The Strange Case of Miro Barešić – Reflections on a Controversial Memorialisation in Croatia

On July 31, 2016, Tomo Medved, the outgoing Minister for War Veterans in Croatia, visited the village of Draga, located near the Croatian coastal town of Sibenik. Here he delivered a remarkable speech, stating that:

Miro Barešić is one of the greatest Croatian patriots whose work and sacrifice we have to respect. For years, in the diaspora and in the Homeland War, he fought for a free and an independent Croatia and never gave up on his ideas, although he felt the injustice that was systematically inflicted on Croats. Like many other immigrants, who were willing to give their lives for Croatia, he was a ‚defender before defenders‘. He returned from Paraguay, even though he knew that in Croatia there are people who persecuted him, but he participated in the war and experienced the realization of his dream. Thank you, Miro, for an independent, sovereign and free Croatia.

The speech was held on the opening ceremony of a monument dedicated to Miro Barešić, a Croatian soldier in Croatia’s 1990s war, who was killed in combat against rebelling Croatian Serbs in 1991. The phrase ‘Homeland War’ that Medved used, is the official name used in Croatia for the 1990s war, in which Croatian forces fought against the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) and rebelling Croatian Serbs.

The war started in 1991 and ended in late 1995. Most fighting ceased after August 1995, when Croatia sucessfully conducted the notorious military campaign „Oluja“ (Storm), which was – during and in the aftermath of the operation – accompanied by crimes against local Serbs. The word „defender“, how Medved referred to Barešić, is also an official and widely used term in Croatia for Croatian 1990s war veterans – not for rebelling Serb soldiers. Therefore, how people in Croatia refer to the War and to the soldiers who fought in it, says a lot about the existing narratives of the war. And this is particularly true in the strange case of Miro Barešić …

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Croatia: Living the Past, Not Confronting It

Coat of Arms of the Republic of Croatia - by Croatian Parliament - ZAKON O GRBU, ZASTAVI I HIMNI RH TE ZASTAVI I LENTI PREDSJEDNIKA RH which based its decision on the design by Miroslav Šutej F.C.A. proposals. MaGa (based on Decision of the Parliament) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Coat of Arms of the Republic of Croatia – illustration: Croatian Parliament – ZAKON O GRBU, ZASTAVI I HIMNI RH TE ZASTAVI I LENTI PREDSJEDNIKA RH which based its decision on the design by Miroslav Šutej F.C.A. proposals. MaGa (based on Decision of the Parliament) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Like every country and its society, Croatia has a complicated and somewhat disputed 20th century history. As a country achieving independence in 1990s, Croatia was present on the historical and geographical crossroads of various empires and states, like Austro-Hungarian and Turkish Empires. Through a long process of the complete formation of its national identities through culture, art, religion and political struggle, Croatia was a relatively dependent entity for a long time, either in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Kingdom of Yugoslavia or socialist Yugoslavia.

When socialist Yugoslavia fell apart, or was torn apart (as some historians claim), falling into civil and international war, Croatia, as well as some other former Yugoslav countries, looked back into its past in order to find its foundations, on which it can historically, ideologically and, most importantly, symbolically lay on. Today, Croatian society faces considerable historical revisionism or even forgery – especially with regard to remembering the crimes at Jasenovac concentration camp.

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