Tito & Partisan Monument 1949

Radovan Karadzic , one of the worlds most wanted war criminals, was arrested in Belgrade on Monday for his involvement


War-Torn Croatia Shaped My World View


Tito & Partisan Monument 1949

Radovan Karadzic, one of the worlds most wanted war criminals, was arrested in Belgrade on Monday for his involvement with atrocities committed during the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Though there have been indictments regarding war crimes of individuals on all sides of the conflict, Karadzic was at the top of the list by his implication in the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 in which 8,000 Muslim males were executed.

I lived in Croatia, when it was part of Yugoslavia in 1980 and have been there many times since. In school, we had a class on Marxism. On warm days, the teacher would pace barefoot up and down the classroom espousing the virtues of communism and dialectic thinking. The country was neither east nor west, but it had an endearing culture and natural beauty regardless of the political system.

I traveled to Croatia in 1993 and the ravages of war made an impression on me about the importance of stability and peace for humanity. I had never seen a bomb crater up close. An artillery shell not only punches a hole in a wall, it sprays deadly shrapnel that pockmarks around the hit. It was terrible to see homes collapsed. And people were scarred too. Many lost loved ones and deep anger compelled some to settle scores thus creating a downward spiral of violence.

This experience, along with my political work after Nirvana, shaped my world view tremendously. We’ve got a good thing going here in the U.S. There are no militias coming. We can work to change our political system without persecution. Things are not perfect but neither are they dire for most of us.

Revolution means turning or rotating. History shows us that social order could go upside down with civil liberties suffering in the vacuum of revolution. Better to work for change in a stable system like we have in the U.S.

A Brief History of Yugoslavia, By Krist Novoselic

The name Yugoslavia means “South Slav-ia”. The term represented the idea of uniting the six Slavic peoples of southern Europe: Slovenes, Croats, Bosnians, Serbs, Macedonians and Montenegrins. The Yugoslavian idea was instituted after the First World War when the victors carved up the Austro-Hungarian empire. The King of Serbia was made King of the larger nation of the new Yugoslavia.

Ethnic resentments resulted within this arrangement. When the Wehrmacht rolled through in 1941, the occupiers created a Nazi puppet state with the "independent” Croatia. Fascist Croatians fought against royalist Serbs and many atrocities were committed against all kinds of people.

Josip Broz Tito was the leader of the communist resistance to Nazi occupation. He was half Croat and Slovene. Tito’s Partisan forces fought the occupiers and their supporters. The Nazi defeat in 1945 was heralded both as a triumph over fascism and the Yugoslavian communist revolution. The new Yugoslavia was declared a socialist republic. In 1949, Tito, now head of state, split from Stalin and Yugoslavia existed independent of the Kremlin’s Iron Curtain.

Socialist Yugoslavia put a lid on internal tensions by suppressing ethnic expression and promoting a new pan-nationalism rooted in celebrating the "heroic" triumph over fascism and the people’s revolution. Almost every town square featured a monument to the partisan fighters of WWII. Tito’s image was everywhere and this cult of personality was an integral part of promoting Yugoslav nationalism.

Socialist Yugoslavia experienced peace and relative prosperity in the post-war period. Tito died in 1980.

Four decades of Soviet-style communism came crashing down with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Even though Eastern Europe was saturated with statues of Vladimir Lenin, the wall was the defining monument to the political, economic and social system of communism rooted in the Russian Bolshevik insurrection of 1917.

Even though independent of Moscow, socialist Yugoslavia couldn’t avoid the fallout of this change. Tito’s cult of personality, a decade after his passing, along with the lore of partisan heroism, didn’t hold up anymore. The collapse of the Soviet sphere, along with the country's struggling economy created an opening for separatists. In 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence. Eventually, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina declared likewise.

The separation was violent. The worst fighting was in eastern Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, places where there was a mix in ethnicity. Summary executions, rape, and other atrocities were common. Some thrived in the vacuum of lawlessness. Militia leaders became warlords over the areas they controlled. The memories of WWII ethnic strife were conjured with nationalist symbols resurrected by rival militias. Karadzic, a vicious opportunist, thrived in these conditions.

Like most of the former Yugoslavia, Serbia wants to integrate with the west. Handing over criminals like Karadzic is an important step with moving forward. After all the pain and misery, it’s ironic that the south Slav people are working toward reuniting in another federation: the European Union.


Photo: Krist Novoselic

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