bosnia report
New Series No: 21/22 January - May 2001
The HDZ is a fascist organization
by Fra Luka Markesic, with accompanying extracts from Bozidar Matic, Ingeborg Glusac, Bojan Pavlovic, Ivan Lovrenovic

The Serb and Bosniak members of the Bosnian Presidency have voted in favour of a Croat prime minister. Its Croat member Jelavic, however, has declared that his appointment was against Croat national interests. Is there a system in this madness?

This is indeed strange and unusual, but in the Bosnia of today it is quite normal for the normal to be seen as abnormal, and the abnormal as normal. Jelavic's negative vote does not surprise those who are acquainted with the policy of the Bosnian HDZ. This party is so obsessed by the struggle for power within the Croat community, which it is pursuing by all means available, that is ready to prevent a Croat from becoming Bosnia's prime minister.

Does its lack of support make Academician Matic's position untenable?

Those who strive for personal power should not be allowed to govern. I know Mr Matic personally and know that he was initially against being put forward as a candidate for this post. He finally agreed, in the hope that his election could break the political deadlock and make life in Bosnia more bearable.

Is it true that you and Academician Matic once visited the late Croatian president Tudjman and that Matic made Tudjman so angry that he grabbed him by his coat?

Yes. I have not spoken publicly about this incident before. We visited Mr Tudjman a few days before the Croat People's Assembly of 6 February 1996. I told him at the start of our meeting about our intention to convene this gathering, which would consider how to end the hostilities between the HVO and the B-H Army. We came to acquaint him with our platform: we were against Bosnia's partition, we were for national co-existence, we were for an independent and sovereign Bosnia-Herzegovina, etc. The meeting was supposed to last twenty minutes, but he kept us for about two hours. He wished to prevent us from going to Sarajevo and holding the assembly. As for partition of Bosnia, he said that it was a perfectly normal thing. He tried hard to persuade us and there were at times quite comical moments, since he kept receiving messages in which we were called Alija's Croats, given our wish to go to Sarajevo. He told us: 'If you do so, we will treat you as enemies of the state.' To stress this, he turned to his secretary and said: ' Pasalic, write that down!' We, of course, would not budge and, as we got up to leave, his parting argument was to grab Matic by the collar of his coat - Tudjman was highly emotional at times, as if carried away by his own eloquence - and, shaking him, demand that we obey him and not go to Sarajevo. After we got out, we exchanged glances. I said: 'We didn't do too badly, let's get away from here.' So we went off to Sarajevo, and by doing so made an important contribution.

A few days ago the scribe you mention paid a sudden visit to Cardinal Puljic. Why?

I have called all these HDZ scribes leeches, but I now prefer to call them intruders or parasites. It is very difficult to get rid of them. I heard that Pasalic simply invited himself and the Cardinal probably did not know how to react. There are times when such intruders should be received and times when they should not. To refuse to see someone who calls may have negative consequences. What matters, however, is what was said at the meeting. Pasalic came to seek the Cardinal's support in the Norac affair, which in essence means bringing down a democratically elected government in Croatia.

Do you mean to say that Pasalic went to Sarajevo to seek the support of the Catholic Church in returning the HDZ to power in Croatia?

He came to seek support for the action which they have started in Croatia. The line of argument must have been as follows: the HDZ in Bosnia-Herzegovina should help the HDZ in Croatia to return to power in Croatia, so that the Croatian HDZ can help the Bosnian HDZ to remain in power. I gather that the Cardinal told Pasalic that what he and his followers were after would not succeed.

Is the HDZ in Bosnia ready to hold the same kind of protests as those organiszd by the HDZ in Croatia?

Yes, but here we have a different situation. They can organize meetings in places that are under their control. That is what they do in Mostar whenever it suits them. As for Cardinal Puljic, I think he did well in telling Pasalic that radicalization of the political situation in Croatia was against Croat interests in both countries. So Pasalic failed in his mission. It is my view, however, that the Catholic hierarchy headed by Cardinal Puljic should show greater courage and determination in distancing itself from the Bosnian HDZ. They should support a Croat policy based on cooperating with, not working against, other Bosnian peoples.

Are the Catholic clergy in Bosnia-Herzegovina at this point closer to the HDZ or the Alliance for Change?

It is difficult to answer this in numerical terms, i.e. what is important is quality not quantity. The Catholic Church contains people who wish to move it forward, people who are pushing it back, and people who are not interested in politics. I would say that 10% of the clergy are bravely and strongly in favour of change, while some 10% strongly favour the HDZ. The remaining 80% belong to neither wing and are concerned with purely religious affairs. They comply with whomsoever is in power. I believe that in our situation most of the Church will listen to those who wish to move things forward, in order to avoid unnecessary conflicts within the community.

You have recently stated in the Catholic journal Svijetlo rijeci that some priests have accepted money from the HDZ in return for political support.

On the eve of every election HDZ missionaries visit parishes and offer help, mostly in money, more or less openly. The HDZ behaves very skilfully on these occasions, pretending that the money has nothing to do with the elections. They know every priest, and every priest today is in need of money: to rebuild a church that has been destroyed, or to help the people who are returning. The clergy are actively engaged with these problems, and when someone comes and offers them money they are confronted with the dilemma of whether to accept it or not. I tell those who take the money that they should still work against the HDZ, since the money which the HDZ gives them is in any case not its own, but comes from some international humanitarian source.

How do you see the HDZ's declared intention to separate from the Federation?

This is nothing new. The truth is that the HDZ and its circle have never been part of the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The history of their behaviour in the 1990s is proof of this. They tried to separate the Croats from Bosnia first by establishing first the ' Croat Community of Herzeg-Bosna' , then the ' Republic of Herzeg-Bosna' - though they subsequently went back to a Community. Now they have organized a so-called Croat People's Assembly at Travnik, and are talking about a referendum and the formation of a third entity. All this is consonant with their continued separatist policy.

What if they were to indeed leave the Federation?

Perhaps that would be the best thing for them to do.

Yes, but they would organize a para-state on ' their' territory.

I believe that would signal the possibility of a new start. Semi-truths are more dangerous than lies: one can see a lie and resist it, while semi-truths confuse. The HDZ is doing all it can to create a third entity, while simultaneously denying that this is their intention. People are consequently kept in a quandary and a permanent condition of insecurity, and it is easiest to rule over people who are made to feel insecure. This is why I think that it may be better, both for Croats and for the others in Bosnia-Herzegovina, for the HDZ to finally do what it has always wished to do, since then it will become obvious how damaging its policy is.

Were you serious when you stated a few years ago that the HDZ is a criminal organization with elements of fascism?

Yes, I did say that the HDZ is a criminal and fascist organization. That was at the time of the war between the HVO and the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was inspired and initiated by the HDZ and its ideology. I said that its ideology was fascist because it rests on the premise that one cannot live with others. We are talking of hatred for the other, fanned especially during the war against the Bosniaks, when they were transformed into an enemy devoid of all human traces. Fascism is an ideology which treats other human beings not as human beings, but as an evil that has to be destroyed.

The worst is when priests join such organizations.

Religious communities are not free of evil. The devil can find support also among the faithful. This is a fact, but one must also bear in mind that the principle of collective guilt cannot be applied to a religious community as a whole. It is a matter of individual responsibility. A true believer knows that he is not exempt from the possibility of committing a sin, and that he is responsible for what he does. The Pope has spoken about the sins committed by the Church, but by that he means its individual members. Sin is committed by individuals, but it can also have a social dimension. When the number of such individuals becomes significant, the whole community can acquire a structural form of evil. Evil is an important phenomenon and we must recognize that it can exist in religious communities as well as the world outside.

You are publicly perceived as a theologian of left-wing persuasion. There is an impression that the Church fears liberalism, modernity, globalization and especially left-wing political ideas. Is that really so?

It is true enough, but not all Church members think like that. Those who do not were in the past the main forces of movement within the Church. Our Church is rather conservative, which is not surprising in such a large organization, which as such does not change easily. We may say indeed that resistance to change characterizes all large organisations. The Church is very old and as such finds change difficult. Conservatism, of course, should not be seen as something that is wholly negative, for it provides people with a sense of security and stability. There is, on the other hand, the issue of progress: that is the other side of religious communities, churches and faiths. Great religious personalities were the main initiators of historical change. That Jesus Christ was a true innovator is accepted even by his opponents. During the period of Communism he was treated as a revolutionary, which he indeed was. One should differentiate between religious ideas that seek change and individuals who, having accepted such ideas, adapt them to their needs and conserve them as their own. A Jesuit and not a Franciscan has written a book called The Future We Desire, in which he described St Francis, a man born in the Middle Ages, as a model for the future. The general manager of the Franciscan order, whom we call our General, recently told an all-Franciscan gathering: 'St Francis is even today treated as a man of the future, yet we Franciscans are often seen as belonging to the Middle Ages.' Should I, as a Franciscan, model myself upon Franciscans seeking to take us back to the Middle Ages, or upon St Francis and Jesus Christ? These two are the religious models of my choice. It is not a matter of left or right, but of progress.

Why do the Catholic Church and the Islamic Community greatly prefer the HDZ and the SDA to the SDP?

The reason for this should not be sought in theology, but in the recent past. During the period of Communism, all religious communities worked under the pressure of an atheistic ideology and were thus discriminated against. Now that a change has taken place, these parties - the HDZ and the SDA - present themselves not only as the cause of the change, but also as the protectors of religious communities. This is one of the reasons for the cooperation between them.

You have studied the position of the Catholic Church in the former Yugoslav self-managing society. Would you say that the position of the Church was better under self-managing socialism, or in the nameless society of today?

One should differentiate between three periods. The Stalinist socialism that lasted from 1945 to about 1960 was followed by the birth of what we could call humanist socialism, after which came the period of what we may call democratic socialism. During this last period, the position of the Church - and other religious communities as well - in Bosnia-Herzegovina was in my view better than it is in the current situation. The essential feature of every religion is the feeling for freedom, the appreciation of freedom within a community, the creation of a sphere of freedom within society. In the last period of socialism the Church was in a large measure free, and was able to pursue its religious and social duties because - and despite the fact that - it was not linked to government. Today its freedom is only apparent: it is free on the outside, but has tied its internal freedom to political parties and by doing so jeopardized it.

Would the position of the Church improve if non-nationalist parties were to come to power in the Federation and in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a whole?

That in my view would be a positive aspect of the changes. It would allow what was interrupted in the third phase of socialism to continue in a better form. The important thing is that religion and religious communities be free. Religion is the only choice that an individual can make freely. It is natural to be born into a family, a people and a nation, none of which you can choose. To profess a religion, however, and even to change your religious convictions, is a matter of free choice. Religion really is a matter of free choice: those who have not experienced this do not know what religion is.

So you expect that the Alliance for Change will bring about a positive change in Bosnia, which will also be good for Bosnia Argentina [the Franciscan Province]?

Yes, I believe that it will be better not only for Bosnia Argentina, but for all the faithful and their communities.

Are you still angry with Cardinal Puljic for preventing you from standing on the Croat Peasant Party list in the elections of 1996?

I am not angry, just hurt. I wished to initiate not a new party - being a priest, I am not a member of any party - but a new political option. That option was then associated with the Joint List, which brought together several parties, rather as the Alliance does today. At the time I saw a real need and call and indeed challenge to do something, and it was my moral choice to engage myself politically. I thought that as many people as possible, including the religious communities, should come out in support of the Joint List, because what it stood for - unity, peace, freedom, i.e. all that I associate with Bosnia-Herzegovina - was the credo also of the religious communities.

Could one imagine that one day the Catholic Church in Bosnia-Herzegovina might make a 'revolutionary turn' and elect a Franciscan as its head?


Is that something that ought to happen?

There were Popes who were Franciscans. Up to the arrival of Austria-Hungary in Bosnia-Herzegovina, all the country's Catholic bishops - I do not mean formal, but effective bishops - were Franciscans. During the Middle Ages and the Ottoman period the Catholic bishops were Franciscans, but they were perhaps not vocal enough. It is wrong, in my view, that while the Catholic Church here is by tradition a Franciscan church, no Franciscan has ever been appointed a bishop in Bosnia-Herzegovina. That should be done, at least for the sake of the Church's perception as a pluralist organization.


Brother Luka Markesic lectures at the Franciscan Faculty of Theology in Sarajevo, edits Bosna Franciscana and is spokesman for the Croat People's Council. He was banned by the Bosnian Catholic hierarchy from appearing as a candidate in the 1996 elections. This interview was published in the Sarajevo weekly Dani, 16 February 2001.


accompanying quotations

Bosnian languages

'I did not speak in the Serb, Croat or Bosnian language. I spoke in the language of economics and it is not my fault if you did not understand me.'

Bozidar Matic speaking at the first meeting of the new B-H government,

Ljiljan (Sarajevo), 5 March 2001

Tudjman's Wars

'The commanders told us we had only twelve days to train before being sent to so-called Herzeg-Bosna. The instructors, who came from Pozega, insisted that we must defend our ancient hearths. We were supposed to be sent to Vakuf, Jablanica and other crisis areas. The people were shocked that a formation was being sent to war, and to Bosnia at that, made up of old and sick people, completely untrained. Many were of my age, but some were older than me. Some were younger, too. To make matters worse, the men were being sent without any insignia of rank, or of the Croatian Army, or any indication that we were an organized unit. We were simply cannon fodder or sacrificial lambs.'

Bojan Pavlovic, describing his forced mobilization in Croatia in December 1993

Feral Tribune (Split), 3 March 2001

'The fact that the true architects were sitting in Zagreb is obvious even to the judges in The Hague. It is, therefore, both comic and unbearable to watch the current machinations undertaken by various Croatian journalists, clergymen and politicians in connection with Croatia's involvement in the Bosnian war.'

Ivan Lovrenovic, Feral Tribune (Split), 3 March 2001


'There was a great deal of shooting in Pakrac one night in 1991. War had begun, but the slogan was "reason will prevail". Our [Croatian TV] journalist went to Pakrac to film the victory of reason. No one knew who was shooting, but it was assumed that it was done by the Serbs, so the journalist talked to the local Serbs. We filmed a conversation with a Serb grandfather waving his gun, who shouted: "Don't worry, sonny, I fought against the Chetniks in the last war and will do so again." Another Serb said that he did not know who was responsible, but one thing was certain: "Those who cannot feed the people push guns into its hands." An old woman was pulling at the journalist's sleeve: "I've never been to Serbia, I don't give a damn for Milosevic, but you TV people have influence, so tell the Croatian police to protect us from those who are shooting, whoever they are." We returned with this display of the desired reason, but the HDZ brains ordered this part to be cut out and replaced with a picture of a deserted Pakrac, subtitled with the message that the Serbs had driven away Croatian TV.'

Ingeborg Glusac, former TV technician, Feral Tribune (Split), 3 March 2001


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