If you are prepared for intrigue and excitement in stamp collecting, you should consider specializing in Croatia, 1941-45, and its exile issues. You probably will be the only one among your friends who knows where Croatia is on the map and whether the Croatian Liberation Movement still is active.
I have been collecting postage stamps since age nine; however, it was not until my return from military service in the spring of 1972 that I realized I had become a specialist in collecting my homeland and various other Balkan nations.
That same year, I helped organize the Croatian Philatelic Society in Borger, Texas, which has become the only society of its kind outside of Croatia to cater to collectors of Croatia, Yugoslavia, Central Europe, and the Balkans.
The specialty organization has attracted members in 30 different countries around the world, receiving daily inquiries and correspondence from collectors eager to learn philatelic histories of their stamps.
My interest in the Croatian exile issues began during a family trip in 1965 to Chicago. I met a man there by the name of Abas Salkanovich, who proudly revealed that he was a former bodyguard to Croatian leader Dr. Ante Pavelich in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Salkanovich, a Croatian Muslim, lived in northside Chicago with his Austrian born wife. Upon hearing that I was interested in stamps, he brought a set of his extra Croatian stamps to me, presenting them as a souvenir from his days in exile in Argentina. He had immigrated to the U.S. only several years earlier.
I later found a mention of these stamps in the 1966 issue of Scott’s Standard Stamp Catalogue. The catalog simply published this notice: “Various sets have been released in Argentina since April 1951, by the ‘Croatian Government in Exile’. In the opinion of the Editor, information justifying the listing of these sets has not been received.”
During my long hours serving as a combat correspondent with the U.S. Army in South Vietnam, I was able to establish contact with Branko Marich in Madrid, Spain, a Catholic priest who as at the time manager of the Croatian Philatelic Service in Madrid.
This service initially was established in Buenos Aires. It was later moved to Madrid after the Yugoslav secret police attempted to assassinate Pavelich April 10, 1957, in el Palomar, a Buenos Aires suburb.
The issuance of the Croatian exile stamps April 10, 1951, in Argentina is closely related to the Croatian struggle for freedom, independence, and its own democratic state.
Croatia was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that became part of Yugoslavia following World War II. During World War II, it became independent, however it was allied with Germany and Italy. Stamps, coins and currency were issued during that period, 1941-45, and the country was recognized by some 14 countries. After the war, Croatia was reunited by Communist forces as a constituent “people’s republic”. These stamps are the first set issued by Croatian government-in-exile in 1951. The stamps were illegal in Croatia, and people have been imprisoned for possessing them. Most collectors in Croatia are unaware they were ever issued.
This first set of six different commemoratives was issued by the Croatian Government in Exile, in Montevideo, Uruguay, in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Independent State of Croatia on April 10, 1941.
According to the Philatelic Information Service Bulletin #1, dated October, 1951, the set was designed by Argentinean postal official Amadeo dell’Acqua, and issued in sheets of 35 stamps, bearing a total quantity of 30,000 stamps each.
From 1951 until 1972, a total of 44 different and colorful stamps were issued in Argentina and Spain by the Croatian Government in Exile in cooperation with the Croatian Liberation Movement (Hrvatski Oslobodilacki Pokret – HOP), which Pavelich had reactivated during his stay in Buenos Aires.
The stamps helped publicize and finance the independence movement abroad. They were sold to stamp dealers in Western Europe and the U.S. who in turn marketed the sets to collectors worldwide.
The large typographed adhesives are in a class with the Norwegian and Czecho-Slovak stamps issued in exile in London, and the Polish stamps issued in Italy when these nations were occupied by Germany in World War II.
The late Ernest A. Kehr, writing in the May 20, 1051, issue of the New York Herald Tribune says most of the stamps were released through Buenos Aires and Damascus, Syria, where Croatians in the 1950’s and 1960’s had government-in-exile offices, while some were sent to Zagreb, Croatia, for use in the country.
The exile stamps depict scenes intended to arouse patriotic and anti-Communist feeling in exile and in the homeland, and to inspire support of anti-Communist sentiment in the world.
Concerning the first set of six different stamps, the 1k carmine shows Zagreb, the nation’s capital on April 10, 1941, when the country declared its independence from the Serb-dominated Yugoslav government.
The 2k blue depicts a view of Split, Dalmatia, an important Croatian seaport.
The Shiroki Brieg Monastery, built by the Franciscan Order, is shown on the 5k brown stamp. In 1945, when the Serbian Communists captured the monastery, they set the entire town aflame, burning alive 28 Franciscan professors after spraying them with gasoline. The 10k orange represents the panoramic view of the important city of Sarajevo in the heart of Bosnia, where the 1984 Winter Olympics were held.
The 20k olive green represents the historic session of the Croatian Parliament (Sabor on Feb. 23, 1943). It also was the Croatian Parliament that on Oct. 29, 1918, proclaimed separation of Croatia from Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, and the independence of Croatia.
On the 30k violet a weeping woman is shown in a vast cemetery where Communist victims are buried. The stamp’s inscription says, “My people are poor slaves, my land, a vast field of graves”.
Later issues include a commemorative of the anniversary of the murder of the Croatian deputies in the Serb-dominated Yugoslav Parliament June 20, 1028; a provisional noting the 75th anniversary of the Universal Postal Union; a set of four showing national folk dances and popular games; and a special issue with a portrait of Dr. Pavelich on the first anniversary of the 1957 assassination attempt.
Another issue notes the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Croatian Liberation Movement “Ustasha”, a specially issued stamp on the 25th anniversary (April 10, 1966) of the Independent State of Croatia. A May 1, 1965, Bleiburg Massacre issue notes the 20th year since extradition by British military forces of more than 300,000 Croatian military men, government officials, and civilian refugees near the Austrian border town in May 1945.
From 1960 until April 1972, 13 different and attractive stamps were issued with Europa topics, similar to the regular issues of Europa series issued concurrently by various European nations.
In many instances, quantities of less than 30,000 per stamps were issued. Some provisional stamps were issued in lots of 1,000 stamps, creating a demand in today’s philatelic market. A number of exile stamps were accompanied with a first day cover, an envelope carrying the newly issued stamp and accompanied with a special postmark. These covers are scarce.
For nearly a quarter-century, Pavelich and his followers issued these attractive sets, which were outlawed in Croatia and looked down upon by some serious philatelists. Yet the demand for the stamps has grown steadily.
This article has been reprinted from Global Stamp News April 1991 – Issue #6