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Some notes on the Vatican's role in the destruction of Yugoslavia

by Barry Lituchy
30 September 1995

Published in the October 1995 issue of The
College Voice, from College of Staten Island in
the City University of New York.

(In light of the recent visit of Pope John Paul II to New York and the extraordinary media celebration of this so-called "great man of peace," I was asked to contribute a short piece on the actual political history of the Vatican in the twentieth century. The real role of the Vatican in twentieth century history is hardly progressive or even "peaceful." The following are some excerpts from an article I wrote in August of 1994 on the historical roots of the breakup of Yugoslavia that deal specifically with the Vatican. My article reviews some of the important literature dealing with this question focusing on the U.S., Germany and the Vatican.

One of the most important books mentioned here is Christopher Simpson's "BLOWBACK: America's Recruitment of Nazi's and its Effects on the Cold War", New York: Collier Books, 1988. Of course, there is a very extensive historical literature dealing with the role of the Vatican in supporting fascism both before and after World War II. Students interested in pursuing this subject may wish to examine:

among many others. On the current Pope there is also considerable information to be found on his support for former Nazi Kurt Waldheim, for the current fascist President of Croatia Franjo Tudjman, as well as for the destruction of Yugoslavia.)

Blowback is one of the most important histories of the Cold War and ... the development of U.S. imperialist strategy, policies and institutions in its struggle to overthrow the Soviet Union and the other Communist led governments in Eastern Europe in the post World War II era. It uncover(s) previously unknown details about the origins of the C.I.A. and of U.S. covert operations and institutions, in particular the U.S. government's protection of, employment of and early dependency on former Nazi intelligence and other European fascists after World War II. In the case of Yugoslavia, these forces played key roles in the break-up of the country and in the establishment of post-communist regimes....

... Simpson gives a comprehensive account of how the U.S. intelligence agencies and covert operations in Europe got their start and how the U.S. strategy for containing, destabilizing and overthrowing communism in post-war Europe evolved, from the waning days of World War II to the present, with considerable help from two European institutions: the Nazi intelligence service and the Roman Catholic Church, both in search of new political allies after the defeat of fascism in Europe.... What this book confirms is the view that the states in Eastern Europe, particularly those of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, did not fall simply on account of their own internal problems; they were on the receiving end of decades of U.S. sponsored covert military operations working at their destruction....

...U.S. policy toward Yugoslavia after World War II flowed from a larger, general overall strategy or program for overthrowing communism world wide. In other words, while the historical record clearly shows that U.S. foreign policy had a unique tactical approach toward Yugoslavia within the broader context of the Cold War that was supportive, the ultimate foreign policy aims or goals of the U.S. toward Yugoslavia were essentially identical to those of the U.S. everywhere else in Eastern Europe: the restoration of capitalism through counter-revolution.

The second general point is that U.S. strategy toward Yugoslavia necessitated a policy of covert action involving both intelligence gathering and military operations. Initially, this consisted of the recruitment, training and deployment of large international networks of anti- Communist agents for covert operations. It was followed and greatly supported by the creation of CIA-financed, domestically based emigre organizations in the U.S. These emigre organizations (often affiliated in one way or another to Assembly of Captive European Nations - ACEN) were dedicated to the building of counter-revolutionary emigre armies and to assisting the U.S. achieve its policy goals of destabilizing, invading and militarily overthrowing all of the communist states in Eastern Europe. ... of these agents and emigres recruited by the U.S. government in Europe, the vast majority of them were either former Nazis, former members of other fascist parties, or simply former Nazi collaborators. This point is actually the main focus of the book and is discussed in detail.

...in the immediate aftermath of the war, the Croatian fascist party (the Ustasha) built their own covert network for organizing and defending themselves and evading the scrutiny of international war crime tribunals. These escape networks were called "ratlines." ... these Ustashi "ratlines" were based in Rome and were built with the indispensable assistance and protection of the Vatican. Hence, the book reveals that the Catholic Church played a significant role in the post-war strategies and policies of the U.S. in Europe. ... these ratlines were quickly discovered and soon thereafter protected and employed by the C.I.C. (Counter Intelligence Corp of the U.S. Army, a predecessor to the CIA). (Over time)..., from about 1948 on, the U.S. government greatly expanded the scope of its covert operations by relying on former fascists from Europe, spending millions of dollars annually on fascist Croatian and fascist Albanian organizations, publications and agents, both in Europe and in the U.S. It is essential to point out that the policy of these Yugoslavian groups and individuals sponsored by the U.S. has been and continues to this day to be violently nationalistic, anti-communist, anti-Yugoslavian: i.e.: for the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Finally, ... ( we see) the full and inescapable responsibility of the U.S. government and the CIA for the survival, preservation and resurrection of Croatian (Ustasha) fascism, which thanks to fifty years of U.S. government support, today once again rules in Zagreb. With the help of the Roman Catholic Church, the U.S. government and its fledgling intelligence agencies saved and preserved pre-war Nazism and European fascism to the present day, carving out an important role for it throughout the Cold War, and positioning it for a reconquest of state power in the event of counter-revolution. The preservation of pre-war Croatian fascism and other extreme right wing nationalist movements in the Balkans (particularly Albanian fascism which is discussed here as well) is directly responsible for the break-up of Yugoslavia and for the current civil war in Bosnia.

...The Americans relied on the more experienced former Nazi intelligence officers such as Reinhard Gehlen and others to recruit and organize their European spy networks. Clearly, Nazi intelligence was best situated to penetrate and coordinate covert actions in the Communist bloc after W.W.II. ... until ... (the early 1960's), the majority of U.S. intelligence work in Eastern Europe was done by the "Gehlin Organization," a network of former Nazi and European fascist agents, recruited and directed by former Nazi General and head of Nazi intelligence Reinhard Gehlin. Gehlin was hired to undertake this by U.S. Army C.I.C. General and head of U.S. Army Intelligence in Europe Edwin Sibert, by order of the President, Harry S. Truman.

... The reliance of the U.S. government on Nazi fascism for implementing covert action in its struggle against Communism was no anomaly. The U.S. government had a parallel policy for recruiting, staffing and carrying out its chemical, biological, missile, rocket and space research and development programs with Nazi scientists as well....

The most important ratlines in Europe following the collapse of the Hitlerite regime were those running away from Soviet controlled territories, for example like those running from Vienna to Rome -- Rome being the true center of post-war Nazism and fascism for many years. Here fascists and fascist collaborators fleeing justice from all over Europe could find protection, a safe house, new identities and papers, as well as relocation in new lands such as in South America.

But why Rome? Weren't the fascists defeated in Italy during the war? While it is true that the fascist government was overthrown in Italy, its most powerful and important ally, the Roman Catholic Church, eluded any punishment or reproach. Thus, the protection of Nazis and other fascists by the Catholic church (which was official Church policy from the Vatican on down) proceeded without any interference from the Western powers. Not surprisingly, the Vatican has never renounced the many anti-Semitic and pro-fascist pronouncements issued by the Church during the 1930's and 1940's. As Simpson details in his book, there existed one organization in particular within the Church (with close ties to the inner circles of the Vatican), which took special responsibility for developing and maintaining ratlines for fascists after the war. That organization was called the Intermarium.

The Intermarium was a Church organization in Europe which embraced and developed close relations with the fascist and Nazi parties and movement in Europe from the early 1930's continuing on through World War II and after. As Simpson puts it: "For much of the Catholic Church...W.W.II had been an interlude in a deeper and more important struggle against 'atheistic communism' that had been raging for decades," (page 177). The Intermarium built strong ties to all of the fascist governments and parties in Europe prior to the war, and some of its leading members became officials in several of the fascist states. Among the leaders of the Intermarium were Croatian Ustashi leaders as well as clerical fascists from Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Ukraine, Lithuania and so on. The favor shown by the Papacy for Croatian fascism was no secret: the Ustasha leader Ante Pavelic was himself received by the Pope. It was through Vatican channels that the Intermarium was able to resettle fascists in Latin America. "In those Latin American countries where the church is a controlling or dominating factor, the Vatican ... brought pressure to bear which ... resulted in the foreign missions of those countries taking an attitude almost favoring the entry into their country of former Nazis and former fascists...," (p. 180). In 1946 the Intermarium intervened with Pope Pius XII to save an entire Ukrainian Waffen SS division (some 11,000 men) and their families (ibid.). It should be remembered that this division had participated in some of the most heinous crimes of history: the mass liquidation of Jews, Russians and Communists in the Ukraine and Poland. By comparison, the German and West European divisions of the SS were merely "good soldiers," although they were adjudged at Nuremburg to have been "criminals in uniform." (See John Keegan's, Waffen SS: the Asphalt Soldiers, London: Purnell's History of the Second World War, 1970, pp. 130-155).

In Croatia and elsewhere these Clerical fascists registered Jews in preparation for deportation to the gas chambers. In Latvia and Lithuania clerical fascist priests oversaw the mass executions of thousands of Jews and Communists. The Croatian Ustasha leader Pavelic, himself a Catholic Priest, proclaimed Croatia a "pure Catholic state," and presided over the extermination of 700,000 Serbs, 40,000 Jews and 25,000 Gypsies. Pavelic's policy toward the Serbs was to "expel a third, convert a third, and exterminate a third." This policy was carried out not just in Croatia but in what is today known as Bosnia as well, because most of present day Bosnia was at that time incorporated into the wartime fascist state of Croatia. Muslim collaboration with the Ustasha regime was critical to the execution of these policies in Bosnia.

Indeed, under the Croatian fascist state two SS Bosnian Muslim divisions were recruited: the 13th "Handjar" and the 23rd "Kama" Divisions of the SS. A third Yugoslav Muslim SS division, "the Skanderberg," was recruited mostly from Albanian and Montenegrin Muslim populations under Italian occupation. But it was the Bosnian Muslim Handjar division which was by far the most important of the SS divisions recruited in the Balkans.... Its political indoctrination was headed by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (the organizer of pogroms against the Jews in Palestine) who inculcated an ideology of Islamic fundamentalism and anti-Semitic and anti-Serbian racism that is today once again nurtured in the more elite units of the current Bosnian Muslim army. ... the Handjar division ultimately was beaten badly by the mostly Serbian and Yugoslav Jewish partisans it was sent to fight. Instead, as John Keegan explained in his 1970 study of the SS, "it confined itself chiefly to massacring and pillaging the defenceless Christians," (Keegan, p. 105). In other words, its main accomplishment of the war was the mass liquidation of Serbian civilians in Bosnia. As a result, what was previously a majority Serbian population in Bosnia before 1941 became a minority after the war.

One of the most important post-war leaders of the Intermarium was an Ustasha leader named Monsignor Krunoslav Dragonovich. During the war Dragonovich worked as a "relocation official" personally responsible for sending tens of thousands of Serbs, Gypsies, Jews and others to their deaths. He fled to a Vatican sanctuary in 1944. After the war Dragonovich ran some of the most infamous ratlines of all time. Not only did he organize the escape of Ante Pavelic and other leading Ustashi, but he is perhaps best known for organizing the protection and resettlement of numerous Nazi SS leaders including Klaus Barbie "the Butcher of Lyon." Toward the end of the 1950's Dragonovich used his Vatican and CIA connections to become an international ambassador of sorts for the emigre Croatian community. Dragonovich's Ustashi comrades did not simply disappear into the woodwork once they reached their safe country: they went about establishing Ustasha cells in Croatian communities around the world. In 1989 and 1990 they directly financed and supported Tudjman's rise to power (see "Pro-Nazi Legacy Lingers for Croatia," New York Times, 31 October 1993 and "Pizza Magnate in Canada is a Croatian Kingmaker," New York Times, 16 January 1994). The fact that right wing Croatian political groups were carefully watched over and facilitated by the U.S. government throughout the post-war era is documented in the pages of Blowback (pp.176-184).

The success of U.S. policy in Greece,... (etc.) spurred the U.S. government to vastly expand its financial and logistical support to the creation of ever new right-wing "refugee relief programs." The most important of these was the CIA founded "Assembly of Captive European Nations" (ACEN) which became the umbrella organization and launching pad for innumerable fascist and far right refugee organizations and off-shoots, involving itself in one or another in everything from Radio Free Europe and Readers' Digest to the American Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia, the Bulgarian National Front, the Slovak World Congress and the Croatian-American Committee for Human Rights. No doubt, the entire history of the anti-Tito/anti-Yugoslav organizations in this country since 1945 could be traced back to this institution....

These activities were no small affairs. CIA employee James Burnham estimated that in 1953 the CIA was spending over $1 billion a year on its refugee liberation work (p. 127). By 1959 the U.S. Congress established a "Captive Nations Week," and the following year an enormous Captive Nations Day parade was held in New York thanks to massive CIA financing (pp. 270-1).

The vast expansion of funding for "refugee liberation movements" during the Reagan and Bush years directly affected the course of history by helping to undermine the Soviet Union and the other Eastern European regimes.... Today in the 1990's it is responsible for the destruction of Yugoslavia as a state, the destruction of the Serbs as a people in Croatia and Bosnia, and the resurrection of a new Nazi alliance in the Balkans headed by the U.S. and Germany through their new fascistic client states of Croatia and Bosnia....

Back to:

[ Ratlines ]
[ Yugoslavia after WWII ]
[ Resurrected Nazi Croatia ]

Where am I? PATH:

Book of facts

History of the Balkans

Big powers and civil wars in Yugoslavia
(How was Yugoslavia dismantled and why.)

Proxies at work
(Muslims and Croats were only proxies of the big powers)

The Aftermath

The truth belongs to us all.

Feel free to download, copy and redistribute.

Last revised: November 27, 1999



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