Former President Mesić Filmed Downplaying World War II Crimes

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In old footage filmed in 1992, Mesić makes controversial comments about Jasenovac concentration camp.

Two old videos have surfaced showing Stjepan Mesić, former Croatian President and current honorary chairman of the Union of Antifascists, defending Interior Minister of the wartime Independent State of Croatia Andrija Artuković and relativizing Ustasha crimes committed at Jasenovac concentration camp, reports Večernji List on January 25, 2017.

The videos were allegedly filmed on 4 February 1992 in Novska and it seems that Mesić knew he was being recorded.

Mesić says that Yugoslav President and wartime Partisan leader Josip Broz Tito knew that Jasenovac was fake “because it was necessary to show there were more victims” and that he therefore never visited Jasenovac. Mesić also said that Jasenovac was a “labour camp” and that there were no gas chambers in Jasenovac.

“That was a labour camp. People were indeed killed, but before coming to Jasenovac. Those who came to Jasenovac, they were practically saved, because the regime needed workers”, said Mesić. “Allegations about murders are simply not true. There were whole months when no one was killed. Of course, people did die. Children who came with their mothers were exhausted and they died”, explained Mesić, adding that it would be stupid to say “there were no deaths”. “Although 25,000 people is a lot, they were not all Serbs”, said Mesić, adding that the “institution of camps” existed at that time in whole of Europe. “That was an institution which isolated people who represented a problem for regimes. And they were isolated”, said Mesić. “Jasenovac continued operating for another two years after the war”, added Mesić controversially.

Mesić is also heard recounting a conversation with Milko Gajski, the presiding judge of the trial against Andrija Artuković in 1986, saying that Gajski told him that Artuković was one of the most educated people he had ever met.

Reacting to the footage, Mesić issued a statement apologizing to anyone offended by his statements about Jasenovac. He explained his statements with the influence of the political environment which existed in 1992, the war, and the impact of having inaccurate information. He stressed that it would not change his well-known views and opinions about antifascism. “If I had offended someone with my reckless statements, I would like to apologize”, said Mesić in a statement.

He added that “the entire event took place under great pressure of war which was going on and of HDZ’s political attitudes”. Mesić, who was at the time president of HDZ’s Executive Committee, said that he did not agree with some of the party’s positions. “In such an environment, I said a few assertions which were subsequently shown not to correspond to the truth”, said Mesić.

He also denied that the Jasenovac concentration camp continued operating for two years after the war. “Later it was determined that this claim was not true. In fact, after the Ustasha destroyed the camp, no one was kept there after the war. Only people there were groups of German prisoners who were clearing the area and they were staying in the village of Jasenovac”, said the former President. He pointed out that his disagreement with such policies culminated in his decision to leave HDZ in 1994.

Union of Antifascist Fighters of Croatia distanced itself from Mesić’s words, but did not comment on whether they would change their decision to allow Mesić to move his office to their premises, after Parliament recently abolished the government-paid office of the former President.

Jasenovac was a concentration camp opened by the Independent State of Croatia, a puppet state which existed from 1941 to 1945. Estimates about number of victim vary, but most historians believe that between 60,000 and 80,000 people were killed. Serbia claims that more than half a million people were killed at Jasenovac, while revisionist sources in Croatia claim that the number is much smaller or that no one was killed there.

Another issue is whether the camp continued operating after the Second World War ended. According to some claims, communist regime kept the camp running for a few more years and killed there those whom it considered to be “enemies”. While there is no doubt that many mass executions were committed by the communist regime after the war all over former Yugoslavia, there is no definite proof that they were committed in an organized manner at Jasenovac.

In early 1990s, Stjepan Mesić was a high-ranking HDZ official. He was the first Prime Minister of Croatia elected after multiparty elections (May-August 1990), as well as second Speaker of Parliament (1992-1994). In 1994, Mesić left HDZ over disagreements about policy towards Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mesić accused then Croatian President Franjo Tuđman of wanting to divide Bosnia with Serbian President Slobodan Milošević. Mesić then spent a few years in opposition, but returned to power in 2000 when he was elected the second President of Croatia, after Tuđman’s death. While in early 1990s Mesić, like many other politicians at the time, expressed nationalistic positions, by 2000 he had become one of the strongest advocates for antifascism, often criticizing rightwing circles, who even today consider him as “traitor” and one of their main opponents.


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