"FREEDOM FROM DESPAIR" - TESTAMENT TO THE CROAT PLIGHT UNDER COMMUNISM

"FREEDOM FROM DESPAIR" - TESTAMENT TO THE CROAT PLIGHT UNDER COMMUNISM

By: Bruno ZOVKO

I had the great pleasure of watching Brenda Brkusic's film ''Freedom From Despair'' at the Australian premier last Friday night at the Australian-Croatian Club in Melbourne. In short, it's the Croatian version of Michael Moore's film, 9/11.

Brenda's 90 minute odyssey traverses thru a suppressive 50 year time span in contemporary Croatian History - from the creation of the second ill fated Yugoslav experiment at the end of WWII, till the recent Homeland War in the early 90s. The film is literally a visual time capsule of the Croat expression for freedom in the past 50 years.

Brenda Brkusic receives a $5,000 donation from the committee of the Australian Croatian Hall Kardinal Stepinac - Geelong

 
The film draws breath on two fronts; the suppression of the Croat identity under the tyranny of Tito's communist Yugoslavia , and the political struggle for Croat independence in the early 90's. Both themes are poignantly explored and merged through the eyes of Brenda's father, Kruno Brkusic.          

Kruno's struggle is a living testament to the Croat plight in the second half of the 20th century. It's a story that could be recanted by hundred's of thousands of Croat emigres living in the western world. This tragic story of brutality that was inflicted upon the Croat race by the draconian Yugoslav regime, and the frustration and helplessness felt by many Croats in the dispora during the homeland War comes to light during Kruno's odyssey.

The documentary begins on the Croatian island of Hvar , where we find a young Kruno and his family, along with the local population suffering through the atrocious economic conditions handed out by Tito's Yugoslavia . The appalling famine like conditions described by many on the island is a far cry from the picturesque tourist island we know today.

If the severe economic conditions dished out to the islanders by the communist state was not severe enough, a more brutal and evil seed in the form of the UDBA (Yugoslav Secret Police) was beginning to spawn its terror amongst the local populace.

Kruno soon finds out first hand the true nature of the UDBA, which eventually leads him to his escape for freedom through Italy . He quickly finds his feet in America, forging a future for his family like so many Croat emigres all over the western world who have done so before him and will continue to do later.

Rare footage of the Croatian spring in 1971 is also shown, which is the first time I've ever seen such footage. The footage from the Zagreb rally could be easily mistaken for a HDZ rally in Zagreb nearly 20 years later.

As the Berlin wall crashers down and a second Croatian renascence begins to take hold in Yugoslavia in the early 90's. Croatia is quickly drawn into a war and is mercilessly attacked by the Serbian dominated state of Yugoslavia.

We now find Kruno in the role of a Croatian political activist in his adopted homeland of the U.S., lobbying the Croatian cause in vain to Capitol Hill. But it's to no avail as Bush's administration has already cast their lot with Milosevic's Yugoslavia.

We see the politics of Croatian survival played out by the powers of Europe and the U.S like some cheap poker game, with some revelation on why Europe (especially Britain and France ) and the U.S failed to intervene. The U.S policy towards Croat independence is sure to raise some eyebrows, especially the role of Lawrence Eagleburger in the Bush administration.

The feeling of helplessness by Kruno during the Homeland war is a despair that was felt by millions of Croats all around the world. The film could have been shot in Australia , Sth. America , Canada , Western Europe , as the struggle for Croat freedom was universally felt by all Croats around the globe.

The insight by Kruno and the testimonies of other Croats finally telling the story in an English language documentary of the oppressive living conditions endured by Croats in the horror state of Yugoslavia is very sobering and long overdue.

They quickly banish the myth of the socialist nirvana seen then by many in the western world and paint a true portrait of Tito; the tyrannical dictator that had more political prisoners per capita than Stalins Soviet Union or any other Soviet satellite.

We see in the film how Tito was conveniently accepted by the West as the so called ''good communist'' because of his fall out with Stalin, and unfortunately many today as in the past, still see this tyrant in the same distorted view.

This romantic notion by Yugo-nostalgics today that Tito was some kind of Yugoslav embodiment of the Argentinean revolutionary Che Guevara is belatedly put to rest by the countless testimonies of survivors of his brutal regime in this film.

Today's Yugo-nostalgics will give you a different account of Tito and his contribution to Croatian society than those testimonies explored in the film.

This type of romantic facade that still lingers in Croatia and the world can only be broken once a Croatian government indicts former members of Tito's murderous regime that committed these heinous crimes against the people of Croatia. Until these criminals are brought to justice and expose the true nature of Tito's regime in the courts of modern Croatia , this type of romantic myth of Tito will always fester in Croatian society.

If the testimonies of Croat political prisoners from the infamous concentration camp island Goli Otok aren't sobering enough, the description of the murder of thousands of innocent Croat civilians by the UDBA in death pits in Croatia by a witness is quite surreal and disturbing. It's almost as if this type of atrocity was accepted as the sunrise in the communist Yugoslavia.

If you don't know much about recent Croatian history or have friends or partners from a non Croatian background, this film will save you hours of explaining. To Brenda, congratulations, it took a 21 year old student film maker (now 23) from the U.S from Croatian descent to immortalize a Croatian story on film.

Unfortunately the film cannot be released on DVD until she can resolve the issue with the commercial footage she uses in the film from Croatian Television. (Yes Cro-TV want more money than any other networks that she has sourced her material for her documentary. Typical isn't it! Or are there other motives?).  It's currently the biggest obstacle for the film being released, and I urge people to petition HRT via e-mail. This is the whole reason why Brenda is in Australia, to raise money for the cost and distribution of her Croatian chronicle.

Croatian freedom has been achieved politically but the Croatian silence we are now currently experiencing hopefully lasts as long as a Croatian eclipse. Hopefully films like Brenda's help to bring about justice to the victims of Tito's Yugoslavia.

Once again, thank you Brenda for telling the true story of my parent's homeland.

THE "Freedom from Despair" roadshow continues on to Sydney (tonight) at the Croatian Club Punchbowl (7pm) then moves on to Canberra on Sunday (Canberra Deakin club at 6pm ). Tickets available at the door.

http://www.croatianherald.com/newgen-crocom.htm