(Part One) – The War Years
We believe that this series of articles are both timely and necessary, as understanding a nations culture and philosophy on and off the pitch is necessary for football to achieve its potential.
by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar July 9th 2008)
The political use of Croatian football since the Second World War has been dominated by just two men – Josip Broz Tito and Franjo Tuđman. They began by sharing a lot, but quickly drifted apart. During the Second World War Tito led Yugoslavia’s partisans in their heroic resistance against the fascist Ustaše led by Ante Pavelić and the Nazis.
Tuđman joined the partisans. After the war the Yugoslav army was reorganised under partisan leaders. Tito consolidated power and became President of Yugoslavia. However, Tito and Tuđman were united by circumstances rather than ideology.
Tito passionately believed in Yugoslavia’s national identity; Tuđman didn’t. The cracks took a while to show, but Tuđman was a Croatian nationalist and that meant a falling out was inevitable, but what shaped their opinions?
Tito was born to a Croatian father and Slovene mother in the 1890s. He fought on the Russian front, but was captured in the First World War. Josip Broz as he was then subsequently joined the Bolsheviks before arriving back in Yugoslavia in 1920. He quickly joined the Yugoslav Communist Party, which was soon banned by King Aleksandar despite electoral success making it the third largest party.
In the 1930s Tito was a loyal Stalinist and purged the still banned Yugoslav party on Joseph Stalin’s orders. He criticised Mussolini’s fascists and Nazi Germany until Stalin signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact. On April 6th 1941 the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia. King Peter II fled. Resistance crumbled quickly and Yugoslavia was dismembered. Tito remained and emerged as the leader of the resistance.
Slovenia was annexed by the Nazis and puppet states were created elsewhere such as Croatia. Tomislav II was made king of Croatia. He never set foot in the country which was ruled by Pavelić. Yugoslav territory was annexed by Albania: Hungary, Bulgaria and Italy as well. The rest was occupied by the Axis powers.
The communist resistance that became known as the partisans was formed in Slovenia on April 28th 1941. Broz emerged as their leader. Two weeks later the anti-Nazi and anti-communist Yugoslav Army of the Fatherland – Chetniks was established – led by General Draža Mihailović. They had British support.
King Peter’s government in exile – a meaningless term given what was then the reality of life in Yugoslavia – had the support of the allies. That changed when the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union resulted in Stalin switching sides. His allies – Communist Parties – did so as well.
After the invasion of the Soviet Union, Tito was named commander of the partisans and issued a call to arms. They proved adept at sabotage. The Nazis retaliated against civilians. For every German killed a hundred civilians would be killed and fifty for every German wounded. Mihailović baulked at the casualties, but Tito didn’t. They continued to resist.
In the first six months of 1943 the partisans withstood a barrage of Nazi pressure. Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Stalin switched support from Peter II to Tito. He was almost killed three times – surviving once because his dog gave its life to save him. Tito had a huge price on his head, but it made no difference.
The British air-dropped supplies and towards the end of the war the Red Army helped to drive the Nazis out. Attempts to unite the anti-fascist forces into a national unity government failed. Tito had no intention of allowing others to share power after having taken the risks and shown exemplary leadership and courage.
Tito ordered all foreign forces out of Yugoslavia after the war ended. The Ustaše was banned and Tito’s partisans settled some scores. Among those massacred were conscripts. There is little doubt that reprisals occurred and that among the victims were innocent civilians. There is however no evidence that these atrocities were ordered by Tito or the leadership of the partisans. They seem to have been committed by vigilante partisans intent on revenge at local level.
Nevertheless both the atrocities of the Ustaše and the reprisals by the partisans were used for political purposes nearly half a century later. Among the victims at this time were members of Tuđman’s family.
The official police report at the time claimed that Stjepan Tuđman – an important official in the Croatian Peasants’ Party – killed his wife and then himself. Tuđman originally blamed the Ustaše. However, he later shifted the blame onto communists. This is now the accepted story in Croatia.