Pope John Paul II will be remembered as the Pope who helped spark the carnage and killing and displacement of the Balkan conflicts. By recognizing Croatia, he started the ball rolling that resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people. It was his act of recklessly and arrogantly recognizing Croatia that was partly to blame for the violent break-up of Yugoslavia. He could have chosen the path of negotiation, rapprochement and reconciliation that many world leaders were counseling at the time. Instead, he chose confrontation and conflict. He chose something that he must have known would lead to war.

Diplomatic recognition is a matter appropriate to the political. The Pope should have focused on religion, not politics. Like Alojze Stepinac before him, he chose politics and Croatian nationalism over religion. He contributed greatly to the wars that destroyed and dismembered Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

In the West, of course, the Pope will be remembered as the man who brought down Communism, while traveling relentlessly and providing interfaith outreach on a scale not seen by any previous pope. But his legacy will be remembered differently in the Balkans. He failed to acknowledge the Roman Catholic role in the Ustasha genocide of World War II. He failed to take a stand on the continuing and ongoing genocide of Orthodox Christians in Kosovo-Metohija. He had an opportunity to use his enormous stature and respect in the eyes of the world to make a difference for peace, but he chose not to do so. In the end, he only exacerbated the historic conflict between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. He made matters worse. In the Balkans at least, his legacy will be one of failure. ~Carl Savich, Balkanalysis.com

Mr. Savich’s impassioned and serious article is an important balance to the endless streams of praise for the Pope’s specifically political activities. In fairness to the Vatican and Pope John Paul, recognition of Croatia by Rome alone could not have unleashed all of the evils of the Balkan wars, but it did materially contribute to the drive for recognition of the secessionist states by Germany, then governed by the heavily Catholic Christian Democratic Union government of Helmut Kohl.

It is important to qualify Mr. Savich’s account by noting that had Rome refused to recognise Croatia it is very likely that Germany, with its own connections to its former satellite, would have done so for the continuation of its own Ostpolitik. In the end, it was Germany, and the European Community and US along with it, that made the destruction of Yugoslavia possible. The Vatican did, however, lend its moral authority to encouraging this tragic and unnecessary war, and the late Pope was responsible for that.

Of course, no one familiar with WWII Balkans history can be unaware of the slaughter and persecution that went on under the Ustasha regime, and the modern HDZ’s admiration for this period of Croatian extremist nationalism (not unlike the modern Ukrainian nationalist revisions of their predecessors’ collaboration) is a matter of record. Failing to speak out against these evils, and lending the new Croatian nationalism invaluable moral support, will be a blot on the pontificate of John Paul II. In this way, the late Pope’s protestations of goodwill and regret for the Fourth Crusade and other Catholic wars against Orthodox nations ring a bit hollow, as he had the chance to denounce the crimes of the new Franks and Venetians, as his predecessor Innocent III had done, but instead remained silent.