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Gojko Šušak

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Gojko Šušak
5th Minister of Defence of Croatia
In office
18 September 1991 – 3 May 1998
Prime Minister Franjo Gregurić
Hrvoje Šarinić
Nikica Valentić
Zlatko Mateša
Preceded by Luka Bebić
Succeeded by Andrija Hebrang
Personal details
Born (1945-03-16)16 March 1945
Široki Brijeg, FS Bosnia and Herzegovina, DF Yugoslavia
Died 3 May 1998(1998-05-03) (aged 53)
Zagreb, Croatia
Political party Croatian Democratic Union
Military service
Allegiance Croatia
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 (pronounced [gȏːjko ʃûʃak]; 16 March 1945 – 3 May 1998) was a Croatian politician who held the post of defence minister from 1991 to 1998. A Bosnian Croat emigrant who had moved from Yugoslavia to Canada in 1969, Šušak rose to prominence within the Croatian diaspora in North America in the following decades, eventually becoming a close friend and associate to Franjo Tuđman, leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), 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 was appointed defence minister, an office he held throughout the Yugoslav Wars. He played a crucial role in Croatia's involvement in the Bosnian War, supporting the self-proclaimed Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia statelet in the 1992–95 Croat–Bosniak War, and later helped broker the 1995 Dayton Agreement. During his term in office he forged close contacts with the United States.

Early life[edit]

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 sixth child of Ante and Stana Šušak. According to some accounts, his father and brother, who were both World War II Ustaše officers, disappeared two months after his birth. Both were allegedly last seen in Zagreb on the day that the Yugoslav Partisans entered the city. According to the Croatian Ministry of Defence, Šušak's family home was torched by the Yugoslav Partisans in an act of retribution following the war, however some Croatian journalists question that this ever happened.[1]

In 1967 Šušak moved to Rijeka, where he studied physics and mathematics at a teacher's college.[2] Šušak left Yugoslavia and his family in 1968, moving to Austria to find work and in order to evade compulsory military service in the Yugoslav People's Army. In April 1969, he moved on to Canada, where two of his brothers had previously emigrated.[3] There he worked in construction and did odd jobs. His political opponents in the 1990s mockingly called him "Pizza Man", since he owned and ran a pizzeria for some time.[4]

In 1973, he married another Croatian immigrant, Đurđica Gojmerac, a social worker. They had two daughters, Katarina and Jelena, and a son, Tomislav, and lived in Ottawa. Šušak was one of the most active Croat political immigrants in Canada and was involved with organising Croat schools, football clubs and church events. He assisted in opening the Croatian studies chair at the University of Waterloo in 1988.[citation needed]


Šušak was an ardent anti-communist and Croatian nationalist, directly involved with the movement pushing for Croatia's independence from Yugoslavia, and later, the 1991–95 war. He was an important ally to the United States, which had 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.[4]

In 1979, Šušak with his immigrant friends, planned to place a piglet 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 seized the animal.[5]

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 Canadian Croat communities in the late 1980s. During these visits, Tuđman and Šušak became friends and built a bond that lasted until Šušak's death.[citation needed]

Šušak helped to raise large amounts of money among the Croatian diaspora in North America, which helped Tuđman finance his rise to power in Croatia. Šušak went back to Croatia in 1989, and was named 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), he was appointed Minister of Emigration, in charge of building relations with the Croatian diaspora.[citation needed]

On 25 June 1991 Croatia and Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia.[4] 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.[6] The chief of police for eastern Slavonia, Josip Reihl-Kir, who was later murdered, stated that Šušak was in the group that had fired Armbrust anti-tank missiles on civilian houses in mostly Serb populated Borovo Selo in April 1991, an event which indirectly led to the May 1991 Borovo Selo killings.[7]

Šušak gained economic aid from wealthy emigrees.[4] 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. 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.[8][9]

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 due to policy issues on which Mesić and Manolić were criticised within the HDZ. Throughout the 1992–95 Bosnian War, Šušak supported the 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.[citation needed]

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, RH Alan, which was rumoured to have acquired weapons in violation of a UN arms embargo.[4] In 1997, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia contemplated subpoenaing Šušak. He was represented by future president of Croatia Ivo Josipović at these proceedings.[10]


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. Šušak died in Zagreb at the age of 53. He had 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 said he came as a personal friend.[citation needed]

An arterial road in Zagreb, Gojko Šušak Avenue was named posthumously after him. A monument in tribute to Šušak in Široki Brijeg downtown, at a square named after him, was made by sculptor Kuzma Kovačić, and installed on 5 May 2008.[citation needed]

In May 2013, the ICTY, in a first-instance verdict against Jadranko Prlić, found that Šušak took part in the joint criminal enterprise against the non-Croat population of Bosnia and Herzegovina.[11]


  1. ^ Hockenos 2003, p. 34
  2. ^ Hockenos 2003, p. 36
  3. ^ Hockenos 2003, p. 37
  4. ^ a b c d e Profile,; accessed 14 April 2015.
  5. ^ Hockenos 2003, p. 74
  6. ^ Špegelj 2001[page needed]
  7. ^ "Death of Yugoslavia, BBC, Episode 1. "Enter Nationalism".
  8. ^ Eduard Šoštarić; Plamenko Cvitić (30 January 2007). "Susak handed over the Posavina region". Nacional. Archived from the original on 25 July 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ Mišetić: Pusić progoni Šuška jer želi pomoći haaškom tužiteljstvu,; accessed 14 April 2015.
  11. ^ Six Senior Herceg-Bosna Officials Convicted,; accessed 14 April 2015.


Political offices
Preceded by
Luka Bebić
0000Minister of Defence0000
Succeeded by
Andrija Hebrang