by Ivan LOVRENOVIC
Instead of futile interpretation of true dimensions and importance of the Pope's "mea culpa", it is perhaps more interesting to take into account and interpret the meaning of reactions provoked by that act on the other side, for which the act was mostly intended - therefore the Serb side. And not in the official circles, since exaggerated civility and even certain obsequiousness with respect to the Pope by the politicians from the Republic of Srpska was nothing but an attempt to score some political points. In general "reading of signs" the unusual gratitude expressed publicly by bishop Amfilohije, otherwise not known for his favorable views of "ecumenism", is much more important. On the eve of Pope's visit to Banja Luka bishop Amfilohije spoke only about the traditional striving of both churches for togetherness. The turnaround in the discourse of Belgrade daily newspaper Politika is nothing but sensational. In its report from Banja Luka Politika unreservedly and without former customary irony calls Pope's admission of guilt "a great step towards the reconciliation of nations", "a great act of Pope John Paul II at Petricevac". However, the change is not only noticeable in Politika's new tone or (not unimportant) decision to refer to the Pope as "holy father" and use the Croat version of the Pope's name, Ivan instead of Jovan, but also in something even more powerful. Again, that deserves a full quite: "These words of the holy father at the spot that many Serbs see as a tragic part of history of local nations, are a great step towards reconciliation, especially since the Pope found strength to apologize on behalf of those who committed the crime, although it is known that Brother Miroslav Filipovic, who followed the mentioned Ustashe company [while it committed the crimes], did not report to the head of the Petricevac Monastery nor to the monastery itself, but went to the village of Drakulic on his own initiative. Consequently, the monastery cannot be blamed for the massacre in Drakulic."
Those attuned to the copious tradition of our mutual demonization, those who have once had the misfortune of getting to know the dark universe of monumental Viktor-Novak-like fabrications, must be sincerely astounded by such spectacular prequalification of the crime of Brother Miroslav Filipovic from for decades carefully designed and nurtured assertion about the collective evil of the Roman Catholic Church and the Croat nation to the territory of a strictly individual act. And by Politika! I hope that readers will forgive me my cynicism - it is indeed difficult to decide whose act is greater: Pope's or Politika's!
It is not at all bad to have the current Pope for a friend, and Karol Wojtyla is a true friend of Bosnia-Hercegovina. However, the general situation in Bosnia-Hercegovina as well as the true ability and determination of its current politicians focused on ethnicity to improve it, are at such a low level, and are provided such a low quality assistance by the international community that the conventional media speculations about far reaching impact of the Pope's visit to Banja Luka on that situation - are unfortunately nothing but empty courtesy. Well, even if that is the case one should not be dissatisfied with this "collateral" benefit, which seems likely to come out of the newly current "case Filipovic".
Everything started with the announcement that the Pope's arrival and beatification of Ivan Merz would take place in Banja Luka, next to the Petricevac monastery. Petricevac is the location of one of the ancient Franciscan monasteries of the Franciscan province of Bosna Srebrena; the Franciscans write these days that the monastery was destroyed and razed to the ground six or seven times since the founding, and every time rebuilt. It was destroyed in 1878 by the Muslim rebels after the entry of Austro-Hungarian troops. It was destroyed in 1969 by the big earthquake. After rebuilding the monastery from reinforced concrete the Franciscan brethren were convinced that that was their last building effort. However, in 1995 Karadzic's and Mladic's explosives experts demolished the monastery one more time. But none of these misfortunes has made it globally known. The honor for the monastery's infamy is credited to the crime from February 1942, when in the mentioned three surrounding villages Ustashe massacred many Serbs because of their collaboration with the rebels (at that point they were not split into Chetniks and Communist Partisans). During the massacres Ustashe were followed by a young Franciscan monk from the monastery, Brother Tomislav Filipovic, who joined them as a chaplain. As will be seen below until today it is not clear whether Filipovic killed anyone with his own hands. In a later bloodcurdling legend, which starts with the infamous propaganda-documentary book by Viktor Novak Magnum Crimen, in which there was no distinction between fact and fiction, Filipovic became "Brother Satan", a mythological prototype of a Croat-Catholic butcher. That image is even today an unavoidable part of every portrait of Ustashe movement and Pavelic's Independent State of Croatia, and for decades it has tempted Yugoslav writers, movie makers and journalists. One of the most powerful literary variations of that motive was created by Mirko Kovac in the story about a Franciscan "with two faces" - an angel during daytime and butcher at night.
There were not many opportunities or possibilities for different portrayals of that obscure person and events in Banja Luka villages in 1942. True on May 2, 1945 the leaders of Bosna Srebrena issued an official statement in which they proclaimed loyalty to the new authorities while at the same time forcefully denying cruel defamation published in daily newspapers Borba and Oslobodjenje, and explaining the fact that Brother Tomislav Filipovic had been ejected from the Franciscan order and excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church "as soon as it was found out that he witnessed crimes committed near Banja Luka, even before it was possible to establish whether he had committed any crimes". In the decades that followed a defensive mentality was created on the side of the church, impenetrable for critical and self-critical opinion. Thus even in drastic cases as the Filipovic's case the dominant tone was the absurd tone of justifying, dismissing, and reducing the importance... A reflection of that attitude, grotesque and so unlike that of the Pope is alive even today as can be seen in Zivko Kustic's newspaper commentary that follows and grumpily dismisses no less than Pope's request for forgiveness in Petricevac!
A possible benefit, which I mentioned above, could come from the debate that almost completely silently started on the eve of Pope's arrival to Bosnia. It started when Banja Luka author Jovan Babic in Glas Srpske in late May published an open letter to the Pope. Babic is an experienced journalist and has published numerous works on WWII topics. In the letter he, with deep respect, warns the Pope about the bloody events in the area near Petricevac and the role of Brother Tomislav Filipovic played in them, and with the best intentions, "as an ordinary person and a Christian believer", suggests to the Pope that at Petricevac he should seek forgiveness for innocent victims. Babic reminds that Ustashe demolished the Serb Orthodox Church of St. Georgije near the Petricevac monastery, the Serb Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Trinity in the center of Banja Luka, and that they murdered the sick Serb Orthodox Banja Luka bishop Platon, while none of the Catholic priests found it appropriate to protest against these crimes.
In his letter to the Pope Babic relates a striking, obviously true story about milliner Marko Lipovac, a Roman Catholic from the nearby village of Trn, who directly risking his own life saved more than thirty Serbs from the massacre by hiding them. With mild irony Babic concludes that instead of "here totally unknown Merz" the Pope would do better to beatify "Saint Marko the milliner". Babic also offers a very valuable reminder of a long gone and totally forgotten act of the Banja Luka Roman Cathlic bishop Alfred Pichler, who in 1963 after a meeting with Pope Paul VI, in his message to the faithful wrote the following: "...Precisely in this country in the last war our Eastern Orthodox brothers died because of their faith. Those who killed them were baptized as Roman Catholic Christians. They went by the Catholic name. And those Christians murdered other people, also Christians, because they were not Croats and Catholics. With pain we admit that horrible error of those confused individuals and ask our Eastern Orthodox brothers to forgive us the way Christ forgave all on the cross..."
In the June issue of the Franciscan magazine Svjetlo Rijeci its editor in chief Brother Mirko Filipovic reacted to Babic's letter. His sharp pen has over the years skewered numerous politicians, especially those who would like to be professional Croats, as well as some men of the church and the church itself. Filipovic criticizes Babic for including in his letter numerous stereotypes, unverified as well as untrue details: that Ustashe took an oath at the Petricevac monastery; that Brother Tomislav (Babic mistakenly calls him Miroslav and Brother Mirko corrects him) was a parish priest, that he personally murdered, which hasn't been proven, that we has "rewarded" for his crimes by being appointed the commander of the Jasenovac concentration camp...
These and other Babic's assertions were taken uncritically from old propaganda publications and political mythology. Besides, the whole letter is imbued with the symptoms that in general characterize the Serb outlook: total blindness for suffering and crimes from more recent history in which Banja Luka became a dark symbol of the Serb violence against members of other ethnic groups, especially Bosniaks-Muslims and Croats. In his reply Brother Mirko Filipovic justifiably rejects all of that. However, one cannot shake off the impression that in his polemic answer Filipovic failed to recognize the basic, ethical motivation of Babic's letter as well as the undeniable fact that the crime was committed and that "the blood of your brother cries from the soil unto me".
Here we reach the punch line of this whole story. Realizing, probably, that the point of such old, dark, and bloody histories is never in our later squabbles, but in the acts the way they are, the editor in chief of Svjetlo Rijeci opted for the correct response. Instead of Unidentified Perpetrator who could have done the same thirty, forty, fifty times, or at least sometimes during the last thirteen years since our "liberation" Brother Mirko Filipovic set out to find the documentation [in connection with the massacre] and posted the documents he found on the web-page of Svjetlo Rijeci, obviously with the approval of the current leadership of Bosna Srebrena Franciscans. As far as I am aware this is the first such case in the local religious circles!
In those statements, documents, decisions, personal letters, we can start to understand what happened with much more nuance - both in connection with the massacre of Serbs in Drakulici, Motike and Sargovac in February 1942 and with Brother Tomislav Filipovic himself. The documents include his signed statement given to the investigators of Pavelic's UNS in the investigation in connection with massacres demanded by Germans; there is also an exchange between Sarajevo and the Vatican regarding Filipovic's expulsion from the Franciscan order and excommunication from the church; there is also an explanation that Ustashe moved him to Jasenovac because it was out of bounds for Germans... Altogether material for an exciting and extremely dark horror-thriller.
However, for yours truly the most interesting document of all is the letter sent by already elderly Banja Luka parish priest Branko Zupancic in 1981 to the guardian of the Petricevac monastery Brother Stanko Buzuk. Buzuk had previously asked Zupancic to relate his meeting with Filipovic-Majstorovic in the Stara Gradiska concentration camp. (Where he was met and described by the great martyr and greatest concentration camp chronicler in Croatian literature Ilija Jakovljevic).
I met Zupancic as a student in the early sixties, when he visited our parish. He had a voice of a former graduate student of church law and experienced prisoner from Communist jails. He was an eager conversationalist and lover of literature, while at the same time also a true member of the old-style militant Church. We disagreed quickly, I remember well, among other in our views of Marinkovic's Glorija. For him that was a horrendous blasphemy and nothing else. Now, while reading his letter to Brother Stanko, decades after our last encounter, I suddenly find a man wiser, more flexible and warmer than in my already petrified memories. Zupancic wrote how as a Bosanska Gradiska parish priest he was once invited to conduct a burial of an Ustashe lieutenant who had died in the camp from tuberculosis. He said he was frightened since earlier he had informed church authorities in Zagreb that "all sorts of stuff" was going on in the camp. He was concerned that someone had betrayed him and that they were trying to lure him into the camp. However, he was truly invited to a burial. While passing through the camp he spotted Filipovic, whom he had known from childhood when he had visited the house of his parents in Jajce. "I greeted him and he," says Zupancic, "quickly cut me off and said: ‘Here everyone knows me as Miroslav Majstorovic. No one knows my real name'". They went to an empty room and there Filipovic told him his version of the events in Drakulic. Here comes the most horrible moment, which Zupancic with some ordinary but powerful gift manages to tell brilliantly. Filipovic-Majstorovic swore that he hadn't killed anyone in Drakulic, and than he added that "he slaughtered for the first time in Jasenovac". A telling description of some rebellion and its bloody suppression follows. Then, says Zupancic, "he took the knife and wanted to show me how he had butchered people". "I must confess that I was terrified and could not wait to get away from there," the author finished the letter, leaving to the reader an extremely suggestive, disturbing image of a man who is obviously seriously deranged.
Thus, therefore, if nothing else, the Pope's decision to choose Banja Luka for the destination of his one hundred first journey lured back to the light the difficult dilemma Filipovic-Majstorovic in the most useful way so far, in two unexpectedly good media steps forward. Both Politika's demonstration of new, reconciliatory discourse and the courage of the editor of Svjetlo Rijeci to publicly present some of the original sources are perhaps small, but all too important signs that announce a possibility of new attitude towards our shared bad past devoid of mythology.