A letter from a Canadian-Serb e-mail friend named Svetlana Novko, who runs the Byzantine Art blog and from whom I borrowed the term “Undead” in reference to the Croatian Nazis. It gives some background, helps explain the Croatian outrage that such an article as mine could be printed, and offers a glimpse into a world we thought was as much a relic as its gas chambers, but which in actuality still coexists with the modern era, and with America’s blessings.

Well, I really don’t want to sound paranoid, but I’m honestly starting to think that kind of pathology [Ustasha sympathies] is so prevalent among the Croats, that not having the Ustasha outlook and beliefs is an exception. It’s as if it comes naturally to them.

My father-in-law is a Croat who lives in Belgrade for forty years now; but he’s originally from Varazdin, a Croatian city in the heart of Zagorje, what Croats consider their “heartland” and he still remembers that the entire city except his and one other family was Ustasha before WWII started. The entire city — every single family and everyone from the policemen to the judges, to school teachers!

My father was horrified when he went to Zagreb with my mother to her business meeting, in the sixties, during Tito — “brotherhood and unity” and all that — and on a city bus an old man who stood next to him started talking to him, thinking he’s also a Croat, about the area they were passing through, how filthy and stinky it is, because “the Gypsy-Serbs live here”, adding it should all be “purged again”.

This wasn’t uncommon — it is exactly the same as Austrians in Vienna will often say the Jewish parts of town are filthy. Our Jewish friend from Belgrade told us his own mother was mistaken for a non-Jew [in Vienna] and told by a building neighbor he hopes no Jews move into their building, because they are “so filthy — we don’t want any Jews here.” The poor woman didn’t dare say a word, while my father almost started a war right then and there :-) . This is how it is. It is not cured.

(An aside: Interestingly, I did hear from a Croatian-Austrian who introduced himself with: “I am one of 99% Austrians who love and support Croatia and their people,” and found it telling that “Croatia is at least 5 more years ahead of Serbia for joining EU.” …Uh, precisely one reason that the article had to be written.)

Brani [husband] and I were in Belgrade until 1995 and I remember how shocked and mortified we all were to watch the overnight coat-turning in Croatia, the moment Tudjman came to power: it was like going back in time and watching the rise of fascism all over again. At some point during the war in Croatia, Milan Panic, a successful businessman and an expat from the U.S., was given the lead in Serbia and he made a total mess of things. Without understanding what is really going on or knowing the background of any of it, he thought we should all just hug and kiss and be friends again, so he agreed to “exchange” prisoners of war with Croatia and went to the ‘border’ handing over Croats who had cut off Serbian ears and gouged out Serbian eyes, in exchange for Serbian pickpockets and petty thieves that Croats gathered around their prisons .

It was a major scandal and I think Panic was forced to step down after that idiocy. But anyway, I watched the exchange of prisoners at an open road on the Croatian border on TV and remember how the top official from the Croat side — I think it was Mate Boban or someone like that — kept saying: “Welcome home, Ustashas, welcome to your Croatian Fatherland! Don’t be embarrassed, you are Ustashas, you may say you are Ustashas here, and you should be proud of it!” — in front of cameras, in front of reporters, he kept going on and saying these things as if it’s really an honor to be an Ustasha.

…Just a few [weeks] ago, [Croatian president Stjepan] Mesic opened the new Jasenovac “memorial” (ENTIRELY whitewashed!) and was holding nice speeches, saying all the right and proper things, only to be slapped with, immediately after, his own speech held to the Croat Diaspora in Australia [10 years ago], where he was telling them that Croats have no reason to apologize to anyone, because they are the winners; that they keep being told to “kneel at Jasenovac,” but they have no reason to do that, since they have “won twice” in WWII: on April 10, 1941 when the Axis recognized their ’state’ (when Hitler gave them ‘independence’), and the second time at the end of WWII, when they sat down at the winners’ table.

Commenting on this speech (that earned him ovations) a few days later when he realized he would have to say something, Mesic said he was “flirting with the Ustasha sentiments” and telling the crowd what it wanted to hear. So, who’s to say he’s not flirting with the European liberals now, telling them what they want to hear and sucking up to them in order for Croatia to enter the EU?!

I honestly don’t believe one word of their “democracy” rhetoric. It’s the nice phrases and complete passages some of them have learned by heart and keep regurgitating when they feel it’s necessary to score a point or pile some more shit on Serbs — just like they were learning the communist lingo before. But as soon as the war broke out and they realized they didn’t have to fake it any longer, they went back to telling each other it’s an honor to be an Ustasha. After 50 years of communism, they turn fascist again. Well, what are they — schizophrenic?!

I think that the core of their nation never stopped clinging to the Hitler/Pavelic [WW2 Croatian leader] type of “state-purity” as THE ideal. They were never forced to face that chapter of their past, they were collectively exonerated of all guilt and shame once Tito was allowed to form Yugoslavia. Mesic is right: Monstrously fascist Croatia did get to sit at the winners’ table as if nothing ever happened, as if they were Hitler’s victims too, along with the rest.

They were never punished, never felt ashamed, never paid for any of it. Not only that, they were rewarded again for purging Croatia of Serbs in the 90s and given another [Independent State of Croatia]. Croats have no reason to change anything (maybe adjust a little bit now, before the EU takes them in). Their views and deeds have only brought them good so far. Why change a winning policy?

In a follow-up letter, Svetlana had more Austria experiences to tell me about:

When Brani and I went to Vienna as tourists, we witnessed a dark-skinned cab driver (I think he was a Gypsy), well dressed and obviously not a bum or a beggar, trying to stop dozens of his colleagues to break down a large bill, so he can charge his customer waiting in the back of his car — and nobody would even look at him! It was as if he was entirely invisible. We also noticed how entirely accommodating and pleasant Austrians were to whomever they perceive as “their own”.

When we were checking out of our hotel, the owner popped up to confirm we were Serbs (she had our passports with her), and we looked at each other thinking, “Here we go, now we’ll have to explain why we raped and killed everybody in the former Yugoslavia. We just said “Yes,” bracing for an attack, but she started to shower us with praises for being sooooo “clean”, soooo nice etc… One of the receptionists, seeing how surprised we were, explained they had a lot of Yugoslavia Muslims staying there and the groups of men ruined their rooms, some were even cleaning the mud from their boots with the drapes. But being that the German and Austrian media were soooo anti-Serb (and still are), I think the owner had simply formed a horrible opinion of Serbs to begin with and was grateful we didn’t rape and kill anyone in her hotel. At the same time, being told over and over that “poor Yugoslav Muslims” are being exposed to “genocide” by the ugly Serbs, she didn’t expect them to behave like pigs in her clean and safe little hotel.

Can you imagine a Serb telling someone “We don’t want any Jews in our building”?! That would be absurd! Not because Serbs necessarily love everyone, but because Serbia is so diverse, we actually don’t stop to note the “differences” among us. In any building, they already have Jews and Croats and Albanians and Gypsies and Muslims, and they don’t even know who’s who. I went to school with just about everyone and had no idea who’s what until going to university.

Of all the bad things one can say about Serbs, one thing no one can deny is that Serbs are extremely egalitarian as a nation — to their own detriment, as it turns out. This is part of the reason why the accusations of “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” are so incomprehensible and hurtful to us: Most of us are genuinely insulted by such outlandish charges. Why would we want to “purify” Croatia and Bosnia and Kosovo of Croats, Muslims and Albanian Muslims, when we have no such thing anywhere in Serbia, and we never had it? I played as a child with Hungarians, Romanians, Croats, Jews, Armenians and who knows who else. We were all an entirely carefree bunch and no Serbian parents gave a rat’s ass of who’s who there! I studied with Greeks, people from Africa and every ethnicity from the region; my parents gave their bedroom to a Yugoslav Hungarian girl (from Vojvodina, at the north of Serbia) who could barely speak Serbian, because my father got somehow acquainted with her father, heard his daughter wants to study in Belgrade but they had no money to rent her a room, so I had to teach her Serbian, put up with her moods and translate parts of her medical books into less difficult words she could understand. And all of a sudden, Serbs are Nazis everywhere and can’t stand anyone else around them! Give me a break!

A few years ago [on a visit from Canada to Serbia,] I undertook the special task of thoroughly questioning my [Croatian] father-in-law if he had suffered any mistreatment in Belgrade during all the war years or afterwards. Although Marijan has been living in Serbia for decades, he still has a very thick accent and speaks in a specific, unmistakable Croat dialect: as soon as he opens his mouth, you just know he’s a Croat, and my father-in-law likes to talk to everyone. He said he didn’t even receive an anonymous phone threat, or a call where someone would just breathe in his ear, let alone a punctured car tire or an assault of any kind. Not a single incident during the war with Croatia, during the expulsion of Serbs from Krajina in Croatia, during the Bosnian war or at any time after! To everything I asked, he just kept saying: No! and Never!, surprised I was so persistent, and concluded that “Canadians have been brainwashing” us :-) .

[My father-in-law] even stopped talking with his own brother, the one who stayed in Croatia, over Tudjman and the whole Ustasha resurrection during the nineties, because his brother also started hating Serbs and Jews with a passion before Milosevic even came to power; such was the furor and overnight coat-turning in Croatia that they really went entirely mad… again.

When we visited right after the 1999 bombardment, Brani took our camera shots to develop and ended up in a new Belgrade photo shop a Croat opened. He told Brani he moved his family to Belgrade a few years earlier from Zagreb, because “they have ALL GONE MAD, they’re all fascists, I don’t want my children growing up among such people.”

And, interestingly enough, all those “democrats” that formed their banana republics on the territory of former Yugoslavia, like Slovenians and Croats, have somehow ended up with entirely ethnically pure states (Bosnian Muslims have tried to do the same with their “minority” Serbs, but failed). Meanwhile, the
“genocidal” Serbs are the only ones who have preserved ethnic, cultural and religious diversity and have the most multicultural and multi-ethnic country on the entire Balkan Peninsula. And the only one with over 1.5 million refugees from all the regions of former Yugoslavia, of all ethnicities and faiths. Go figure!