“A picture is worth a thousand words and at times it can also galvanise societies to form either positive or negative views”
Writes John Ovcaric.
The potency of symbols and visual cues cannot be underestimated, be it in advertising with regard to brand recognition, military symbolism, religious or political representation, as the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words and at times it can also galvanise societies to form either positive or negative views.
As a nation, we are not adverse to such symbolism, be it of our own design or that of our aggressors, and the potency of our symbols has been divisive to say the least and it is for this reason that over the past many weeks I have given deep thought as to just how deeply the impact of a single emblem we hold dear yet are torn on the subject of has had a far greater impact on today’s political environment than we may care to acknowledge.
If we travel back in time, to the 30th of May 1990, a spring day in Croatia much like any other but for more than one reason, Dr Franjo Tudman became the first President of Croatia and just as any other elected leader would, presented himself to an awaiting public and world.
His public appearance also hailed the appearance of the Croatian standard in the streets of Zagreb and across the nation in mass for that matter for the first time over 45 years, and it was under a tidal wave of emotion, patriotism and nationalism that a new democratic future washed with the promise of democracy and cultural revitalisation that the standard flew from hand held poles, buildings and for that matter the presidents sash.
In Trg Svetog Marka, that same coat of arms that now flew on the red white and blue flag across Zagreb sat as a silent witness as it had for hundreds of years, throughout all the turmoil of Croatian struggle, triumph and loss over the centuries and particularly 50 years earlier it became the symbol of a cultures struggle as one of the last vestiges of who we were in servitude.
The Croatian coat of arms that adorns its roof survived the ravages of wars and a communist regime that could have, as they had done with so many other forms of Croatian symbolism, destroyed it upon their invasion of our capital 45 years earlier.
We need to ask why hadn’t they when we consider that their comrades from other communist regimes, such as the soviets, had when they invaded and indoctrinated the populous of other countries into an atheist communist collective mindset?
Perhaps Broz Tito himself realised that touching such a symbol would have caused even greater distress and descent amongst the enslaved Croatian population than what he had to deal with from the exiles in the Diaspora who vehemently defended it.
A month prior while still campaigning, Tuđman’s talk of Croatia’s past glories and independence was not received well among Croatian Serbs. The HDZ was heavily criticized by Serbian media, portraying their possible victory as a revival of NDH. Veljko Kadijević, a general of the JNA, said at meeting of the army and SR Croatia leaderships that the elections would bring the Ustase to power in Croatia. A few weeks before the elections, the army removed Territorial Defence weapons from stores all over Croatia.
On the 30th of May 1990, Tudman knew full well what he was about to do stepping onto the podium to deliver his speech to the ecstatic audience of flag bearers, he proudly wore the sash which bore the symbolism of Croatian statehood in the form of the Croatian coat of arms which portrayed the white field as the dominant feature, not the red, this was a statement of nationalism and renew of Croatian statehood and it was there for the world to see.
So, why the change I have been asking myself, why the shift to the alternate configuration? why the creation by a graphic designer of a coat of arms alien and unheralded in the annuals of our history? And what more importantly was the effect of this shift?
To appreciate all the factors associated with this change we need to go further back prior to the last traditional use of the predominant red chequer configuration and what the connotations were behind its introduction and use to understand its meaning within a new millennial context.
When the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes which would become Yugoslavia was formed in 1918, the first field field reverted to red by order of Serbian King Alexander Karageorgevic so as the new Yugoslav coat-of-arms and his personal arms incorporated the Grb, but with a red field first.
It is ironic that those who called the Grb an affront to all Serbs were unaware that it was superimposed on the Serbian double-headed eagle by the last Serbian King and remained there throughout the life of royalist Yugoslavia and that even in exile the Serbian would-be royalty continued to use the Croatian coat-of-arms as a part of their royal seal.
Following years of struggle for greater autonomy, Croatia became a semi-autonomous Banovina in 1939, the Banovina retained the Grb with a red premier field and added a Crown above it.
The NDH of World War II changed the first field to back to its historic white primary field and replaced the Royalist crown with a “U” for Ustasa above the shield.
The point here is that the change in 1918 by King Alexander Karageorgevic symbolised a degradation of Croatian statehood through this manipulation so as to blend the Croatian culture into a new Serbian dominated monarchy.
In real terms, it was an attempt to integrate Croatia in to a “Brotherhood” of Slav’s or “Bratstvo jedinstvo”
The sad irony would again re-emerge at the conclusion of 1945 when the communists again re-instated not only the concept of a Brotherhood of Slav’s but also introduced a new communist version of the GRB this time with a twenty-five field Grb with the first field back to red. It was the Communists who first insisted that red and only red could be used.
At one time, it was a crime to display the Grb with a premier white field. Whether through error or intent, the last Constitution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia adopted in 1974 displayed the arms of Croatia with a white premier field!
If we now accept that the manifestations of the GRB took place for differing political and monarchist reasons it becomes clearly obvious that at no point did the NDH order some poor trooper to mount a step ladder and re-arrange the tiles on St Mark’s to foster an Ustasa inspired or fabricated GRB, nor should we ever confuse it’s use during WW2 as having any fascist connotations other than when the “U” appeared with it.
Back to the 30th of May 1990.
Why then was such a public and international display made of our Historic and cultural emblem by Franjo Tudman? and why the subsequent change and even more importantly the effects of that decision at this very moment?
I have never been nor will I ever be an admirer of Franjo Tudman, I will pay my respects to the fact that he was unanimously elected as Croatia’s first President, that he did challenge the communist regime in the 1960’s regarding the deeds of the communists post WW2, and I believe after much contemplation these past weeks that he may have, just may have, had intentions of atoning himself of his past sins by actually returning Croatia to a state of unified statehood and democracy which would stand at the foot of a resurrected national emblem such as our Grb.
What went wrong?
Tudman once stated in a television interview…………..
“Bosnia was a creation of the Ottoman invasion … Until then it was part of Croatia, or it was a kingdom of Bosnia, but a Catholic kingdom, linked to Croatia”.
This statement was decisively opposing to the reality of the situation at the conclusion of official hostilities in 1995 and the acceptance of the Dayton Agreement. Additionally, this one remark goes someway to reinforcing the opinion that the path Tudjman started off on at some point took a different direction.
Some 4 weeks after the May 30th presidential address constitutional amendments came into effect on 26 June 1990 directing that the red star utilised in the flag of Socialist Republic of Croatia was to be replaced by the “Historical” Croatian coat of arms with 25 red and white fields”, Nowhere in the amendment was it specified as to the order of fields, only, that it was to adopt the “Historical” Croatian coat of arms.
On the 25th of July, the first-field-white variant was used at the official flag hoisting ceremony an until the 12th of December 1990 when the current coat of arms was officially adopted.
Within a 7-month period and an equal reprieve, the Croatian “Historical” grb had gone from revival to moth balls once again and the path was set to adopt the Karageorgevic abomination once again.
Tudman’s tone also began to change, by 1992 in a talk back television interview with Romana Bolković, Tudman responded to a callers question regarding his recognition of HOS defence efforts to which he replied that the use of “Croatian Fascist” emblems (Read the Historical Grb) by HOS was inappropriate, as was their adoption of black uniforms, he used the analogy of what would the world think if a similar situation arose in modern day Germany where Nazi fascist symbols appeared and people started to wear black uniforms? (see attached video link).
In 1991, the Tudman HDZ Government in the Croatian Sabor also committed to the opening of the Yugoslav era archives along with an additional commitment to create a tribunal tasked to investigate acts of genocide against the Croatian people at the end of 1945 by the Communist Yugoslavs.
While the latter was a short-lived reality, the opening of the archives to this day has yet to materialise.
There are numerous examples of such changes in direction and transparency and it seems that what true thoughts of Lustration, democracy and statehood had existed on that day, the 30th of May 1990 changed due to realisations or pressures that the truth, or a path true to ourselves was an impediment and risk to others within the government or those connected to it.
So, what significance does the “Historical Grb” hold in terms of today’s situation in Croatia? While you may find this a childish consideration, I beg to argue it isn’t, this one symbol could have united us or divided us and the latter in my opinion is now proving true.
If Tudman and the HDZ had stayed the path with not just embracing our cultural identity and past as he had on that day in May 1990 when he kissed the Historic Croatian flag, had the modern day emblem and flag not been adopted, had Lustration taken place as planned and the tribunal been allowed to report to the world what it had unearthed in the mass graves of post 1945 dotted across the country, if a consolidated effort had been made to re-unite Christian and Muslim Croatian in some shape or form as HSP and HOS had attempted, and if the emblems and black shirts of HSP / HOS been respected for the true path they attempted to follow, one that had been a corner stone in the tide of emotion that swept Zagreb in May 1990, perhaps we wouldn’t have torn ourselves apart and betrayed ourselves and ultimately find ourselves in the predicament we are in now.
22 years have passed since the day Tudman kissed a second flag at the conclusion of “Operation Oluja” in August 1995, but it was a different one to that he kissed 5 years earlier in Zagreb 1990.
A generation has grown up under a political system that is more reminiscent of the communist one it replaced rather than the one envisaged, a generation that has been betrayed by its leaders and continues to be so, a generation who probably don’t even realise some of the historical facts discussed in this editorial and who have been brainwashed by talk of the “Bad Croatia and Croatian’s” of the past and that Ustaski Grb and how impure it is.
In actual fact, it is those that deny it and deny them their God given rights that are the impure and betrayers, the ones that should crawl on bloodied knees with remorse into St Mark’s in Zagreb and pray to the Lord for forgiveness for their treachery beaneath the sanctuary of the one true Grb that hangs above their heads and protects all within the house of the Lord and his Croatian people.