Croatia Bracing For Electoral Tug of War

President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic Announcing Croatian General Elections Photo: Screenshot dnevnik.hr 5 October 2015

On 8 November 2015, Croats will for the first time ever get a taste of a preferential voting system in their parliamentary elections. Voters will be able to circle the name of their preferred candidate on the List they vote for. Preferential votes will be valid for those candidates who receive at least 10% of the List total vote. Voter turnout hasn’t been great in the past and one wonders whether the newly installed preferential voting together with President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic’s appeal to the nation, particularly to the young and those who have stayed away from casting their vote at past elections, to vote and thus partake in the decision for the country’s future would change for the better the voter turnout on 8 November?
The fate of our Croatia will be in your hands on that day,” said president Grabar-Kitarovic in her televised announcement of the date for 2015 general elections. “That is the day when the politicians are accountable to you and when democracy takes on its full sense. Having that in mind I invite you to attentively follow what the candidates are offering, what are their programs like and how they will affect your everyday lives for the next four years. I especially wish to invite the youngest voters and those who are voting for the first time. Do not allow others to choose for you. Croatia needs your fresh outlook and your participation in the most important act of democracy … Come out to vote, utilise your right and take ownership of responsibility…”

Although president Grabar-Kitarovic has in the same televised appearance called for the politicians and candidates to steer away from turning the election campaigns into “carnival of democracy”, to behave with political correctness, leave the “ashes of the past” behind and look at ways of creating a better future with joint efforts, the fact remains that all candidates, all political parties are in the race to win seats in parliament, to carry significant clout in a future government.

The president has also asked the media to use its potent influence on shaping attitudes responsibly and contribute ethically to the strengthening of social responsibility.

The way the political pre-election platforms have ignited in Croatia during the past months tells us that Croatia has failed to produce a strong third political option and Croatian government contenders are firmly standing at two camps, and the smaller political satellites if they have not already entered into a coalition with a bigger party will just fit in with whoever wins.

Croatia is nowhere near hammering nails into the coffin of the two party politics and helping new coalitions, alliances and horse-trading bloom even if there are a few emerging forces (Orah, the Reformists, Milan Bandic 365, the Bridge…) that could possibly steal notable thunder from the ruling Social Democrats/SDP (centre left) and the largest opposition Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ (Conservative/ centre right). To hammer nails into the coffin of the two party politics Croatian voters will need to develop into what President Grabar-Kitarovic recommends: look at what candidates are offering you; look at their programs. Sadly, the Croatian votes are still driven by “being against” rather than “being for” when casting their vote. Being for or against what communist Yugoslavia was and being for or against what Franjo Tudjman led (independence) still seem to sit at the back of the voter minds with SDP backers being those who are fighting against coming clean with communist crimes of the past even though they are increasingly thumping their chests with gestures of Croatian patriotism. These ashes from the past are difficult to sweep away and feed the fire of two party politics; feed the “against” vote as opposed the “for” one. It still seems easier for Croatian voters to say “I’m against him, them…” than “I’m for this and that…(program)”.
Croatian voters will decide on 8 November whether the current Social Democrat led government will enter a second mandate or whether Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ – led coalition will get a mandate and a chance to demonstrate that its slogan “Growth-Development-Employment” is actually different from similar striving other political parties are promising at elections and will bring positive results as opposed to empty promises that stem from a seemingly economic impasse.

Electoral polling in Croatia 4 October 2015 Photo: Hina

Neither of the two major parties, SDP and HDZ, is expected to win enough seats, the 76 seats out of 151 needed to govern alone. They are teaming up with smaller parties instead and much will depend on which smaller parties have the best chance at local electorate to win power. This formula seems particularly important given that latest opinion polls, according to the Croatian news agency HINA, place Social Democrats and Croatian Democratic Union almost neck and neck – were the elections to be held beginning October the Social Democrats coalition would get 31.9% of the vote while Croatian Democratic Union and coalition would scoop 32.9% of the vote. In attempts to predict the election outcome the situation becomes more complex when one considers that both the leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (Tomislav Karamarko) and the leader of Social Democrats (Zoran Milanovic) are through opinion polls considered as the most negative politicians in Croatia.

The above polls seem to suggest that Croatia is in a de facto multi-party system when it comes to parliamentary elections, although the third option is still in tatters and competing egos. A third vote Conservative, a third vote Left wing, a third vote somebody else. That somebody else in more cases than not is a historical splinter from either HDZ or SDP and suffers from bad cases of inflated  political egos which see no unity on the horizon. These opinion polls figures may not be counted on as projecting the general elections results in any certain terms but they do suggest that Croatia is bracing for another tug of war during elections where the number of voters against the other main party will decide who wins. The third option, that somebody else, is far too disjointed in terms of being a more or less homogeneous political body to pose a real threat to either HDZ or SDP, but picking out supporting threads from it will be the stuff that will most likely define the majority seat winner at November elections.

If you are planning to cast your vote for the future of Croatia on 8 November, wherever you are – do not forget to register to vote! I believe registrations close 28 October 2015. Voters living abroad should contact the nearest Croatian consular-diplomatic mission and obtain form or simply information how to register to vote.

Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

First published on Oct.07:2015

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Croatia: Supreme Court As Constitutional One Before It Orders New Trial In Major Corruption Case Against Former Prime Minister

Tomislav Karamarko President of Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ Photo: Marina Cvek

Tomislav Karamarko President of Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ Photo: Marina Cvek

Croatia’s Supreme Court has Thursday 1 October overturned the 2014 Zagreb district court nine-year prison sentence and ordered a retrial for former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, who was jailed for corruption, embezzling millions of euros in public funds via a company named Fimi Media. All other defendants joined in this case of corruption charges by the former State Attorney Mladen Bajic, including the Croatian Democratic Union Party/HDZ, were also included in this verdict and freed from guilty verdict delivered against them in 2014. These charges were originally mounted at the time when Croatia was working towards meeting all criteria for EU membership. Fight against corruption was a big part of proving “worthy” of EU membership as state. The Supreme Court in Croatia has ordered a new trial for charges and claims against Sanader and other defendants, however, it stands to speculation as to whether, under the new Crimes act HDZ will need to be dropped from the list of defendants.
The Supreme Court had made the decision to overturn the district court verdict in its totality and return the case to that court for a new trial and new judgement. While a detailed decision by the Supreme Court regarding this case has not yet been published the Supreme court delivered its decision citing unspecified violations in the lower court trial of significant breaches in the lower court of criminal procedure, among other things serious breaches of right to just and fair trial – guaranteed under the Constitution and the Convention on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedom.

Given that this criminal case was widely publicised and a great deal of Croatia’s reputation in being able to deal with corruption hung on the success of trials brought against individuals for corruption, one does find it perplexing in discovering that apparently there were serious breaches of criminal procedures in this case. One would have thought that nothing untoward when it comes to set procedures could go wrong during the court process! But it seems something went very wrong and, therefore, nothing less than the decision it made could be expected from the Supreme Court.

Indeed, everyone does have a right to a fair trial.

The Croatian Supreme Court decision has, naturally, put a smile to HDZ’s face and while the new trial is yet to occur, the new judgment yet to be delivered some time down the road, one thing does remain possible: HDZ as Political party should never have been joined as a defendant in the case in which Ivo Sanader was brought to court on criminal charges of corruption and fraud whilst HDZ’s President and Croatia’s Prime Minister and it should be dropped! Accusing some 200,000 members of the Party of collective guilt for crimes committed by its leader is just as bad as not having a fair trial.

Indeed, in the new Criminal Act there is no longer the provision under which HDZ (a political party) can be accused of or charged with criminal deeds relating to the Fimi Media case associated with Sanader and this Supreme Court judgment. HDZ was ordered to pay 3.8 million euro fine in 2014 when guilty verdict against Sanader and it was delivered and with this Supreme Court ruling that fine seems to be null and void even though the position the Supreme Court took on HDZ’s appeal is not yet fully known and it will be months before the detailed reasons for the decision are known.

If that is the case and this new criminal deed is not in continuity with the old legislation then it’s almost certain that the case against HDZ will be stopped and that no guilty verdict will be delivered against it,” said for HRT TV news on 2 October dr Mato Palic, Faculty of Law, Osijek.

During HDZ’s promotion of its election program in Vukovar on Friday 2 October, the President of that largest opposition party in Croatia, Tomislav Karamarko, stated, “because of some individuals HDZ was a target of satanic scenario designed to destroy the party… Our party has gone through its catharsis, there is not a single office-bearer in it with a valid verdict against him/her nor will there ever be one. All who breach the law should leave this party straight away on their own initiative…”

Time is hopefully coming when the Croatian public may have the opportunity of finding out whether “satanic verses”, from the mouth of the former, communist coloured, State Attorney Mladen Bajic,  were indeed afoot when original charges that saw a Political Party vilified were laid.

Ivo Sanader Former Prime Minister of Croatia

Tomislav Karamarko President of Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ Photo: Marina Cvek

Sanader, who was in office as Prime Minister of Croatia from 2004 to 2009, was sentenced separately to 10 years in prison for bribery in 2012 (INA-MOL case), but Croatia’s Constitutional Court had overturned that verdict and ordered a retrial on similar grounds of procedural unfairness.

After nearly three years in jail, Sanader can now leave on bail of 12.4 million kuna (1.6 million euro) after the court ruled that procedural errors had affected his right to a fair trial. It’s expected that his friends and family will be able to raise the bail by 7 October.

I am quite concerned that the process of justice, the court process of such magnitude as the ones against Croatia’s former Prime Minister Sanader could have gone so terribly wrong. One cannot avoid asking the question whether such procedural transgressions could have been perpetrated on purpose? For political reasons; for political gains? I find it hard to believe that in all cases against Sanader, in all separate trials, same or similar procedural breaches could have been committed! It almost feels like a conspiracy to make the public think corruption is being seriously dealt with when in fact it was all an act? To err, to breach procedural fairness in one case against an accused is easy to believe but to err in all arouses justifiable doubts in the sincerity of efforts put in place for combating corruption.
The right to procedural fairness (a term that is often used interchangeably with “natural justice”) is not a concept that is foreign to the Croatian judicial process and professionals that make it even if many do stem from the biased and politically coloured justice system of communist Yugoslavia. Sanader’s legal team says that charges against him were based upon affidavits or statements made to the State agency against corruption by some people who wouldn’t reply to questions put to them by Sanader’s defence team, and that, apart from that, there was no evidence of his wrongdoing.

While I have always maintained that collective guilt such as the one pinned against the Political Party HDZ in this case had no place in natural or any other justice. It’s pure political witch-hunting and it should have never been allowed in the courtroom in the first place. While HDZ says that “the Supreme Court ruling has removed the stigma from the Party and its 200,000 members and that it said from the beginning that the political party was not and could not be held accountable for the acts of corruption charged against it,” I would, though, like to see HDZ, and every political party, fight harder against such injustice as holding a Political Party (or an organisation) guilty for the (secret, personal) acts of some or few members. If they fought harder for such real justice all along, since independence and since the installation of democracy, then judges in Croatia would not have the nerve to allow procedural unfairness pass through their fingers like some insignificant breeze or pronounce sentences such as “the communist system murdered the people, not the accused former communist Josip Boljkovac”.

Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

First published on Oct.03:2015

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#corruption, #polititicians

A Cautionary Epistle To Pope Francis In Relation To Serbia’s Fabrications Against Croatia’s Blessed Alojzije Stepinac

Sarcophagus of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac in Zagreb, Croatia

Sarcophagus of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac in Zagreb, Croatia

Papal power is not absolute. The Pope does not have the power to change teaching (or) doctrine. The Pope does not have the power to reverse the Beatification of Croatia’s Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac but, uncomfortably as it may sit with many, the Pope can slow down the process of Canonisation of Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac as Saint in the Catholic Church.
There has been much uneasiness spreading within the 85% Roman Catholic Croatian population about the visit on Friday 11 September 2015 of Serbia’s president Tomislav Nikolic to the Vatican, to meet with Pope Francis and enter into issues relating to the canonisation of Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac – or rather Serbia’s views on it – as one of the talks agenda. Furthermore, President Nikolic and Pope Francis have reportedly discuss the establishment of a joint commission of the Serbian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches that will study “historical facts related to WWII and Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac’s role in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH).”

Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) STepinac

Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) STepinac

It is well-known that both the Serbian Orthodox Church and Serbian state oppose the canonisation of Blessed Stepinac, accusing him unjustly of supporting the Fascist regime in Croatia, which they say was responsible for the deaths of Serbs in Croatia in World War II. The commission would study historical evidence to determine his role, which is and has been widely disputed. Serbia and its political allies say that he supported the Fascist regime aligned with the Nazis while many Croats (guided by factual findings through research of archives, such as that of Dr. Esther Gitman) oppose the communist Yugoslavia picture concocted about Stepinac, still actively promoted by Serbs and some former communists in Croatia. The facts are that Blessed Alojzije Stepinac saved and rescued many lives of Jews, Serbs and Roma.

Does Pope Francis truly understand Europe if Serbia’s president Tomislav Nikolic is one of his advisers on the canonisation of Croatia’s Blessed Alojzije Stepinac – asked journalist D. Likic on Croatia’s news portal Maxportal. In continuance of such a sentiment of doubt, one truly wonders whether Pope Francis understands the past role President of Serbia actually played in the tragic and genocidal war of Serb aggression against Croatia in 1990’s? One truly wonders whether the Pope realises the terrifying significance for Croatian people Tomislav Nikolic’s incitement to hatred and crimes against Croats has and had? One truly wonders whether Pope Francis realises that Serbia’s President is one of the powerful personalities who keep denying and hiding the terrible role WWII Serbia played in the perpetration of the Holocaust – by May 1942, 94% of Serbia’s Jews were exterminated so that Serbia could announce it was one of the first European countries to be free of Jews. Serbia’s powerful keep telling the world that it was the occupying Nazis who exterminated all those Jews in Serbia – wrong! Serbia’s government and people who supported it collaborated with the Nazis, marked the Jews for extermination and brought them to extermination camps.
If the Pope realises all that, then perhaps the commission formed between the Catholic and Serbian Orthodox Church has and will discuss all the historical facts of WWII, including those relating to the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church and this role meant peril and death to Jews, Croats and others. Including the fact that, judging from its past behaviour and statements, the Serbian Orthodox Church has no intention or morality to accept the true facts about the Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac and his deeds of rescue and saving of persecuted people. So, why would one want someone who has proven himself to be so biased and hateful against Croats in advance on a commission or committee deciding on facts in WWII Croatia?
Truly baffling! Truly disquieting!
According to Serbia’s news agency Tanjug, following the meeting with Pope Francis, Nikolic told Tanjug that he had a very open discussion with the Pope about Cardinal Stepinac during which he had told the Pope that Cardinal Stepinac had played a very bad role in World War II.

He (Stepinac) should at least not have remained silent when someone is killing … citizens just because they are not of (Roman) Catholic faith,” Nikolic said.

The problem with this statement from Nikolic and all Serbia’s political and church leaders is that they choose, with evident intentional malice, to ignore the facts discovered (e.g. by research conducted by Dr. Esther Gitman) after government archives were opened in late 1990’s/early 2000’s when communist Yugoslavia finally fell. These facts irrefutable point to the absolute truth that Cardinal Stepinac, organising rescue missions and actions that would save lives also protested in writing against any killings done under the WWII regime, he became aware of, but his protests fell on deaf ears just as they are falling on deaf ears of Serbia today! Serbia’s Nikolic would like us to think, it seems, that an Archbishop (Stepinac) in WWII was more powerful that the country’s governmental leadership! Why else would he ignore Stepinac’s protests of which he is well aware?

Pope Francis speaks with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, during a private audience at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. (Claudio Onorati/Pool photo via AP)

Pope Francis speaks with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, during a private audience at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. (Claudio Onorati/Pool photo via AP)

Serbia’s president Nikolic boasted that the Pope had told him at one point that he was in no rush to declare the cardinal a saint. If that is true, it is sad and pathetic.

I think that I have come across a man who knows a great deal and who understands everything and who has accepted almost every statement and suggestion I put to him. This was a meeting between people who understood each other straight away,” Nikolic boasted further to the Serbian media.
God forbid! God forbid if Papal belief should be so easily filled!
Perhaps in the context of this commission established between the Catholic and the Serbian Orthodox Churches, and in the context that Serbia’s leaders and its Orthodox Church have been and still maliciously insist that Blessed Alojzije Stepinac is guilty of WWII crimes he had no part in committing or power to prevent, Pope Frances will find a way to point a revealing light on actual WWII facts for Serbia and wipe once and for all the foul drivel flowing out of Serbian political and religious leaders’ mouths for decades.
Pope Francis’ path so far has shown him as a kind of revolutionary man; a man who only last week broadened the power of priests to forgive women who commit what Catholic teachings call the “mortal sin” of abortion during his newly declared “year of mercy” starting in December. On last Sunday, 6 September, he called for “every” Catholic parish in Europe to offer shelter to one refugee family from the thousands of asylum-seekers risking all to escape war-torn Syria and other pockets of conflict and poverty. He repeatedly has denounced unrestrained capitalism. His attacks on “compulsive consumerism” and industrial damage to the world’s ecology came to a head during a fiery July speech in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. He said poor nations shouldn’t be mere sources of raw materials and cheap labor, and called the unfettered pursuit of money “the dung of the devil”:

Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system,” he said, “it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.”

Pope John Paul II Praying at the body of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac in Zagreb Croatia

Pope John Paul II Praying at the body of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac in Zagreb Croatia

Many of the 265 popes before Francis championed serious causes. Most recently, John Paul II crusaded against communism and beatified Croatia’s Cardinal Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac, and Benedict XVI decried moral drift that devalued human lives. Now comes Pope Francis’ determination to help people by the hundreds of millions escape destitution. Excellent. Perhaps during his visit to the United States this coming week he’ll discuss how market economies already have let other hundreds of millions prosper, and bless capitalism for its saving grace. Give credit where credit is due for in this day and age, without capital or money, there can be no welfare and no humanitarian aid. Perhaps, at some point he will publicly reflect on the meeting with Serbia’s Tomislav Nikolic and loudly pronounce that Nikolic’s malicious fodder cannot and will not stain the blessed and saintly soul and deeds of Cardinal Stepinac. That would match the courage and the leadership the Pope has shown in many instances so far. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb);B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

First published on Sept.13: 2015

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Croatia: Justice Against Corruption Still In Claws Of Baptism Of Fire

Ivo Sanader, former prime minister of Croatia Photo: Marko Lukunic

Ivo Sanader, former prime minister of Croatia Photo: Marko Lukunic

Justice in ridding Croatia of paralysing corrupt practices inherited from the communist power-bases of former Yugoslavia, or at least reducing them so that corruption ceases to stifle democratic progress including the economy, has indeed been a long-suffering entity in Croatia. Croatia that is free from corruption is the new bright position people want Croatia to be in. Frank Serpico, New Yorks’s retired police department office who became famous for blowing the whistle on corruption within the police department in late 1960’s and early 1970’s said: “The fight for justice against corruption is never easy. It never has been and never will be. It exacts a toll on our self, our families, our friends, and especially our children. In the end, I believe, as in my case, the price we pay is well worth holding on to our dignity.”

For years Croatia had been unable or unwilling, or both, to deal decisively with thieves and troublemakers that define the deep-rooted corruption. When in 2014 Zagreb’s District Court delivered a guilty verdict in the first and biggest to date corruption case involving the former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and Hypo and INA-MOL (Croatian gas and petrol energy company with Hungarian MOL clout) there was a breath of relief in Croatia and abroad. Finally – the breath of fresh air and hope for justice showed optimistic promise that Croatia was well on its way in getting rid of paralysing and omnipresent corruption it inherited from communist Yugoslavia days. Sanader was sentenced to eight and a half years and I thought: justice against corruption has been baptised and it will grow from now on.

Zsolt Hernádi, CEO MOL Photo: Budapest Business Journal

Zsolt Hernádi, CEO MOL Photo: Budapest Business Journal

Sanader was arrested in Austria as he fled Croatia in an attempt to avoid facing criminal charges, and was extradited to Croatia in July 2011. Series of trials for a string of serious charges of corruption, bribery and war profiteering offences commenced late 2011. In December 2011 criminal charges were laid against Sanader, which stipulated that for a 10 Million euro bribe he negotiated with president of Hungary’s petrol/energy company MOL, Zsolt Hernádi, that MOL receive majority ownership in Croatia’s INA company. These charges were attached to previous one for war profiteering in which Sanader is alleged to have taken a provision of 3.6 Million kuna (475,000 euro) from Hypo Bank while holding the office of deputy foreign minister of Croatia. As far as bribery from MOL, Hungarian Zsolt Hernádi has continuously denied any wrongdoing although he has refused to attend the Croatian court.
After the 2014 verdicts against Sanader, Croatian Supreme court confirmed those Zagreb District Court guilty verdicts.

But, in July 2015 Croatia’s Constitutional court overturned those guilty verdicts, citing procedural errors (not facts of evidence for the criminal acts) and ordered a retrial. The Constitutional court said that in its decision it did not go into whether Ivo Sanader was guilty of war profiteering and criminal acts of receiving bribes for which he was found guilty because it, the Constitutional court, did not have jurisdiction. The Constitutional court had overturned the guilty verdict because it found that all guarantees for a fair trial and all mechanisms of judicial protection provided through the legislation were not secured for him. http://www.tportal.hr/vijesti/hrvatska/390689/Ukinuta-presuda-Ivi-Sanaderu-za-Hypo-i-INA-MOL.html (Click this link for PDF in Croatian/ Summary of Constitutional Court decision 24 July 2015)

The Constitutional court findings say that there had been a breach of rules of a milder law in relation to the constitutional guarantee for a milder sentence. Article 31, clause 1 of the Constitution of Croatia provides that ” No one may be punished for an act which, prior to its commission, was not defined as a punishable offence by domestic or international law, nor may such individual be sentenced to a penalty which was not then defined by law. If a less severe penalty is determined by law after the commission of said act, such penalty shall be imposed.”

The decision also refers to a breach of Constitutional right to explanations of the part of judgement dealing with the rule of the milder law.

And so, on Monday 7 September 2015, Croatia began a retrial of former prime minister Ivo Sanader on corruption charges, including a case of a bribe allegedly taken from Hungarian oil firm MOL to allow it acquire a dominant stake in Croatia’s biggest utility (INA).

Judge Ivan Turudic Photo: Slavko Midzor

Judge Ivan Turudic Photo: Slavko Midzor

As the retrial got under way, Sanader’s lawyers requested the judge (Ivan Turudic) be changed as he had overseen the previous trial and they submit that he may be biased against Sanader in the second-trial. According to media reports Sanader’s lawyers will seek not only that Turudic be disqualified from hearing the case or presiding over the hearing but that he also be removed from his position as president of the Zagreb District Court. Judge Ivan Turudic, on the other hand, says that he can see no reason why he could not preside over the retrial. Any disqualification of a judge from presiding over the trial or hearing the case will need to be decided by a higher court (in this case Supreme Court of Croatia).

Well, well, it seems Sanader and his lawyers don’t worry about the independent facts revealed during the first trial against him, which facts point to guilt of actual corruption, bribery and war profiteering. Procedural matters are the hot coals in the baptism of fire of justice in this case. While Sanader and everyone should have the benefit of due process – which includes access to all rights under the law and procedural fairness – one cannot but think of Frank Serpico at this time: the fight for justice is never easy! Baptism of fire for many good things is an inevitable albeit regretful path to the good; we all want justice and want it now! Especially given that Croatia has been suffocated by corruption for a whole lifetime. Time to speed up the fight against corruption in Croatia and I hope that agenda will be included in someone’s election campaign platform! It’s election year with general elections likely to occur in a couple of month’s times. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.;M.A.Ps. (Syd)

First published on Sept.09 2015

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Croatia’s Blessed Aloysius Stepinac, WWII Rescue Of Jews and Dr Esther Gitman’s Fact Finding Captivate Pages Of Prestigious US Catholic Historical Review

 

Blessed Aloysius Stepinac Front Cover Catholic Histoprical Review Summer 2015 Edition Catholic University of America Press

Blessed Aloysius Stepinac Front Cover Catholic Historical Review Summer 2015 Edition Catholic University of America Press

Dr Esther Gitman

In 1942, during the mass deportations of Jews to concentration camps, some Jews managed to escape to the Italian Zones of Occupation on the Adriatic. When the Italian authorities realized that so many Jews were flocking to their zone they aimed to deport them back to he Independent State of Croatia ruled by the Ustashe regime controlled by Nazi Germany. When the news reached Archbishop Stepinac of the intention of the Governor of Dalmatia, he wrote to the Holy See requesting to allow the Jewish refugees to remain under the Italian occupation. The Italians did not murder Jewish refugees they protected them. Thus, in fact, Stepinac, was instrumental in saving my mother’s and my life and thousands other lives. I owe him an eternal gratitude because by his conduct, he gave me an opportunity to live and get to know my husband, daughter and my grandchildren. Archbishop Stepinac was honored by the Catholic Historical Review by having his picture posted on the cover. This picture commemorates the time he spent as a prisoner in Communist Yugoslavia. The article is found on pp. 488-529. Thank you!” Said Dr. Esther Gitman,  a few days ago

And so, I took delight and pride in translating the posting from the Catholic University of Croatia website that announces Dr. Esther Gitman’s very important achievement  – the publication of her article on the work of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac and the rescue and the saving of Jews during WWII Croatia in such a world-renowned and prestigious scholarly journal published in the US. I hope many of you will access the article via the Catholic University of America Press website.

____

Information for the Media

Catholic University of Croatia
Zagreb
Contact: pr@unicath.hr
http://www.unicath.hr

Zagreb 29 August 2015

The American historian of Jewish descent, Dr. Esther Gitman Ph.D., has published in the Summer Edition of the scientific journal The Catholic Historical Review (CHR), third this year (pp. 488-529, vol. 101. n. 3), an article about the blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac, titled “Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac of Zagreb and the Rescue of Jews, 1941-45”.

In the article, the author shows how the Archbishop of Zagreb undertook the action of rescuing several hundred of individuals associated with the Croatian Jewish community, how he saved more than a thousand Jews who were in mixed marriages, as well as many others for whom the Nazi regime posed a danger.

Using evidence from various archives, testimonies of surviving family members and other documents, the author discusses how Stepinac responded to the politics of the Ustasha regime under the Nazi and Fascist patronage, and how he used his position in the Church to promote the rescue of Jews. In the same article, the author talks about the collaboration between Archbishop Stepinac and Msgr. Giuseppe Ramiro Marcone, Pope Pius XII’s apostolic visitor, and how they demanded from the Vatican that the Jews who had arrived into the Italian zone not be deported back to NDH (Independent State of Croatia).

Excerpt from the article by Dr Esther Gitman published in The Catholic Historical Review Summer 2015

Excerpt from the article by Dr Esther Gitman published in The Catholic Historical Review Summer 2015

The scientific journal, The Catholic Historical Review, had decided to publish Dr. Gitman’s article only after the article had been subjected to double-verification by two of our professional associates who did not know who the author of the article they were verifying was. The verifying associates were four scientists of high international reputation from Croatia and abroad. Dr. Gitman was able to provide adequate answers to all criticisms and complaints put by the versifier/s and substantiate her claims with evidence from the archives. Some complaints were irrelevant to the subject of the article and, hence, we did not seek any clarification for them. Dr. Gitman’s article contributes significantly to discussions regarding the role of Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac of Zagreb during the difficult years of World War II. The Catholic Historical Review is, therefore, very happy to be in the position of making that article available to the scholarly world. By placing the image of Archbishop Stepinac in prison on the cover of the summer issue we wanted to draw attention to this important person in the history of the Catholic Church in the 20th century – said Professor Nelson H. Minnich, editor of The Catholic Historical Review and a professor at the Department of History, the American Catholic University.
This article is yet another in the list of articles that, based on facts, show how much Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac was engaged in the defense of the dignity of every person during the difficult times of the Second World War.
About the author:

Dr Esther Gitman Delivering a talk on her work at NSW State Library (Mitchell Library) Sydney, Australia February 2014 Photo: Ina Vukic

Dr Esther Gitman Delivering a talk on her work at NSW State Library (Mitchell Library) Sydney, Australia February 2014 Photo: Ina Vukic

Dr Esther Gitman earned her doctorate at the City University, New York and the findings of her research are summarized in her book “When Courage Prevailed,” translated into the Croatian language and published by Christian Actuality in 2011. The book deals with the topic of the rescue and survival of Jews in NDH (Independent State of Croatia) and one of its chapters is devoted to the role played at the time by the Archbishop of Zagreb, Alojzije Stepinac. The author deals with issues related to Jews in Croatia during World War II and, using scientific evidence and historical facts, she points to the uniqueness and the greatness of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac in all those events.

She was a visiting professor at the Croatian Catholic University during the 2013/2014 academic year 2013/2014. and held a course on rescuing Jews in NDH (Independent State of Croatia).

About the Journal:
The Scientific Journal The Catholic Historical Review, founded by the Catholic University of America, has been published since 1915. That is the only university journal under the Catholic Church’s auspices in the English-speaking world dedicated to the history of the Catholic Church. The journal publishes articles, peer-reviewed articles, as well as review articles, book reviews, and lists of current periodical literature received in all areas of church history. The Journal and the article can be obtained at the following address: The Catholic University of America Press http://cuapress.cua.edu/journals/chr.cfm

Summary of Dr. Gitman’s article:
During World War II, Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac, Archbishop and later Cardinal of Zagreb (1898 – 1960), took action to rescue several hundred individuals associated with Croatia’s Jewish community, more than 1000 Jews in mixed marriages, and a number of others in danger from the Nazis. Using archival evidence, survivor testimonies, and other documentation, the author discusses how Stepinac reacted to the policies of the Nazi-and-fascist-sponsored Ustase regime and used his position in the Church to promote the rescue of Jews, supported by his moral convictions and Giuseppe Ramiro Marcone, Benedictine abbot and Pope Pius XII’s apostolic visitor to Croatia.

Prof. Minnich’s reply as to why he decided to publish Dr. Gitman’s article:

The CHR decided to publish Dr. Gitman’s article after it had gone through our double-blind refereeing process. The four referees are scholars of international standing, from within and outside Croatia. Where referees raised objection and criticisms, Dr. Gitman was able to provide appropriate responses and she backed up her claims with archival evidence. Some of the objections were irrelevant to the topic of the article and did not deserve a response. Her article makes a significant contribution to the debates concerning the role of Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac of Zagreb during the difficult years of World War II. The CHR is thus happy to make it available to the scholarly world. By putting the picture of Archbishop Stepinac in prison on the cover of the Summer issue, the journal wishes to draw attention to this important figure in the history of the Catholic Church in the twentieth century.
Translated from the Croatian language by Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

First published on 2nd September 2015

 

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The Glory Of Croatian Martyrs

The Glory of Croatian Martyrs Sculpture relief by Kuzma Kovacic Church of Croatian Martyrs Udbina Croatia

The Glory of Croatian Martyrs Sculpture relief by Kuzma Kovacic Church of Croatian Martyrs Udbina Croatia (Click picture to enlarge)

In 2003, in the city of Rijeka, Pope John Paul II blessed the rough stone base for the future altar sculpture for the Church of Croatian Martyrs at Udbina, a relief of the impressions of the Battle of Krbava (1493 when Kingdom of Croatia forces fought the advance of the Ottoman with tragic consequences. While the Croatian army was heavily defeated on September 9th 1493 in the Battle of Krbava, a hundred years later, in the Battle of Sisak on June 22nd 1593 it won a glorious victory over the Turks. From that point onwards the power of the Turks in Europe began to decline continuously), Bleiburg and Way of the Cross (post-WWII mass murders of Croats by Yugoslav communists) and the sufferings and victims of Vukovar during Croatia’s Homeland War of 1990’s (mass murders and tortures perpetrated by Serb aggressor). As part of the marking of Croatian Martyrs Day this altar relief called “The Glory of Croatian Martyrs”, sculptured by artist Kuzma Kovacic, a three-part whole made up of 70 large stone tiles from the Island of Brac, was blessed on Saturday 29 August 2015 in the Church of Croatian Martyrs in Udbina. The relief’s author, Kuzma Kovacic, said that his work “The Glory of Croatian Martyrs” represents almost a thousand years of the connection between the Catholic faith and the Croatian history.

Saturday 29 August 2015 at The Church of Croatian Martyrs in Udbina Photo: www.lika-online.com

With that relief the grand dedication sitting above the Krbava Field – the church with its altar relief sculpture – is completed. Several thousands of believers from all regions of Croatia, as well as state and church dignitaries, gathered in Udbina at the holy mass on Saturday, headed by Mile Bogovic, the Bishop of Lika-Senj county. Bishop Bogovic emphasised that besides having a great artistic value the relief sculpture also has a large patriotic and religious value. He reminded the pilgrims of the history of the region where the church stands, where the bishopric…. was established 730 years ago and where at the Krbava Field the geographic centre of Croatia had been wounded in 1493. “Krbava and the whole of Lika were under the Turks for 160 years, and after this there were not only Catholics here but also the Orthodox,” Bishop Bogovic said.

Bishop Mile Bogovic

He reminded that in 1942 the Croatian Catholics that remained there were forced to leave Udbina, where also their church was destroyed, their cemetery devastated, their houses destroyed and their land taken away from them. “Another law reigned that did not even spare the Orthodox Church in Udbina,” he emphasised (meaning the communist Partisan “law”).

Speaking about the WWII and post-WWII sufferings Bishop Bogovic accentuated Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac’s example. “Although we, like other nations, cannot say we have nothing to regret from our pasts, we can say with pride that there were great many greats of good and sacrifice for others in our history, and our church and worldly history have systematically been muddied,” concluded Bishopo Bogovic.

Bishop Bogovic gave an appraisal in saying that the Croatian past and its Greats “are still, to this day, covered with many fat layers of lies so that not even the most well-meaning persons cannot see the real picture”. “It is sad that the same people who fabricated those lies force themselves upon us as our teachers and receive funds and space for their schools and, so, it’s within these frames that the idea of the Church of Croatian Martyrs appeared and grew,” said Bishop Bogovic, emphasising the church project in Udbina “did not arise from the cult of a gun, a lie and aggression, as suggested by some even today, but that it arose out of the cult of the cross and veneration of those who had suffered the aggression from various guns and aggressors”.

Turning to the marking of anniversaries of sufferings, Bishop Bogovic emphasised how it’s human to value courage and resolve in the defence of people and homeland.

Children at mass in Udbina Croatian Martyrs Day 29 August 2015 Photo: www.lika-online.com

It’s been ten years since the foundation stone was laid and the building of this Shrine (The Church of Croatian Martyrs) to the Croatian martyrs in Udbina had begun. The road to its completion was hard and riddled with obstacles laid by those who did not want the Croatian martyrs remembered in such a grand, deserving manner. The same road, though, had been a joyous one for to pursue with the project also meant the expression of special gratitude to those who had throughout history sacrificed their lives for the human and Christian progress over the Croatian nation.

Church of Croatian Martyrs Udbina the altar and the Glory of Croatian Martyrs relief by Kuzma Kovacic

Many of the most prominent sons of Croatia who accepted death so that others could live, now live on Kuzma Kovacic’s relief sculpture in Udbina. They come from Krbava Field, from Bleiburg and Ways of the Cross, from Vukovar and all places of killings in Croatia and all its pits and mass graves; those for whom regimes said were defeated and beaten, those whom the aggressors considered as rubbish and tossed them into pits of torture and oblivion – are greeted by Christ as the victorious and our generation has retrieves their human dignity while Christ waits for them as the victorious. That is the message within the relief sculpture “The Glory of Croatian Martyrs”. Lest we forget! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

First published August 31 2015 by inavukic

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Suffocating Refugees and Illegal Migrants Avalanche Heading Croatia’s Way

Refugees and illegal migrants making their way from Greece to Macedonia to continue into EU Photo: AP Photos/ Sakis Mitrolidis

Refugees and illegal migrants making their
way from Greece to Macedonia
to continue into EU
Photo: AP Photos/ Sakis Mitrolidis

Countless thousands of refugees and illegal migrants from war-torn Syria, Iraq and other Middle East territory, Africa… are reaching Europe via Greece and Italy as points of entry in particular. According to interviews published on all world’s media all those coming from Greece across Macedonia and Serbia and Hungary are intent on making it to Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Netherlands, United Kingdom… they know where they want to go and expect to succeed in it, trampling over and destabilising European countries they cross towards their desired destination.

Refugees and illegal migrants of today appear to have expectations that they will reach their desired destination and stay there. How very different from the refugees fleeing WWII Europe – most were happy to wait in refugee camps and go to a country offered to them. Personal preferences played little part.

Refugees and illegal migrants reaching border of Macedonia from Greece August 2015

Refugees and illegal migrants reaching border of Macedonia from Greece August 2015

Today, we are seeing a humanitarian crisis unfolding before our eyes, a political crisis and a standard of living crisis of those living in the countries where this is occurring. We witness a great deal of criticisms directed to the countries or individuals for seemingly failing to assist or for using caution in allowing total strangers into their towns, countries etc. We have seen force being used at the Macedonian border with Greece against the refugees and illegal migrants; tear gas used to send them back to Greece…and then let them trough, or they break through police lines, in order to reach other countries where they want to go.

Train station in Gevgelija, Macedonia Refugees and illegal migrants wait transportation

Train station in Gevgelija, Macedonia Refugees and illegal migrants wait transportation

While doing everything within its power and control on a humanitarian base to assist the needy, to my view, countries have a moral obligation in protecting their borders especially when it’s known that there are most likely many Islamic State affiliates or fighters or supporters among them. And who can assure me that this is not a strategy to strengthen the IS within Europe? Please do if you can with certainty.
Croatia, has so far avoided the avalanche simply due to its geographical position. But, after Hungary builds its 174 Km, 4-meter high border wall with Serbia, Croatia becomes an alternative route for the entry of refugees into the Schengen Area. Croatian government has said all past week that it has a strategy how to care for refugees and illegal migrants and has begun preparations in the event that refugees and illegal migrants start entering Croatia en masse.
According to HRT TV news from 21 August 2015 “Croatia has enough facilities from Ilok to Dubrovnik that can accommodate immigrants if it is needed. There should be no problems as far as the accommodation of refugees is concerned. State Office for Property Management has a list of fifteen potential facilities which can be quickly put into operation if it is required“, said Mladen Pejnovic, director of the Office of Government Owned Property Management.

There are, according to Pejnovic, about 15 disused large objects that can be fixed and ready for use fairly quickly, if required. The majority of these facilities are former, now disused, army barracks, coastal resorts with unresolved ownership issues, as well as facilities, which Croatia received according to the agreements on succession of the former Yugoslavia.

While a will to help the needy is a gesture we should all follow, this declaration by Croatia’s government certainly seems most irresponsible, as it does not address the reality pressing upon Croatia’s own people and indeed the population of other European countries caught in this avalanche of fear, misery and instability. Croatian government announcement of having enough space to house refugees fails to address the safety of Croatian people and alarms raised in Schengen Zone countries, such as Germany, regarding behaviour of some EU countries not taking their “share” of refugees and illegal migrants. It, also, lacks criticism towards the UN for failing miserably at pooling resources of all UN member countries and establishing safe, clean and decent refugee camps at agreed sites across various countries.
This way, fear and uncertainty and human misery seem to be the only “currencies” UN is interested in.

Germany's Angela Merkel

Germany’s Angela Merkel

Germany has called on Britain to take more of a share of migrants coming into Europe. Interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said along with other countries it needed to be ‘more aware’ of its responsibilities as a member of the European Union. He made his call for the British to welcome more refugees after it was revealed Germany expects to receive 800,000 asylum applications this year – more than all 28 EU countries combined in 2014. Britain is not of the Schengen area of 26 European countries that have removed all border checks and passport controls between each other. It has an opt-out on taking part in a scheme to distribute migrants arriving into the EU between different countries and has so far refused.

Mirela Holy

Mirela Holy

Back in Croatia, Mirela Holy, leader of The Sustainable Development of Croatia (ORaH) a small green party and member of Croatian parliament has Saturday, 22 August 2015, sent to Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, and his government, an open letter regarding a refugee wave that has swamped the Balkans, calling on him to present a strategic plan for refugees, if his government had one, and to explain to the public how it would be implemented, reported HRT TV news on Saturday.
She also asked the PM how much budget funding had been set aside for the accommodation of refugees and their basic supplies and whether Croatian intelligence services cooperated with other countries’ services to efficiently prevent the infiltration of terrorists traveling with refugees, as well as how the government planned to prevent possible acts of terrorism and whether the security aspect of the crisis was being considered at all.
She said that the refugee crisis was a consequence of conflicts in Syria and other countries in the Middle East and that the exodus of a large number of people from those areas was expected to continue if no peace and security was established there.
Holy added that considering the fact that this was unlikely to happen without an international intervention led by the UN, Milanovic should inform the public about the government’s position on securing peace and stability in those regions militarily.
The EU has warned that it is currently facing ‘the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War’. Its border agency Frontex has said some 340,000 migrants have arrived already this year.
This is an emergency situation for Europe that requires all EU member states to step in to support the national authorities who are taking on a massive number of migrants at its borders,” said Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri.
Frontex has called on member states to provide additional equipment and people to support our operations in Greece and in Hungary and the European Commission has approved national programmes to provide significant financial assistance to the Member States to address these challenges,” he added.

A member of the Macedonian special police forces holds a baby as migrants try to cross into Macedonia near the southern city of Gevgelija, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 22 August 2015 Photo: EPA/Georgi Licovski

A member of the Macedonian special police forces holds a baby as migrants try to cross into Macedonia near the southern city of Gevgelija, 22 August 2015 Photo: EPA/Georgi Licovski

Croatia has always been willing to assist and take a quota of refugees (550 was the most recent number confirmed by the government) but I believe that the government’s announcement of having adequate space in disused objects to receive refugees and illegal migrants may be deceitful (as no limit to numbers these objects can take are mentioned) and encourage the avalanche to start falling on Croatia much before Hungary builds its announced border fence. It’s a shame we haven’t heard more about the plan or strategy Croatia’s government has developed to contribute in dealing with this humanitarian crisis, but I too suspect it hasn’t got a tight strategy. And it must! People in Europe are torn between the instinct to offer shelter and help to those in need and the instinct to shut the borders, lock the doors, while the leaders portray no unity in this crisis that’s threatening all – no one seems to be helping the other and no major UN Security Council meeting on this at the horizon. This is not a passing storm or an avalanche that will come quickly and dissipate just as fast. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

First published August 23, 2015 by inavukic

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