Plenary Congress of the Yugoslav Communist League, which was held on the Island of Briuni in 1966, after having fired his chief of the Yugoslav Security, Mr. Aleksandar Rankovic, decided to loosen up somewhat the repressive tools within Communist Yugoslavia – but to sharpen up repression, i.e., UDBA killings of Croatian émigrés outside Yugoslavia, that is, in Western countries.

From 1970 until 1979 twenty-eight Croat émigrés (including the well-known Croatian dissident writer Bruno Busic) were assassinated by the UDBA; 13 failed UDBA assassination attempts; one kidnapping (of the Croatian poet Mr. Vjenceslav Cizek); four failed attempts of kidnapping (including the one of the former high-ranking exiled Croatian Communist official Franjo Mikulic); one person missing.

Spurred by the crushing of the "Croatian Spring" in December 1971, the Yugoslav Communist regime became particularly intent on eliminating Croatian émigré dissidents – often without any scruples. Thus in 1972, a whole Croatian family was killed in Italy: Mr. Stjepan Sevo, his spouse, and his nine-year old daughter.

In 1975, 65-year-old Mr. Nikola Martinovic was the target of the UDBA assassination in Klagenfurt, Austria. Mr. Martinovic was known in Croatian émigré circles, before his violent death, as a caretaker of the graves of Croat soldiers and civilians who, in May and June 1945, were the victims of the Yugoslav Communist units in southern Austria, near the town of Bleiburg.

During that same year 1975, shortly before his death, Mr. Martinovic planned to organize large anti-Yugoslav demonstrations in the vicinity of Bleiburg. However, Yugoslav Communist government officials sent a note to the Austrian government, requesting the banning of the Croatian émigré mass gathering. Since this did not work, the UDBA had to take the matter into its own hands.

From 1980 to 1989, seventeen émigré Croats were assassinated (including Mr. Stjepan Durekovic, a former high ranking Croatian Communist and head of the state-owned INA, the largest oil refinery in ex-Yugoslavia); nine failed assassination attempts – including one against myself (Mr. Nikola Stedul); and one kidnapping.

From these figures it can be seen that for the period stretching from 1946 to 1990, the OZNA, the UDBA, and the KOS carried out over one hundred assassinations and/or assassination attempts against Croat émigrés. A rough break-down of this figure is as follows: eighty-nine UDBA assassination attempts in Western Europe; nine in North America; six in South America; two in Australia; two in Africa. As far as figures regarding individuals countries are concerned, the majority of assassinations and assassinations attempts took place in the Federal Republic of Germany: fifty-six; ten in France; nine in Italy.

The total number of UDBA victims is as follows: sixty-seven killed; twenty-nine failed assassination attempts; four successful kidnappings; five failed kidnapping attempts; four persons reported missing – who were in all likelihood also UDBA victims.

Beside UDBA targets of émigré Croats over that period of time, there were also twelve émigré Serbs and four ethnic Albanians killed. The above figures are based on various sources, and it is quite likely that not all victims have been counted and covered here, and that the fate of some still remains to be elucidated.

Three Objectives

With each assassination, Communist Yugoslavia aimed at achieving three goals:

  1. to eliminate a political "trouble-makers;"
  2. to scare other dissidents and émigrés both at home and abroad;
  3. to create the general impression, both in Yugoslavia and abroad, that Croat émigrés were fighting their own turf war among themselves.

Each assassination was followed in Communist Yugoslavia’s state-controlled journals by reports of "Ustashi-Fascist-Croatian nationalists fighting war among their own ranks." The media meta-language of Yugoslav state-sponsored journals must be thoroughly examined. Indeed, many Croats in Communist Yugoslavia were persuaded, as the result of incessant Communist propaganda, that the deaths of émigré Croats were a direct result of underground in-fighting.

It should be pointed out that an effective organization among Croatian émigrés was virtually nonexistent and, legally speaking, impossible to achieve. All foreign security services kept Croatian émigré groups under strict observation, especially those Croats abroad who intended to overthrow the Yugoslav Communist state. In many cases, Western-based security and intelligence services even worked hand in hand with Yugoslav intelligence services, including the Yugoslav diplomatic corps. Croats abroad and in the former Yugoslavia have been well aware of these Western attempts to prevent the dissolution of Yugoslavia and to make the establishment of an independent state of Croatia quite costly. It is also clear why many Western countries glowingly supported the decades-long Yugoslav and Titoistic experiment – if for no other reason than a desire to keep the status quo in the East-West cleavage, and as a country-pawn in the geopolitical gamble of the Cold War – during which Communist Yugoslavia played an important role as a non-aligned buffer-state.

Just as the world passively witnessed, in 1991, the break up of Yugoslavia, so too did the world passively observe serial UDBA killings of Croatian political activists abroad. Even the Libyan leader Colonel Moammar Khadafi once said in an interview with the German Der Spiegel:

"Tito sends his agents to the Federal Republic of Germany in order to liquidate Croatian opponents. But Tito’s prestige does not suffer at all in Germany. Why should Tito be allowed those things and why am I not allowed to do the same? Moreover, I have never given a personal order to have somebody killed in foreign countries."

The above quotes may be further confirmed by many more killings of Croatian émigré dissidents – which were rarely ever covered by Western media. One example should suffice: When the Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1973, the entire Western media was deluged with protests aimed at the Kremlin’s handling of this case. By contrast, when the Croatian dissident Bruno Busic was assassinated by the Yugoslav secret police UDBA in Paris 1977, the event was mentioned as a side story – with unavoidable speculation that Busic’s death may have been the result of the Croatian émigré infighting.

The travesty of the present legal International Criminal Court in the Hague is that its judges never wish to examine the root cause of the recent crimes committed in ex-Yugoslavia. It never occurs to the Hague prosecutors that there were large scale infra- and extra-judiciary historical precedents for the more recent crimes which they are supposed to adjudicate impartially.

Dr. Sunic is a former US professor in political science. He is the author of Titoism and Dissidence (1995) and Against Democracy and Equality (1991).

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Nikola Stedul
Title: Croatian Victims of the Yugoslav Secret Police outside Yugoslavia, 1945-1990
Sources: The Revisionist 2(2) (2004), pp. 181-183
Published: 2004-05-01
First posted on CODOH: July 15, 2012, 7 p.m.
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