In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Parcels, like love, come in all shapes and sizes and, like love, sometimes the shapes fit, and sometimes they do not. In the early 1990’s in the uncertain aftermath of the death, in 1980, of Josef Broz Tito, a parcel of land formed around the small town of Knin in eastern Croatia.
It probably would have happened without Knin, but this particular parcel of land would ignite and bring down the whole ramshackle Republic of Yugoslavia with the consequent deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, mostly innocents and many of them women and children.
In 1914, the First World War was triggered by the assassination of the Austrian Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in modern day Bosnia. At the start of the War, there were six great empires in the world, all European or semi European. These were the Turkish, the Russian, the German, the Austro Hungarian, the French and the British. By 1918, when the War ended, the first four had vanished.
It was in the messy aftermath to the War that the seeds of the future parcel of Knin were germinated. After the defeat of the so called Central Powers in 1918, the winning Allies, France, Britain and the United States set about reforming Europe from the debris.
In the Balkans large parts of the former Austro Hungarian and the Turkish Empires were bundled together into what became in 1921 the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In 1929 the country was officially renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia under King Alexander I. It was not a match made in heaven, as in particular, the Croats, largely Roman Catholic, and the Serbs, exclusively Orthodox, were not natural bedfellows. They had, even at that time, history.
In October 1934, while on a state visit to Marseilles in France, King Alexander was assassinated apparently by a Bulgarian nationalist. He was succeeded by his eleven year old son, King Peter.
In 1941, during the Second World War, Yugoslavia was invaded by the Germans who overran the country, but not without meeting stiff resistance. Hitler did not have an easy time in Yugoslavia, particularly from the Serbs who created many resistance groups who fought the invader from the mountains. They were supplied with arms and training by the British. Leader of the main group was Josef Broz Tito, a Croat, who outfought and out thought the Germans, and who became in 1945 the leader of the new Yugoslav Republic.
During the same period the Germans created Croatia as a separate Fascist state and Croatian security forces, in support of the Germans, were guilty of the murder of tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Serbs.
It was not an easy task that Marshal Tito took on in guiding his Communist republican state through the turbulent post war years, taking a path between the capitalist West and the Stalinist Soviet Union. He, by and large, succeeded, as much by State repression as by his own heroic status. In particular he suppressed the nationalist elements in the country.
Tito turned his country into a successful state and one which became popular as a tourist destination for the British. He died in 1980 and without his iron hand Yugoslavia began its slow descent into anarchy and disintegration.
There were six republics in the federal state and three autonomous regions. The strongest of the republics was Serbia, the biggest republic in terms of area and population. In addition, Serbia was generally supported by Montenegro and Macedonia and by all three of the autonomous regions. This meant that in the Federal, or Yugoslav, Parliament, it constantly outvoted the republics of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
These tensions, exacerbated by the rise of nationalism across the republics burst into flame in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Slovenia, in the north of the country and more central European than Balkan in its outlook and culture, declared itself as seceding from Yugoslavia. An eleven day war with the Federal Government and Yugoslav Peoples’ Army followed leaving the Slovenes as victors.
Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina soon followed but found it a very much more difficult task; the wars there going on for four years.
It will be remembered that, contrary to the present day agenda, the American Civil War was fought to prevent the southern states seceding from the Union.
It was then that the parcel of land around Knin was formed. Knin was a largely Serb town and militant Serbs drove the non-Serbs from the town and declared themselves no longer subject to the control of the Croatian state. They then spread out adding other villages to their parcel driving out and murdering non Serb populations. Many of the villages they occupied were inhabited by Croatians who were murdered or driven away as refugees. The deserted villages were razed to the ground. The Knin leaders then declared themselves as the Autonomous Serbian Republic of Krajina.
Throughout Croatia and Bosnia local Serbs followed the same programme and in response Croats took over Croatian inhabited areas of Bosnia. About 50% of the population of Bosnia was Muslim, a legacy of the Ottoman occupation by the Turks. Neither Serbia nor Croatia recognised the Muslims as a separate ethnic grouping, maintaining they were either Serb or Croat with a different religion.
From here the war escalated and the fledging European Community proved ineffective in restoring peace. The involvement of the United Nations was just as much a failure with insufficient numbers of Blue Helmets on the ground to have any deterrent effect,
The war which lasted for nearly five years was horrific and introduced a new concept to the English language, ethnic cleansing. Memories are still in the minds of many people of the wholesale murders by Serb forces of about 10,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in Bosnia. These unfortunate victims were marched past grim faced Dutch troops of the United Nations before being butchered. Twenty years later the decomposed remains are still being identified and returned to their families for burial.
In the end, it was necessary for US and NATO forces using overwhelming air power to bring the war to an end amid the ruins of the former Yugoslavia.
So who were the good guys and who were the bad guys? There were really no good guys, apart perhaps from the innocent civilians, men, women and children. All three sides, Serbs, Croats and Muslims carried out massacres.
This Federation failed, destroyed by the competing interests of its constituent communities. The Soviet Union also failed for the same reasons. It leads to the question as to whether the European Union will, in the end, succeed.
As the fighting ceased the Croatian Army moved in on the Autonomous Serbian Republic of Krajina. It took thirty six hours to regain complete control of the breakaway parcel. After four years the parcel was finally delivered to where it belonged, Croatia.
Written by BM