Slavko Komar

Slavko Komar was born in 1918 in Gospić. He graduated from the Faculty of Law in Zagreb. He became a member of SKOJ [Young Communist League of Yugoslavia] in 1937. He participated in numerous political actions that were organised in Zagreb during the Second World War. Because of his activities and his cooperation with the Communist Party, he very soon had to go underground. On August 4, 1941 he acted as the leader of one of the major actions by the Zagreb branch of SKOJ, known as the “Botanical Garden”, where an Ustaše squad was attacked in Runjaninova Street. Due to the fact that he’d been constantly monitored by the Ustaše regime in Zagreb, he joined the Partisans, as a member of “Matija Gubec” squad. In 1944 he was elected a member of the Presidency of the National Anti-Fascist Council of the People’s Liberation of Croatia. During and after the Second World War he held a series of important posts. He was an active participant in the agrarian and rural reforms in post-war Yugoslavia, as well as in the collectivisation of agriculture. He regards that part of his activities as his greatest contribution to the development of socialism. He was awarded the Order of the National Hero in 1952. He died in Zagreb in 2012.



Could you first tell me your name, date and place of birth? Slavko Komar, Doctor of Science, born on February 18, 1918. So I lived through three wars, I was born during one, took part in the second, and the third one is the Homeland War. And where were you born? I was born in Gospić. Where does your family come from? My father is from Rijeka, and my mother is from Gospić. Were you in Gospić when WWII started? No. When I was 7, 8 years old, we moved to Zagreb. So I finished elementary school on Kaptol, and eight grades of grammar school in Zagreb. I also finished college in Zagreb. Were you religious when you were young? Not only religious, I was a typical young Catholic, with a great belief in God and in the Church. I was even a member of a very curious, exclusive organization, so to say, I was a member of Maria congregation, until I got bored of it. And why did I get bored of it. Ask me how I stopped being religious. How did you stop being religious? Let's see. I lived in a poor family, poverty all around me, huge unemployment, great misery, thousands and thousands of unemployed, wandering around, crisis, nothing was being constructed, except what the Church was building. And I started to doubt God, where was God to tolerate this, to watch this. Why didn't the Almighty do something to make our lives better? So I abandoned the Church and religion. I became an atheist, an agnostic even. That was in grammar school. Young Communist League of Yugoslavia (SKOJ) didn't exist back then, it was only in 1937, when I became a student, that Tito formed the Communist Party and SKOJ. The president of SKOJ was Lola Ribar. I became a member. How did you become a member of SKOJ, did someone introduce you with that idea? Yes, other members noticed me, I didn't become a Marxist and Communist by reading books, but from experience. Communists were the only ones who opened perspectives. With communist ideas and with a broad, popular front, which was formed in a time of crisis, when Hitler came to power and when fascist movement began to develop. And this was when I, as a member of SKOJ, began to make progress. I started to read classic Marxist literature, I became not only an activist, but I also developed an interest in the theory of Marxism. And as a member of SKOJ I became known not only at my faculty, but even beyond. We met daily, on the main square in Zagreb. We on one side, frankovci on the other. Frankovci were rightists, supporters of Pavelić who lived abroad. Great enmity was between us. I hadn't been involved in politics until I came to college, because politics wasn't very important in our school, but when I came to college I saw a great divide, on the college, but also elsewhere. I became a member of Svjetlost, a political-cultural student organization, which was later suppressed. Semi-legal. We met there, at Svjetlost, we took part in labour celebrations, we took part in demonstrations, we... And then in 1937, in spring, we were selling our newspapers on the streets, leftist, student newspapers. And frankovci attacked us, especially our female colleagues, took the newspapers out of their bags, and then the fights started, and we always won those fights. A law student Krsto Ljubičić, he lived in a student dorm, in Runjaninova Street, both leftists and rightists lived in that dorm. He came home and five or six of them waited for him, and beat him to death, with bricks. This caused consternation in Zagreb, this was the first victim. His funeral was in Šibenik, 20 thousand people attended, it was a huge number for that time. There were conflicts throughout my student years, and little by little, we conquered one student club after another. Every faculty had its own club, which was held either by HSS or by frankovci. Or by Ljotičevci, while they were around. Ljotićevci were Yugoslav integralists, bigoted, not only about Yugoslavia, I was also a Yugoslav, by view and belief, but they were real chauvinists, Serbian chauvinists. This lasted for 5 years, during the fifth year of my studies, demonstrations were held, both student and popular, in Belgrade. That was Simović's coup, the one where Simović overthrew the treaty with the Germans concluded by Prince Paul, we also took part in that, in Zagreb. I was holding speeches on public squares, I was holding a speech while people were going out of cinema, members of SKOJ held them back, and I talked outside about what was going on. What was the speech about? I talked about Hitler, of course, I talked about democracy in Yugoslavia, the defence of Yugoslavia from fascism, because Yugoslavia was divided then. Yugoslavia was occupied by the Germans at that time, Ustashe came to power, and they ruthlessly arrested and killed the Communists. Do you remember when the Germans came into Zagreb? Of course. What was that like? It was like this. The defence from the Germans was being prepared in Bosnia, and people volunteered to go there to fight the Germans. We, members of SKOJ and the Communist party, met in a house on Pantovčak and discussed going to Bosnia. Then someone came running and said the Germans were coming! We walked down to Britanski square and saw long lines of Germans, tanks, armoured vehicles, very impressive. Many people welcomed the Germans and German reporters said that was the biggest welcome up to that moment in the war, in Zagreb. But that was a lie. The thing is, Zagreb had the population of 280 000, so there was always 20, 30 thousand people who supported fascism and Ustashe. Girls and boys jumped on German tanks, carried flowers, women carried chocolate and candy, while we were just looking. Even Vladimir Bakarić, who accidently came there, counted as taking part in the welcome, even I, everyone who stood aside, and most people were just passive observers, they didn't cheer. So that was the beginning of the war for me. You mentioned demonstrations in Zagreb, which you organized before the war, as a member of SKOJ. That's right. Where were the demonstrations and what was it like? On a celebration of May 1 one year, we gathered by the tram depo, in Trešnjevka, tram workers were also left-oriented. The group of us took out a tram, stopped the tram traffic, and in a huge line, there were thousands of us, we walked to Maršal Tito Square. The police noticed us, started to beat us, even the cavalry chaseed us. But we overcame them and headed to Deželićeva Street, number 7 or 8, where Maček's house was. We were protesting because he didn't stand in our defence. It was 1941. Even Ban Šubašić in Banovina of Croatia arrested Communists. I was informed that we would all be arrested and taken into concentration camps. During that time I was already living illegally, I wasn't staying at my house in order not to get arrested. Those who got arrested were taken to camp in Koprivnica, and later to Velebit, to the valley, what's the name... Jadovno? - Jadovno. Many well-known Communists ended up here, as well as well-known members of SKOJ. The most famous one was Sergej Vuković, a very brave man, who was... And the police, in those situations always took side of the rightists. So that was one kind of demonstration. The other kind, in the Crafts House, where there was a great hall, and we were celebrating the October Revolution, I'm not sure what date that was, November 6, I think. There were 505 of us, the police came in and arrested 500 of us, some managed to get away, but not me, I was arrested during one of these demonstrations, and beaten up. Šoprek, the head of the police department for anti-communism beat me up hard and put me in solitary. I ahd been there for a month, then they let me go. But I had to hide, since I was living illegally, I stayed in other people's houses. It was hard for me to find a place to stay. So then we formed an urban guerrilla. The first one who conducted a serious action was Martin Mojmir who had lured Šoprek, a policeman and anti-communist, to visit some woman. And they caught him there and killed him. But Mojmir was arrested and taken to "Sing Sing", it was a house in Ksaverska Street which had been turned into a prison for Communists. The rest of us, we started to puncture tires, pour sand in gas tanks, throw wires over telephone cables, in order to confuse them. Those were all minor operations by the members of SKOJ. The number of SKOJ members increased during the war. We were an urban guerrilla then. When did this happen? Excuse me? This action with Mojmir, when you lured Šoprek? It was in May. 1941? In May 1941, yes. Then an action in Kerestinec was conducted, to free the Communists who were taken into a concentration camp. But before that, ten renowned intellectuals from Zagreb were shot, among them was a writer, I cannot remember his name... Cesarec. Excuse me? August Cesarec. That's right, Cesarec. And some other renowned personalities of Zagreb also. So now, since this action had failed, and that was agent Kopinić's fault, who was supposed to organize the escape truck to transport the arrested partisans to Kozara. But the escape plan failed. So the Communist Party wanted us to make a spectacular operation in Zagreb to show that the Communists were not defeated. So it was decided that we, students, attack Ustashe by the Botanical Garden, near the student dorm in Runjaninova Street. The 12 of us, six workers and six students, form a group. Four of us would be in the Botanical Garden, with bombs, I decided who would that be, I was the leader. At quarter to 12 when Ustashe, armed students, go to the Upper Town, to guard Pavelić and some institutions owned by Ustashe, since we had become an Ustasha state. The operation had to succeed, the four of us with bombs in the Botanical Garden, and handguns, we approached them, they came out and lined up in a troop, on command. There were, on the corner of Mihanovićeva and Runjaninova Street, two of our workers, each of them carrying a bomb. We had to throw the bombs at them, over the fence, and they just had to push them, like they would push a ball. Like it was a ball, just push it. That's right. But what happened? Something we didn't expect. After the bombs, we were supposed to take out the handguns and shoot at them, like you shoot at animals, all four of us. But we didn't notice that in the first shack, there was a heavy machine gun, and it started shooting at us. I said we needed to break up. The plan was that the three of us jump in the underpass, run through the Botanical Garden, jump in the Botanical Garden, in... In the underpass. At the corner of Gundulićeva and Mihanovićeva Street there was an entrance to the Botanical Garden. One student was standing at the corner, he had to shoot and to stop anyone from locking the entrance door. But he came too late and didn't do it, and the doors remain locked, and then the other three ran again the same way we did, but we had noticed the police and the agents who stood there. There were many policemen and they arrested anyone who was suspicious, so the organizer of our operation warned me that in perfect crimes the fugitives didn't run to the outskirts, but to... Where there's traffic, so it's easier to disappear. I jumped, I was an athlete then, a rower, so I jumped and headed to the town centre, and on the corner of Mihanovićeva and Svačićeva Street, a policeman stopped me. I drew out a knife, and told him to get away or I would kill him. He froze, he was shocked, so he let me go. I went to Zrinjevac then, I handed in my handgun on Strossmayer Square, and then went to the apartment in which we were supposed to go after the operation. There were ten of us in the flat, but out of two brothers Seljan, who were students from Slavnoski Brod, one was arrested. The other brother asked me to send a member of SKOJ to find out what had happened to his brother, their father was a high-positioned Ustasha-official. When she went there, she was arrested, because they found out that the other son had also been involved. All hell broke loose because of the events in the Botanical Garden, everything was blocked, there were shootings everywhere, he didn't shoot at the one who was supposed to lock the door, because there were other shootings. He didn't want to get killed, so the doors were left locked. The Germans were in Hotel Esplanada, they were shooting, the guards were also shooting, I ran downtown, along Mihanovićeva Street, then to Svačić Square, where there were ten policemen also running to the scene, to take part in the pursuit. I shouted at them to run, people were being killed. And they turned around and started running. I went to hand in the handgun on Strossmayer Square, and then to the apartment in Martićeva. But we were, in a way, trapped in that apartment. Around 2pm we found out that Ustashe were searching houses, they had found out we were in Martićeva. We had to evacuate the apartment and go to Zvonimirova Street, to another apartment. We were there for a day, then Rade Končar came and said we were heroes. It was the most spectacular operation of WWII in Yugoslavia, one of the boldest of its kind. But after that, Rade Končar said that we had to become partisans then. Because Tito was sending two of his top men, and we shouldn't have operated as urban guerrilla anymore, because as urban guerrilla, we would have got killed. It would have been better to form Partisan detachments. So Partisan detachments began to form throughout Croatia. Most of them by Serbs, there were no Croats. So Tito said there had to be Croats too. One detachment was formed, in Sesvete, and I sent Branko Špalj, a freshman, very brave young man, in that detachment, but they all got caught. Branko Špalj was caught on his way to Bjelovar, he was brought to Bjelovar, but then he started to run, and a grave-digger, since it was a regular graveyard, hit him in the head with a stone, he fell, they caught him and later crucified him. So that detachment failed. Another one was being formed in Croatia, on Žumberak. There were 35 of us, all volunteers, mostly from Zagreb, but some also from Žumberak, but someone wrongly informed the Central Committe that people from Žumberak, being Greek Catholics, would not support Ustashe. But that wasn't true. He said that everything was ready, there were 100 guns, boots and bayonets. But when we came there we found five, six guns and nothing else. We didn't go into houses, food was brought to us to the woods, we slept out in the open, and on September 6, which was actually the day the king was born, there was a patrol of three Ustasha and three policemen, we waited for them, I took a bomb and threw it at them, this was the first bomb that I threw in my life. Two of them were wounded and probably killed, the third one was laying on a clearing, I ran to him and wanted to take his gun, but he didn't let it go, until I knocked him down. But then one of the policemen who survived shot me in the leg. High up. Excuse me? He shot you in the upper part of the leg. That's right. So I was wounded. As days went by, our number decreased. Our commander, a Spanish fighter, brought 100 Spanish soldiers to Zagreb, he was so skilful that he shot a sheep, since we were starving. But while he was doing that, Ustashe saw him and arrested him, and a few others. There was only 20 of us left now, and I became a commander of that camp. I decided it would be best to disband. Disbanding an army unit is not an easy decision, for the rest of your life you wonder if it was the right thing to do, but I know it was. There were four young Jews among us, they wanted to go back to Zagreb. I told them not to go, because they would get arrested. Some went to Slovenia, and the three of us, our former commander, an Istrian student, and I, we walked all over Slovenia, through Stanjevci, Novo Mesto, Kočevje, we crossed the river Kupa and entered Croatia. But along the way, on a bridge near Kočevje, we came across six Blackshirts. They ordered us to stop and searched us. They didn't find anything, but my knees were bare and my shoes torn. He asked me: "Perche vai cosi vestito?", in Italian. I spoke Italian, so I told him that we were coming back from Germany, we had been working there. He asked me to show him my hands, to see if they were a working man's hands, and we waited in a ditch eight days for the man we had sent to the Central Committee in Zagreb. But he was killed. So there wre only eight of us left and we decided to separate. The three of us went to Slovenia by foot. The common people of Slovenia were against Italians. As we were passing by, people would always give us some soup, a piece of bread, an apple. It was a poor region. Passing through Slovenia was easy, but in Novo Mesto, by the river Krka, we came across Italian policemen, since Yugoslav policemen in Slovenia supported Italians now. They asked me how it was in Germany, and I said not good. That was why we were coming back to our homeland, it was better there. He took out a cigarette and lighted it. I never smoked but I asked him, in Italian, You spoke Italian. I asked for a cigarette. Thank God, it was a good cigarette. I then found out that he was a member of the Blackshirts, from Rijeka, we started to speak the local dialect and he let us through and we came to Kočevje. We had to pass Kočevje, but Kočevje was mostly inhabited by the Germans. Passing through German villages was not easy. They asked us how it was in Germany, how were the crops, because they soon had to move from there to Austria or Germany, I don't remember anymore. So we managed to pass Kočevje and later we came to Gorski Kotar. In the middle of the field, we met a man who harvested corn and beans, and we told him we were heading to Čopov's, a family I knew from Zagreb, but who lived near Čabar then. He said they actually lived in Gerovo, and that we would have to hurry while it was still daytime. We came to the village Mali Lug, and the Čopov family welcomed us to their house. But the house was actually an inn, popular among Italians, so they moved us into another house. That was Ivan Turk's house, he was an wealthy tradesman, it was a huge house, and we stayed there for two-three days. She fixed my shoes, washed me, and the old lady Čopović was a village physician. She noticed my leg had been wounded, since I was limping. But when I saw someone approaching, I tried not to limp. So Turk arranged us a truck, since we wanted to go first to Sušak and then to Šibenik, because even though I had spent months in Sušak, I didn't know anyone there. So he arranged us a truck laden with logs. When Italians stopped the truck, we said that we were helping to load and unload the logs, so they let us through. As we were approaching Sušak, we got off the truck, just in case. We didn't know what to do, there were only two of us now, since the Spaniard left first, and the other soldier crossed the bridge guarded by the Blackshirts, and the two of us came to... He had a cousin, but he never met her, it was an Istrian family. We came to her house, and she offered us lunch. We were starving, so we started eating immediately, but then she said we couldn't stay there, we had to go. I remembered a freshman I knew, so I asked him if I could stay at his place, he was also a member of SKOJ, a good man, and he took us to Podvežica, the outskirts of Sušak. He arranged a house for us. We stayed there for a month. I laid in bed, and instantly lost my memory, for eight days, I couldn't remember anything, not even my name. After eight days, I began to regain consciousness, it wsa like when you throw a pebble in the water and... Concentric circles. That's right... Concentric circles were being formed. So I didn't even know my name, I didn't know who my mother or father were. But my memory slowly started coming back, and we got in touch with the Committee, they accepted me, they didn't believe it was possible to form a Partisan detachment in Sušak. Žumberak detachment disbanded. Tito ordered that Croats had to start fighting outside of the cities and form detachments. But both Sesvete and Žumberak detachments failed. After that, volunteers formed another detachment, Tuhobić detachment, consisting of 102,103 men. They were all volunteers, mostly workers from Sušak, and students. There were three Serbs, two Jews, others were Croats. Tuhobić detachment, was an example for all the others, it was the biggest Croatian detachment, and we conducted many operations. November 12, 1941, the detachment was attacked by Italians, there were only 100 Croats, 44 guns, attacked by 1500-2000 armed Italians. A combat started, the detachment defended successfully, Italians weren't such great soldiers like the Germans, they were careful, only few of them got killed. Two of ours. Ours retreated and headed to Travnik, near Vodice, but they didn't find a shack that was supposed to be ready for them. Snow fell that day, 20 cm in the morning, some froze while crossing the river, so the detachment disbanded but nobody fell under the Italians. Twelve of them ended up in the hospital, which was divided, half for Italian army, half for the civilians. The civilians, 12 of them, were under fake names, and they all survived. Sušak was well organized, but it still couldn't last. The biggest battle with Italians was the one in Tuhobić, in 1941. There were other battles, but smaller. What was the battle with Italians like? I didn't take part in it. But it was a battle like any other, the army approached, there were shootings, it lasted for several hours. When we saw that nobody from Grobnik, Hreljan, Bakar, Kastav, Sušak was arrested, the Committee appointed me to find a location where we could form a new camp. So I headed to Grobničko polje, searched the surrounding hills, but didn't find a suitable location for the Partisans. So I went back, disappointed the Committee, but they sent me back there again. I found a man who transported wood to sawmills. He went away with a shepherd, left me there with some cheese, a piece of bread and a bottle of wine. I waited. After a few hours, he came back, said he found a place to stay, on the mountain Nebesi, in a cave, so I brought a detachment of 25 people in that cave. They lived like cavemen there, like in prehistoric times. The men of Delnice detachment also stayed there for a while. I lived illegally in Sušak, moved from village to village. Where did you live in Sušak? It was like this. The Italians protected the Serbs, not the Ustashe, they didn't approve the violence against the Serbs. I was put into a Serbian house, I told them my name was Obrad Šušnjić, and that my family was from Rudopolje, but they had all been killed, even their son who studied in Zagreb, Obrad Šušnjić. So I took his name. It was Christmas time, they celebrated Orthodox Christmas, but I didn't know the customs, so I pretended. But this lady had three children, a daughter in Belgrade, she noticed I wasn't... That you didn't know the customs. I didn't know the customs, I wasn't a Serb. I paid the rent, my cousins from Rijeka sent me the money, 600 liras a month. With that money I could pay the rent and the food I needed. I stayed there, but since I was living illegally, I couldn't stay there all the time, every three-four days I had to move. So I changed, in Sušak, in a years time, it was 1942, from September till May, I changed 23 apartments. It wasn't a problem to find a place to stay in Sušak. Rade Končar couldn't find a good place to stay in Split, he stayed in an apartment with Italian officers. But since he didn't speak Italian, he was discovered and arrested, they found him in a house where he was supposed to be hidden, where he was living illegally. I had better luck, people always took me in, sometimes wealthy people too, so I even stayed in a few villas, owned by some highly respected people, but I lived in poor houses too, I was in Sušak until April the following year. Then in May 1942, I left Sušak, and became a Partisan. I was a member of the District Committee, I participated in the Italian offensive, when the Italians set all border villages on fire, except the ones where their garrisons were. So Prezid, Čabar, Gerovo were not burned. In other villages, they took people out of their homes, everything was burned. Women and children were taken to camps in Italy, men were caught, thousands of them, and taken to concentration camp Kampor. Have you heard of it? We were there. In the camp? You were there? Yes. He was there, to see. Yes. There was nothing there, people were in tents, starving, exposed to rain and wind. 3 200 were reported dead, but nobody knows how many actually died. I believe around eight or ten thousand people died. A graveyard was built later, a Slovenian-Croatian graveyard, and it has been commemorated every year as the biggest Italian concentration camp in Croatia. I was a member of the District Committee, so after the offensive, I visited the villages, Bakar, Kastav. There was a meeting between Slovenians and Croats, Vladimir Popović came, and commander Rukavina, me, and from the Slovenians only a former general and a well known Spanish fighter. We talked about cooperation, it was an important meeting for the cooperation between Croatian and Italian partisans. I was in Kastav. Then I was called to urgently come in a village in Kordun, where Croatian headquarters had been. I was appointed to go to the Yugoslavian headquarters where Tito, the Central Committee and secretary Lola Ribar were. They were looking for a worker, but the Croats sent me instead. So when I arrived, Lola Ribar wasn't satisfied, since I wasn't the one who he wanted. Did he welcome you? Well... How? Well, he wasn't impolite, but... He wasn't very pleased. He certainly wasn't pleased. So he told Tito what had happened, that instead of a worker, they had sent a student. Lola Ribar asked what to do, Tito told him to let me stay. So I became a member of the Central Committee of SKOJ, in the autumn of 1942, in Bosanski Petrovac, the flag of the First Proletarian Brigade was being laid, Koša Popović was the commanding officer. We were in Bosanski Petrovac, operating as SKOJ. Later when Bihać was liberated, we moved there and founded the First Congress of Antifascist Youth of Yugoslavia. Tito took part in the Congress, and asked me to give a speech. So I began to describe the operation in the Botanical Garden and concluded by saying that Zagreb wasn't an Ustashe town. I forgot to tell you, but because of that operation, 98 people were shot that day, another 100 the other day. When I finished with the speech, Milka Kufrin, a member of Croatian Youth Organisation, also wanted to say something, but when she saw Tito, she was overwhelmed and ran out of the hall. Tito went after her and got her back. It was an overwhelming event for all of us, meeting Tito for the first time. We operated in Croatia, Bosnia, even in Slovenia. Lola Ribar died, Ratko Dugonjić took his place. Later we formed the National Youth of Yugoslavia, and in Bihać the Second Congress of the National Youth, in which even Churchill's son participated, even a Soviet general was present, we had diplomatic relations with other countries. I became the president of the Youth. But while we were still in Otočac, Hebrang noticed me, saw my potential, so I was the president of the Youth in both 1945 and 1946, I travelled to Prague-London-Paris, to attend various international anti-fascist conferences, I... How did they welcome you in London and Paris? I was in London for a military mission in 1944, I was the president of the Yugoslavian Youth, in the World Youth Council, they welcomed me there, it felt good, I was holding lectures throughout England. Vlatko Velebit was the chief of our mission, I was appointed to collect financial aid for partisans. But Sir Ray Stevenson, an ambassador who answered to Šubašić, he thought I was spreading communist ideas. I wasn't doing that, I explained him what we were doing, what the Youth was doing, not only military operations, but educational activities, sport, activities with the Youth, activities in both occupied and liberated areas. But the English thought I was to be exiled, and I became persona non grata, "an unwelcome person". So I was exiled from England, in 1944, after spending 3 months in London, but I had to wait for a plane which would take me somewhere to Europe. Southern France had already been liberated, so we arrived to Paris. From there, we flew to Belgrade so my English mission of 1944 was finished. Later I arrived to Vis and in 1945 became president of the Yugoslavian Youth, right after Stanko Kavčič. I was the president for a year and a half, but then the Central Committee of Croatia ordered me, in the beginning of 1948, to leave Belgrade and come to Zagreb. So I became member of the Central Committee of Croatia, and a minister in Croatian government. Districts were being formed, and young people were being sent there to organize things. It was very hard, Yugoslavia was poor, we had to repurchase agricultural products from farmers. Until then, farmers supported us, but then they became suspicious. Unfortunately, we formed farming cooperatives, which were unsuccessful. We sent men to forced labour, in swamps and in the woods. It was a very hard period. I had spent three years there. Then I came back to Zagreb, I became the minister of agriculture, after that, in 1947, I was sent to Belgrade... ...or was it the 1960s... It wasn't in the 60s... What? It wasn't in the 60s. Wait, 1960... 1940s... 1950 and... 1953, 1954... 4. 1950... 3, 1950... 1953., 1954. 1955., I was in Belgrade for eight years, as a member of the government. What were you in charge of? I was responsible for agriculture. It was my greatest achievment, we conducted modernization and reconstruction of Croatian agriculture. Yugoslavia stopped being dependent on America's help. Americans helped us after the conflict between Tito and Stalin, they started sending us food and even weapons. Where were you when WWII ended? I was in Belgrade, which was semi-liberated, it was...yes, in Belgrade. The official end of WWII. I had lived there for three years, came to Zagreb, then again to Belgrade, so altogether, I spent a total of 18 years of my life in Belgrade. Were you in Belgrade when it was liberated? Yes. When the Red Army came into Belgrade? Yes, I was in Belgrade then. What was that like? One part of Belgrade, the Germans wanted to pass through it, south, to evacuate from Greece. But a Soviet division waited for them there and defeated them. We came from Valjevo, in Belgrade, and by Avala we saw hundreds of dead Germans. In Belgrade we stayed in Dedinje, which had been liberated. The other part of Belgrade was under the Germans, but it was the Lika Corpus which liberated Belgrade, it wasn't the Russians, as people usually think. Then we got a house for the Central Committee of SKOJ, where we lived and worked, from 1940 until the end of 1971. No...until the end of 1949. Were you in contact with the Red Army? With who? With the Red Army, the Russians, in Belgrade? Of course we were. But they acted badly. Why? They were what was left of the Soviet Army, others had died, and the ones who survived were very violent. An intelligence agent could ask you if you knew a spy. It was like that. But we were in good relations with the cavalry and on Victory Day 1945, I was leading a delegation of 15 men, we were in USSR for 75 days. During the celebration of Victory Day, Rokossovsky, on a white horse, met the general Ždanov on the other horse, Stalin was also there, we were given the place of honour, near the open stands, near the place where Lenin was buried. Mausoleum? During celebrations like these, we frequently saw Stalin. We travelled through the USSR, I even wrote a book, 75 days in the USSR, which was printed in 100 000 copies, where I presented everything in a good light, but I was wrong. I realized that only later. I was so naive, I believed everything. Did you have any problems after the 1948 Cominform Resolution? No. Problems? Yes. No. But I wasn't in USSR, I was in Zagreb. I know, but because of your stay in USSR and the book you wrote? No, not at all. No, no. Tito, Đilas, Ranković, even Kardelj, they were all in USSR before the liberation. Stalin and Tito even during the war. How did your political carrier further develop? When did you get back to Zagreb? When did I get back to Zagreb? Yes, from Belgrade. Cominform didn't exist yet, it was still a pro-Soviet regime, Kardelj arrived in Zagreb on May 5, I'm not sure about the year... 1946. Is it? 1946 or...? March 1947. He told us, a great conflict was going to happen with the USSR. We held a meeting in villa Weiss with Kardelj, I was a member of Politburo, and Kardelj told us what was happening, complications in relations between USSR and Yugoslavia, and that the Soviets might even attack Yugoslavia. How did you feel then? Very bad. During dinner, I got up and told Bakarić that I had to catch a train. Because I was marrying a lady the next day in Novi Sad. Kardelj asked where Slavko was going, he was going to get married. Why now, he said, when there's going to be a war? He was joking, but there was some truth in that. So I got on a train to Belgrade, later went to Novi Sad, a member of academy Čalić and Rato Dugonjić, a member of SKOJ, were my best men. Where did you first meet your future wife? During the war? No, it wasn't during the war. It was in autumn...what year? In 1940s... Wait. 1947. We got married in 1961, 1961 we got married. That's right. And we met 1960 in Novi Sad. We were on a dinner party with my cousin. Excuse me? Well, we met on a dinner party, my cousin introduced us. That's how we met. My cousin. How did you become an ambassador in India? Excuse me? How did you become an ambassador in India? That isn't my greatest achivement. And neither is the Botanical Garden. My greatest achivement is the modernization and reconstruction of Yugoslav agriculture. I got a medal for that, after 13 years, after 17 years, and I'm proud of, not of the operation in the Botanical Garden, but of what we, Ivan Ćiro Buković and I did for Yugoslav agriculture. You saved it from starvation. And forestry and water resources too. Otherwise, people would starve. That's right. People were starving. Have you lost a member of your family in WWII? Yes. My brother Marko, 19 years old, beaten and wounded to death, taken to Maksimir. I never found the place where he was buried. My mother was in a concentration camp, and in 1944, when it was Pavelić's birthday, and he proclaimed an amnesty, my mother and aunt were liberated. In what camp were they? Jasenovac. They were in Jasenovac. What do you think about the disintegration of Yugoslavia? I'd rather not talk about it. It's a personal tragedy for me, like all of our goals had failed, because the Communist Party was against Yugoslavia, but during the rise of fascism, the Party and Tito concluded that if we supported Yugoslavia, we would be stronger against the Germans. So we became supporters of Yugoslavia. Never before had I called myself a Yugoslav until then. I had always thought of myself as a Croat. Even when I was in Belgrade, I considered myself a Croat. I wrote in Latin letters. And what...? It was hard for me, very hard. I didn't expect it. Others did, but I wasn't involved in politics much at that time and didn't know exactly what was going on, so I was shocked. Did you have some problems in the early 90s? No. My wife and I didn't have problems. None. Do you think people will stop fighting in these areas? It's a hard question. I don't know. But we have to be optimistic. Definitely. We're all pessimists, and that's bad. We should be optimistic that it will get better. If not in a year, then in four-five years time. Croatia will be accepted in the European Union. If the EU doesn't dissolve until then. It all depends. You see what's happening in America, in China. In today's newspapers. Yesterday's. Did you buy today's papers, Nada? No. It says that China is arming itself, to become the world's military force, to take the place of America. China and India are becoming important economic factors. When exactly did your brother Marko die in WWII? He didn't like school, he finished only four years of high school. My mother wanted him to continue, but he wasn't good at school, he was very, how to say... for someone who wasn't even 16... He wasn't mature... That's right. He was self-confident... They threw him out of the school and he took up a trade, and became... What's it called... he nickel-plated medical instruments. And then when he was 16, he changed, became a member of SKOJ, a leftist. He was a member of a group in Trešnjevka, which was discovered, they found a gun in our basement, he was arrested, after the Botanical Garden, but released after 14 days, because he didn't take part in it. But out of this he couldn't get out, they tortured him for seven days on a square near the mosque, all Jewish houses were evacuated, so there were only offices, prisons and torture-houses. My brother didn't want to confess anything, so they killed him and left his body in Maksimir. What did your parents think about you being a member of SKOJ? My mother was a great woman. She approved everything I did. When I was five years old, my father went to America, so I was helping her to take care of the family, I had a brother and a sister, I lost my childhood, because I had to take care of many things, bring groceries, collect the money my father was sending us, so when I was seven-eight years old, I was so mature, as though I was 15. Thank you. We're done. How long have we been talking? 2 hours and 5 minutes. When did we start? You didn't have to stop. Yes, really. Would you like to continue? I don't think people are interested in... Yes. In what? In the reconstruction of agriculture. It's not interesting. And it's a momentous, epochal thing we did. Would you like to say something more about it? I would like to say that by doing this we... Saved Yugoslavia. We modernized agriculture, boosted yields, mechanized farming. We came into possession of some agricultural goods, as a result of the land reform, some land we bought, some was consolidated, so we formed agroindustrial conglomerates. It's a unique type of agricultural organization, where there is primary production, that's farming, then secondary production, that's cattle breeding, tertiary production, that's processing, and trade in the end, there was only Belje at that time in trade. It was a great invention of ours, that instead of the existing agricultural cooperatives, we formed general cooperatives for farmers so they could buy what they needed and sign the contract directly with agroindustrial conglomerates. If a farmer, or a cooperative, makes a deal directly with a conglomerate, he is sure that he will be paid well, and that he will get his money. So we had 800 000 hectares of land, state owned, and the farmers who cooperated, they were free farmers, but if a farmer owned one hectar of land, he could become a member of a cooperative if he produced 100 pounds of wheat, he could sell it. That's not possible today. Yes, they have ruined everything today, now conglomerates are said to be socialistic mammoths, socialistic... what's it called? Fossiles? Excuse me? Fossiles? No. No, socialistic giants, which had to be broken to pieces. What do you think of Croatian Spring? I wasn't in Yugoslavia at that time, I was in India. When I got back, the movement diminished, but Savka was still in power, as was Miko Tripalo. Miko Tripalo wrote to me in India, that I was appointed to be the ambassador in Italy. I agreed, but later he said it wasn't necessary, Savka had already arranged that the ambassador would be Stane Kavčič, the president of the Slovenian Executive Council, because of some road, so he took my place, and I was sent to the Constitutional Court, I didn't want to work there. There was the time when we didn't have an apartment in Zagreb, so we lived in Rab for a while, when my daughter was in the third grade, when she finished the third grade in Rab,