Until 2008 the U.S. officially considered Nelson Mandela a terrorist. During the Cold War, both the State and Defense departments dubbed Mandela’s political party, the African National Congress, a terrorist group, and Mandela’s name remained on the U.S. terrorism watch list till 2008. Mandela was imprisoned in 1964 after being arrested and charged with sabotage, specifically a campaign against the country’s power grid, and plotting to overthrow the government. He was released in 1990, at age 71. He was elected president of South Africa in 1994, in the country’s first full and free elections, and served until 1999. In 1986, Ronald Reagan condemned Mandela’s group (as did the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher), the ANC, which was leading the black struggle against the apartheid regime, saying it engaged in “calculated terror … the mining of roads, the bombings of public places, designed to bring about further repression.” After the apartheid regime in South Africa declared the ANC a terrorist group, the Reagan administration followed suit. In August of 1988, the State Department listed the ANC among “organizations that engage in terrorism.” It said the group ”disavows a strategy that deliberately targets civilians,” but noted that civilians had “been victims of incidents claimed by or attributed to the ANC.” The U.S. Defense Department stood by its language, and Mandela and other ANC officials remained on the terror watch list even as President Bush welcomed Mandela, newly released from prison, to the White House in 1990. Because of what was described as a “bureaucratic snafu,” their names were kept on the list until 2008, 14 years after Mandela had been elected president and nine years after he had left power. He was 90 at the time.
All this tells us that even though terrorism is real today there is a need for caution in the way we respond and particularly when responding to actions of freedom fighters of past eras prior to the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989. Regimes imposed brutal oppression and repression against people, which led to numerous expressions of retaliation or rebellion including actions that may appear of terrorist nature particularly to those associated with the keeping of the regime but never to those wanting freedom from the regime. Indeed, in those days it would appear that “terrorist-like” activities were the only choices available for those who wanted freedom from oppression changes for nations.
Croatia’s Zvonko Busic was a freedom fighter, seeking with others in his group to topple the murderous and oppressive Communist regime in former Yugoslavia; specifically to topple it in Croatia and free Croatia from Yugoslavia.
As with Nelson Mandela, very very few today would see Zvonko Busic’s actions and the actions of his group during the 1970’s in the same light as, say, the atrocities of al-Qaeda.
Zvonko Busic, a Croatian freedom fighter, served 32 years in prison in the United States for hijacking a plane and planting explosives that, through members of New York Police Department’s reportedly reckless disregard for Busic’s instructions as to how to safely defuse the explosives, killed one policeman (Brian Murray) and injured three others.
Busic was working in New York when he led a group of five people who on September 10, 1976, hijacked TWA Flight 355 flying from New York to Chicago with about 80 passengers and crew members on board.
Zvonko Busic, his Oregon-born wife, Julienne Busic (formerly Eden Schultz), Frane Pesut, Petar Matanic and Mark Vlasic said at the time they wanted to draw attention to Croatia’s bid for independence from communist-led Yugoslavia. The passengers on the hijacked plane had testified to the fact that they were treated well and never felt their lives were threatened during the hijacking. Indeed, several testified in New York court in favour of the hijackers.
Soon after takeoff from New York’s La Guardia Airport, Zvonko Busic got word to the pilot that he had planted a bomb in a locker at New York’s Grand Central railway station. He handed the written instructions as to how the bomb must be defused so that it hurts nobody. The hijackers demanded that a statement about Croatian independence be published in the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the International Herald Tribune. All the papers except the Herald Tribune complied. When the skyjackers confirmed that their statements had been printed by the newspapers, they surrendered.
In 1977, Zvonko and Julienne Busic were convicted of air piracy resulting in death, which carried a mandatory life sentence with parole eligibility after 10 years. Julienne Busic was released from prison in 1989 after serving the minimum13 years and Zvonko Busic was released on parole in 2008 after serving 32 years upon which he was deported from U.S. and returned to Croatia, where in 2013 he committed suicide.
The others involved — Frane Pesut, Petar Matanic and Mark Vlasic — received 30-year sentences, released on parole in 1988.
“I did not do this act out of adventuristic or terroristic impulses,” Zvonko Busic told the court in New York before receiving his sentence. “It was simply the scream of a disenfranchised and persecuted man.”
“If I had ever imagined that anyone could have been hurt,” he added, “I would never, even if it had cost me anonymous death at Yugoslav hands, embarked on that flight.”
In Croatia, which gained independence from Yugoslavia, but not without untold devastation and death at the hands of Serb aggression in the 1990s, Zvonko Busic received a warm welcome from masses in 2008 as a hero of the country’s struggle for statehood. But, holding positions of power in the country at the time, the former communists and their supporters did not participate in this warm welcome. Indeed, they went out of their way at times to ensure Zvonko Busic continues to be labelled as a terrorist. These were the same people that did not want an independent Croatia in the first place and drove the persecutory wagon that would, for quite a number of years, attempt to criminalise Croatia’s defensive Homeland War with lies and false accusations. The best example of the latter, of the crucifying lies, may be seen in the indictments by the Hague International Criminal Tribunal of Croatia’s generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, who were in 2012 finally acquitted of all charges.
That politics determines whether an act previously seen as terrorism becomes, after diligent consideration, an act of courageous freedom fight from oppression is well demonstrated by the Nelson Mandela and Zvonko Busic cases. Nelson Mandela was escalated to the ranks of Nobel Prize (1993) winner for peace, while Zvonko Busic committed suicide reportedly from sheer desperation at seeing that although free and democratic on paper, Croatia was still in the grips of repressive communist mentality and control.
Elevating Zvonko Busic’s freedom fighting to that which Nelson Mandela lived to enjoy will, if it occurs at all in the communist minded surrounds, most likely take a number of years. In this path of true believers in true Croatian freedom we come across an extraordinarily skilful and dedicated author, journalist, columnist, television presenter, publicist – Tihomir Dujmovic. Tihomir Dujmovic has recently completed the manuscript of his new book on Zvonko Busic and he plans to launch it in early March 2018. Parallel to this,
Tihomir Dujmovic is all set for the March 2018 premiere of his theatre play “Who Killed Zvonko Busic”, the plot of which is based on his book “Croatia in the Jaws of the Children of Communism”.
Both the new book and the theatre play on Zvonko Busic by Tihomir Dujmovic hold a torch for true delights all freedom fighters will surely embrace. The humanity found in freedom fighting, such as the one Zvonko Busic engaged in, Nelson Mandela engaged in, and scores of others around the world, does, always, in the end, shine through.
At the 1970’s trial to Busic and his group in New York the judge said that Zvonko Busic’s actions were motivated by a noble cause, i.e. Croatian independence. The judge also determined that any harm to others was completely unintentional.
His whole life Zvonko Busic cherished the ideal of a democratic and free Croatian society in which people would live with equal rights and opportunities. It is an ideal he lived for, he tried to achieve at enormous personal risks and in the end – an ideal for which he died. Croatia, the world, must never lose this from sight.