While my roots are mostly Serbian, my maternal grandfather Alexander (Anton to everyone) was Croatian.
His nickname was The Hunter, and he hunted with royalty because of his unerring skill, receiving precious stone-encrusted rifle from Prince George of Yugoslavia (King Alexander's older brother) that was taken by a museum after he died against the family's wishes.
He was from Dalmatia -- yes, the place where those spotted dogs come from, but he was a Croat.
Who happened to convert to Eastern Orthodox after the Second World War.
He was there when the Croatian Ustashi slaughtered Serbs and Jews in concentration camps, and he spoke openly about it.
It wasn't any sort of secret that Serbs were the victims of genocide, and that the Croats got away with it, mostly thanks to the Vatican who stepped in and saved their hides in various ways.
The Ustashi were always proud of their sins. Their nuns and priests burned Serbs alive in churches to "convert" them. They had special camps for Serbian children in Sisak.
They also took a lot of pictures of their war crimes. They posed proudly and smiled for the camera while holding up beheaded Serbian victims. They starved children and tortured their victims.
My Serbian grandmother's entire family was wiped out by the Ustashi, and it is on record.
And yet she married a Croat after the war. She was just one of those people who did not paint an entire group of people with the same brush.
To this day, the Croatians have never been held accountable for their war crimes. They got off easy compared to the Germans who were forced to own their Nazism. The Croats were small potatoes next to the towering Germans and they flew under the radar.
And there are far too many who are still deniers.
But it is the Croats who left the evidence of their hate crimes. When I was an undergrad studying psychology, I took a course on Genocide -- something that had happened completely by accident. I had an elective to take, but the one I wanted was cancelled because of low enrolment, and I needed to find a replacement fast for a Tuesday night -- and when I looked at my choices, the only one that fit the bill was the one on Genocide.
I did not want to take this course. The Civil War in the former Yugoslavia was raging and I just did not want to mar my studies by having to have bloodshed intrude even on my academic work.
And yet, I would change nothing now.
I am stoic by nature, but when I began to talk to the professor during the break about my grandmother's family, I lost it. I wept so much and uncontrollably so that I had to excuse myself from the room.
That had never happened before, and I had been shocked by my own reaction.
So naturally, I dealt with it by doing my assignments on Ustashi and the reasons for their bloodlust.
As usual, I did an obscene amount of research. I forced myself to look at hundred of photographic evidence, read documents and articles, as well as books, and whatever ephemera I could get my hands on in such a short amount of time. I found foreign books that were out of print and tracked down to verify as many sources as I could.
And I soon realized that the Ustashi weren't slaughtering in the name of purification, ideology, nationalism, or even religion.
They were doing it because they were greedy pigs. They stole land, livestock, and even a stamp collection from their victims. They threw people in concentration camps just to get their beds.
They stole gold teeth from the mouths of their victims. The pride of the people was just a cover: it was all about the Benjamins.
After all, when their fortunes turned around, those same fascists abandoned their supposedly glorious homeland, and took their stolen loot straight to the Vatican who ensured they weren't arrested, and were shipped to different countries to start a new life even though they ended hundreds of thousands of other people's lives.
There was no honour among these thieves. It was just a crude form of stealing, and then silencing your victims by death.
But with greed, there was jealousy. They were jealous of whatever trinkets other people had, and then killed them for those trinkets.
When I wrote my essay, my professor had been shocked at my thesis. I don't think she expected her weeping student to pull herself together and then clinically produce a list of verified items one group of fascists stole from their prey, and explain the factual and logical reasons why the nationalistic chest-thumping was a mere decoy.
But the deniers are trying to erase history in more ways than one. Writing books pretending it wasn't a genocide is one way -- and a vile one at that, but because no one forced the Ustashi to answer for their barbaric crimes, they regrouped, and then decades later, got themselves several high-priced PR firms, and struck again, this time during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s.
The press, who are historically illiterate by choice, ignored the previous genocide, and spun a narrative that did not align with reality.
It wasn't just the Serbs who were the victims of this new game, but Bosnian Muslims, as well.
Al Jazeera has an interesting piece on one Bosnian Muslim named Ramiz Tiro that is well worth reading and pondering. He was in a Croat concentration camp during that conflict, and there is one passage that struck me:
All the while, Tiro asked himself: Why? Why am I being arrested? Why am I being tortured? Why are we being expelled from our homes when our families have lived here for the past 500 years?
“We went to school together [with Croats], we lived together and all of a sudden he’s my enemy now?" he said.
Tiro recognised one of the soldiers who would lock them in as a former schoolmate.
Tiro asked him, “Why is this being done to us? I’m just like you."
“No, no, you’re ‘balije’ [Muslims]. You’re the enemy of our state,” the soldier said.
“This was unfathomable for me,” Tiro recalled. “But I realised what it was about during my time as a prisoner.”
It is, of course, not all Croats, and many have spoken out. My own Croatian grandfather spoke angrily of what the Croatian people did to the Serbs in World War Two, and was far more vocal than my Serbian grandmother who preferred moving forward without opening old wounds.
But as with the Second World War, the Vatican meddled on behest of those who caused the trouble, and their enabling has also never been confronted.
However, they are not the only guilty party.
Journalists never bothered. They didn't care.
They just didn't care because it didn't fit their narratives.
They ignored the first genocide. They misrepresented the civil war.
And with that, they allowed not just predators, but their enablers to continue their destructive ways.
That journalism collapsed is no surprise. They earned it with their insistence on misrepresenting reality.
But now that they have crashed and burned, it is time to think of the replacement and how it should be different.
For one, it cannot be blinded by narratives and their artificial confines. No group of people should be violent toward another group of people, and no ideology can be used to justify violence.
Enablers and spin doctors should also be exposed, regardless if they are our in-group or out-group.
And F.R.E.E.D. is the system that is about movement of facts to prevent those kinds of narratives from being set.
Because journalism has failed one time too many -- and ended up failing its own members most of all...