by Zeljka Godec
Regardless of sharp criticism, Dragutin Hazler, the man who initiated the construction of the monument, a former political émigré and a pharmacist by profession, and the president of the Slunj branch of the Association of War Veterans, Croatian Domobran, believes that he did the right thing. He is adamant: "Those who today criticize Jure Francetic, the most glorious Croatian knight of the Black Legion, who took care of Chetniks [WWII Serb royalist guerrillas who committed crimes against Croats and Bosnian Muslims; Chetniks at times collaborated with the Germans and Italians, and at times fought against them; late in WWII they fought together with Ustashe against Communist Partisans] in eastern Bosnia, and his monument, support Chetniks."
We had little success in trying to get a concrete statement regarding the monument from the mayor of Slunj, Mile Skukan, a HDZ member. We found him while he was riding a motorbike through the town.
"I was ill and did not participate in that. I did not give the Croatian Domobran money for the monument, and I did not give them a permit. No one asked me anything about that." We failed to find out what his reply would have been had Dragan Hazler asked for a permit. The mayor expressed his stand non-verbally. He had his photograph taken together with the mothers of the slain defenders of Croatia, instead of next to the monument.
Only an anonymous voice in the competent municipal office for social activities said that the action of the extremist rightist from Slunj did not enjoy universal support. Croatian Domobrans erected that monument illegally. The law, namely, specifies that nothing can be constructed on the state-owned land without a municipal permit.
However, the locals from Slunj are divided on this matter. They are torn between the facts written during the Communist regime about the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) [pro-Nazi puppet state run by Ustashe during WWII] as a quisling state, about its ideologist Ante Pavelic [Ustashe leader] as a fascist and traitor responsible for dismemberment of Croatia and the fact that the former ruling party [HDZ] flirted with the idea of NDH, allowing that some of its rightist followers interpret the establishment of the NDH as a realization of centuries old dreams about independence.
Who was Jure Francetic? For some inhabitants of Slunj, led by "Croatian domobrans", "a knight who liberated Croats from a Serb-Chetnik aggression". Or as Dragan Hazler described slipping into demagoguery: "We are only interested in Jure Francetic in the ideological sense. We only care about one segment of his personality, his military career and the fact that he courageously, honorably and heroically fought against the most dangerous fascism, the Greater-Serbian-Chetnik fascism."
Hazler is not bothered by the fact that Francetic was a close collaborator of Ante Pavelic, condemned by the whole world because of fascist crimes, discriminatory policy and concentration camps. "Pavelic wanted to get rid of Francetic because he refused to become a pawn in the hands of Germans and Italians. It is quite possible that exactly Pavelic had Francetic killed," Hanzler is convinced, using Communist crimes in Bleiburg and uncountable other crimes committed against Croats as his argument for the commemoration of Jure Francetic.
"Francetic, an Ustashe colonel, was born in Prozor [Bosnia-Hercegovina] on July 3, 1921, and died near Otocac on December 27, 1943. He graduated from high school in Krizevci in 1931 and then attended a law school. At the law school he was active in the HSP youth. He was several times arrested and jailed for his political activities. In March 1933 he went to Austria and then to Italy, where he was given the rank of Ustashe captain. When V. Servatzy took over in 1934 the command of the camp in Janko-pusta [in Hungary], Francetic became his deputy. In 1936 he returned to Italy and was interned at the island of Giglio. In late 1937 he returned to Croatia and was banished to his hometown. However, in 1938 he managed to make it to Zagreb, where he intended to continue his studies, but was soon afterwards called up to serve his mandatory military service in Nis [Serbia].
"After the military service he returned to Zagreb and continued to work on Ustashe propaganda, to distribute fliers and brochures. In Lika he recruited and organized new members of the Ustashe movement. Because of these activities he was arrested in late 1940 and sentenced to a term in prison and banishment from Zagreb. In late 1941, he escaped to Germany. After the proclamation of the NDH he returned to the homeland, and Pavelic in April appointed him for an Ustashe governor of Bosnia. In Sarajevo he worked on the establishment of new authorities and the organization of Ustashe military and police units. In September of 1942, after the death of Becir Lokmic, he took over the command of the units of the Sarajevo Ustashe Camp that were soon transformed into the Black legion. After successful actions of the Black Legion in east Bosnia he was promoted to the rank of the Ustashe lieutenant colonel.
"On April 10, 1942, from the banks of the Drina River he sent a telegram to Pavelic stating that the Croatian Army had taken control of the eastern historical borders of the country [NDH included Bosnia-Hercegovina]. He was promoted to the rank of Ustashe colonel after successful actions in Kupres and around Bugojno, where the Black Legion was sent in July 1942.
"In September 1942 he escorted Pavelic during his visits to Hitler and Croatian legionnaires at the eastern front [near Stalingrad]. On the way to a new task in Lika, where he was supposed to take over the command of the local Domobran and Ustashe units, his airplane had a forced landing because of a sabotage on its engine. The airplane landed near the village of Mocilo near Slunj. During the landing, Partisans wounded Francetic seriously and he was transported to Slunj where he died soon afterwards. He was posthumously decorated as a knight and promoted to a higher military rank.
"During his life was been celebrated in songs published in magazines. In 1945 in Zagreb a booklet was published under title 'Folk Songs about Knight Jure Francetic'".
"Hrvatski Narod" wrote the following: "Ustashe colonel Jure Francetic headed to Lika from Zagreb on December 22 1942, to conduct his Ustashe and military duties. Ustashe Colonel Francetic flew to Lika in an aircraft piloted by Mija Abicic and was supposed to take over the command of armed forces there upon his arrival.
"Due to an engine failure, the aircraft had to land near the village of Mocilo near Slunj. At the time partisans were stationed in that village. Following the orders of Colonel Francetic, Abicic disabled the aircraft immediately after the landing and drained the oil and fuel from the tanks. After that, Francetic, armed by a machine gun and Abicic, using Francetic's hand gun, headed towards the nearby forest, hoping to break through the enemy lines and reach the closest free settlement.
"They were spotted immediately after the landing and attacked by a larger Partisan group, which was at about 300 meters away from them. Colonel Francetic kept the Partisans at that distance, firing at them from time to time. However, Abicic was wounded in the right side of his belly and Francetic tried to assist him. On that occasion Francetic was also wounded in his belly, but in spite of that he kept firing at the Partisans who were closing in until he ran out of ammunition, after which he disabled his machine gun. Attacked by the incoming mob, Colonel Francetic was hit on the head five times. Unconscious and wounded, he was sent together with Abicic the same day to Slunj, where his wounds were treated... Ustashe Colonel Francetic, an Ustashe veteran, a great Croatian patriot, courageous soldier and extremely capable officer, thus lay his young life on the altar of the homeland."
Continuing the story about Francetic, "Hrvatski Narod" carries the news that Poglavnik [the leader] Ante Pavelic posthumously decorated Francetic and promoted him into a knight. The same day the authorities of the NDH proclaimed national mourning that went on for eight days. In early April, two commemorative masses were held for Francetic.
Volunteers and Domobrans of the Slunj regiment in 1943 erected a monument to Jure Francetic, the commander of the Black Legion, who was at times assisted in this capacity by Rafael Boban. The monument was carved from stone. At the top of the monument there was a cross and a wooden plaque was mounted on the side of the monument. After three months, the monument was destroyed by the [Partisan] brigade led by Hamdija Pozderac, claims Hazler. He avers that the new monument is a copy of the old one, except that it was made from sturdier material. The plaque was produced by company "Signal M" in Zagreb.
Francetic's name was mentioned rarely after the war. A book published in 1973 in Belgrade under the title "The so-called NDH", written by Mladen Colic, mentions Jure Francetic as the founder of the Black Legion, who together with Anto Vokic immediately started forming Ustashe units in Sarajevo and its surroundings...
"Later Francetic and Vokic split up. Francetic remained the commander of the Black Legion, and Vokic formed a company of the future 2nd regiment of the Ustashe Military Railroad."
The Black Legion was equivalent to a regiment and had about 1,000 members. It was named after the black uniforms worn by its members, and it had the reputation of an elite Ustashe unit. One of the stories in connection with the Black Legion states that they did not wear black uniforms to imitate German soldiers but because they were given black material, normally used for priestly robes, by the priests.
Eugen Dido Kvaternik, one of the chief ideologists of the NDH, a Minister of Internal Affairs, and the commander of the Ustashe intelligence service, gave his assessment of Jure Francetic in his memoirs:
"He was not a military genius. He did not have basic military knowledge and military education, nor did he have any talent for basic military organization. However, he was an ideal man for fighting in Bosnian mountains, especially when Rafo Boban, a born guerrilla and a son of our mountainous Hercegovina, was at his side. Both of them were actually amateurs as far as military matters were concerned, but suitable for improvisation that we needed at the time."
The recent building of the monument to Francetic, who obviously did not command much Kvaternik's respect, provoked a harsh condemnation by the state leadership and the public. Prime Minister Ivica Racan stated that celebration of Ustashe ideology at the beginning of the twenty first century is anachronistic with respect to one's own nation. He emphasized that that action is the achievement of marginal forces, which want to base Crotiandom on neo-fascist ideology. President Stipe Mesic was even more specific: he demanded that the monument be destroyed. The Civic Council for Human Rights (GOLJP) was outraged and concluded that such an action is equivalent to the building of monuments to the worst fascist criminals, such as Himmler or Heydrich.
Dragutin Hazler, the president of the branch responsible for the scandal, a self-described "anti-fascist and anti-communist, and a Croat persecuted and maltreated throughout his life", forcefully defended his views in the office of the Slunj branch of the Croatian Domobran [Domobrans were the standing army of NDH, while Ustashe were elite units, similar to the SS in Nazi Gemrmany], where he received Nacional's journalists. He had spent most of his life in Switzerland, in the circle of political emigrants. The foundations of his political worldview go back to his youth, when at the age of twelve he lost his three years older brother who was mobilized by force by Partisans and according to Hanzler, butchered alive by Chetniks on March 21, 1942.
At the age of twelve, Hanzler revealed, he joined a Croat unit, but that angered his mother, who demanded that he immediately return home. He did that and later escaped to Switzerland.
He presented to Nacional's journalists his unusual view of history, leaving at times impression of engaging in a monologue with the past, without much interest for the present. At times when we interrupted his presentation, he would either become defensive, "I meant that in a general sense", or would begin to contradict himself.
Explaining the reasons for building a monument to Francetic, he said:
"We did not ask anyone whether we are allowed to build, actually reconstruct the monument. We, Domobrans, did that based on our own conscience, to commemorate a deserving warrior. In Germany there are thousands of monuments with names of soldiers, officers and cities in which they fought as occupiers. Allied units saw that monuments were being built to the dead, but they did not touch them. Dead people are powerless, they cannot harm anyone. A state that fears the dead is to be pitied.
"Croatian volunteers absolutely condemn every fascism, but no one committed so many crimes against us as Serb-Chetnik criminals both in WWII and the Homeland War. Our defenders in the Homeland War felt that Jure Francetic fought against the same criminals. That is why during the war they sang the song 'Here's dawn, here's day, here come Jure and Boban'".
Hanzler is aware that a permit from the municipal authorities is necessary for the building of a monument, but he did not request one, "since this was merely a reconstruction". He does not see why anyone should be bothered by the monument, since it does not harm the environment, nor is against the zoning plan. The monument was built at the place where it used to stand. That is, as Hanzler described it, "just like changing one dress with another one". Besides, he decided not to request a permit because the bureaucracy would have taken two years to respond to his request.
"Two mothers whose sons were massacred in the Homeland War live near the monument. That monument does not only commemorate Jure Francetic, but also an example of a tragedy coming to the Croat people from Serb Chetniks. We did not want to provoke anyone. Why should not we have the right to state that Croats have been victims throughout history and have been blamed for everything they did?"
As far as his outbursts of hatred and statement that he would not allow that worst Croat enemies multiply and produce litters in this region, Hazler explains:
"If Serbs believe that that applies to them, then that's their problem, as they have revealed that they are Croat enemies. I did not name the enemies. I did not say who produces litters here: wolves, foxes, animals, Serbs or Tatars. If someone recognized himself in that, thank God, he let us know that he is our enemy."
To the question to whom he was referring in his statement, if he was misunderstood, he replied:
"No one specifically, that was a general statement." Then he continued his presentation about Jure Francetic, whom he went to see as a young boy, while the Partisans were treating him in a hospital.
"Historical literature mistakenly states that Jure Francetic was held in the Parish Home, but I remember that he was held in Mate Mikan's house, next to the Parish Hall." Hanzler says that he saw when "the truck with dead Jure Francetic, wrapped in a bed sheet and alive and tied up Mijo Abcic, on December 28, around 11am left for an unknown destination."
Hanzler claims that Jure Francetic was a tolerant man and backs that up with his claim that Francetic adopted a Serb from Vares, named Sveto Gorincic. Even if it turned out that Francetic was responsible for war crimes, Hazler would "regardless build a monument to his military component in Bosnia". According to Hazler, a heart surgeon does not care whether his patient has a wart or not.
Hanzler does not intend to destroy the monument in any case. Just as he would not build a monument to the late Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito for any of his "segments", since he reconstituted Yugoslavia as a dungeon for the Croat people. If he is prosecuted for his action, Hazler would be very proud of that.
The Municipal State attorney in Karlovac, Zeljko Car, explained in a brief conversation that after the break up of the former Yugoslavia all laws that would sanction such actions and statements have been abolished. In this lawless interregnum, Dragutin Hazler built a monument to his ideological leader, Jure Francetic, denying what history has recorded about him: that he was an Ustashe murderer.