WHERE ARE MONUMENTS TO VICTIMS OF COMMUNIST CRIMES?
By: Ina Vukic
Photo: V. I.
Late March 2023 my post-Covid pandemic extended trip from Australia to Europe commenced in London, aiming to “hop” across United Kingdom, Switzerland and Austria to Croatia, my birth homeland! My aim was to catch up with friends I had not seen for over three years and to recharge my spirits by visiting memorial sites and other landmarks of humanity and justice universal note.
Justice for victims of repressive and totalitarian regimes has been one of the most important pursuits in life anybody could have. Victims of World War Two Nazi regimes have been and are continuously remembered, monuments to them rightly exist in every major city of the free world while former communist countries in Europe have, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, set about raising monuments to victims of communist crimes within their own countries. In Croatia though such pursuits of justice appear to have been placed on government back burners, despite its responsibility and duty to uphold in every way the European Union’s condemnation of all totalitarian regimes, including communist one!
The raising of monuments to victims of communist crimes had and continues to encounter resistance particularly by those who argue that such monuments should not be raised because, they say unfairly, such monuments represent historical revisionism and that some victims of communist crimes were Nazis! How many of the 35 to 40 million victims of communist crimes in Europe and Russia were Nazis? They do not say but the number could run into thousands, not millions! And so, according to these anti-monuments-for-victims-of-communist-crimes persons the overwhelming number of innocent victims must suffer because of a relative few among them! Atrocious!
And so here I sit in my apartment in Zagreb, Croatia, pondering: where are the grand monuments to victims of communist Croatia? It’s been 32 years since Croatia seceded from communist Yugoslavia, lost thousands of lives, suffered brutal destruction, devastation, ethnic cleansing of Croats in the 1990’s war of Serb and Yugoslav Army aggression in the process. I search and search and there are none on city squares, parks or even street corners of the Capital! None in major cities or towns, either! None as central monument to victims of communist crimes. There are multitudes of black holes in the ground across the country, mass graves, bottomless pits into which communists had thrown hundreds of thousands murdered or living Croats who fought against communists in World War Two or simply rejected communism. Men, women, and children. And those after the War who did not want a communist regime. These pits are mostly located in secluded, hard to get to spots in forests or unkempt fields – far away from human eyes, most never visited bar several that caught the public attention thanks to historical research enabled by the modern independent Croatia. Thanks to the glory of God wildflowers bloom on shrubs and in the grass in warmer months of the year around mass grave sites.
And so, 32 years after its declaration of independence from communist Yugoslavia Croatia can only show one monument for victims of communist crimes and that one is not of national significance but rather local even though the monument is dedicated to local victims and communist Yugoslavia ones, secluded, and rather hidden from the masses that live in or visit Croatia. It is in the small town of Vodice of about 9,000 people on the coast, raised in 2015 not by the national government but by local council with the help of donations from citizens and patriotic community associations. I wrote about this back in 2015
The main sculpture in Vodice is a dome 2.2 meters high, built of white concrete combined with bronze. The motif of the sculpture is abstract, and the dominant element is water with components of light and sound. No names, no human faces engraved or sculptured on it!
On the second part of the monument – its annex, there is the inscription ‘Monument to the Victims of Yugoslav Communism’ next to the coat of arms of the Republic of Croatia and a cross, as well as patriotic verses. In addition to Croatian, the text part is also in English.
According to the data of the Commission for determining the victims of war and destruction of the city of Vodice, in the last two years of the Second World War, partisans, on the orders of the local communist authorities, murdered close to a hundred civilians from Vodice and neighbouring towns without any proven guilt. There are 53 victims from Vodice, 17 each from Gacelez and Cista Velika, while 15 are from Tribunj and the island of Prvic. Most of these victims were killed over the Golubinka pit near Tisnjanska Dubrava.
The murders took place in a particularly cruel manner. The victims were brought with their hands tied with wire, stabbed with a bayonet, and thrown into a thirty-meter-deep pit where they bled and died in horrendous pain. This scenario of such communist depravity and mass murders and purges was repeated hundreds of thousands of times in Croatia as part of communist Yugoslavia and yet all that official independent Croatia can so far muster for the victims is no monument to the victims funded from the government budget as a firm statement in respect of all those who had perished for rejecting communism! Appalling!
Prior to arriving in Croatia, I visited London, United Kingdom. I was utterly gladdened to have been shown for the first time in my life the monument to victims of communist crimes in the middle of the Yalta Memorial Garden, South Kensington. I was touched deeply by the monument even though the victims have not and are not receiving due justice. To me, a symbol of reverent respect for multitudes victims that fell under communist brutality even if the February 1945 Yalta conference included the mass murderer Joseph Stalin of Russia in the Allied plan to shape post-war Europe and permit self-determination, etc.! Despite that, post-Yalta conference communist purges, murders of innocent political opponents to communism raged like wildfire and the fact hidden from the world for decades upon decades.
The sculpture consisting of 12 conjoined heads of men, women and children placed on a column of the Twelve Responses to Tragedy monument to communist crimes’ victims in the Yalta Memorial Garden, South Kensington, London.
While the above Vodice, Croatia, has no mention of the part its Parliament played in its raising, because sadly there was none, the monument in South Kensington, designed by Angela Conner, dedicated by the Bishop of Fulham on 2nd August 1986 to replace the previous memorial dedicated by the Bishop of London on 6th March 1982, has the following inscription: “This memorial was placed here by members of all parties in both houses of parliament and by many other sympathisers in memory of the countless innocent men, women and children from the Soviet Union and other east European states who were imprisoned and died at the hands of communist governments after being repatriated at the conclusion of the second world war may they rest in peace.”
In this London dedication I saw included the horror of the Bleiburg Massacres of hundreds of thousands of Croatians who were n May 1945, as the War ended, fleeing from communist Yugoslavia only to be forcefully repatriated and, hence sent to sure and most cruel death by the hand of communists. It was not written there but for all those who know facts of history the dedication becomes immediately etched in one’s heart, and small gestures of mercy for justice for the victims, surface there.
Yes, Lest We Forget, but also, let’s build monuments to victims of communist crimes. These are overdue debts of humanity towards fellow innocent human beings.
The mass liquidations that the Yugoslav communists carried out without trial on civilians and members of the defeated armies after the end of the Second World War, colloquially known as the Ways of the Cross and Bleiburg Massacre, have become in Croatia the occasion for annual confrontations between the families of the victims and the patriots with those on the political left, former communists, and their loyal descendants. The former will often point out the signs of the totalitarian and defeated Independent State of Croatia without any problems, while the latter will find justification for communist crimes and the horrific massacre of civilians. Such confrontations and public displays of injustice towards victims has become the taxic cancer that stifles due and proper successful transition from communism into real democracy.