Monday, September 9, 2013

Croatia Honors ’70s Terrorist Hijacker with Hero’s Funeral

Leading Croatian politicians joined nationalists and others in the downtown of Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, on September 4th to give a hero’s funeral to Zvonko Bušić, who in 1976, in the years of Yugoslavia’s Communist dictatorship, hijacked an American jetliner in a series of horrific events that ended in the death of a New York policeman.  For the political mainstream in a western nation—the European Union’s newest member—to so honor a killer who threatened the lives of hundreds of civilians for a political cause (that’s the definition of terrorism, by the way) is part of the topsy-turvy world of post-Yugoslav symbolic politics in the new Europe, where everything Croats do is forgiven and Serbs can do nothing right.

The hijackers’ perp walk
Bušić—who was born in 1946 in Gorica (now in Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the Croatian border) and immigrated to the United States—hijacked a Trans-World Airlines (T.W.A.) flight from New York to Chicago in 1976 in league with his wife (a nurse from Oregon) and three other Croatian-Americans.  The five threatened to blow up the plane and detonate another device in a locker in New York City’s Grand Central Station unless a Croatian declaration of independence were printed in leading newspapers and leafleted over five major world cities.  Those demands were met, but it turned out the “bomb” on the plane was a fake prop, while the Grand Central Station bomb was real—but was not intended to go off (so Bušić later said).  The idea was that police, after being given directions to the rail-station locker by the hijackers, would find the real bomb and falsely believe that the one on the plane was also real.  While none of the 80-plus airline passengers was harmed, a New York City police officer died trying to disable the Grand Central bomb when it exploded.  Another policeman was blinded and two others wounded.  The plane was diverted to Paris, and French police, showing more interventionist gumption than the Americans—or, if you prefer, more recklessness, tempered with luck—shot out the wheels and forced the hijackers to surrender.

An only slightly outdated map of the former Yugoslavia
In 1977, Bušić and his wife, Julienne Eden Bušić, received life sentences for air piracy in an American court.  In 1987, Bušić escaped from prison in New York state but was apprehended on the run in Pennsylvania shortly after.  Two years later, Mrs. Bušić was released.  In 2008, seventeen years after the Republic of Croatia regained its independence amid the rubble of Leninism, Bušić was paroled on good behavior (a move decried by New York police and others) on condition that he leave the U.S. for good.  He returned to his native Croatia and was active in nationalist politics.  On September 1st, at their home near Zadar, on the Dalmatian coast, Julienne found her husband’s body beside a suicide note, a bullet in his head.

Black banners and the glorification of violence—old habits die hard.
(A scene from Bušić’s funeral.)
Bušić had in later life said of his crimes, “If I had ever imagined that anyone could have been hurt, I would never, even if it had cost me anonymous death at Yugoslav hands, embarked on that flight.”  But in his defense he also called the hijacking “the scream of a disenfranchised and persecuted man.”  By most accounts, the T.W.A. passengers were not mistreated.  One later said, “They had nothing against us, but wanted only to get a story across.  They were concerned for our welfare, and we were treated well during most of it.”  The cop who found Bušić after his prison bust said of him, “He seemed very intelligent and articulate, basically a very gentle man.  He was just worn out.”

Julienne and Zvonko Bušić in later life
Nonetheless, he was a terrorist, and it seems odd that the Croatian political mainstream would celebrate their integration into “civilized” Europe—they joined the E.U. the month before last—by putting on a pedestal a man who caused such suffering while also not advancing the Croatian nationalist cause an inch.  (He may even have harmed it.)  But Croatian nationalists can perhaps be forgiven for such illogicality.  The West—and especially the United NationsInternational Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (I.C.T.Y.) in the Hague, in the Netherlands—seems determined to read the Wars of Yugoslav Succession in the 1990s as simply a war of nasty, dirty Serbs against everyone else.

Croatia (in purple) within the European Union (blue and purple)
Croatian nationalism as it emerged after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was largely built upon the ashes of the Nazi puppet state known as the Independent State of Croatia, which existed briefly during the Second World War.  The stormtroopers of Croatia’s dreaded fascist terrorist militia of that era, the Ustaša, were never discredited and scorned in the post-war era in the way that their counterpart in Germany—the Schutzstaffel (S.S.)—was.  Unlike Germany, Italy, and Japan, Croatia never undertook the earnest, apologetic soul-searching after the war to atone for their role in the rise of fascism.  Like France and Austria, Croatian nationalists disingenuously managed to persuade themselves and most of the world that they had been only the victims of fascism, never perpetrators.  (Ironically, Kurt Waldheim, the former United Nations secretary general who was elected to Austria’s presidency in 1986 even after it was revealed that he was complicit in Nazi war crimes, served as a Wehrmacht officer in a fascist-Croatian-occupied area of what is now northwestern Bosnia, for which he was awarded the Nazi puppet state’s Medal of the Crown of King Zvonimir.)  The newly revived independent Croatia after 1991 shamelessly resurrected the symbols and banners of the Ustaša.  Nor was that empty romanticism: in the wars that followed, Croatian nationalists tried to purge Serbs from Croatia—and from Bosnia and Herzegovina—nearly as ruthlessly as Serbs tried to purge Croats and Bosniaks from Serb-controlled terrorities.  Though it was Serbia that brought the practice of ethnic cleansing to the most horrific levels, the term was in fact first coined to describe what Croats were doing to Bosniaks in the early 1990s.

Kurt Waldheim (middle)
The West, during the Yugoslav Wars of Succession, needed a Hitler-like enemy, and the Serbs (nasty as Serbian nationalist violence actually was, mind you) fit the bill nicely.  Unfortunately, this also meant overlooking the atrocities of the Serbs’ enemies.  The fact that the Serbian capital, Belgrade, had also been the capital of Communist Yugoslavia, and that Serbs politically dominated the federation, was doubtless part of it.  But there was also a xenophobic subtext: Croatians are Catholic and use the Roman alphabet and have long-standing cultural ties with neighboring states like Italy and Austria; Serbs, meanwhile, are Cyrillic-alphabet-using Eastern Orthodox Christians—practically Saracens in the eyes of many ordinary Western Europeans.  They were easy to demonize.  Their concentration camps and the thunderous rhetoric of their nationalists made it easy too, as did the fact that Russia, then as now, tends to side with the Serbs.  Never mind that both Serbia’s president, Slobodan Milošević, and Croatia’s, Franjo Tuđman, had both allegedly conspired, in the early stages of the wars, to carve up Bosnia and Herzegovina to add to their own mini-empires.

Franjo and Slobo occasionally found things to agree on.
The international community’s double standard was most evident late last year, when (as reported at the time in this blog), two Croatian war criminals and one from the Kosovo Liberation Army (K.L.A.) were cleared by the I.C.T.Y. of all charges, including charges of torturing and killing defenseless Serbs, Roma (“Gypsies”), and collaborationist ethnic-Albanians in prison camps.  Sickeningly, the three were treated in their communities as returning heroes, and Serbs and Russians were suitably appalled.  The I.C.T.Y. has yet to fully demonstrate that they believe the lives of Serbian civilians are worth as much as those of Croats, Bosniaks, and Kosovars.

Croatian nationalists celebrating the acquittal of Croatian mass murderers last year
Serbian war criminals, make no mistake, have been among the nastiest of all the world’s nasties.  Bušić’s nemesis, the part-Croatian, part-Slovenian dictator Josip Broz Tito was another one (and a worse one than Bušić).  But the world is full of nasties, some of them even ending up on the winning side of wars.  None of them should be given heroes’ funerals.

[Also, for those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it some time in 2013.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

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