Another Side of the Pope: John Paul II's Balkan Legacy
Posted on Saturday, April 09 @ 07:00:00 EDT by CDeliso By Carl Savich
What will be Pope John Paul II’s legacy? In the week between his death and funeral, the media have lionized him with candy-coated encomiums as a peace-loving pope who brought down Communism and ushered in the New World Order. His place in history is assured as a determined anti-Communist who revitalized the Roman Catholic Church. He will also be remembered as an energetic evangelist for his faith, traveling to over 120 countries during his reign.
Yet what kind of a role did the “peacemaker” Pope play in the recent Balkan conflicts? And, despite his many journeys and outreach to leaders of other faiths, why did John Paul II not seek to reconcile Orthodox Slavs and Roman Catholic Slavs in the Balkans? In the end, did the Pope only exacerbate religious tensions and animosity in the Balkans?
John Paul II: First to Recognize Croatia
In 1991, Pope John Paul II became the first to recognize Croatia as an independent state. Committed at a time when tensions were high and dialogue was called for, this act was needlessly reckless. It gave great prestige and legitimacy to the cause of Catholic Croatia, which the Pope championed for his own narrow religious goals. His recognition helped spark a tragic civil war that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Serbs and Croats. The premature and irresponsible recognition foreshadowed the carnage, killing, displacement and suffering in the former Yugoslavia.
“I am not a pacifist,” said John Paul II In 1991, in the context of the first Gulf War. A few years later, bolstered by his ‘just war’ rhetoric, he demanded of Bill Clinton and NATO to intervene in the Bosnian conflict, when Roman Catholic Croatian troops were being militarily defeated by Bosnian Muslim troops. Using the rationale that “'the aggressor must be disarmed,” the Pope also incited the US to intervene militarily against the Bosnian Serbs to prevent the military defeat of Roman Catholic Croats in Bosnia. Of course, he has always veiled this intent behind the theology of the “duty” of the international community to intervene in cases of perceived genocide.
However, at the same time that he sought to protect the rights of Catholic Croats, Pope John Paul II was indifferent to the plight of the Serbian Orthodox population of Krajina. All he wanted was to recognize Croatia, a Roman Catholic state that worshipped the Vatican. He abjured negotiation, compromise, reconciliation. He was silent when Roman Catholic Croat troops, with NATO and US help, ethnically cleansed over 350,000 Krajina Serbs in 1995. This was the largest single act of ethnic cleansing during the Balkan conflict. The peace-loving Pope showed that he was a hypocrite.
Croatia was an obsession with Pope John Paul II. It was his Poland-next-door. He was determined to destroy the Yugoslav federation and socialism, as he had the Soviet Union. John Paul visited Croatia on three occasions: September 10-11, 1994; October 2-4, 1998; and, his 100th foreign visit, June 5-9, 2003. But on this last visit, a Bosnian Muslim sent him an e-mail threatening to kill him “in the name of Allah.”
The Pope: a Supporter of Holocaust-Denier Franjo Tudjman
The Pope’s behavior toward the Balkans becomes especially controversial in light of his treatment of morally corrupt leaders. He never criticized or condemned Croatian leader Franjo Tudjman, a known Holocaust denier and rabid anti-Semite.. It was Tudjman who had denied that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, maintaining instead that only 900,000 Jews were murdered. He also called Israelis “Judeo-Nazis” who were carrying out genocide against Palestinian Muslims. Tudjman also denied the World War II Croatian Ustasha genocide at Jasenovac, which he dismissed contemptuously as the “Jasenovac myth.”
Tudjman was a known racist who had plans to annex Bosnia-Hercegovina into a Greater Croatia. Yet John Paul II was silent about Tudjman. He visited Croatia in 1994 during the civil war, thereby giving moral support to the Tudjman regime in its efforts to ethnically cleanse the Krajina Serbs. The Pope had no sympathy for their rights or aspirations. All he ever cared about was the expansion of Roman Catholicism.
A Pope Who Beatified Backers of the Ustasha’s Genocidal Regime
On his second official papal visit to Croatia, Pope John Paul II made the shocking decision to beatify Croatian Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac, a man who had supported the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Serbs, Jews, and Roma. In Roman Catholicism, beatification is the step prior to sainthood. The beatification occurred at a huge open-air ceremony at the shrine of Marija Bistrica on October 3, 1998. This was meant as a slap in the face to all Orthodox Serbs. It would be like the Nobel Peace Committee awarding Adolf Eichmann a posthumous Nobel Prize for Peace. The action demonstrated his total and profound contempt for the Serbian people, for the Orthodox religion, and for the legacy of 60,000 Jews killed in Ustasha death camps.
Pope John Paul II prays next to body of convicted war criminal Stepinac in Zagreb, 1998 (CNN photo; fair use)
The body of Stepinac is preserved and embalmed in a glass case in Zagreb. In beatifying Stepinac, the Pope ignored a request from the Simon Wiesenthal Center to await the results of an investigation into his role in genocide and the Holocaust during World War II, angering Jewish organizations in the process. But that didn’t deter the man who mass-produced more saints than any other pope in history, by lowering the requisite standards. All that mattered to the Pope was that Stepinac was anti-Communist. That Stepinac was also pro-fascist, pro-Ustasha, and pro-Nazi did not seem to bother the Pope at all; he was to be revered as a “martyr” in the conflict against Communism.