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07.12.2017 | 10:44 | IKA E - 195596/12

The President of the Croatian Conference of Bishops Commented on the Sentencing of the Croatian Six from Bosnia and Herzegovina

"The Hague sentencing of the Croatian Six from Bosnia and Herzegovina does not take the historical facts into account. There are no historical data or reasons for a joint criminal enterprise. This verdict is not just and does not contribute to reconciliation! Let this verdict make Croatian politicians aware that the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina must not be left alone but need help to exist and remain there. In this situation of general distress, I am interested in how to help the nation so that it does not become lost," said Archbishop Puljić in an interview for Croatian Catholic Radio (HKR).

Zadar, (IKA) - On Friday, December 1, in an interview for Croatian Catholic Radio (HKR), the President of the Croatian Conference of Bishops, Archbishop Želimir Puljić of Zadar, commented on the sentencing of the Croatian Six from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the suicide of General Slobodan Praljak. In the interview, he spoke about the degrading position of the Croatian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the political context that had led to the sentencing of the Croatian Six. "The Hague sentencing of the Croatian Six from Bosnia and Herzegovina does not take the historical facts into account. There are no historical data or reasons for a joint criminal enterprise. This verdict is not just and does not contribute to reconciliation! Let this verdict make Croatian politicians aware that the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina must not be left alone but need help to exist and remain there. In this situation of general distress, I am interested in how to help the nation so that it does not become lost," said Archbishop Puljić, expressing his personal sorrow concerning the verdict against the Croatian nation in the homeland and in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The President of the Croatian Conference of Bishops said that the statement issued by the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts (HAZU) concerning The Hague verdicts expressed the spirit of the nation well, "that the sentencing is unjust, not based upon historical facts and will not contribute to reconciliation, for which that court was established and was supposed to help people in some way. As the President of the Republic of Croatia said, now we should turn to the future and try to live in peace with each other, because we are neighbors. We must live well with each other, cooperate. However, we cannot write our history or build our future on the basis of untruths and lies," said Archbishop Puljić.

The President of the Croatian Conference of Bishops said that regarding the status of the Croatian Republic of Herceg-Bosna, it is very important to emphasize the following: "Herceg-Bosna was established on the basis of the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was formed with a legal foundation, the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which made self-organization possible. It was quite legal. Furthermore, Herceg-Bosna was founded as a legal entity of associated Croats, who defended their homes, villages and settlements. They first did so together with the Muslims. The Muslims were not organized. They were being slaughtered and driven out by the Serbs. The Croats were organized. When we bear that in mind, this cannot be a criminal enterprise, as asserted in the verdicts. Croats also organized themselves in this organization. After the end of the war, they still functioned as a community," stressed Msgr. Puljić. He said "The international community stopped the war but with the solution of dividing Bosnia and Herzegovina into the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska, they committed a terrible injustice against the Croats. The Croats were driven out of the Republika Srpska and do not have rights in the Federation. This is now an opportunity to help the Croats. Moreover, the Croatian state can and must help because according to the Dayton Agreement, it has assumed the obligation to help Croats to be a constituent nation and remain in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The message now is: Do not move out, do not leave, because when you leave you will no longer have constituency. You must be in your place, fight for your rights, be present, especially when it is known that throughout history Croats have been an important element for Bosnia and Herzegovina," said the Archbishop of Zadar.

"If there were no Herceg-Bosna, there would also be no Bosnia and Herzegovina. I think that Muslims should be particularly aware of this because Herceg-Bosna saved thousands and thousands of Muslims, and Croatia was very much involved. If there were no Herceg-Bosna, there would be no Bosnia and Herzegovina, which Croatia was among the first to recognize. We want Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent state and we were among the first to recognize it because our fellow Croats are there who are responsible for having saved it as a state. If there were no Herceg-Bosna, I do not know how Croatia would have liberated itself and achieved independence. It is interconnected. This is why Croatia truly has a great responsibility but also the joy of celebrating the two states together, to which Croats have made the greatest contribution. This is a profound honor and source of pride because they did not destroy anyone but instead they defended what belonged to them historically: freedom for Croatia and freedom and independence for Bosnia and Herzegovina, so that the nations of Bosnia and Herzegovina are constituent: Croats who make up less than 15% of the population, the Serbs who make up over 30% and the Muslims with over 50%. All of them have equal rights. However, if we were to speak about equality in the struggle for the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina, they are not all equal. Here the Croats are a little more equal because they contributed the most, resisting aggression and fighting for the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina," emphasized the President of the Croatian Conference of Bishops.

The Archbishop cautioned: "The Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina are disenfranchised. They do not have the right to choose their representative. Through an international representative, a law has been imposed upon them that gives them no more self-government than they had. It happened that Muslims chose the Croat to be the representative of the Croats. This was very perfidious, very bad. Everything went against the Croats. The intention was to disenfranchise the Croats, which was achieved. Now Croats truly need help to secure the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution and the Dayton Agreement—as they are a constituent nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Croats must have all the rights that Serbs and Muslims have. Unfortunately, Croats do not have them."

Msgr. Puljić recalled that The Hague court had denied Croatia's appeal to be a friend of the court three times. "This shows that The Hague court, unfortunately, based on political motives, was established with specific political objectives. It is not a real court that weighs evidence but instead The Hague court is politically intoned here. It has been said that some tribes were killing each other and it is our task to show that they are all equally guilty and all equally responsible. In The Hague court, with this verdict the Six Croats were placed in the same category as the Serbs, without taking account of the fact that Croats did not attack Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina but were the victims of aggression, and they were defending themselves," said Msgr. Puljić.

The Archbishop agreed with the observation that the verdict was issued on the Day of the Republic of the former Yugoslavia. The symbolic message of the sentencing of the Six seems to imply that the Croats destroyed the former Yugoslavia, which had been supported by the world. "You Croats, you who are in Croatia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with your commitment and defense against the aggression perpetrated in the name of Yugoslavia (Serbs alleged that they were defending Yugoslavia when they were actually creating Greater Serbia), you are guilty because you defended yourselves, because you rose up. Why didn't you allow Yugoslavia to survive? Therefore, you shall be pilloried and shamed." The Archbishop noted that they did not want Croatia as a state and even when it was created, it had to go alone. "Now we also need strength, courage, composure and stability in order to prove that what happened in The Hague is not true. Who knows how they obtained evidence and statements? Our people also went there and gave statements. We do not know what kind of statements they gave," said Msgr. Puljić.

He pointed out how "those who espouse the thesis of Croatian aggression against Bosnia and Herzegovina have demonstrated that they do not care about Croatian freedom and independence, for which many gave their lives. There was no context for this to occur. Croats did not enter Bosnia and Herzegovina or Serbia and they did not attack anyone. They defended their homes and ideals, as everyone is entitled to do so. Everyone has the right to the free expression of national identity and faith. In this context, we honor the those who defended the endangered homeland," said Msgr.Puljić.

He feels that the "Croatian political circles are still not aware of the responsibilities they have undertaken. President Franjo Tuđman was aware of these responsibilities. In no gesture or act did Tuđman seek to divide Bosnia and Herzegovina with President Slobodan Milošević of Serbia, as some accused him of doing. This theory can only be espoused by enemies of Croatia and our nation. Tuđman never wanted that. Unfortunately, some of our politicians did. During the war, one talks with everyone. You are looking for a way to resolve the war. Tuđman is falsely accused of wanting to create the Banovina of Croatia. That is a lie and nonsense! However, he was and remained faithful to the idea that Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina should have all their rights. By his signature, he affirmed that Croatia would make sure that these rights were exercised," said Archbishop Puljić.

In the interview with Croatian Catholic Radio (HKR), Msgr. Puljić also spoke about General Slobodan Praljak. "The fact of General Praljak's gesture is very distressing. I am terribly sorry that he did it, although I respect what his colleagues said regarding his sense of principle, his desire for ideals, to give his life for the truth. Then there are some positive connotations, even if I do not condone that act and am sorry that he committed it.

"It is necessary to say more about General Praljak," said the Archbishop. "He was an exceptionally intelligent person. He was a real strategist, and understood all about it. He wrote his own defense. In Dubrovnik, I received some books he had written, in order show everyone: 'Here, this is it. That is how it was.' Everything was documented, visually. Unfortunately, I read that when it was printed, I suppose he asked for it to be tax exempt because it was professional literature. They answered that it was pulp literature. How shameful!"
"I cannot approve his final act in any way because no one may take his own life. However, it is necessary to take the circumstances into account and say that this was a moment when he was disappointed. He only saw that exit. God forbid that this act would be a model, motive or occasion for someone and should be understood in that way. Not to judge but not to condone," said Archbishop Puljić.

Recalling that the Church used to condemn suicide very harshly, not allowing persons who took their own lives to have funerals, he said "However, it was seen that this is not the best pastoral way because you never know the background of the person who committed such an act. The Church has said that a funeral is held for the living." The Archbishop also commented on the general's wish to be cremated and not to have a large funeral. "If someone has himself cremated, it is against Church Magisterium but does not violate it. If someone says: 'Cremate me because I do not believe in the afterlife,' then there should neither be a priest nor a Church funeral. If he connected the cremation of his body with the desire for a modest funeral led by a priest, this shows that the person believed in life beyond the grave and I think he should not be denied a church funeral," said the Archbishop. He stressed that the circumstances of the general's situation were truly dramatic and "we in normal life often forget abnormal conditions and the people who are experiencing them."

The Archbishop was struck by the "indifference and cold reaction of the judges" in regard to this act. "Elementary human solidarity and compassion were lacking. People who do not have feelings. Before you is a man who poisons himself, who kills himself. Stop a little. Pay respects to the deceased. Nothing. As if he were not a human being. Even when you are a judge, you are also a person. And when you have a person before you whom you are judging, you must not suppress your humanity, which also failed there," said the Archbishop of Zadar. He urged people to clasp their hands in prayer: "This provides heavenly support and a certain security. We need therapy, calm and composure. Prayer helps."

Archbishop Puljić appealed for help for the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina: "It is difficult to feel forgotten. It would be terrible for me if the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina accused us of this. We must not forget them, considering the contribution they made first to Herceg-Bosna and then also the Croats who fought in Croatia, in Vukovar, Dubrovnik and all the regions where the country was endangered. That was a great contribution and we must not allow them to be forgotten."
In conclusion, the President of the Croatian Conference of Bishops said: "At these moments, we should not become divided and scattered. Our personal party or regional interests should not occupy us to the extent that we lose sight of the common good. This is the moment to think not only of the common good of Croatia but also of the common good of the Croatian person, in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as other countries. When I was out of the country, it was difficult for me to hear people say: 'Croatia has completely forgotten us. When we collected assistance, then we were good, Now it is as if we did not exist.' In this context, our diplomacy in a foreign country must place great emphasis not only on presenting Croatia in that country but also on presenting Croatia to the Croats who are in that country, so that our people can feel that Croatia has not forgotten them, Croatia is counting on them," said Archbishop Želimir Puljić.

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