Andrija Hebrang


Croatian Victims of the Yugoslav Secret Police Outside former Communist Yugoslavia, 1945-1990

Posted on February 17, 2002

By Tomislav Sunic and Nikola Stedul

The ongoing legal proceedings in the Hague against Serb and Croat war crimes suspects, including Serbian ex-president Slobodan Milosevic, must be put into wider perspective. The unfortunate and often irrational hatred between Serbs and Croats had for decades been stirred up and kept alive by the communist Yugoslav secret police. The longevity of artificial, multiethnic Yugoslavia was not only in the interests of Yugoslav communists but also of Western states. As a long-time Western darling, the late Yugoslav communist leader Marshall Josip Broz Tito had a far bigger share in ethnic cleansing and mass killings. Yet for decades his crimes remained hidden as well as unreported in the West.

These proceedings must be put into a wider perspective. Otherwise the Hague Tribunal runs the risk of turning into a judiciary kangaroo court.  The first part of the following essay represents a brief excursion into the Croat victimology. The second part covers the poor legality of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

When talking or writing about state terror in former Communist Yugoslavia, one must inevitably mention those who were either assassinated or wounded outside the jurisdiction of that state. The Yugoslav secret OZNA or UDBA police agents routinely carried out assassination attempts. Though the decision to "make a kill" had to be first reached at the very top of the late Yugoslav Communist regime, there was the whole spectrum of UDBA victims, particularly among former Croatian political emigres living under foreign Western jurisdictions.

Of course, this sensitive theme can be addressed from a variety of different perspectives historical, socio-political, psychological, ethical, and theological. Statistics or a "body count" of the UDBA terror is very important-- but even far more relevant are the identities of the persons who carried out those killings. Who gave the orders and what were their motives? Hopefully, such a wide-range analysis today can help us in understanding the poor legitimacy of Tribunal proceedings in The Hague.

Moreover, such a broad-based approach is all the more important because the results of UDBA lawlessness went beyond its immediate victims. Each act of silencing a different or dissident-minded opponent or physically eliminating somebody who refuses to pledge allegiance to the given state ideology, more often than not, exacerbates opposing views. Indeed, it can lead to wider armed conflicts that results in wars, mass killings and ethnic cleansing. These end-results recently confirmed by the violent break-up of ex-Yugoslavia and the subsequent Communist party -inspired aggression on Croatia, were also part and parcel of a larger socio-political package. These lead to and were also derived from the spiral of mass psychosis, nationalist mythologies, general insecurity, a culture of resentment and a resurgence of an almost primeval animal instinct amidst broad layers of the population.

The Sense of Victimhood and the Meaning of Forgiveness

Regarding the scope of the Yugoslav secret police terror, one must not attribute the UDBA an excessive importance. In the last analysis, victims in Yugoslavia following World War II, can be counted in the hundreds of thousands. Victims of the recent war in the Balkans were several dozens of thousands. Therefore, attributing special significance to the relatively small number of just over a hundred victims of the UDBA terror in foreign countries may sound biased when one compares this relatively low figure to the much higher figures mentioned above. Yet the difference in significance regarding the volume of the crime does not minimize the gravity of the crime; all victims are equally important. The only difference is how and in which historical circumstances these killings took place, and what is the causal relationship between the post- Word War II victims, UDBA victims, and Croat and Serb victims of the recent war.

It is more or less taken for granted that mass killings occur in a warlike scenario. Yet victims of the UDBA terror happened during peacetime, in free and democratic Western countries, in societies where everybody is entitled to his opinion and his pursuit of happiness. The criminal acts by the UDBA were committed abroad. The Yugoslav Communist government and their recycled followers both in Croatia and Serbia today, bear direct responsibility. Moreover, those post-World War II crimes went beyond the legal framework of Communist ex-Yugoslavia.

The question must be raised of why the Communist regime continued to assassinate its political opponents, including those who lived in Western countries, even after the establishment of Communist Yugoslavia in 1945.

One might believe that political opponents of Communist Yugoslavia living in the West did not pose a tangible threat to the ruling Yugoslav Communist League. This is all the more important considering the fact that Western countries in which Croatian political emigres lived or still live, were by no means sympathetic to the vision of establishing an independent Croatian state. It’s quite the contrary. Western countries often did their utmost to preserve the "unity and integrity" of Communist Yugoslavia. But a threat to Communist Yugoslavia from Croatian emigre Western-based circles did exist. It simply could not rely on the good will of the Croatian people.

This weakness of Communist Yugoslavia did represent a problem to the Yugoslav authorities. Any state and any regime without legitimacy, regardless of its claim to legality, do not have long-term survivability unless founded on the will of its citizens. Regimes are often upheld only by sheer force. Very early on, the Yugoslav Communist regime decided to "neutralize" all Croat separatists in an uncompromising effort to secure its survival, including those in Western countries. This method of "neutralization" took place in a beastly manner.

Today’s new Republic of Croatia does not need to be kept alive by using force against dissidents because its support is solidly anchored amidst the majority of its citizens. No longer does it fear a handful of individuals or small extremist parties. But far more dangerous for the survival of Croatia are the individuals who, in the name of some "ultra-Croatiandom," or some "mega-Croatian" statehood, continue to act in a radically opposite way to their much vaunted agendas. This danger is all the more great because it often operates under the cover of a fake Croat patriotism.

Ringleaders of the Communist machinery realized very early that their policy of "tito-ization" could not have positive effects among the Croatian people. Therefore, they viewed anybody daring to advocate the idea of an independent Croatian state as a mortal enemy. On August 10, 1941, at the very beginning formation of Yugoslav Communist partisans units, late President Josip Broz Tito stipulated that "provocateurs and traitors must be liquidated immediately."

Unfortunately, those who fell into this category were often advocates of Croatian State independence. Only a few months later, following these official Tito-istic stipulations, the leader of Slovenian Communist Partisan units, Mr. Evard Kardelj, under his conspiratorial name "Bevac", sent a written report to Tito regarding the liquidation of opponents carried out by his partisan units. Bevac noted "Our machinery of execution is made up of 50 well trained men, armed with pistols and hand grenades. In view of the much increased terror undertaken by the Italian (Fascist) occupying forces, and local Slovenian "Bela Garda" collaborators, we had to increase the number of our activities. These men are capable of everything. Almost every day collaborators and traitors are eliminated along with members of the occupying (Fascist) units, etc. There is no police protection for those whom our VOS takes for a target...

Classical UDBA Terror

Here is an example of typical Communist terror. On the one hand, Partisan and Communist executions in the Balkans during WWII were carried out in order to scare the local population. On the other, they incited the occupying Fascist and pro-fascist forces to carry out retribution killings, thereby creating additional mass psychosis and a corporate sense of insecurity. This further prompted the local population to join the Partisan movement directed by the Yugoslav Communist Party and the Red International.

The task of carrying out this mission was handed over to the OZNA. Later, after Word War II, its name changed to the civilian police security apparatus, UDBA and the KOS. In fact, the Communist Partisan movement grew stronger as a result of Allied help. On May 13, 1944, the Yugoslav Partisans formally founded the "Section for the People's Protection" (i.e. OZNA). This organization brings back bad memories among the Croatian people. Mass and individual killings were carried out through the OZNA Communist leadership during and immediately after World War II. Following the dissolution of the pro-fascist NDH ("Independent State of Croatia") in 1945, the OZNA received the order to continue eliminating well-known Croats immediately after its first round of killings in the post-World War II era. These Croats had managed to escape and hide in foreign countries after World War II.

The early OZNA chose Dr. Ivan Protulipacas its first victim. Dr. Protulipac was assassinated in Trieste, Italy on January 31, 1946. A founder of "The Eagle and Crusading Youth" in the former Yugoslavian monarchy, he was also successor to Dr. Ivan Merz, the highly praised leader of the "Croatian Catholic Youth."

Two and a half years later, on August 22, 1948, the UDBA tried to kidnap Dr. Mato Frkovicin, in Salzburg, Austria. Dr. Frkovicin held a high-ranking place in government during Word War II, in the short-lived NDH ("Independent State of Croatia"). The same year in Austria, the OZNA (from then on "UDBA"), assassinated Mr. Ilija Abramovic. Only a few months later, on March 16, 1949, the UDBA kidnapped Mr. Drago Jilek in Rome, Italy. Mr. Jilek worked as the interim Head of the Intelligence Service of the NDH during Word War II. After the former Chief of the Security of the NDH, Mr. Dido Kvaternik had been deposed from office, Jilek assumed control of the pro-fascist World War II, Croatian UNS (Ustasha Security Service).

Strangely enough the kidnapping of Drago Jilek by the Yugoslav Communist police agents coincided with the tragic case of Croatia’s most prominent Communist leader, Mr. Andrija Hebrang. It is widely considered that the UDBA wanted to find out what kind of contacts existed during and before World War II between high ranking Croat pro-fascist Ustasha officials and high ranking Croatian Communist, anti-fascist officials and intellectuals. It is apparent that their common goal was the establishment of an independent Croatian state.

Victims of the UDBA (Yugoslav Communist Security Service) included pro-fascist Ustashi, anti-communist Domobran ("Home Guard") individuals and members of former Croatian military units as well as prominent Croatian Communist and Partisan figures. Poet, Ivan Goran Kovacic, Andrija Hebrang, and a former Croatian Communist military officer - turned dissident - Mr. Zvonko Kucar are also in this number. This further confirms that the main criteria for coming to terms with "hostile elements" for the UDBA and the Yugoslav Communist regime, was not the ideological affiliation of the target-victim ("left vs. right"). Their primary goal was the removal of all those inclined toward any form of Croatian statehood or nationhood.

109 Cases of Assassinations and Kidnapping

Obviously, not all details can be mentioned about every UDBA victim. All the facts leading to the death or kidnapping of the victims cannot be fully covered. Therefore, our focus is only on some of the more salient examples of UDBA state terrorist activity.

From 1946 to 1949 two assassinations were carried out; one failed attempt of assassination; one kidnapping and one person reported missing.

From 1950 until 1959 no assassination took place; two assassination attempts failed against the former Ustashi exiled leader, Dr. Ante Pavelic, and Dr. Branimir Jelic; one kidnapping; one failed attempt at kidnapping.

From 1960 until 1969, twenty assassinations took place; four failed assassination attempts; one kidnapping, Dr. Krunoslav Draganovic, in Italy; two persons reported missing, Mr. Zvonimir Kucar, 1960, and Mr. Geza Pesti, 1965.

From these figures it may be concluded that the number of assassinations by the UDBA increased dramatically during that period. The reason was the fact that Yugoslav President Tito decided to loosen up the repressive tools within Communist Yugoslavia, but sharpen up repression (UBDA killings) of Croatian emigres outside Yugoslavia in Western countries. As a follow-up to the important Plenary Congress of the Yugoslav Communist League held on the Island of Briuni in 1966, Tito fired his chief of the Yugoslav Security, Mr. Aleksandar Rankovic,

From 1970 until 1979 twenty-eight Croat emigres, including the well-known Croatian dissident writer, Mr. Bruno Busic, were assassinated by the UDBA; 13 failed UDBA assassination attempts; the kidnapping of Croatian poet Mr. Vjenceslav Cizek; four failed attempts of kidnapping including the former high ranking exiled Croatian Communist official Franjo Mikulic; one person missing.

Spurred by the crushing of the "Croatian Spring" in December 1971, the Yugoslav Communist regime became particularly intent on eliminating Croatian emigre dissidents - often without any scruples. In 1972, a whole Croatian family, Mr. Stjepan Sevo, his wife and nine-year old daughter were killed in Italy.

In 1975, in Klagenfurt, Austria, 65 year old Mr. Nikola Martinovic was a target of a UDBA assassination. Before his violent death, Mr. Martinovic was known in Croatian emigre circles as a caretaker of the graves of Croat soldiers and civilians who were victims of the Yugoslav Communist units in southern Austria, near the town of Bleiburg in May and June, 1945.

Shortly before his death, Mr. Martinovic was planning to organize large anti-Yugoslav demonstrations in the vicinity of Bleiburg. However, Yugoslav Communist government officials sent a note to the Austrian government requesting the interdiction of the Croatian emigre mass gathering. When it was refused, the UDBA took the matter into it own hands.

From 1980 to 1989, seventeen emigre Croats were assassinated including Mr. Stjepan Durekovic, a former high ranking Croatian Communist and head of the largest state-run oil refinery in ex-Yugoslavia; nine failed assassination attempts - including one against myself, Mr. Nikola Stedul, n.t. and one kidnapping.

These figures show that for the period stretching from 1946 to 1990, the OZNA, the UDBA, and the KOS carried out over one hundred assassinations and/or assassination attempts against Croat emigres. In Western Europe there were eighty-nine UDBA assassination attempts; nine in North America; six in South America; two in Australia; two in Africa. As far as individual countries are concerned, fifty-six assassinations and assassination attempts took place in the Federal Republic of Germany; ten in France; nine in Italy.

The total number of UDBA victims is as follows sixty-seven killed, twenty-nine failed attempts; four successful kidnappings, five failed attempts; four persons reported missing most likely UDBA victims.

Beside UDBA targets of emigre Croats over the same time period, there were also twelve emigre Serbs and four ethnic Albanians killed. The above figures are based on various sources. It is quite certain that all victims have not been counted and the fate of some still remains to be elucidated.

Three Objectives

With each assassination, Communist Yugoslavia aimed at achieving three goals 1) to eliminate a political "trouble-maker"; 2) to scare other dissidents and emigres both at home and abroad; 3) to leave general impression both in Yugoslavia and abroad that Croat emigres were fighting their own turf war among themselves. Appearing in Communist Yugoslavia’s state-controlled journals after each assassination was the word that "Ustashi-Fascist-Croatian nationalists fighting war among their own ranks." The media meta-language of Yugoslav state-sponsored journals must be thoroughly examined. Indeed, as a result of incessant Communist propaganada, many Croats were persuaded that the deaths of emigre Croats were the direct result of underground infighting.

It should be pointed out that any effective organization among Croatian emigres was virtually nonexistent and legally impossible to achieve. Croatian emigre groups were kept under strict surveillance by all foreign security services, especially those Croats intending to overthrow the Yugoslav Communist State.

In many cases, Western-based security and intelligence services worked hand in hand with Yugoslav intelligence services, including the Yugoslav diplomatic corps. Croats abroad, and those in the former Yugoslavia have been well aware of these Western attempts to prevent the dissolution of Yugoslavia, and to making the establishment of the independent state of Croatia quite costly. It is increasingly clear why many Western countries glowingly supported the decades long Yugoslav and Tito-istic experiment. Desiring to keep the status quo in the East-West cleavage, Croatia was used as a country-pawn in the geopolitical gamble of the Cold War, while Communist Yugoslavia played an important role as a non-aligned buffer state.

Just as the world passively witnessed the break up of Yugoslavia, in 1991, so too did the world passively observe serial UDBA killings of Croatian political activists abroad. Even the Libyan leader Colonel Mohamar Khadafi in an interview with the German Der Spiegel once said. "Tito sends his agents to the Federal Republic of Germany in order to liquidate Croatian opponents. But Tito's prestige doesn't suffer at all in Germany. Why should Tito be allowed those things and why am I not allowed to do the same? Moreover, I have never given a personal order to have somebody killed in foreign countries."

The above quotes may be further confirmed by many more killings of Croatian emigre dissidents - which was rarely ever fully covered in the Western media. One hypocritical example should suffice. When Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1973, the entire Western media was deluged with protests aimed at the Kremlin’s handling of this case. In contrast, when Croatian dissident Bruno Busic was assassinated by Yugoslav secret police UDBA in Paris 1977; the event was mentioned as a side story - with the unavoidable speculation that Busic's death may have been the result of Croatian emigre infighting.

The travesty of the current legal International Criminal Court in The Hague is that the judges never wish to examine the root causes of the recent crimes committed in ex-Yugoslavia. It never occurs to Hague prosecutors that there are large-scale infra- and extra- judiciary historical precedents for the more recent crimes that they are obligated to impartially adjudicate. (