A Croatian weekly newspaper has dubbed ABC host Tony Jones as the “biggest enemy of [the] Croatian community in Australia” after he referred to Croatian terrorism in Australia in the 1970s on Q&A.
On last week’s show, Jones told Q&A guest Pauline Hanson:
“When you say we never had terrorism in this country before, that’s simply not the case. In the 1970s there were multiple bombings by Croatian Catholic extremists. This has happened in Australia before, it is not the first time. You should at least get that straight.”
The statement has infuriated many members of Australia’s Croatian community, for whom the notion of Croatian terrorism is a highly charged and controversial issue. A petition started by former Liberal staffer Jakov Miljak calling on Jones to apologise has amassed nearly 4000 signatures. The petition states:
“Recent evidence and fresh investigations into the purported crimes of Croatian Australian citizens (namely the ‘Croatian Six’) have shown that a large portion of the evidence used against the alleged Croatian ‘terrorists’ was fabricated, false and cherry-picked as part of an operation by the communist Yugoslav intelligence agency, known as ‘UDBA’.
“Research conducted into the matter has revealed that former Yugoslav officials considered the discrediting of the Croatian Australian community as one of their ‘greatest successes’, making use of Australian Police and intelligence services to ruin the reputation of Croatian Australians as extremists.”
Croatian Australian newspaper Za Dom Spremni (the term is a patriotic slogan most famously used as the salute of the Croation Ustase nationalist movement) has joined commentators like Gerard Henderson in slamming Jones. Henderson went on the Bolt Report last week and said Jones’ comments were “totally ignorant”, as there was “no evidence” that Croats had committed terrorism, no evidence that the Croats in Australia were particularly Catholic, and there was evidence that Croats had been framed.
Within the ABC, the criticisms have been largely dismissed as a beat-up, and Jones has defended his comments. In a letter to a complainant seen by Crikey, he says there is a “large body of evidence” that Croatian nationalists dubbed extremists by the Australian government, police and security agencies were responsible for terrorist activities in Australia “over many years”:
“Those activities included very many bombings of Yugoslavian government properties or businesses linked to that government during the 1960’s and 70’s; acts of violence against individuals in Australia; money raising and planning of foreign military incursions by armed guerrillas into the former Yugoslavia; and the active participation of Australian citizens and residents in those military incursions.
“If you are interested I could send you the relevant Senate Hansard of April 1973 when the Attorney General tabled multiple ASIO and Commonwealth Police documents relating to all of the above.”
The runaway petition makes explicit reference to the Croatian Six — a group convicted of trying to blow up Sydney’s Elizabethan Theatre in 1979. That case, which involved detective-turned-convicted murderer Roger Rogerson, resulted in the six men being jailed after an eight-month trial. But there is an increasing belief they were set up — a conclusion heavily reliant on investigative work by the ABC’s Four Corners and The Sydney Morning Herald. The case has fuelled beliefs that the history of so-called Croatian terrorism in Australia is similarly dubious. But many incidents of it, including several attacks on Yugoslav consulates in the 1970s attributed to Croatian nationalists, remain historically uncontroversial. Jones says he was not referring to the Croatian Six in his statements.
Miljak, who started the petition, told Crikey this morning he was glad Jones “recognises the injustice concerning the Croatian Six”. But he still thinks Jones should address the comments on air.
“He perpetuated the stereotype played out in the media for a long time that portrays the Croatian community negatively. I’m second generation, and generations before me fought this battle. It’s very painful to still see these stereotypes be continued, even in 2016.”
Speaking of the 1960s and 1970s, when communist Yugoslav agents battled anti-communist Croatians at home and abroad, Miljak says it was a “period of instability”.
“The evidence suggests there was a policy of Yugoslav organisations undermining and infiltrating Croatian organisations. I’ve never claimed that was the case in all instances. But we don’t have enough evidence to say [who was ultimately responsible].” The only high-profile conviction of Croatian terrorists, Miljak says, was of the Croatian six, and that was suspect.
It is understood the ABC has no plans to address the controversy on this evening’s episode, where ABC Breakfast host Virginia Trioli is filling in for Jones.