HISTORICAL REVISIONISM AND ANTI-SEMITISM IN CROATIA
An interview with Tomislav Jakic
“Anti-Semitism in today’s Croatia is – for the time being – rather marginal. Yet it is common to be confronted with anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews. Those using these stereotypes are often unaware that they are promoting anti-Semitism. This type of anti-Semitism is part of Croatian tradition, or – to be precise – of Middle-European tradition. Under different circumstances, this latent anti-Semitism could easily turn into open aggression and violent behavior.
“The number of Jews in Croatia is small, perhaps 2000 if one counts both community members and those who do not hide their Jewishness. In 1991, during the dissolution war of Yugoslavia, a bomb exploded on the Jewish part of the main cemetery and another in front of the building of the Jewish community in Zagreb. The perpetrators were never caught. The official version is that the intelligence service of the Yugoslav People’s Army was behind the explosions. In the past two decades there were several anti-Semitic incidents, primarily the vandalizing of Jewish graves or the placement of swastikas on them. Anti-Semitism is not dominating the Croatian political scene, however negative sentiments and stereotypes about Serbs are.”
Tomislav Jakic is a retired journalist. He was born in Zagreb in 1943. He graduated from the Law faculty of Zagreb University in 1966. From 2001 he was, for a number of years, foreign policy advisor to then Croatian President Stjepan Mesić.
“Since 2010 Croatia is witnessing a wave of major historical revisionism about the Second World War. A flood of books, publications, ‘revelations’ in tabloids and TV programs, all have a common false purpose: to convince the young generation that the wartime Ustasha were good Croats and real patriots.
Admittedly the Ustasha – pressured by the Germans! – participated in the Holocaust. At the same time, so this historical forgery goes, the wartime anti-fascists, in the disguise of communists, were criminals and murderers.
“In truth the Ustasha ideology was, with a few specific Croatian pre-war elements, a copy of fascism, with its concepts of superior and inferior people and its love of blood and land. It was only dominant during the Second World War, wherever the Ustasha was in control. Ustasha ideology provided the basis for the Holocaust, as well as of the genocide of Serbs, Roma and anyone else who was not willing to accept the new order.
“Religion had no specific place in the Ustasha ideology. Yet, from the first day, the Roman Catholic Church in Croatia supported the Ustasha regime of the puppet Second World War Independent State of Croatia, which was established by the Germans and the Italians. Islam was viewed by the Ustasha regime as a very valuable ally. People of Islamic faith were treated as Croats and named ‘the flower of the Croatian nation.’ In 1943 the Catholic Archbishop of Zagreb, Alojzije Stepinac, voiced for the first time his disapproval of racial theory and of the inhuman treatment of the people who were transported to the numerous concentration and extermination camps in Croatia. He did not publicly object to the concentration camps themselves.
“Anti-Semitism was an integral part of the Ustasha ideology and everyday practice. Jews in Croatia were forced to register and to wear the Ž sign. (Ž for Židov in Croatian). They were discriminated against like the Jews in Germany. Finally they were brutally murdered in camps. Even the Germans were shocked by the horrific way of Ustasha killings. Before the war in 1941 there were some 38,000 to 39,000 Jews in what became the Independent State of Croatia, which included Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as parts of Serbia. This figure included converts to Roman Catholicism who were treated by the Ustasha regime as Jews. Only 9,000 Jews survived.
“The Ustasha ideology was partially brought back during the war in the early 1990s when Yugoslavia disintegrated. Some leading figures of the war-time Ustasha regime returned from abroad, while some Ustasha descendants acquired influence in Croatian institutions. The new Croatian regime, was from the beginning, characterized by antagonism against Serbs. Serbia, ruled by President Slobodan Milošević attacked Croatia with what was left from the Yugoslav People’s Army. Thereupon, the Croatian regime, under its President Franjo Tuđman, decided to use the Ustasha revival as a nationalist element to confront both Milošević and those in Croatia who were not in favor of the direction of the new state. Tuđman was basically opposed to the Ustasha, yet saw it as a political force which made it possible for the Croatian nation to attain its own state.
“The current Croatian government does not, or only mildly, react to the revisionism. Shouting of the Ustasha salute “Za dom – spremni” – ready for the homeland – is for years now ‘common folklore’ during football games. In the first half of 2016 a demonstration of several thousand people – mainly war veterans – marched through downtown Zagreb, shouting the same salute. This demonstration was headed by the deputy-speaker of the parliament, Ivan Tepeš, of the right wing Croatian party of Rights-Dr. Ante Starćević. Graffiti with swastikas and a big U –for Ustasha – with a cross above it, are seen almost all over Croatia. During the Yugoslav war of dissolution about 3,000 monuments erected for the anti-fascist fighters and victims of fascism were deliberately destroyed by the Croatian army, police units and individuals. No perpetrator was ever brought before the court.
“The most brutal war-time camp was in Jasenovac. It is officially remembered once a year, when there is a ceremony marking the, mostly unsuccessful, attempt of the inmates to break out in the late spring of 1945. Otherwise the murderous Jasenovac is falsely portrayed as a working camp. Nedjeljko Mihanovic, one of the former speakers of the Croatian parliament has said that life there was not so bad and that the inmates even staged operetta performances. It is characteristic that today’s Croatia does not deny the Holocaust. Yet considerable efforts were made to scale down the number of those murdered in Jasenovac, which are an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people. Croatia tries not to mention the Serbs killed there, a number which exceeded even that of the Jews.
“With strong support of the Catholic Church some so-called ‘historians’ are falsely claiming that Jasenovac existed for years as a death camp in times of socialist Yugoslavia. That forgery also claims that more people were killed in the camp after WW2 than during it. There is no evidence at all for this.
“In April 2016 – because of the more or less open pro-Ustasha policy of the government and in particular of the Minister of Culture, Zlatko Hasanbegovic – the Jewish community, the Serb National Council and the Association of Antifascist Fighters and antifascists did not attend the official commemoration of Jasenovac, but organized their own.”