A Sentence That Defines the History

The president of the strongest opposition party, Zoran Milanović, suggested that the project of an independent Croatian state was actually managed from the headquarters of the former Yugoslav secret service, i.e. its former Zagreb office. Only a day later, at the big Croatian celebration in Knin, he got a response from the president of the state, Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, who declared him, without actually naming him, a reckless and too quick with his opinions and almost deliberately misleading. However, Milanović needed such designation of Croatian independence, because that was the only way to start a new election match that will end on September 10 with an early election for the Croatian Parliament.

The reason is only one. The competitive, and now the ruling party, HDZ, has elected a new president, Andrej Plenković, who did not participate in suspicious privatizations, frauds or stealing, has no suspicious education or privileged career. It was therefore necessary to ideologically load the electoral confrontation, even with the radical assessment of the Croatian state, which, in spite of everything, is not entirely new at all.

The last time it appeared was in the first days of January 2014, in one of the political shows of the Croatian national television. That the first president of state, Dr. Franjo Tuđman, was created and elected by the secret police of the former Yugoslavia.

This is why today, a few days after the response of the president Grabar Kitarović, the question of from where and why such a binding unambiguous assessment of Zoran Milanović starts getting more interesting. The answer will be relatively simple.

The assessment is related to the first days of March 1989, when Dr. Franjo Tuđman sent a former political prisoner and dissident, Dr. Vladimir Veselica, as the emissary of a new nascent opposition party, to a visit to the then Croatian emigrants Canada, which was such important for him.

His host was Gojko Šušak, the later Croatian defence minister and Tuđman’s political intimate. On the way from the airport, and they were driving to Ottawa, which was two hours away, he asked Veselica about the situation in the country and, in particular, Dr. Tuđman, the main candidate for the president of the new party. The sentence I have mentioned was pronounced back then. Sušak added, with a description of the situation he had heard about, that, according to the data of all the intelligence services, “Tuđman is candidate number one for the head of the Croatian state.” When Veselica asked him, a few years later, and both were then ministers in the Croatian government, which intelligence service he had in mind back then, Šušak replied with a simple: “forget it, leave it.”

Darko Hudelist knew back in 1986, as a real publicist of the Croatian Jutarnji List, that Tuđman was to become president of the new Croatian state. And not only knew, but much more. He had in his possession a detailed plan on how to get to that position. Part of the plan was the elimination of Dr. Veselica as a potential electoral rival. This was one of the reasons for sending him to the Canadian visit. He knew that he was going to defend for the Canadian expatriates essentially soft and too unstable positions, in at least three key programme points. The first one on the political organization of the new state, then on the key promoters of necessary social changes, as well as on the relationship with the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the position of Serbs in the new state of Croatia. Veselica actually had completely opposite views from his hosts at the then Canadian dialogues. He defended parliamentary democracy in relation to a presidential system, he argued that the promoters of social change may be only Croatian citizens living in the country, and not Canadian – American emigrants, and that Bosnia and Herzegovina must remain independent, and not become a part of the large Croatian state, as consistently defended by his host Šušak.

It was that difference, in those essentially such significant and binding opinions, that confirmed Tuđman’s election victory in the founding meeting of the later ruling party. However, at the same time, it determined a series of critical mistakes of the new Croatian government. Tuđman’s request for a drastic reduction of number of Serbs in Croatia, consequently a large exodus of civilians of Serbian nationality after the military operation “Storm”, as well as the agreements with Serbian president Slobodan Milošević on the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

If we make a step back, I will be able to point to a second part of Milanović’s assessment on the independent Croatia’s UDBA fathers.

In June 1989, the then Croatian police banned the founding meeting of the new party, the Croatian Democratic Union. The meeting and the president elections were to be held in the hotel “Panorama”. There were two presidential candidates, Tuđman and Veselica. The results of the voting were unpredictable. However, it is not entirely clear whether they changed the location of the meeting overnight for the biggest certainty of Tuđman’s election or because of fear of the police. The assessments promoted these days by Milanović are, apparently, the confirmation of the former. The meeting actually started in the premises of the football club “Borac” on Jarun and ended with the unanimous vote for Tuđman. Veselica’s supporters were not informed on the location of the meeting, so they were not even able to submit a nomination, and even less vote. They searched for the meeting in an entirely different part of Zagreb and, of course, they were unsuccessful.

Of course, there is also a third part left, for the assessment taken over by Milanović so quickly. Exactly during the last days of December 1986, a dissident and political prisoner, partisan general Tuđman, at a more or less secret meeting, had conversation with the then senior Croatian official, Mika Špiljak. He was some kind of liberal in the Croatian party top, and primarily an opponent to Dr Stipe Šuvar, also a high party official, an author of the last Yugoslav index of books that needed to be banned, and the writers that had to be removed through a party discipline. Šuvar was probably the author of that document that was to be accepted by the party leadership, almost at the same time, which listed by name all of us that needed to be politically liquidated. Tuđman demanded from Špiljak the right to publish and print books, and, what may seem a bit strange today, the right to issue passports. The following year, in April, a document, as he had named it in his records, was showed again to the world after 15 years. This gave him opportunity for his first trip to Canada and visit to his key political allies. Shortly thereafter, a discussion was initiated on why Tuđman had got a passport so fast. Špiljak said in a later interview that he had requested so from the then chief of police. However, it was not enough. The passport application had to obtain a certificate in Belgrade as well. The truth is that the passport had already been issued to the Serbian opponent, general Milovan Đilas. It will probably be true that a similar request was repeatedly submitted by cardinal Kuharić and agile bishop Đuro Kokša to the Croatian authorities, and especially the president of the republic Ivo Latin.

I met the later in late eighties, during his several visits to Ljubljana, in relation to the large project led by my collaborator and friend Dr. Lojze Gostiša. It was about the agreements on how to obtain permissions of the Croatian Church for access to archives of Metropolitana, Zagreb archdiocese library, and take over for Slovenia such important Valvasor’s works. Gostiša later managed to make a reprint of the entire collection Iconotheca Valvasoriana with the help and cooperation of SASA. Of course, at that time I did not know the paths of the issuance of the passport of the future Croatian president, but I met the influential bishop, who was, as I estimate today, capable of the needed influence on the then Croatian authorities. The Catholic Church was Tuđman’s closest political ally all the time. However, a questionable thesis that all this was enabled by the then secret service appeared during the issuing of travel documents.

Milanović’s assessment from a couple of days ago was probably based on these assessments. Still, the question of actual reason for politically so binding position of the president of the largest opposition parliamentary party remains. And it is related more to the new president of the competing party, Andrej Plenković, and fear that not many controversial things can be found about him, than Tuđman. Particularly, he is much newer politically and thus essentially much less responsible for the current conditions in Croatia than former prime minister Milanović. This is why it was necessary to shift the attention of the upcoming elections to the old ideological disputes and to switch them away from the daily binding questions.