|5th Minister of Defence of Croatia|
18 September 1991 – 3 May 1998
|Prime Minister||Franjo Gregurić
|Preceded by||Luka Bebić|
|Succeeded by||Andrija Hebrang|
16 March 1945|
Široki Brijeg, FS Bosnia and Herzegovina, DF Yugoslavia
|Died||3 May 1998
|Political party||Croatian Democratic Union|
|Service/branch||Croatian Armed Forces|
|Years of service||(c. 1998)|
|Rank||General of the Army|
|Commands||Croatian Defence Minister|
|Battles/wars||Croatian War of Independence|
Gojko Šušak (16 March 1945 – 3 May 1998) was a Croatian politician who held the post of defence minister from 1991 to 1998. A Bosnian Croat emigreé to Canada, he rose to prominence in the Croat diaspora in North America, eventually becoming a close friend and associate to Franjo Tuđman, leader of the Croatian Democratic Union, a nationalist party seeking Croatia's independence from Yugoslavia. Following the adoption of multi-party democracy in 1990 Šušak returned to the country and after Tuđman became President of Croatia in 1991, Šušak became defence minister, an office he held throughout the Yugoslav Wars. He played a leading role in the Croatian involvement in the Bosnian War, supporting the Herzeg-Bosnia entity in the Croat-Bosniak War, and later helping broker the Dayton Agreement. During his term in office he forged close contacts with the United States.
Šušak was born on 16 March 1945 in Široki Brijeg, in the Croat-dominated part of the Herzegovina region in present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was the ninth child of Ante and Stana Šušak. His brother disappeared during the Second World War, last seen prior to the Partisans' entering in Zagreb.
After graduating from high school, Šušak studied mathematics at the University of Rijeka, but when he received a draft call to the Yugoslav People's Army, Šušak decided to emigrate, allegedly with the help of Croatian Franciscan priests, he illegally crossed the Yugoslav-Austrian border. This claim is disputed by some, particularly Paul Hockenos, who in his book, Homeland Calling, states Šušak probably left Yugoslavia, like most Croatians, as a guest worker, but also does not back this claim with substantial evidence.
From Austria, Šušak went to Canada in 1969, where two of his brothers had previously emigrated. There he worked in construction and doing odd jobs. His political opponents in the 1990s mockingly called him "Pizza man", since he also owned and ran a pizzeria for some time.
In 1973, he married another Croatian immigrant, Đurđica Gojmerac, a social worker at the time. They had two daughters, Katarina and Jelena, a son named Tomislav, and lived peacefully in Ottawa. However, Šušak was at the same time one of the most active Croatian political immigrants in Canada working on the organization of Croatian schools where he also taught classes, football clubs, church events etc. His most notable work was aiding the opening of the Croatian studies chair at the University of Waterloo in 1988.
He was an anti-communist and Croatian nationalist, directly involved with the movement pushing for Croatia's independence, and later, the 1991–1995 war. He was an important ally to the United States, which had during the war persuaded Šušak to let go of his aim to annex the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia, a self-proclaimed Croat-controlled territory in present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In 1979 Šušak with his immigrant friends, planned to place a pig in a coffin in front of the Yugoslav Embassy, with either the intention of letting it loose on embassy grounds or possibly killing it. However, this plan was disrupted by the Ontario Humane Society, who rescued the animal.
During his exile, Šušak was associated with Croatian Franciscans in Canada, especially with their mission in Norval, which was politically active. Šušak and Norval priests were hosts to Yugoslav People's Army general turned dissident Franjo Tuđman, during his visits to Croatian communities in Canada in the late 1980s. During these visits, Tuđman and Šušak became friends and built a bond that would last until Šušak's death.
Šušak and his circle managed to raise large amounts of money among Croats in North America that helped Tuđman finance his rise to power in Croatia. Šušak went back to Croatia in 1989, and instantly became a senior government official in Tuđman's party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). Following the party's win in the 1990 election (the first free election in Croatia and rest of Yugoslavia since World War II), Šušak was appointed Minister of Emigration, in charge of building relations with the Croatian diaspora.
On 25 June 1991 Croatia and Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia. In September 1991, Šušak was named minister of defence while Croatia was at war with rebel Croatian Serbs supported by the Yugoslav Army. His role as defence minister remains controversial. There are claims that under Šušak's management a lot of funds that had been raised from emigrants to purchase arms for the fledgling Croatian Army had been misappropriated. The murdered chief of police for eastern Slavonia, Josip Reihl-Kir, a couple of days before his murder said that "Šušak is going to order his liquidation". Reihl-Kir had also stated that Šušak was in the group that fired Armbrust missiles on civilian houses in mostly Serb populated Borovo Selo in April 1991, an event that indirectly led to Borovo Selo killings later on.[clarification needed]
Šušak gained economic aid from wealthy emigrees. The Serbs managed to occupy a quarter of Croatia's territory, declaring the Republic of Serbian Krajina. When the war spread to neighbouring, multi-ethnic federal republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, he spearheaded support to Bosnian Croats.
Throughout the 1992–1995 Bosnian War Šušak supported Bosnian Croats, including a year-long Croat–Bosniak War, during which both sides committed atrocities. Šušak helped persuade Bosnian Croats to accept the 1995 Dayton Agreement, which thwarted the Croatian extremists' goal of seceding from Bosnia and Herzegovina and uniting with Croatia proper. In 1997, fearing that Washington would punish an uncooperative Croatia, Šušak helped arranged the surrender of 11 Bosnian Croat war crimes suspects to The Hague tribunal.
These actions led to the creation of a Croatian self-proclaimed entity called Herceg-Bosna, and war between Croatian Defence Council and Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who had previously allied against the Serbs. A report by the Croatian Commission of the Defence Council found that Šušak was responsible for the fall of the Bosnian Posavina in September 1992 and handed over territory strategically vital to the Bosnian Serb forces. In 1994 a group of HDZ officials, including future president of Croatia Stjepan Mesić, left the party because of Tuđman and Šušak's politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina and because of policy issues that Mesić and Manolić were criticised for within the party.
In the same year, after U.S.-led diplomatic effort, Croats and Bosniaks reconciled, which led to a numerous offensives against Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia in 1995. Šušak and Tuđman helped organize and put into action Operation Flash and Operation Storm, military strikes against rebel Serbs in Croatia. Bosnian Serbs suffered a series of defeats as well, so they were forced to start peace negotiations that produced the Dayton Agreement, where Šušak was one of the key Croatian negotiators in Dayton.
During and after the war, he was criticized for the establishment of a company called RH Alan which was rumoured to have acquired weapons in violation of a UN arms embargo.
In 1997, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia contemplated subpoenaing Šušak. He was represented by the future president of Croatia Ivo Josipović at these proceedings. In the same year he helped the Tribunal with persuading 11 Bosnian Croat war crimes suspects to surrender.
A heavy smoker, Šušak was diagnosed with throat cancer. He was treated in Walter Reed Army Medical Center, just like Tuđman, who was also diagnosed with cancer at about the same time. Gojko Šušak died in Zagreb at the age of 53. Šušak cultivated some notable friendships and close ties to the U.S. government, especially with U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry. Perry represented Washington at Šušak's funeral but also said he came as a personal friend. In his eulogy, he paraphrased Shakespeare's verse saying "Now there goes a man, we shall never look upon his like again". In Croatia, Šušak was considered a key figure in the successful war effort by some, and a ringleader of high-ranking corrupted officials by others.
An arterial road in Zagreb, Gojko Šušak Avenue was named posthumously after him. A monument in a tribute of Gojko Šušak in Široki Brijeg downtown, at a square named after him, was made by sculptor Kuzma Kovačić, and installed on May 5, 2008.
- Špegelj, Martin (2001). Sjećanja vojnika (1. izd. ed.). Zagreb: Znanje. ISBN 953-195-190-X.
- "Death of Yugoslavia, BBC, Episode 1. "Enter Nationalism".
- Eduard Šoštarić; Plamenko Cvitić (30 January 2007). "Susak handed over the Posavina region". Nacional (weekly). Archived from the original on 25 July 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
- Mišetić: Pusić progoni Šuška jer želi pomoći haaškom tužiteljstvu
- Six Senior Herceg-Bosna Officials Convicted
- Špegelj, Martin: Sjećanje Vojnika (Memories of a Soldier), 2001
|Minister of Defence