Decommunization: The Unrealizable Project in Croatia

Following the end of the Cold War and the end of communist repression, the need for decommunization of the public sphere became widespread among wide segments of the East European population. Citizens who were once victims of Communism in Eastern Europe use the word ‘lustracija’ — a Latin derivative often wrongly translated into English as ‘lustration’ but which does not have the connotation of a political purge that it has in English-speaking countries. In the Croatian, the Serbian, or the Czech languages, ‘lustracija’ refers to a much-desired need to remove or punish former communist officials, many of whom are still active as public servants, diplomats, or correspondents. They often continue to play a prominent role in the higher echelons of power in Eastern Europe.

The best word to use when describing the current judicial and political debate in Eastern Europe is ‘dekomunizacija’ (decommunization), because it specifically denotes the grievances of former victims of communism, while clearly targeting the still-present post-communist cadres and their fellow travelers.

Understanding the concept of lustracija or decommunization in Croatia is fairly easy. But its legal implementation is well nigh irresolvable. Why?

The desire among many Croat victims of communism for removing ex-communist officials from public life is partly based on horrific discoveries of countless mass graves of Croat and German anti-communist soldiers and civilians killed by the victorious Yugoslav communists in 1945 and after.

The proponents of decommunization in Croatia often quote the European Council resolution (#1481) of February 3, 2006, which sharply condemned past communist crimes. But this resolution is not legally binding, and its adoption was far from unanimous (99 European deputies in favor, 42 opposed). There was quite a bit of unofficial criticism regarding the phrasing of the resolution, especially in Russia, although the resolution drew equally sharp criticism from many left-leaning politicians and journalists in Western Europe.

Croatian identity: Political schizophrenia

Small nations that appeared on the geographic map after the end of communism have troubles in reasserting their identity. One of these is tiny Croatia. Before every possible entry into a supranational community, such as the much craved EU and NATO, official Croatia needs to recognize her identity. Should her identity be embedded in the principles of antifascism, or the principles of anticommunism?

In Croatia, the current public debate today points to a schizoid country. On the one hand, the Croatian constitution stipulates the antifascist heritage of the country — while prudently avoiding any mention of the anticommunist legacy. On the other hand, ever since the rebirth of the country in 1990, Croatia and its politicians  have been loudly boasting anticommunist insignia and decorations, and even using figures of speech which resemble the discourse of former anticommunist and pro-fascist and pro-Nazi Croatia (currency, medals, some archaic expressions, etc.) of World War II.

Should Croatia decide to introduce anticommunist clauses in its constitution, as many of its citizens now publicly advocate, the whole of Croatia’s political class, regardless of it party affiliation, would face international isolation. In today’s neo-liberal, global system it is highly desirable to declare oneself “antifascist,” but not “anticommunist.”

Obviously the most consistent supporters of anticommunism all over Europe were fascists and pro-fascist intellectuals and politicians during the first half of the 20th century. Despite their hastily acquired neo-liberal stance and their pro-Israeli and pro-American verbal escapades, Croat politicians are under close scrutiny of the EU and under the watchful eyes of diverse Jewish groups based in America and Israel. These groups never tire of warning the Croatian ruling class against sliding into “right-wing nationalism.”

This points up the remarkable fact that, as noted quite often in TOO, in the eyes of the hostile elites who dominate the politics of the West, ethnicnationalism is legitimate for Jews and many other human groups, but not for Europeans.

In any case, it is clear that for the EU and for Jewish organizations, dredging up the horrors of communism comes too close to vindicating Croatia’s fascist past. Therefore, it is not surprising that the new Croatian political class must be (metaphorically) more Catholic than the Pope and (literally) more pro-Jewish than the Knesset. But such attitudes hamper decommunization and only lead to further trivialization of crimes committed by Yugoslav communists.

A similar mindset also prevails in nearby Germany, albeit on a far more massive and more sophisticated scale. Because National Socialism has become the ultimate icon of evil in the post-World War II era, Germany must constantly show its democratic credentials by combating any signs of resurgence of fascism. In Germany, over the last decade, a strong campaign has been conducted by the federal government against “right wing militancy,” to the point that even the German word ‘Rechtsradikale’ (‘radical right winger’) has acquired a quasi-criminal significance in German legal vernacular .

In today’s international environment little is being said about crimes of communism. For such silence there are objective reasons. During World War II, the communist guerillas in Eastern Europe were the main Western allies in the fight against National Socialism and fascism. Today, however, in the postmodern victimological bargaining by different ethnicities and races, any mention of communist mass graves in Eastern Europe would likely eclipse the mandatory narrative of Jewish victimhood. It would also challenge the quasi-religious veneration of the word ‘antifascism.’ This is especially so in Croatia because of its ties with Germany during World War II.

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In addition, critical examination of communism would also bring to the fore the names of the disproportionate number of Jewish intellectuals who played a prominent role in the intellectual legitimization of the communism (see Johannes Rogalla von Bieberstein, “Jüdischer Bolschewismus.” Mythos und Realität, 2003).

Politics: The Art of the Accident

Postwar antifascist purges or “lustrations” did not start with the victorious Soviets, but were initiated by the Western allies prior to the official end of World War II. Beginning in the late summer of 1944, the American provisional military authorities in France, aided by the communist-based French Resistance,started implementing draconian laws against writers, journalists, professors, and public intellectuals who were suspected of collaboration with the defeated pro-fascist regime of Petain-Laval.

A year later in Germany, the first target of the American military government, prior to the trial of National Socialist dignitaries at the Nuremberg tribunal, were teachers, journalists, and professors who were obliged to fill out special questionnaires (Fragebogen). Millions of people, especially highly educated Germans, lost their jobs — only to be quickly reinstated at the beginning of the Cold War in 1948 (see Caspar von Schrenck-Notzing, Charakter-Wäsche, 1963).

During the Cold War the Americans were smart enough to tap into theWannseeinstitut SD, a top-level intelligence office affiliated with the SS. The Institute was under the guidance of a very young lawyer, Major General Walter Schellenberg (1910–1952). During World War II, Schellenberg used the skills of many highly trained European academics and intellectuals whose task was the study of the communist mindset. Later, after the war, the US-based think thanks dealing with Sovietology and Kremlinology were mostly patterned along the success of the National Socialist German Wannseeinstitut SD.

Similar methods of administering “questionnaires” and “surveys” to former pro-fascist suspects were introduced by victorious communist authorities in Yugoslavia in late 1945, albeit on a far more repressive level. This resulted in mass executions of top Croat academics and intellectuals suspected of collaboration with the National Socialists (See Zoran Kantolic, Review of Croatian History, 2005, # 1).

In view of this history, the US and the European Union favor dealing with recycled communist apparatchiks turned liberal officials who now hold office from the Baltic states to the Balkans, including Croatia. Politicians in Washington and Brussels are more at ease dealing with former Yugoslav communists than with unpredictable Serbian and Croatian nationalists who are proverbially at odds with each other.

Hypothetically speaking, had the Cold War ended in a hot war between the US and the USSR in 1989, America would have used all available anticommunist and nationalist forces to overthrow Communism. If this had happened, all former Croatian communists and their acolytes in the media, academia, and higher education would have experienced a fate similar to the intellectuals of the BaathParty of former President Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2002: They would either lose their heads or their jobs.

But for an accident of history, the right-leaning intellectuals and academics might have been in power.

The phenomenology of the accident in history was described by the first Croat president, the late Franjo Tudjman in his book The Wasteland of Historical Reality. However, Tudjman’s revisionist writings made him a persona non grata in Western chancelleries and earned Croatia to this day the suspicion of being a paleo-fascist and anti-Semitic country. A hero in history often becomes a scoundrel.

The Psychology of Homo iugoslavensis.

There is hardly any Croat nationalist today who does not have at least one cousin who fought with the communist partisans during World War II. How then to initiate the process of decommunization if this inevitably means affecting the lives of the same people who would initiate the process of decommunization? The number of ex- communists who now sit in the so-called conservative ruling and nationalist party, the Christian Democratic Party (HDZ)), or who make up the largest opposition party, the socialist Social Democratic Party in Croatia, is huge.

The highest-ranking diplomats in Croatia are former Yugoslav communist journalists and diplomats. There is a joke in the corridors of the Croat Ministry of Foreign affairs that the modern Croat diplomacy has become an “ideal refuge for the recycled former Yugoslav communist journalists, snitches, or rats” — or, to put it more lyrically, for former “foreign correspondents.”

Ironically, these individuals have high stakes in endorsing the independence of nationalist Croatia. This sounds contradictory, but it makes sense because under communism they could have never dreamed of the perks they now enjoy as part of the Croatian elite. Under communism, all Croatian communist party members knew deadly well that even the smallest favor needed to be blessed at the federal level in Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia — even a minor travel order to a Western capital or being allowed to write an inoffensive political editorial in the former communist journals or on the state-run TV. Today, despite harsh anticommunist rhetoric, unequaled anywhere else in the West, a large number of the Faculty of Philosophy and the Faculty of Political Sciences in Zagreb (the main centers of public opinion) are men and women whose parents were communist stalwarts. How can they be purged? It is fairly easy to point them out, but it is impossible to “lustrate” them.

A case in point: In 1984 my father, Mirko Sunic, a former Catholic lawyer and my sister, Mirna Sunic, a professor, were sentenced to 4 years and 10 months of prison respectively, pursuant to Article 133 of the Criminal Code of communist Yugoslavia — a law that criminalized “hostile propaganda.” The charges had been filed by the state communist attorney Ante Nobilo. Subsequently, Mirko Sunic was adopted by Amnesty International and 15 US Congressmen as a prisoner of conscience. At the same time, I was granted political asylum while living in the United States.

Today Nobilo is a high-ranking advisor to the new left-leaning President of Croatia Stipe Mesic, as is Budimir Loncar who was Federal Secretary of the Ministry Foreign Affairs in communist Yugoslavia at the time my father and sister were imprisoned. Nobilo and Loncar frequently host foreign NGO’s and are responsible for assessing Croatia’s human rights record and its tolerance toward non- European immigrants.

Similar cases can be counted in the thousands if not in hundreds of thousands if the time span of communist terror from 1945 to 1990 is taken into account (seeMirko Sunic, Moji inkriminirani zapisi [My Incriminated Writings], 1996).

If one were to follow the same logic, one should not forget that the anticommunist and revisionist president, the former Franjo Tudjman himself held the high position of a communist general in Belgrade in the late 1950s — at the time of the worst communist repression. If he did not know of the mass murders carried out by the communists, then who was supposed to know about them? And how then to judge Tudjman or evaluate his revisionist work?

Putting the blame on “the Other” is a typical trait of the totalitarian spirit. It is alive and well in the public and business life of Croatia today, as well as in the Croatian judiciary. But that same pattern occurs throughout post-communist Eastern Europe. There is an expression that has characterized communism throughout its history: “No, not me! He is guilty! He is guilty! Not me! He!”

It is often forgotten that communism was not a departure from democracy, but democracy brought to its pinnacle — the “terror of all against all in all instances”(terreur totale de tous contre tous à tous les instants (Claude Polin, L’Esprit totalitaire, 1977).The Yugoslav communists did not have their worst enemy in the Catholic Church or in the always proverbial Croat nationalists, but within their own rank and file. Witness the eternal mutual slaughters and purges among the leftists from the Spanish Civil War all the way down to the incessant Stalinist purges in the Soviet Union.

There is a serious thesis one can propose. Was the war in 1991 in the former Yugoslavia masterminded by former communist officials in Croatia and Serbia? Was it prompted by the feud among regional communist intelligence officers? How does one explain the fact that both the nationalist Croat Franjo Tudjman and his Serb counterpart, Slobodan Milosevic, had a staggering number of former communist intelligence officers surrounding them — let alone that they had both been staunch members of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia? What would have been the development in communist ex-Yugoslavia if both Serbia and Croatia had highly educated expatriate non-communist politicians at the helm of the Yugoslav state? This is a good question for historians, sociologists and futurologists.

The biggest mistake was committed by strongly nationalist and anticommunist Croatian expatriates. In fact, they made a fatal mistake. Their enormous financial and military assistance to Croatia — worth billions of dollars — should have been discretely linked to the removal of old communist Croat cadres and the return en masse of these expatriates to the old homeland. This would have created a favorable sociological balance and would have significantly diminished today’s tensions between communist-bred Croats and nationalist Croats.

But since these anticommunist Croatian nationalists did not return, any possible decommunization — or as Croats call it ‘lustracija’ — seems morally and logistically unfeasible because it would necessitate huge shifts of population and would result inevitably in a civil war. Nevertheless, this very violent scenario cannot be ruled out.

The whole phenomenon of the so-called purges or “lustration” is nothing new in history. After the fall of Napoleon, during the period of the Restoration, the FrenchKing Louis XVIII had co-opted his former adversaries by providing them with some form of “half subsistence” (demi soldes), because he knew that otherwise he would be facing chaos and terrorism in France. Similarly, the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco shrewdly handed out meager pensions to his former foes, the defeated Spanish Republicans.

Yet the phenomenon of the haphazard and the vagaries of the historical accident have their own cosmic laws that remain impenetrable to human reason. The Romanian-French essayist and philosopher Emile Cioran wrote that there is more truth and justice in medieval alchemy or in the entrails of wild Roman geese, than in the palaver about democracy, justice, happiness and prosperity.

Tom Sunic (see www.tomsunic.info is a writer, a translator, and a former professor of political science in the United States and a former Croat diplomat. Recently his book The European New Right (2009) was translated into Croat with a foreword by Alain de Benoist. His new book, La Croatie: un pays par défaut?, will be published this year.