bosnia report
New Series No. 4 June - July 1998
 
Tudjman and the Devil
by Interview with Father Branko Karlic

In the hills between Kakanj and Vares, at a place where you would think there is nothing but land and sky, lies the village of Vukanovici which goes back to the days of Ban Kulin. This modest and almost forgotten purely Catholic village was brought to public attention by its parish priest, Father Branko Karlic. This thirty-eight-year old pastor, born in Bugojno, armed only with words and the will of God, has managed to prevent the de-Bosnianization and 'humane resettlement' of at least part of the Croat population of central Bosnia. After all the inhabitants of Vukanovici had, on 13 June 1993, been deported to Vares by the wishes of the HVO and the HDZ, Father Branko brought them back home.

'At first I didn't want to go at all, but next day an HVO policeman, who is now living in a Serb house in Drvar, came and told me that he'd kill me unless I left. So I wrapped St Anthony in a blanket and put my old mother, my sister and the goat into the car. The goat was screaming as if someone was cutting its throat. The animal understood that it was all a trick, you see, though the people didn't. Imagine, it wouldn't eat or drink for five days! Then, after the fourth day of my enforced exile in Vares, I heard on Croatian TV that Vukanovici, the largest Catholic village in central Bosnia, was in flames. I mounted a horse and rode to the hill on the other side of my village. I'll never forget the scene. There I am, sitting on my horse and looking at Vukanovici. The village is peaceful and whole! No flames, no smoke. So then I go back for my villagers.'

Before returning the villagers to Vukanovici, the priest got in touch with the Kakanj municipality ABH command and civilian authorities, to tell them that they wanted to go home. But today only one third of Vukanovici's pre-war population lives there. There are 28 empty and undamaged houses whose owners, Father Branko says, have been kidnapped by the HDZ and taken to Serb and Bosniak houses.

From each point in the village, says Father Branko, one can see only Bosnia, since he does not allow those 'whose minds have been confused by the devil's thoughts coming from Zagreb' into the village. Otherwise, he says, from Vukanovici they would see not Bosnian hills but Croatia or Herzeg-Bosna. He does not need such devils. Ever since 1992 Father Branko has been waging war against the HDZ. He has publicly accused Croatian president Franjo Tudjman and the HDZ of being responsible for the suffering of the Bosnian Croats and their resettlement to Herzegovina, Drvar or the Knin krajina. Indeed, they anger him so much that, he says, he just had to sit down and begin to write what he thinks of their politics. The result is his 'An Analytical Approach to HDZ Policy'.

Today Vukanovici, though surrounded by purely Bosniak villages, lives in harmony with its neighbours as of old. We saw Father Branko bless a field, after which a small lunch was prepared for the guestÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ s in the priest's modest house. Ahmed Karic, a teacher from the neighbouring village, welcomed the visitors at the door with a jug of rakija in his hand.

  • Father, could we first sort out the confusion caused by the fact that some call you Brother - i.e. a Franciscan - while others call you a priest. What are you?

    I am a priest attached to a diocese. It is the 'international community' that has dubbed me a Franciscan. They have learned a lesson by rote, you see, according to which any cleric who is for Bosnia, as I am, can only be a Franciscan. They think that priests are either against Bosnia or undecided.

  • The Catholic Church in Bosnia seems unable to part ways with the HDZ. You are one of its rare members who has done so publicly. Not only have you done so, but you have also quite openly blamed the HDZ and Franjo Tudjman for the suffering of the Croats of central Bosnia and for their resettlement. Have you had any problems with the Church or the HDZ because of that?

    I know what I have said, but I was speaking in my own name not that of the Church. I was not stating a doctrine but speaking in accordance with my conscience. Some people attacked me, some priests complained - my reply was that I would speak to them when they came to understand that their homeland is Bosnia-Herzegovina, while Croatia is another country. Apart from that, I've had no problems.

  • Under the slogan of 'humane resettlement', the HDZ has managed to change completely the demographic picture of central Bosnia, which used to be the core of Bosnian Croatdom. You managed to stop this in part. How?

    On 12 September 1989 Bruno Ostojic, who was then commander-in-chief of the HVO, told me to my face that the time would come when all Croats from central Bosnia would be resettled in Herzegovina. I can tell you, my dear lady, I was astonished. And in the following years they did indeed try to put the idea into practice. They lied to the people, saying that thousands of mujahedeen were coming to cut their throats, and since the people were stupid - as though they had not lived for all those centuries with Bosniaks - they actually believed them. It was not all that easy getting them to return home, because they had been seduced by the Father of All Croats. I spent several days travelling to and fro from Vukanovici to Vares trying to persuade them that there were no mujahedeen. And it was a good thing that I did so straight away, since you have to strike while the iron is hot. I must say that I still cannot understand why the rest are not returning. We have 28 families whose houses are here intact and standing empty, while they themselves are living in Serb and Bosniak houses. It is unfortunately the case that many Bosnian Croats put their trust in Tudjman's infernal schemes, and now they are gazing forth with tears in their eyes in the wildernesses of Herzegovina, western Bosnia, Lika and Slavonia, dreaming about a great Croatian state.

  • Was the village really undamaged when you returned and what were the subsequent relations between Croats and Bosniaks like?

    Some cattle and household articles had been stolen, to be sure, but that was all. I always say to my villagers, though, that not a stone would have remained standing if we hadn't returned. I really have no complaint to make against the civilian or military authorities of Kakanj municipality. Here, no one killed anybody. I can only say that we have had very professional and sympathetic treatment from the local authorities in Kakanj.

  • It is clear from your public statements that you see Franjo Tudjman as the main cause of the evil that has happened to the Bosnian Croats.

    Of course, it was the old Communist general Comrade Tudjman and the HDZ who caused the people to move. In 1994 they sent the Bosnian Croats to Germany as refugees. They sent them away to make money and then buy Serb houses in the Knin krajina. However, as a direct playÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ er in the war on Bosnian territory Tudjman has not been entirely successful. The planned resettlement of the population aimed at creating ethnically homogeneous units has clearly failed. This is why he is so angry with the Cardinal [Puljic} and all the priests, and especially with the Franciscans, whom he sees as unreliable elements in a national sense. I tell you, Tudjman is doing the devil's work. He seems to be strangely besotted with the Bosnian Croats, and unfortunately most of them are equally besotted with him.

  • How could it happen that so many Bosnian Croats accepted the HDZ policy?

    A clownish demagogy has reduced the Bosnian Croats to a state of mental confusion, according to which we are only physically in Bosnia-Herzegovina, whereas our soul, our spirit, our heart and our intellect are in Zagreb. To comfort and deceive us, we have been told that the origin and centre of all our wisdom, spirituality and culture is close at hand, in West Mostar and Medjugorje. Whoever is against all this loves Sarajevo and, by definition, is neither a Catholic nor a Croat, but a Western devotee of Mr Alija Izetbegovic, an accursed Turk, a traitor to his people.

  • Soon after Operation Storm, a leaflet started to circulate from Dastanski - once a Bosniak and now an ethnically pure Croat village - inviting Croats to leave their homes in central Bosnia and to settle in Drvar and Kulen-Vakuf, towns allegedly liberated by the Croatian army. Later on, a similar leaflet was distributed in Tuzla as well. Who is behind these leaflet?

    That is all the doing of the HDZ and Franjo Tudjman. They did not just distribute those leaflets here, they also sent them abroad, among the refugees. So now those poor people, instead of returning to their homes, are going to Drvar, Stolac or the Knin krajina. It is a really brutal, dirty and disgusting business. The only thing we can do is pray to God that those people regain their senses. That leaflet, which drove people to give up their homes and accept someone else's, shows up the HDZ as a movement steeped in mythology and black magic. What the HDZ is doing is pure Nazism.

  • Martin Raguz has recently spoken of the 'desire' of the Croat people for a third 'entity' to be created: i.e. for the Federation to be divided into Croat and Bosniak entities. This would be the final metamorphosis of 'Herzeg-Bosna'. Do you think that will actually happen?

    To begin with I recognize no Herzeg-Bosna. In their confused ramblings, those conceited souls first called the thing a 'community', then a 'republic', and now finally some kind of 'spiritual community'. I told them clearly that a spiritual community means a parish or dzemat - which are places for monks, priests, bule and imams. They are inducing Bosnian Croats into a state of confusion of spirit, reason and will, so that they will become slaves. This ugly game of Zagreb's policy can only lead the Croats to complete annihilation and endless suffering. I believe that the international community could do more. It should firmly abolish all parallel municipalities. And when we no longer have two Bugojnos, two Mostars, two Travniks and so on, then Herzeg-Bosna will no longer be able to metamorphose into another form.

  • You really do not mince your words when the Croatian government is in question. Do you have any criticisms of the Bosniak representatives in the Federal government?

    I sweep in front of my own door - let others do the same!

  • Your family is from Bugojno. Why doesn't your sister return there?

    We have a house in Bugojno and I have been several times to see it. There are some refugees living there now.

  • Tell me, what is your opinion of Mr Izetbegovic - or, say, of Dzevad Mlaco?

    Regarding Mr Izetbegovic, I am convinced that he is a man of the people and that he feels what the people think. As for Dzevad Mlaco [Bosniak local boss in Bugojno], I don'tÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ know him. Anyway, as I told you I sweep in front of my own door, let others do the same in front of theirs. I don't believe in the policy of an eye for an eye. We must simply stop all that once and for all.

  • Recently Cardinal Puljic was almost killed in Derventa. Afterwards he told Croatian TV that he could not understand why people linked the events in Derventa and Drvar. Do you understand what the link might be?

    When I heard what had happened in Derventa, I immediately thought of Drvar, where two days earlier the Croats had done away with two Serbs. But I could not for the life of me understand how come Slobodan Lang, Tudjman's advisor for humanitarian issues, had shown up so quickly in Derventa. Would it not have been more appropriate for someone from Sarajevo to have gone both to Drvar and to Derventa? They simply cannot understand that Bosnia is another state. This is the essence of the problem. If they think of Croatia as a state but Bosnia as a mere geographical space, it will have catastrophic effects. Those people in Zagreb think Bosnia is a jungle: everything here is primitive, while in Zagreb everything is splendid.

  • Can you comment on why Cardinal Puljic could not see the link between Drvar and Derventa?

    In my view Cardinal Puljic has for a long time now been the target of uninformed critics. I am convinced that Cardinal Puljic believes in dignity and protection for all.

  • You have almost finished your 'Analytical Approach to HDZ Policy'. Can you explain what it contains and whether you will publish it?

    I have no money to have it published - you can see how poor we are here. There is not a single typewriter in the village. I wrote my study on a borrowed machine with a German keyboard. This, however, is not the reason why I cannot publish my text. The real reason is that all this is not over. The evil of Tudjman and the HDZ goes on and on. I cannot write the end. A friend of mine has suggested to me that I should publish it when Tudjman dies. But it will be too late when he dies - the devil digs while he's alive. The book has four parts so far: 'B-H Croats as victims of merciless ideology'; 'Mythical-magical attiü tude towards the B-H Croats'; 'What is the so-called 'Herzeg-Bosna', actually, now?'; 'Controversial appeal by the Vrhbosna arch-diocesan clergy'. The last part is entitled: 'No conclusion - We are still playing a game of wits'.

  • After your appearance on OBN, Dr Ejup Ganic the Federation president visited your village. I assume that this was the first visit by a high Federal politician. How did the villagers see the visit?

    Yes, this was the first such visit, although Ivo Komsic has often come. I very much appreciate Mr Ganic's visit and we're all grateful for the presents he brought. If you walk through the village you will hear people speak of nothing but Ganic. Everyone is hoping we may now be able to get an asphalted road to our village. They probably saw the visit as the Federation climbing up the hill to see us. But they don't realize that we accepted the Federation much earlier than they did. Perhaps we have taken it too seriously and are making a mistake. If that is so, then tell us it is a deceit - but if not, then let us embrace each other more firmly.

    This interview is translated from Dani,11 May 1998

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