Croatia Enters Schengen Area, Eurozone

Croatian Minister of Internal Affairs Davor Bozinovic (L) and Slovenian Minister of public administration Sanja Ajanovic raise the barrier at the Bregana border crossing between Slovenia and Croatia on January 1, 2023.

Croatia Enters Schengen Area, Eurozone

The Balkans’ ‘European fundamental transformation’ is nearly complete.

Yesterday was a big day in the Balkans. Croatia has now become fully integrated into the European Union. It became the 25th country in the world to adopt the euro as its currency and the 28th to join the borderless Schengen Area. The European Council made the decision on December 8. All land and sea border checks between Croatia and other Schengen countries are now removed. Airport checks will be removed by March.

Croatia is a small democracy across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. Its population is about 4 million and shrinking. Its gross domestic product is a bit over half of Florida’s. When Croats are on the march, few are trembling in their boots (except for the Serbs). So what’s the significance of this move?

Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote in the January 1999 Trumpet:

What is happening in Croatia reaches far beyond the boundaries of that small nation. It is so shocking that the nations of this world would be paralyzed with fear if they really understood! … There is something very dark and sinister stirring in Europe. What is now happening in Croatia is only a small sample of what is about to spread over the entire continent! This is the “straw that is going to stir the drink” to unify all of Europe.

The Yugoslav Wars were, indeed, “dark and sinister.” But Mr. Flurry wasn’t talking only about the events of the war itself. Of course, ethnic cleansing and large-scale sieges of cities are chilling. But there are even greater implications.

After Communist dictator Josip Broz Tito died in 1980, Yugoslavia was left with a heavy and decentralized government struggling to hold authority over the autonomous republics. The 1990s were a tumultuous time for Eastern Europe in general, with the Soviet Union collapsing, Czechoslovakia dissolving, and Romania recovering from a violent revolution. The Serbs were friends of the Russians, and America was keen to hurt Moscow’s influence in the region.

None of these were the main cause of what happened. The places to watch were—perhaps surprisingly to many—Berlin and the Vatican.

Croatia and Slovenia were among the first republics to rebell against Yugoslavia. This happened in 1991. Both are independent states today, but few countries recognized them as such—at first. The Balkans have been a volatile geopolitical region for centuries. Europe in general didn’t want to see a new round of unrest. The United States opposed recognizing Croatia’s and Slovenia’s independence. So did the European Economic Community (eec), the predecessor of the European Union. Countries like the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands were all opposed to stirring the pot in the Balkans.

None of this stopped Germany from announcing on Dec. 23, 1991, its plans to recognize Croatian sovereignty. This meant Germany, as the journal Ethics & International Affairs wrote in 1998, “in effect renounced the legitimacy of the existing Yugoslav state and pressured other European governments to do the same. Within weeks, the Yugoslav federation came apart at every seam, while its civil affairs degenerated into an anarchy of armed violence.” Less than a month later, Pope John Paul ii gave the Vatican’s blessing to independence. When Western partners objected to Germany’s decision, Germany threatened to pull out of the eec.

The West caved in. The rest of Europe soon recognized Croatian independence at various points in 1992. As Mr. Flurry writes in his booklet Germany’s Conquest of the Balkans, “Germany was opposed by virtually the whole world in this matter! Yet Germany stood firm in its decision. Why? It makes a lot of sense if you understand the history of Germany ….”

What history was he referring to?

Germany invaded and conquered Yugoslavia in 1941 during World War ii. Germany and its allies annexed various parts of the country. But Croatia—with parts of Bosnia given to it—was “liberated.” Hitler gave the country to the Ustashi, a homegrown Croatian fascist party. This “Independent State of Croatia” (ndh) would govern the western Balkans for the next four years.

During those years, the Ustashi tried to ethnically cleanse their realm of any they found undesirable. And they did a good job. Estimates vary on the total number of Ustashi victims. Historian Robert Paxton in The Anatomy of Fascism gives a middle-of-the-road approximation: “[E]ven Nazi onlookers were appalled by the disorderly slaughters in which the Ustashi massacred a soberly estimated 500,000 Serbs, 200,000 Croats, 90,000 Bosnian Muslims, 60,000 Jews, 50,000 Montenegrins and 30,000 Slovenes.”

Noteworthy is the Jasenovac camp. This was a concentration and death camp run not by the Germans but the Croats. Estimates of the number murdered in Jasenovac vary. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, between 77,000 and 99,000 people were murdered there before the end of the war. The Ustashi established it in August 1941, almost six months before the Nazis set up plans for camps in Poland, such as Auschwitz and Treblinka. The plans for those more infamous camps were formalized in January 1942.

As Paxton’s numbers corroborate, most historians would point to the Serbs as the Ustashi’s main targets. Croats are traditionally Catholic, and one of the ndh’s biggest goals was to catholicize the new Croatia. Serbs—many of whom lived within the ndh’s borders—are traditionally Eastern Orthodox. The Ustashi saw Serbs as heretics who needed to be dealt with. They devised a plan to exterminate a third of Croatia’s Serb population, expel another third to Serbia proper (which was under German occupation), and forcibly convert another third to Catholicism.

This modern-day Inquisition did not go unnoticed by the Catholic authorities. Archbishop of Zagreb Alojzije Stepinac was an ardent supporter of the Ustashi and gave his blessing to the regime. The Vatican kept him as archbishop until 1960, when he died under suspicious circumstances.

One may wonder what this has to do with anything. There were plenty of Nazi collaborators in other countries in Europe. Hitler’s puppet regimes in France and Norway are obvious examples. Why all the attention on Croatia?

France and Norway don’t go around openly celebrating their fascist legacy. Croatia does. Franjo Tudjman was Croatia’s inaugural president. He led the country through the Yugoslav Wars. He was also proud of Croatia’s fascist heritage and, under him, fascist-era culture blossomed. He made the Ustashi flag a national symbol. His government named Croatia’s now phased-out currency, the kuna, after the currency of the fascist era. Za dom spremni, a Ustashi slogan equivalent to the Nazi salute Sieg heil, became commonplace in Tudjman’s Croatia. It still is today.

Tudjman was also a Holocaust denier. He wrote in one of his books: “The estimated loss of up to 6 million dead [in the Holocaust] is founded too much on both emotional, biased testimonies and on exaggerated data in the postwar reckonings of war crimes and squaring of accounts with the defeated perpetrators of war crimes.”

This is the man considered to be the “founding father” of modern Croatia. This is the man the Zagreb airport is named after.

As for the concentration camp memorial in Jasenovac: Tudjman tore down part of it, intending to make it a memorial to the Croatian victims of communism. In 2016, Croatian politicians installed a plaque reading “Za dom spremni” in Jasenovac to commemorate Croatian soldiers killed in the 1990s. This would be equivalent to modern German politicians installing a plaque in Dachau reading “Sieg heil.”

This isn’t the only way Croatia is honoring the Ustashi today. In 2021, the Croatian government established plans for an Ustashi graveyard within a palatial cemetery complex. And stories of Croatian police systematically torturing migrants and refugees—echoing some of the Ustashi’s World War ii atrocities—often surface.

The Catholic Church also hasn’t disassociated itself from the Ustashi legacy. It is rumored Cardinal Stepinac died in 1960 through poisoning by Communist authorities. In 1998, Pope John Paul ii declared Stepinac a martyr and canonized him as a saint. He is today a patron saint of Croatia.

Meanwhile, Bleiburg, Austria, the town where the Ustashi were captured and executed by Yugoslav partisans, hosted an annual Catholic mass commemorating the Ustashi. The Austrian government tried to put up legal obstacles to the commemoration. So in 2020, the ceremony—as sponsored by the Croatian government—was moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Catholic archbishop of Sarajevo presided over the ceremony.

To summarize: Yugoslavia may not have broken up like it did if not for the involvement of Germany and the Catholic Church. And this involvement was sponsoring a breakaway state glorifying its Nazi-Catholic predecessor from World War ii.

Fast-forward to 2023. Germany has become the unofficial leader of the European Union. It has the bloc’s largest economy, largest population and largest number of seats in the European Parliament. And Croatia is now firmly integrated into the German-dominated EU. Croatia and Germany now share an external border and a currency. They share Europe-wide police and border forces. Slovenia integrated into these systems years ago. Montenegro and Kosovo use the euro as currency. The high representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina—Europe’s “viceroy” over the country which can veto government decisions—is German. North Macedonia is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The only ex-Yugoslav country not in Germany’s camp is Serbia. But Serbia is surrounded by nato members and its economy is dependent on the EU, so it can’t cross Germany too much.

In other words, Germany has now effectively and fully conquered Yugoslavia. And as Mr. Flurry wrote in 1999, what happened in Yugoslavia was “a small sample of what is about to spread over the entire continent.” It’s not only the Balkans integrated into the new German system. So is the rest of Europe. This may have happened through less violent means than the Balkan wars, but it still happened. The main difference between today and 1941 is the world hasn’t noticed much. And given that this story is still developing in 2023, the world hasn’t noticed that this process is still ongoing.

To learn more about Germany’s role in modern Europe and Berlin’s involvement in the former Yugoslavia, request Mr. Flurry’s free booklet Germany’s Conquest of the Balkans.