By dr. Peter Anthony Ercegovac, PhD
Tito. Four letters. Yes, who would ever think that four letters could symbolise so much for a community. That, simply four letters, would become a symbol of repression and subjugation for a nation. These four letters were placed above a city to ensure the people knew who was boss. The removal of these four letters would send a message to those who placed those letters above the city that their boss and his legacy was dead. The removal of the sign Tito from the Marjan Hill above Split on November the 29th 1991 in the midst of the war was a sign things had permanently changed. These four letters that were supposed to be a monolith for eternity on that late autumn Mediterranean day were removed within 10 minutes. In 10 minutes soldiers from the IX. Battalion of HOS simply applied their drills and undid the bolts holding those letters to their foundations and Tito’s last physical presence was no more. Led by their legendary commander and President of the Split branch of HSP the late Jozo Radanović this act showed a people that it was over, i.e., Yugoslavia and communism. So he thought…
Perhaps in many ways this event would become the most important act of defiance in Split orchestrated by the HSP not just toward the communist dictatorship of Marshal Tito but a message to those watching that his legacy would also be defied. Radanović told Slobodna Dalmacija that day: “This is a symbolic act of the overthrow of the name of the person who created the Yugo-Chetnik armada that is setting everything on fire throughout Croatia. And today’s govt is a continuation of such a regime, so this is only a symbolic confrontation with communism and neo-bolshevism in this red and orjunist[i] city”.[ii]
Choosing the date of Communist Yugoslavia’s national day holiday was not just a message to Belgrade that any hopes of an eventual re-federation of the national republics would not occur but also a message to those communists who had changed their coats and infiltrated into the fledgling Croatian nation-state’s political institutions that they would be resisted. As many Croats began to ask around that time why on earth is that sign still there? The war had at this stage been raging for some six months. Some one-third of Croatia had been occupied. Those occupying the republic were wearing the very uniforms adorned with that red star on their hats that Tito’s partisans wore when they initially occupied Croatia in the name of international communism and Stalin at war’s end in May of 1945.
It was the irony of this fact, that after the massacres of Bleiberg in May of 1945, the Way of the Cross mass enforced marches and liquidations of disarmed Croatian combatants and civilians who had surrendered to British troops and were forced back into the arms of Tito’s partisans, the fall of Vukovar and Škabrnja on November the 18th 1991 that these four letters that symbolised the supposed omnipotence of the regime were still hanging above the city of Split. Standing above the skyline, looking down upon the Adriatic coast and sea, as if threatening that it may not be over yet. That Croatia was not truly free at all. The ghosts of communism were still here, shapelessly re-haunting her new institutions of power, education and governance. A shadow cast upon all those who sought freedom to be who they were and how, more importantly, how they sought to define themselves politically, socially and culturally. It was as if the ghosts of communism were saying, you may think that you are winning, you may think you are free, but here we are looking down upon you awaiting our return.
Radanović knew what he was doing. He also knew who was in power. Yes, Franjo Tuđman’s Govt was waging a defensive war for Croatian freedom, which would eventually see Croatia emerge as a new nation-state on the world’s stage. But Radanović knew very well, as did most of his fighters in HOS, that all but two ministers in Tuđman’s Govt had created their political careers within League of Communists of Yugoslavia or the JNA. He also knew that as of October the 8th the new Croatian Army was now under the high command of the former JNA General Antun Tus who had until this time been sitting on the fence awaiting the outcome of the initial stage of the war as go-between between Belgrade and Zagreb. It was also known that virtually the entire diplomatic corps of the fledgling Republic Croatia was made up of former Yugoslav diplomats of Croat ethnicity who had crossed over, as they no longer had a state to represent. Milošević was now Serbianising all instutions, especially the Yugoslav diplomatic service. These people who had for 45 years spread the Yugoslav and Marxist gospel from the First to the Third World were now faced with the existential question of either crossing over or disappearing from the stage of history as their ideology and state had. Add to this that the new privatisation of state businesses, combines and corporations, which commenced under the Yugoslav Presidency of Ante Marković before Tuđman came to power, but would eventually be rubber stamped in the Tuđman years, were to be in the hands of the communist elites then one can get a feel of what indeed those four letters meant to those living in the city below. Fourteen days prior to this the Yugoslav Navy (JRM) had lost the battle for Split in the waters between the city of Split and the island of Brač. Fourteen days after the JRM destroyer Split fired upon the very city it was named after the sign was still there.
Croatia was being bombed. She was occupied. She was dealing with over 700.000 refugees and displaced people. Her soldiers were being killed in her own backyard by those troops wearing on their sleeves the very ideology that this sign above Split symbolised and was propagating. This sign, these four letters, placed in the backyard of the Dalmatian capital, Croatia’s second largest urban centre, filled with local and migrant populations who had their roots in the very hinterland that was occupied, were mocking her. Radanović now in one swift ten minute action sent a message to the political elites of Croatia, it was now over… so what are you guys going to do next?
[i] A term used to define those who are indoctrinated Yugoslav nationalists. Originally it meant membership to the Serbian monarchist Yugoslav Youth Organisation between the two world wars- legally form 1921 to 1929 and then illegally though with assistance of the Yugoslav monarchist secret service in Belgrade up until 1941- which denied the rights to Croatia statehood outside a Yugoslav framework.
[ii] I. Bonković, U petak 29. studenoga 1991. legenda s Marjana otišla u povijest, Slobodna Dalmacija, p. 18, 1.12.1991.