The XX Committee

Who killed Bruno Bušić?

Yesterday marked the 34th anniversary of the assassination of Bruno Busic.

Who? you might well ask, even if you’re a seasoned spywatcher.

Even in his native Croatia, where he’s not been forgotten altogether, the anniversary of his brutal killing  was hardly front page news.

Bruno Busic shortly before his death

Yet his murder at the hands of UDBA, Communist Yugoslavia’s nasty secret police, ranks as one of the best-known cases of the nearly one hundred “state enemies” assassinated abroad by Tito’s spies during the Cold War. Unlike the vast majority of those victims of a now-forgotten dirty war, waged in the streets of Stuttgart, Sydney, and Chicago, Busic’s death at least got some media attention, for a few days.

Busic was a well-known dissident in Croatian diaspora circles, an intellectual with a public profile. And unlike many of UDBA’s victims, Busic was an anti-Communist activist but not a terrorist. While he flirted with Croatian groups trying to unseat Tito’s dictatorship, he wrote pamphlets and arranged protests but did not build bombs. Yet he met the same fate as the terrorists.

He was gunned down at the door of his Paris apartment, killed close-up by a 7.65 mm pistol, UDBA’s weapon of choice. From the outset there was little doubt who was behind the killing. Yet, as they usually did, Tito’s assassins covered their tracks well, spreading disinformation along the way, and French police never brought anyone to justice for the murder.

It is perhaps remarkable that Busic survived as long as he did, as he had been on UDBA’s radar since he was a teenager active in peaceful anti-regime activities. He was in and out of Communist jails for years until finally leaving Croatia permanently in 1975 for a life in exile, where he was at least allowed to write freely. Until UDBA caught up with him.

The customary outcome for those who fell afoul of UDBA

After the fall of the old regime, newly independent Croatia honored its martyr, reburying him in Zagreb with public fanfare, but the government of Franjo Tudjman – a onetime dissident who knew Busic – showed little enthusiasm for putting his killers behind bars. This probably had something to do with the fact that Josip Perkovic, the UDBA senior officer who in the late Communist period headed the department charged with assassinating troublesome Croatian emigres like Busic, wound up heading the intelligence apparatus in Tudjman’s Croatia in the 1990s. (Perkovic retired some years ago, but his son Sasa is just as well networked as his old man and is currently national security advisor to Croatia’s President Ivo Josipovic). Efforts to pin the assassination on the notorious UDBA killer Vinko Sindicic led to an embarrassing debacle of a trial, and no convictions. It seems unlikely, 34 years after the fact, that anyone will ever be held accountable for Bruno Busic’s murder.

What is perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that Western governments and human rights groups never made much fuss about the assassination of Busic, and dozens of other emigres who fell afoul of Tito and therefore fell victim to UDBA’s “black program” (as they called it). There was a big double standard during the Cold War: dissidents who were killed by Soviet Bloc intelligence – there were very few after the 1950s, despite what Hollywood would have you believe – received the full attention of Western security services and journalists, while the many more victims murdered by UDBA were essentially ignored. Killings perpetrated by UDBA that were even more shocking than Busic’s fell down the memory hole too.

Almost exactly one month before UDBA killed Bruno Busic, the Bulgarian secret service, the very unpleasant DS, assassinated Georgi Markov in London. The Bulgarian dissident, who worked for the BBC, was a thorn in Sofia’s side, and Yuri Andropov eventually agreed to the KGB providing the DS with the infamous umbrella weapon which killed Markov. The case received wide attention as the “umbrella murder” and remains open as far as British police are concerned; the Markov matter occasionally appears in the European press even today. Bruno Busic’s assassination just a month later  got only a fraction of that attention from European officialdom and the media.

Why that was so is a troubling question, but it had a great deal to do with the fact that NATO governments didn’t want to call attention to how awful Yugoslavia’s human rights record actually was, nor publicize the fact that UDBA was a much more effective killing machine than the KGB and its satellites, since Tito and his regime – Communist yet outside the Soviet orbit – performed a useful strategic function for the West during the Cold War. “In the Tito era, the police and security forces of certain NATO nations were warned off taking any firm action against the notorious UDBA, the Yugoslav secret service,” explained a British intelligence officer who tried to investigate Belgrade’s Murder, Inc., “I was told to cool it; we had to leave them alone, we had to keep Tito sweet.”

Keeping Tito sweet in practice meant not looking closely into the violent crimes UDBA was perpetrating in abundance across the Western world. Bruno Busic was one of dozens of UDBA’s victims, yet his was a case which ought to have gotten more media attention, police investigation, and diplomatic involvement than it did. It is proper to note that independent Croatia since 1991 has done a terrible job of getting to the bottom of Communist crimes at home and abroad, which is the inevitable outcome of not ridding the police and intelligence services of serial killers when Tito’s regime finally collapsed. Yet the West deserves no credit either for putting scant pressure on Yugoslavia’s secret police for their dirty deeds in Western countries – then or down to the present day.

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