Germany’s Conquest of the Balkans Is Nearly Complete
Germany’s Conquest of the Balkans Is Nearly Complete
“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.”
Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote that for our January 1999 issue regarding the (then ongoing) Yugoslav Wars. The Yugoslav Wars started when Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Unrest soon spread to other places, including Slovenia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Like the rest of the world’s media, our attention was fixed on the chaos in that region of Eastern Europe. But the Trumpet’s coverage was different from everybody else’s. Much of the world focused on the actions of Serbia, Russia and the United States. For the Trumpet, the two places to watch were Germany and the Vatican. Mr. Flurry predicted that what was happening in Croatia was the beginning of a German-dominated, Vatican-influenced united Europe controlling the region.
Over three decades later, Mr. Flurry’s analysis has been proved right. Fast-forward to 2023, and we have come full circle. Yugoslavia as a country is a relic of history, and Croatia is now fully integrated into the European Union. As of January 1 of this year, it became the 25th country in the world to adopt the euro as its currency. It also became the 28th country to join the borderless Schengen Area. All land and sea border checks between Croatia and other Schengen countries have been removed. Airport checks are scheduled to end in March.
Why is this a big deal? After all, Croatia has been a member of the EU for years now. And Serbs and Croats would have been at each other’s throats with or without Germany’s involvement. To understand the significance of the Yugoslav Wars, historical context is necessary. The seeds for what happened in Croatia were sown way back in World War ii.
Slaughter in Croatia
In 1941, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime invaded and conquered Yugoslavia. 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) governed the western Balkans until 1945.
During those years, the Ustashi tried to ethnically cleanse their realm of any people they found undesirable. And they were ruthlessly effective. 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, a concentration and death camp run not by Germans but by Croats from 1941 to 1945. Estimates of the number murdered there vary. A 2021 conference at Uppsala University in Sweden estimated that Jasenovac had 90,000 to 130,000 victims. And the execution and torture methods were brutal. The Ustashi threw people into crematoriums alive. People were hacked to death with saws, hammers and other instruments. Men had their eyeballs ripped out. Women had their breasts cut off.
The Ustashi established Jasenovac 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. You could say then that Croatia created the prototype of the Nazi death camp.
The Serbs were 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 Ustashi supporter and gave his blessing to the regime. The Vatican kept him as archbishop until his death in 1960. Meanwhile, the chief guard of Jasenovac, Miroslav Filipović, was a Catholic priest.
The Revival of Fascism
After liberation, Communist dictator Josip Broz Tito governed the country until his death in 1980. To keep the country afloat, Tito took on huge levels of debt and gave the country’s constituent republics increasing levels of autonomy at the expense of the federal government. After he died, old ethnic tensions among the empowered republics—especially between Croatia and Serbia—started to flare. This culminated in Croatia and Slovenia rebelling against Yugoslavia in 1991.
Both countries are independent states today. But few countries back then recognized them as such—at first. The Balkans have been a volatile geopolitical region for centuries. Most of Europe didn’t want to see a new round of unrest. The U.S. opposed recognizing Croatian independence. So did the European Economic Community (eec), the predecessor of the European Union. The United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands were all opposed to stirring the pot in the Balkans.
Germany, however, had other designs.
Despite opposition from the rest of the West, Germany on Dec. 23, 1991, announced 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 for 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.
Such meddling in an ongoing civil war is troubling enough. But even more troubling was the new Croatia’s first cultural developments. With independence, celebrations of fascist-era culture in Croatia blossomed.
This was evident in how Franjo Tudjman, Croatia’s inaugural president, set up his new country. His government adopted the Ustashi flag as the country’s colors and named the 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.
(In 2016, Croatian politicians installed a plaque reading “Za dom spremni” in Jasenovac to commemorate Croatian soldiers killed in the 1990s. This was equivalent to modern German politicians installing a plaque in Dachau reading “Sieg heil.”)
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 Croatians see as their modern “founding father.” Zagreb’s international airport is named after him. Many Croats seem not to mind the fascist legacy Tudjman restored.
The Catholic Church also hasn’t disassociated itself from the Ustashi legacy. Rumors suggest 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.
Germany and the Vatican knew Croatia’s fascist history—and their history of propping up the Ustashi. They knew that Tudjman’s government had fascist leanings. They didn’t sponsor him in spite of these factors but because of them. They knew that a Croatia with fond memories of the fascist days would be a friend to Germany and the Vatican. Serbs, meanwhile, are traditional friends of Russia. A united Yugoslavia led by Russia-friendly Serbs would have gotten in the way of German-Vatican ambitions. So when the Yugoslav Wars started in 1991, Germany and the Vatican intervened to dissolve the Yugoslav state. If that meant publicly bankrolling a Holocaust denier, then so be it.
This brings us 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. And nearly the remainder of former Yugoslavia is today in Germany’s camp as well. The only country that isn’t is Serbia. But Serbia is surrounded by nato members, and its economy is dependent on the EU, so it can’t resist Germany much.
In other words, Germany’s conquest of the Balkans is nearly complete.