Nenad Jovanović of Serb National Council, a civic organization of the Serb minority in Croatia, reminded the public on Thursday (link in Serbian) of the fate that would have most definitely awaited the great scientist if he found himself in his native village rather than in New York City in 1941.
Smiljan, a small village in the region of Lika, nested on the eastern slopes of Mt. Velebit several kilometers west of Gospić, was the birthplace of Tesla in 1856 and a scene of the terrible carnage Croat fascists inflicted on his fellow villagers less than 90 years later, in one of the lesser known episodes of the genocidal enterprise by the Independent State of Croatia, aimed at its Serbian population. The genocide, which began with the creation of the Croat fascist state in April of 1941, halved the Serbian ethnic presence in the areas that are today Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
As for Smiljan, Jovanović writes:
Jovanović cites at least three major massacres, with the central one taking place in August of 1941, when 506 Serbs of Smiljan and the adjacent hamlets were rounded up and executed. The last known massacre took place as late as March of 1945. Croats also destroyed the church in which Tesla's father Milutin had been the parochial priest. Many Serb residents ended up in the nearby death camp of Jadovno, never to be seen again."The numerous visitors that pay homage to the world-renowned genius Nikola Tesla at his memorial complex in the village of Smiljan next to Gospić, upon approaching the Orthodox church of St. Peter and Paul, remain shorted for an answer to the question of who rests in the large tomb at the cemetery that lies on the slope of the hill next to the church. Until 1991, they could get that answer from the monument erected over the tomb. It read that, at this place, remains lie of more than 530 victims of Ustasha genocide committed from 1941 to 1945. Judging from the absence of any desire to restore the monument, this will stay a secret for many generations to come." (translated by SR)
The now-absent monument with the inscription was erected in 1977, according to Sofija Pejnović of the Archive of Serbs in Croatia, quoted in Jovanović's article, after partial remains were collected and re-interred at the tomb. Every August 2, until 1991, relatives and neighbors of the victims gathered to pay respects at the tomb, which now stands unmarked. The author stops short of describing the circumstances that led to the removal of the monument in 1991, but it coincided with the rise of Croat militant chauvinism and the accession of Franjo Tuđman's Croat Democratic Union, which built its legacy partially on the re-branding of Croat clero-fascism from the Second World War.
Pejnović herself went on to wonder how the great man would have fared if he had the misfortune of being in Lika at the time of the genocide. She regrets the unwillingness of Croatian authorities to conclusively deal with the legacies of their fascist predecessors and restore the monument. Yet, for political expediency and cultural self-validation, they readily usurp the legacy of Tesla and other Serbs hailing from the areas that relatively recently became Croatia.