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Medjugorje Chap. 4 – The Bosnian War

The Yugoslav Partisans founded the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia in 1943. It was renamed the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia in 1946 when a communist government was established under the dictatorship of Marshall Josip Broz Tito. In 1963, it was renamed again as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). The constituent six Socialist Republics and two Socialist Autonomous Provinces which made up the country were: Bosnia and Herzegovina (by itself, Herzegovina refers to the southern portion of the country), Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Serbia, including the autonomous provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo which, after 1974, were largely equal to the other members of the federation.

On June 25, 1981, six ethnic Croatian teenagers claimed they had an apparition of the Virgin Mary on a hillside outside Medjugorje (pronounced med-ju-GOR-ee-yah), a poor rural village in southwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina close to the Croatian border. Surmanci, where hundreds of Serbs were thrown into a pit with grenades lobbed over them during World War II, is on the other side of “Apparition Hill.” The claimed apparition occurred on the thirtieth anniversary of the massacre at Surmanci. [1] In Medjugorje itself, twenty Serbian Orthodox priests had been publicly tortured, castrated, and buried alive during the war. [2]

“The two girls who started the whole thing told Mostar-Duvno [the Catholic diocese within which Medjugorje is located] Bishop Pavao Zanic they had gone up the hill to tend sheep. When Zanic reminded one of them that it was a sin to tell a lie, she almost immediately recanted and said they went up to have a smoke.” [3] The story was later revised to say they were looking for “lost lambs.” [4]

As related by a Croatian historian, Ana Lucic, the Croats still consider Bosnia and Herzegovina to be the “heart of their homeland” since they had resided there before being driven out by the Turks after suffering great deprivations, including having their children abducted and forced to become Muslims. “As regards Turkish penetration eastwards, the Serbs too ran away in front of them, but later they allied themselves with them in their conquests, and arrived in these areas where, heretofore they had never been” Lucic wrote. [5]

The Franciscans arrived in the 14th century. Lucic: “The Franciscans in this area have left indelible tracks. Many have enriched the Church in Croatia with their personal holiness and heroic witnessing to the Gospel: they enlightened and civilized the people, literacy was brought to many, and art and science generally flourished” During the Ottoman occupation which ended in 1878, “the Franciscans were the only ones who tended to the needs of the souls of the Croatian people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and were their only representatives and defenders in the midst of the Turkish oppression,” she wrote.

Lucic continues:

After liberation from the Ottoman Empire, Austro-Hungary took power in these areas. For political reasons the newly liberated areas didn’t want to be included in the Croatian state to which it historically belonged. And so, once again in the history of the Croatian people, Bosnia and Herzegovina remained separated from the mother-land.

At the end of the First World War, the foundation of Yugoslavia was tricked into existence as the Kingdom of Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. This trickery was brought about by the big powers of the time. In this type of state the Croatian people lived with great difficulty, and the politician who fought for the interests of the Croatian people [Stjepan Radic] was brutally killed at a meeting in Belgrade in 1928. In 1929, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia which was to crumble at the beginning of the Second World War was established.

During the Second World War the losses of the Croatian people were immense. At the end of the war itself, when the cease-fire had been officially declared, about 300,000 civilians and soldiers lost their lives at Bleiburg and at what’s often referred to as the “Via Dolorosa” [The Latin name of Jesus’ route through Jerusalem on his way to being crucified] of the Croatian people. After capitulation, the Allies, with congruently attained agreements, were supposed to offer refuge to Croats and others who were seeking to evade communism. But the Allies in the meanwhile had congruently ordered Field Martial Harold Alexander to hand them over to the military and civil communists – the “partisans.” In Bleiburg alone a multitude of them lost their lives, while the rest of them had to form a column 60km long with its end finishing in communist Yugoslavia and its concentration camps. This was the beginning of the Croatian peoples “Golgotha”, the so called “way of the cross” which went from the most northern to the most southern points of the new multi-ethnic state of Yugoslavia. The partisans killed the Croatians while on foot, without trial, without any possible knowledge as to what they might be guilty of, if anything…all at their own discretion. It was the Croatians of Herzegovina which were persecuted in particular.

According to Wikipedia:

Shortly after midnight on 13 May 1945, near the town of Bleiburg on the Austrian-Slovenian (then German-Yugoslav) border contrary to explicit orders from the Yugoslav prime minister and commander-in-chief Marshal Josip Broz Tito and the General Headquarters, Partisan troops summarily executed for treason and collaboration an unknown number of persons from the retreating columns of Nazi collaborationist forces previously in power in the Croatian and Bosnian parts of occupied Yugoslavia. The columns were, for the most part, made up of remnants of the Croatian Home Guard and Ustasha units of the Independent State of Croatia, the Russian Cossacks of XVth SS Cossack Cavalry Corps and the remnants of the Chetnik movement (a collaborating royalist force, consisting of ethnic Serbs and Montenegrins). The number of casualties has proven difficult to ascertain, with exact numbers being a subject of much debate. The events took place a week after the formal end of World War II in Europe, but at a time when hostilities on the Yugoslav front were still on, due to the goal of the local Axis forces to attempt an escape into the British occupation zone. [6]

Lucic said that, in total:

The communists killed 630 priests and nuns from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the Herzegovinian Franciscan province alone, 70 Franciscans lost their lives. During the Second World War, 344 lives were lost from the parish of Medjugorje.

Historian Michael Thayer wrote: “Partisans of Tito retaliated against Catholic clergy for their perceived or actual collaboration with the Ustasha. By February 1945, at least fourteen priests had been killed; by March 1945, as many as 160 priests; by the end of the year, 270 priests. [7] A Catholic historian counted 67 Herzegovinian Franciscans killed during the war and 70 Franciscans imprisoned by the communists after the war. “Nevertheless, the province once again revived itself, developed and strengthened from the blood of its martyrs.” [8]

Lucic:

Life under communist power in the parish of Medjugorje was hard. The people were beaten and sentenced to years in prison just because they were Catholic and Croatian. In schools, just as elsewhere in Croatia, they tried to de-nationalize and athe-ize the people. Thanks to the strong feeling for faith in the people, the communists didn’t succeed in this. 

At the same time, in the background, the aim of the administrators was that as many people as possible would leave the area. Those pilgrims who came at the beginning of the apparitions saw all this in action. A very poor region awaited them, and some very impolite policemen. The administration didn’t permit the slightest help in accommodating them, instead many, together with the locals, were imprisoned just because they said that Our Lady was appearing. However, the local people were hospitable and polite. 

An historian with another perspective noted that under Tito, 

Bosnia and Herzegovina was the envy of all communist nations. A place where socialism had worked, seemingly irresolvable ethnic conflicts had been put aside to work towards modernity and unity. The socialist economy produced high quality consumer goods for export and even went head to head with Detroit by introducing the Yugo car in the United States. By all measures, Yugoslavia was making progress. But under the surface of the socialist state, a long suppressed and secretly nurtured nationalist antagonism simmered. [9] 

Changes had also occurred within the Roman Catholic Church after the death of Pope Pius XII. Pope John XXIII was elected in 1958 and Pope Paul VI succeeded him in 1963. Even though these pontiffs supported rapprochement with other religions and non-confrontation with world communism, the ethno-nationalistic Franciscans refused to direct their communities into a peaceful coexistence with the Orthodox, Muslims or Communists. Local bishops appointed by the Vatican were under orders to reduce the Franciscan presence in parishes and other institutions, made difficult because the Croats were more loyal to their friars than to Rome. [10] 

In 1968, the Vatican ordered the Mostar-Duvno Franciscans to hand over five parishes to the diocesan clergy i.e. priests not living in religious orders who report directly to the bishop. “They barely gave two parishes. In 1975, after many years of talks and consultations, a Decree of the Holy See was issued regarding the division of parishes.” The Franciscans publicly and collectively denounced this Decree since over 80 percent of the Catholics in the diocese of were in their parishes. Due to this disobedience, in 1976 the Vatican removed authority from the Franciscan Province leaders and area Franciscans were not permitted to vote for the Provincial General. The Franciscans refused to accept their superiors who had “developed good relations with the bishop.” [11] By 1981, the Franciscans “were locked in an administrative dispute with Bishop Zanic of Mostar-Duvno over control of the [Medjugorje] village church and their activities.” [12]   

Three of the Medjugorje “seers” claim they still converse with Mary to the present day, the other three now only once a year. Whether the youngsters were liars, delusional, hallucinating or really heard voices became irrelevant by the third day of the “apparitions” when the Franciscans, specifically Fr. Jozo Zovko, became involved and began “interpreting” the messages. By the fifth day after the original sighting, 15,000 persons had gathered on “Apparition Hill” to watch as the teenagers said they experienced the “vision.” 

From the beginning, the Yugoslav bishops professed disbelief over the apparitions. Bishop Zanic flatly asserted “’The Madonna has never said anything at Medjugorje. Our Lady,’ he snapped, ‘has been turned into a tourist attraction and a bank teller.’” [13] 

The Franciscans continued to promote their authenticity. “It was no coincidence that Fr. Slavko Barbaric, a Franciscan schooled as a psychotherapist in Germany, was one of the early handlers of the six children.” [14] While the religious content of the “apparitions” as reported by the Franciscans was banal – say the rosary, fast, pray – the messages also encouraged dependence on the clergy – frequent confession and attendance at Mass were needed. Not unexpectedly, the statements also reflected Franciscan politics – the bishops, Serbs, Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), and Jesuits were not to be trusted. [15] “Other of the divine messages contained instructions to the local populace including where to build commercial establishments.” [16] Supposedly special “secrets” were given to the “visionaries,” but none of these have ever been publicly revealed. 

It is not surprising that Medjugojre should take on a nationalistic cast at this place and time. The Virgin was simultaneously the ghost of Croatian sin and the sign of Croatian nationalist hope that the old order was ending, and because the fall of communism seemed like a possibility in the summer of 1981, the Virgin was conjured up by an oppressed Croatian nation to bring it about. The times were propitious. Tito died in 1980; all of Eastern Europe was in turmoil caused by pictures of Solidarity workers kneeling in front of the Gdansk shipyard praying the Rosary to the Black Madonna. If the Madonna could save the Poles who prayed to her at Czestochowa [a Marian shrine made popular by John Paul II], why couldn’t the Gospa [the local term for Mary] save the Croatians who prayed to her at Medjugorje….It was the expectation and suppressed aspiration of an oppressed Catholic people, given leadership by the local priest, which brought the crowds and became the driving force behind the apparition. [17] 

Medjugorje became a major tourist attraction mostly for Western European and American Catholics. 

Villagers expanded their homes into boarding houses to accommodate the pilgrims, concessionaires and tour guides sprang up, gift shops, hotels, and cafes were all built. Local villagers were pressed into service as laborers, technicians, and hospitality workers. Entrepreneurs operated taxis and other related businesses. Craftsman produced religious paraphernalia for sale to tourists. Eventually so called Peace Centers were constructed along with new churches and a massive cathedral. [18] 

As the “apparitions” attracted wide-spread attention, the Yugoslav government initially banned travel to “Apparition Hill.” So the visions “miraculously” began taking place in the side room of the parish church next to a parking lot with easier access for tourists. The hard-line anti-communist crusader, Pope John Paul II, was now in power and the Vatican backed away from denouncing an enterprise which not only irritated the communists and promoted the cult of the priesthood, but had also become an amazing money-maker. The ban on travel was lifted when the Franciscans agreed to pay $500,000 per year to the government. [19] 

The largest town in the area, Mostar, had only one bank in 1981. It held the Franciscans’ account and was partly owned by them. Soon, the Mostar bank had established commercial ties with a host of international financial institutions. “Citibank, Deutsche, ABN-Amro, Bank Brussels, Lambert, Nat West, BCI Skand, Enskilda, CSFB, Bank of Tokyo, Casa de Risparmio, Bayerische, Bank of America were just a few of the major league players with Citibank acting as correspondent for London and New York.” One of the institutions doing business with the Mostar bank was Unicredito Italiano S.p.A. Genoa and the director of its holding company was regarded as having a close relationship with, and access to, the Vatican Bank. [20] 

The Franciscans reported that over 18 million people visited Medjugorje in the first decade after the visions began. The state of Yugoslavia took in $100 million dollars mostly from taxes by 1988. This sum represented 5 percent of all the tourist income for the entire country and 45 percent of the total income of the republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. According to a KNA (Katholische Nachrichten Agentur) report filed on July 25, 1989, the income from the pilgrims that year would be an estimated $150 million and $200 million in 1990. [21] 

A Dutch sociologist who studied the town for more than 15 years, Mart Bax, reported that establishment of the shrine in Medjugorje pacified the region. Crime decreased and violence disappeared, [22] that is, until the Balkan War broke out. Once again, with apologies to historians, I will try to briefly relate events, concentrating on those affecting the Medjugorje region. 

THE THIRD BALKAN WAR 1991-2001

While Tito was able to hold the disparate ethnic animosities in check, the old hatreds reignited after his death. Slovenia and Croatia declared independence in 1991. (Croatia’s declaration was made on the tenth anniversary of the first Medjugorje “apparition.”) Since 90 percent of the population of Slovenia was ethnic Slovenians, there was only brief fighting in that country. 

Before declaring independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Franjo Tudjman was elected president of post-communist Croatia in 1990. On the day that Tudjman was declared president, a grand festival was held in the capital, Zagreb. Tudjman walked from the Parliament to the Jelacic square.

On the way, he passed through Kamenita vrata, where he kneeled before the altar of the Holy Mother, lit a grand, richly decorated celebratory candle, put his hands together and whispered a prayer, looking at the statue of the Holy Mother. Then he continued his walk to the Jelacic square, where he climbed the pre-arranged stage. From the other side, there came to the square the cardinal archbishop of Zagreb, Franjo Kuharic, who joined Tudjman on the stage. The stage was already surrounded by a turbulent and cheering crowd. There was quite a number of people on the stage. The foreground was occupied by the two leaders, the secular and the spiritual. Franjo Tudjman and Franjo Kuharic faced each other, and between them, in the centre of the picture, there was a baby-cradle. The scene was, indeed, memorable: the modern Croatian pater patriae, his partner Ecclesia Croatica, and the imagined infant in the cradle. Thousands of spectators came to bow before them. [23] 

The Croation War of Independence was fought from 1991 until 1995. Initially the war was between the police fighting for an independent Croatia and Serbs living in Croatia opposing the secession. However, the Serbian controlled Yugoslav Army invaded, taking the side of the Croatian Serbs. 

By the end of 1991, most of Croatia was gravely affected by war, with numerous cities and villages heavily damaged in combat operations, and the rest supporting hundreds of thousands of refugees. After a ceasefire in January 1992 and international recognition of the Republic of Croatia as a sovereign state, the front lines were entrenched, the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) was deployed, and combat became largely intermittent in the following three years. During that time, a self-proclaimed Serbian nation within Croatia encompassed 13,913 square kilometers (5,372 sq mi), more than a quarter of country. [24] 

In January 1992, Macedonia declared independence as did Bosnia and Herzegovina in April.

The most ethnically diverse of the Yugoslav republics, Bosnia and Herzegovina was 43 percent Muslim (Bosniaks), 31 percent Serbian, and 17 percent Croatian according to the 1991 Yugoslavian census. Ethnic tensions strained to the breaking point, and Bosnia erupted into war.

Also in April 1992, Serbia and Montenegro formed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, with Slobodan Milosevic as its leader. This new government, however, was not recognized by the United States as the successor state to the former Yugoslavia. [25]

In 1992, Croats and Bosniaks started the Croat-Bosniak conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, just as each was fighting with the Bosnian Serbs. The war was originally fought between the Croatian Defense Council and Croatian volunteer troops on one side and the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the other, but by 1994, the Croatian Army had an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 troops involved in the fighting. [26] 

Nevertheless, it is “essentially correct” to downplay the religious dimension of this war according Gerard F. Powers, Director of Catholic Peacebuilding Studies at the Kroc Institute.

“It cannot be overemphasized,” concludes Reverend Peter Kuzmic, president of the Protestant-Evangelical Council of Croatia and Bosnia, “that the genesis of the war was ideological and territorial, not ethnic and religious.” The conflict erupted out of the failure of the Yugoslav idea, a failure in which cultural, political, economic and other types of factors were far more prominent than religious ones. Yugoslavia dissolved in 1991 into a war over competing and mostly incompatible claims of self-determination. None of the six nationalities of the federation was satisfied with the seventy years of the Yugoslav experiment. The Serbs felt that a more united Yugoslavia would end years of discriminatory treatment and give them the power and economic well-being commensurate with their numbers; fearing Serb domination, most of the other nationalities wanted a more decentralized Yugoslavia. After Tito’s death, his fragile efforts to balance these competing views of Yugoslavia gave way to a process of economic and political decentralization and disintegration. Serious economic decline coincided with a growing political incompatibility after 1989 between the nascent democratic and nationalist movements in Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Macedonia and hard-line communist-turned-nationalist regimes in Serbia and Montenegro. [27]

That said, Croatians battled to ethnically cleanse areas in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. [28]

During the war, Medjugorje remained under the control of the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) and the Serbs were quickly eliminated by 1991. “The property of the Franciscan order in Bijakovici below ‘Apparition Hill’ was used as a testing ground for grenade launchers by the militia of a local weapons dealer.” [29]

Even the presence of 18 million tourists between 1981 and 1991 along with a modern infrastructure had no lasting effect on Medjugorje; indeed as soon as there was economic stress, the villagers resorted to a vicious clan war….Croats of the same ethnicity and religion slaughtered each other at the lowest common denominator, clan differences.

[T]he civil war that was raging began to cut into the tourist trade. Tour groups were often waylaid or prevented from reaching their destination. Economically, the villagers had in many cases taken out loans to expand their homes. Clans controlled their rivalries as long as the money flowed in from tourists. By 1991 most of the boarding houses were empty except for those owned by the Ostojici clan, which had good outside connections. Other clans asked the Ostojici to share their good fortune; the Ostojici declined.

One of the most brutal aspects of the war in Medjugorje was not the conflict between Croats and Muslims or Serbs but between the Croats themselves. A blood feud was soon ignited in Medjugorje and its environs that killed 200 members of the village of 3000 and caused another 600 to flee the region. Pilgrims at the Medjugorje Peace Center did not even realize the feud was ongoing although grisly atrocities including mutilations and torture were carried out on a regular basis between the warring clans in nighttime raids. Finally, elements of the Croatian Army aligned with one of the warring clans intervened against the Ostojici, 100 men were rounded up and quickly liquidated in one of the many ravines in the area.

By the end of 1992, Medjugorje was again accessible to tourists. Houses were being built and repaired. Visitors were told Serb aggressors had done the damage to the village.

The Ostojici property was taken over by their rivals, the remaining Ostojici having fled as refugees to Germany. Mart Bax finds the whole incident reminiscent of a situation where escalating violence helped by outside forces leads to a tragic outcome. But what is puzzling is the sheer barbarity of the dispute, villagers mutilated and tortured each other, elderly people were murdered, homes were burned, and women and children killed. Bax notes that the violence as it became more grisly also became more organized. In regards to mutilation, he notes they followed a fixed pattern with more and more parts of bodies being removed as the conflict increased. Homemade rocket launchers were used to chase out the Ostojici who remained. As for the Mother of God, Bax reports the victors offered up prayers of thanks for her special grace and protection.

A new campaign of ethnic cleansing was then launched against the remaining Muslims, the Serbs having been chased out in 1991. In 1992, forces from Medjugorje, including the local militia known as the rocketeers because of their use of home-made rocket launchers, slaughtered Muslims in a nearby village and blew up the mosque. By 1994 the Franciscans had built a church there. The scene was repeated in 1993 by the rocketeers of Medjugorje as other Muslim villages were razed, Franciscan churches established and Croat refugees resettled.

The final stage of ethnic cleansing occurred in 1993 in Lavsa Valley against the Muslims. [30]

It was the largest massacre of the Bosnia War. 

On Friday, April 16, 1993 at 05:30 hours, Croatian forces simultaneously attacked Vitez, Stari Vitez, Ahmići, Nadioci, Šantici, Pirići, Novaci, Putiš and Donja Večeriska. General Tihomir Blaškić spoke of 20 to 22 sites of simultaneous combat all along the road linking Travnik, Vitez and Busovača. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Trial Chamber found that this was a planned attack against the Bosniak civilian population….

Croat women and children had been evacuated on the eve of the fighting. The method of attack displayed a high level of preparation. The attacks in the built-up areas, such as those carried out in the Ahmići area were operations planned in minute detail with the aim of killing or driving out the Bosniak population, resulting in a massacre….

According to several international observers, the attack occurred from three sides and was designed to force the fleeing population towards the south where elite marksmen with particularly sophisticated weapons shot those escaping. Other troops, organized in small groups of about five to ten soldiers, went from house to house setting them on fire and killing the residents. Around one hundred soldiers took part in the operation. The attack resulted in the massacre of the Bosniak villagers and the destruction of the village. Among the more than 100 who died were 32 women and 11 children under the age of 18. The aim of the HVO artillery was to support the infantry and destroy structures which the infantry couldn’t. The mosque, for example, was hit by a shot from a powerful weapon. Later the minaret was blown up.

A European Community Monitoring Mission (ECMM) observer said he had seen the bodies of children who, from their position, seemed to have died in agony in the flames: “some of the houses were absolute scenes of horror, because not only were the people dead, but there were those who were burned and obviously some had been burned with flame launchers, which had charred the bodies and this was the case of several of the bodies.” According to the ECMM report, at least 103 people were killed during the attack on Ahmići.

Most of the men were shot at point blank range. Some men had been rounded up and then killed by Croatian soldiers. Twenty or so civilians were also killed in Donji Ahmići as they tried to flee the village. The fleeing inhabitants had to cross an open field before getting to the main road. About twenty bodies of people killed by very precise shots were found in the field. Military experts concluded that they had been shot by marksmen. Other bodies were found in the houses so badly charred they could not be identified and in positions suggesting that they had been burned alive. The victims included many women and children.

The ICTY has ruled that these crimes amounted to crimes against humanity in numerous verdicts against Croat political and military leaders and soldiers, most notably Dario Kordić political leader of Croats in Central Bosnia who got 25 years in prison. The massacre was discovered by United Nations drawn from the British Army, under the command of Colonel Bob Stewart. [31] 

The villagers who were not killed outright were rounded up and murdered at a Croat run concentration camp one half hour from Medjugorje. [Medjugorje villagers were warned that “anyone found sheltering Muslims in the Holy City would have their homes blown up.”{32}] Transports of prisoners were routed through Medjugorje but the Muslims were told to cover their eyes lest their gaze pollute the Croat holy shrine. The Western pilgrims never realized that an extermination camp was only minutes away. Indeed, organizations like the Caritas of Birmingham [Alabama] blamed the Serbs for all the inconveniences in the region including destruction of buildings, much of which occurred during inter-clan warfare among Croats. [33]

Author and journalist Christopher Hitchens visited the area in 1999.

Here, the wreckage of an entire city and the ruin of an entire society are still open to view. The bridges are down, the minarets are amputated. In many parts of town there is still not one stone piled on another. And all this was done, in plain view of NATO, by Croatian government forces who had pictures of the Virgin taped to their rifle-butts. While the pilgrims chanted only a matter of miles away…the soldiers of Christ were methodically leveling every sign of the existence of another monotheism – Islam. They were also killing, deporting and torturing those of their fellow citizens who professed the wrong faith, or who didn’t profess the right one, or who professed no faith at all. [34]

In January 1993, Pope John Paul II had called an ecumenical conference in Assisi dedicated to praying for peace in the former Yugoslavia. But the same pope who, in the preceding decade, had removed Latin American clergy and prelates for supporting peace in their countries, never mentioned, much less denounced, the role of those clergy who supported violent religious nationalism in the Balkans. [35] 

However, Cardinal Kuharic of Zagreb and Cardinal Puljic of Sarajevo (capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina) both strongly condemned the extremism and violence of the Bosnian Croats during the Croat-Muslim fighting in 1993 and they supported the establishment of the Croat-Muslim Federation in 1994 as a way to resolve the fighting. [36] 

Under pressure from the United States, the belligerents agreed on a truce in late February, followed by a meeting of Croatian, Bosnian, and Bosnian Croat representatives with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher in Washington, D.C. on February 26, 1994. On March 4, Franjo Tuđjman endorsed the agreement providing for the creation of Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and an alliance between Bosnian government forces and Bosnian Croat forces. The agreement provided for the creation of a loose confederation between Croatia and the new federation, which permitted Croatia to send troops into Bosnia and Herzegovina. [37]  

The cardinals’ position was courageous given that these churchmen were opposing the local warlord, Mate Bobon, and his Franciscan supporters who opposed any peaceful settlements. [38] 

Kuharic had supported the selection of a new bishop of Mostar-Duvno, Ratko Peric, in September 1993. [39] On April 2, 1995, at the high point of conflict within the diocese, Bishop Peric was kidnapped by Croatian militiamen, beaten, and taken to a chapel run by one of the Franciscans associated with Međugorje, where he was held hostage for ten hours. At the initiative of the mayor of Mostar he was freed without bloodshed, with the help of the United Nations Protection Force. [40]  

In May, July and August 1995, NATO launched a series of air strikes on Bosnian Serb artillery and other military targets in part to end the Siege of Sarajevo by Serbs which lasted from April 5, 1992 to February 29, 1996, the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. It is estimated that nearly 10,000 people were killed or went missing in the city, including over 1,500 children. An additional 56,000 people were wounded, including nearly 15,000 children. [41] The summer attacks were also partly in response to the July 1995 massacre in Srebrenica (Bosnia-Herzegovian) where 8,372 Bosniaks were killed by Serb forces. [42]   

Shortly before dawn, August 4, 1995, Croatia launched Operation Storm reclaiming all United Nations Protected Areas except Eastern Slavonia which resulted in the exodus of 150,000-200,000 Serbs from the zones. The operation, which lasted 84 hours, was documented as the largest European land offensive since World War II. The result was a complete victory for the Croatian forces and an end to the war in Croatia. Serbs were 12 percent of the Croatian population in 1991 and only 4 percent after the war. [43]

After the war:

According to reports by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Helsinki International Federation for Human rights, respect for human rights in Croatia fell far short of European standards during President Tudjman’s rule. These reports criticize the arrangements for the return of persons displaced during the war, the reform of the electoral law and the situation with regard to the independence of the press, freedom of association, freedom of information and co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The two organizations found that arrangements for the return of refugees discriminated against Croatian Serbs had been obliged to flee the country during the war. The annual report of the Helsinki International Federation for Human Rights reported cases of harassment and telephone bugging of journalists and pressure being brought on the independent media (e.g. the attempt to close down Radio 101). President Tuđjman’s popularity declined further in the course of 1999 in the wake of revelations concerning corruption and privatization operations which allegedly had benefited the ruling party. The authoritarian and corrupt nature of the ruling clique had the potential of a destabilizing impact on the region. [44] 

Tudjman died in office in December 1999. 

The “crimes against humanity,” as noted later by the International Court of Justice, were such as to provoke intervention by NATO ground forces which ended the principle bloodletting by 1995. The Dayton Peace Accords, held in November 1995, also helped put an end to the worst fighting in Bosnia and established two separate entities; a Bosniak-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Bosnian Serb Republic, each with its own government. Over both of these is a central Bosnian government and rotating presidency. The district of Brcko is a self-governing administrative unit and a neutral area placed under joint Serb, Croat and Bosniak authority. 

When U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who helped negotiate the peace conference, died in December 2010, the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Sarajevo told Catholic News Service, that Holbrooke “was no different than the majority of foreign politicians who came here….They ignored our problems” and the Croats are still “denied equal treatment….While the Dayton Accords helped end the war, they didn’t secure a just and durable peace, and this naturally affects our evaluation of Mr. Holbrooke’s efforts,” he said. [45]

The former secretary-general of the Croatian Catholic bishops’ conference said he also believed most Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats had been dissatisfied with the peace agreement, with many believing Holbrooke had “created a state which doesn’t function properly,” [46] an opinion shared by other critics who believe the new political entities reinforced separatism rather than integration.

The Dayton Agreement ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina after over 100,000 were killed or missing and 2.5 million people internally displaced among the former republics. The Serb defeat in Croatia and West Bosnia allowed Croatian and Bosniak refugees to return to their homes, but many refugees of all nationalities are still displaced today.

Often described as Europe’s deadliest conflicts since World War II, the Yugoslav Wars have become infamous for the war crimes they involved, including mass ethnic cleansing. They were the first conflicts since World War II to be formally judged genocidal in character and many key individual participants were subsequently charged with war crimes.

The most famous of those tried by the War Crimes Tribunal was Slobodan Milosevic accused of “attempting to create a Greater Serbia“‘, a Serbian state encompassing the Serb-populated areas of Croatia and Bosnia, and achieved by forcibly removing non-Serbs from large geographical areas through the commission of the crimes.

The wars ended in various stages, mostly resulting in full international recognition of new sovereign territories, but with massive economic disruption to the successor states. [47]

The resulting countries, listed geographically from northwest to southeast, are: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo (independence declared unilaterally in 2008. Its sovereignty is still a controversial issue), and Macedonia.

As summed up by the Director of Catholic Peacebuilding Studies:

The Catholic Church’s record on human rights was mixed. On the one hand, a consistent concern for human rights was reflected in Cardinal Kuharic’s frequent admonition: “If the opponent burns my house, I will guard his. If he demolishes my church, I will protect his. And if he kills my father, I will safeguard the life of his father.” On the other hand, Church leaders were often preoccupied with their own community’s suffering, and sometimes slow to condemn abuses by Croatian forces. [48]

As for Medjugorje:

The town and its environs boomed economically after the war. Over a thousand hotel and hostel beds are available for religious tourism. With approximately one million visitors annually, the municipality of Medjugorje has the most overnight stays in Bosnia-Herzegovina. [49]

In 1996, Bishop Peric ordered the Franciscans to turn over their parish in Capljina to diocesan priests. Capljina was the location of one the HVO concentration camps and only 10 miles from Medjugorje. The pope sent a special envoy to convince the Franciscans to cede control of the Capljina parish to the bishop. [50] The friars refused and the parishioners barricaded the church doors with cinderblocks and hung protest banners on the church façade. Frs. Boniface Barbaric and Boze Rados continued to say Mass and parishioners entered via a guarded side door. [51]  

The Vatican backed up Peric by recognizing that after the “ethnic cleansing,” the area is now almost entirely Catholic and none of the prewar Muslim or Orthodox population remained. So the proselytizing Franciscans are no longer needed. “They are preaching to the already converted,” noted a Mostar diocesan official. Eventually, Fr. Tomislav Pervan, former pastor in Medjugorje and then provincial for the Franciscan order in western Herzegovina, persuaded the congregation to drop its protest and remove the barricades. [52] 

The December 28, 1998 issue of BusinessWeek stated the feud between the bishop and the friars “could even undermine Bosnia’s future stability.” 

Rome has had to tread carefully because of the Franciscans’ strong ties with the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), which controls the region. HDZ politicians from both Croatia and Herzegovina regularly come to pray in Medugorje, where their pictures hang alongside images of the Virgin Mary in many shops and homes. Mainstream Bosnian priests and Western peacekeeping officials suspect that some of the money made in Medugorje may have been funneled into HDZ coffers. 

“This is a profitable place,” concedes Slavko Barbaric, a Franciscan who has ministered in Medugorje for 15 years. “And of course, we, too, sell our souvenirs and our rosaries and so on. But it hasn’t made us millionaires, and it hasn’t distracted us from our real mission…the care of people’s souls.” 

“There’s no doubt that in a sense, the HDZ views the Franciscans as its religious arm,” says Christopher Bennett, a Bosnian analyst with European Union think tank International Crisis Group. “Many Franciscans deplore this, but it’s difficult for them to do much about it without alienating a lot of their congregation.” 

HDZ efforts to politicize Medugorje are exacerbating growing ethnic problems in western Herzegovina, where local Muslims returning to their prewar homes have been denied entry or forcibly evicted by Croat nationalists. [53]

 A decree from the Vatican dated February 25, 1999, stated that in addition to Caljina, seven additional parishes were reassigned to the bishop, although the letter noted: 

The actual transfer of the 7 parishes to the diocesan clergy did not take place on Sunday the 21st as planned, since there was organized physical resistance on the part of the parishioners, as well as serious written and verbal threats, occupation of churches and parochial houses and the removal of parish registers and stamps. 

In total, this left 30 parishes in the Mostar-Duvno diocese with the Franciscans and 52 were the responsibility of the diocese. [54]

On April 6, 2001, demonstrations occurred in Mostar and western Herzegovina including Medjugorje. “Throwing of stones and setting of barricades among other displays” resulted in 24 international officials being injured, two vehicles burned and three others seriously damaged. The violence took place after the NATO-led Stabilization Force closed and searched the local branches of the Hercegovačka banka (Herzegovina Bank), through which a large part of the currency transactions in Herzegovina, including international donations intended for Međugorje, were carried out, on suspicion of white-collar crime. “Lack of transparency, unclear activities and a demonstrated relationship between the bank and the illegal so-called Croat National Congress whose activities created parallel structures in Bosnia-Herzegovina, have been recently condemned by the United Nations Security Council.” The Franciscan Province responsible for the parish was a shareholder of the bank. [55]   

  1. E. Michael Jones,“The Ghosts of Surmanci: Queen of Peace, Ethnic Cleansing, Ruined Lives” http://www.culturewars.com/CultureWars/Archives/cw_feb98/surmanci.html
  2. Matushka Katherine Swanson “Journey to Medjugorje” This article originally appeared in Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XIII, Nos. 3&4, pp. 51-53 http://orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/medjugorje.aspx
  3. Richard Chonak, “Mariologist Hauke on Medjugorje: ‘Don’t let the devotees fall into the void’” Catholic Light February 6, 2010 http://catholiclight.stblogs.org/archives/2010/02/hauke-on-medj.html 
  4. Jonathan Levy PhD, “The Virgin of Medjugorje: A Shrine for the Twenty-First Century” from the book, Abuse Your Illusions: The Disinformation Guide to Media Mirages and Establishment Lies edited by Russ Kick (The Disinformation Company Ltd, 2003) p. 327 Google Books 
  5. Ana Lucic “Short History of Croatia” November 24, 2001 http://www.medjugorje.org/chistory.htm 
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bleiburg_massacre 
  7. Michael Phayer Pius XII, The Holocaust, and the Cold War (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2008) p. 148 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_clergy_involvement_with_the_Usta%C5%A1e 
  8. “Franciscan Calamities During World War II” Catholic Church – Ecclesia Dei http://catholic-ecclesia-dei.blogspot.com/2009/08/herzegovinian-and-mostar-affairs.html 
  9. Levy p. 327  
  10. “A Medjugorje Update,” The Remnant, February 28, 1998, p. 5  
  11. Ibid  
  12. Levy p. 327   
  13. Richard N. Ostling, Hannah Block, Greg Burke, Robert T. Zintl “Cover Stories: Handmaid Or Feminist?” TIME December 30, 1991 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,974548-2,00.html 
  14. Levy p. 327 
  15. Christopher Hitchens, “Our Lady of Lies” Salon.com October 4, 1999 http://www.salon.com/news/feature/1999/10/04/medjugorje/ 
  16. Levy p. 328 
  17. Jones 
  18. Levy p. 328 
  19. David Yallop, The Power and the Glory (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2007) p 218 
  20. Yallop p 219 
  21. “Final Decision from Rome – Franciscans to be Removed from Medjugorje” German newsletter Der Schwarze Brief, vol. 33, January 6, 1999 issue, published by Claus Peter Clausen in Lippstadt. http://www.unitypublishing.com/newswire/finaldec.html 
  22. Levy p. 327
  23. Maja Brkljacis “Glas koncila and the Croation National Question, 1985-1990: Croatian Catholic Church Imagines the Nation” http://balkanologie.revues.org/index668.html
  24. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croatian_War_of_Independence 
  25. http://www.infoplease.com/spot/yugotimeline1.html#ixzz1CWtZb4YS
  26. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croatian_War_of_Independence 
  27. Gerard F. Powers “Religion, conflict and prospects in Bosnia, Croatia and Yugoslavia” Journal of International Affairs Summer 1996 (vol. 50, no. 1) http://www.georgefox.edu/academics/undergrad/departments/soc-swk/ree/Powers_Religion.html
  28. “’To Croatize’ is to ‘Europeanize’” Sense Tribunal February 25, 2010 http://www.sense-agency.com/icty/%E2%80%98to-croatize%E2%80%99-is-to-%E2%80%98europeanize%E2%80%99.29.html?cat_id=1&news_id=11589
  29. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me%C4%91ugorje#Me.C4.91ugorje_during_the_Bosnian_War 
  30. Levy pp. 328-329  See also Mart Bax “Warlords, priests and the politics of ethnic cleansing: a case-study from rural Bosnia Herzegovina” http://www.cla.wayne.edu/polisci/dubrovnik/readings/bax.pdf
  31. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmi%C4%87i_massacre
  32. Michael Anthony Sells The Bridge Betrayed Religion and Genocide in Bosnia (The University of California Press, 1998)  p. 107 Google Books  
  33. Levy pp. 328-329 See also Bax
  34. Christopher Hitchens, “Our lady of lies” Salon.com October 4, 1999 www.salon.com/news/feature/1999/10/04/medjugorje.
  35. Sells p. 108 
  36. Powers 
  37. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croatian_War_of_Independence
  38. Sells pp. 106-107 
  39. Sells pp. 107-108 
  40. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me%C4%91ugorje#Me.C4.91ugorje_during_the_Bosnian_War 
  41. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Sarajevo 
  42. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yugoslav_Wars  
  43. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serbs_of_Croatia
  44. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franjo_Tu%C4%91man 
  45. Jonathan Luxmoore “Holbrooke’s role in Bosnia hailed, chided” Catholic News Service December 15, 2010   http://www.ncronline.org/news/global/holbrookes-role-bosnia-hailed-chided
  46. Luxmoore
  47. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yugoslav_Wars
  48. Powers
  49. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me%C4%91ugorje#Me.C4.91ugorje_during_the_Bosnian_War
  50. Sells p. 111 
  51. “Final Decision from Rome – Franciscans to be Removed from Medjugorje.” See also http://www.ofm.org/3/news/N55mostar.html 
  52. Edited by Sandra Dallas, “After the War, Miracles and Mutiny” BusinessWeek December 28, 1998 http://www.businessweek.com/archives/1998/b3610110.arc.htm 
  53. Ibid 
  54. http://www.ofm.org/3/news/N55mostar.html 
  55. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me%C4%91ugorje#Me.C4.91ugorje_during_the_Bosnian_War. See also Report by 1st Lt. Javier Donesteve, First Published in SFOR Informer #111, April 18, 2001 http://www.nato.int/SFOR/indexinf/111/s111p08a/t0104188a.htm
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