World Jewish Congress Launches Campaign Regarding the Ustasha in Croatia

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Recent cases of historical revisionism in Croatia draw international attention.

In was only a matter of time before incidents of historical revisionism which have recently been taking place with increasing frequency in Croatia start drawing attention from the international community as well. Government’s indecisiveness to more strongly define its position towards the insignia and slogans used by the Ustasha and the Independent State of Croatia, a Nazi-puppet state which existed from 1941 to 1945, culminated in its vacillation to remove the controversial memorial plaque with the Ustasha insignia which was put up in late 2016 in Jasenovac, the site of the most extensive concentration camp during the Second World War in Croatia. While the plaque has been removed from Jasenovac after lengthy discussions, which even included negotiations with people who have put it there, it was just moved to a nearby town of Novska, where it still stands.

Such examples of historical revisionism, coupled with incidents in which numerous antifascists monuments in the country have been defaced and destroyed since 1990, which continues to this day, are being featured in the international media as well. One such article has been published by Tablet, an online magazine of Jewish news and ideas launched in June 2009, written by Menachem Z. Rosensaft, the general counsel of the World Jewish Congress, an organisation representing over 100 Jewish communities across the globe, and an adjunct professor of law at Cornell Law School and lecturer-in-law at Columbia Law School, where he teaches courses on the law of genocide.

In the article titled “Croatia Is Brazenly Attempting to Rewrite its Holocaust Crimes Out of History”, the author reviews some of the more prominent incidents which brought into question the attitude of Croatian authorities towards the Ustasha regime, starting with the infamous March 2016 football match between Croatia and Israel, when audience chanted the Ustasha slogan “For Homeland Ready”, which did not provoke any reaction from then Croatian Prime Minister Tihomir Orešković who was present at the stadium. This incident and many others contributed to the decision made by the Jewish community in Croatia not to attend the official state commemorations at the Jasenovac concentration camp site in 2016 and 2017.

In addition to the overview of the more recent events, Rosensaft also provides a thorough historical context of the Holocaust as it happened in the territories of former Yugoslav republics, especially in Croatia, which holds the “distinction” of being one of few countries in which genocide against Jews was committed without direction and participation of German authorities.

Today’s unsure attitude of Croatian government towards the Ustasha regime is just a continuation of ambivalent positions which the authorities have taken with different intensity since 1990, when the Ustasha were first presented as a kind of patriots, rather than criminals, and as a group which deserved equal recognition as Croatian antifascists, which is an idea which exists today as well, with many revisionists demanding that the Ustasha and partisans’ insignia (primarily, the red star) should have the same legal standing.

Another way the revisionism is present today are repeated attempts to whitewash the scale of crimes committed from 1941 to 1945, particularly with claims that the Jasenovac concentration camp, in which more than 80,000 victims have been identified by name, was nothing more than a labour camp, while real crimes were allegedly committed there by the communist regime after the Second World War ended.

Rosensaft also provides an overview of historical revisionism in other Eastern and central European countries, in which similar attempts to put Nazism and Communism on the same moral plane exist, showing that efforts to fight for the historical truth must not be confined to any single country.

A few days ago, published an interview with Rosensaft in which he spoke more extensively about his views regarding the current situation in Croatia. “One must take note of the fact that the Ustasha and its contemporary adherents are neither in the government nor, at least as of this time, a significant political force in their own right. Today’s Croatian government is far from being reactionary, let alone neo-fascist. On the other hand, the principal problem in this regard appears to be the Croatian government’s unwillingness to convincingly – emphasis here on “convincingly” – repudiate those who glorify the Ustasha’s shadowy reincarnation. And the inevitable consequence of condoning ultra-nationalist sentiments is an often-crude Holocaust revisionism, not because of any overt anti-Semitism, but as a way of whitewashing the Ustasha’s historical image,” said Rosensaft.

As a response, the World Jewish Congress will launch an international campaign that will bring attention to Holocaust revisionism in Croatia and the attempts to rehabilitate the Ustasha. “The purpose of this campaign is not to attack Croatia but, on the contrary, to help the Croatian people to acknowledge a dark part of its history and to properly recognise and memorialise the victims of Jasenovac and other Ustasha-run concentration camps. My sole purpose in writing my article was to promote the cause of historical truth. I am not in any way antagonistic toward Croatia or Croatians. On the contrary, Croatia is a beautiful country with a proud history, and in particular, we appreciate the strong bilateral relations that exist between Croatia and the State of Israel. At the same time, we condemn and repudiate, and call on all authorities and decent people everywhere, to not just condemn any distortion or denial of the crimes and atrocities committed during the Holocaust, but to categorically repudiate those who were responsible for these crimes against humanity. Our goal is to bring Jews and Croatians closer together. However, this can only be achieved if not just the Croatian authorities but Croatian society as a whole will repudiate any resurgence of the hate-filled extremism of the past, and will ensure the memorialization and commemoration of all those who were killed at the hands of the Ustasha.”

Finally, Rosensaft has a proposal for the Croatian government how it could do better when it comes to the dark side of the national history. “I would urge the Croatian authorities to form an international commission made up of respected historians to provide an authoritative account of what took place in Croatia during the years of the Holocaust and to stand behind the findings of this commission, regardless of possible political consequences. It is critically important that such a commission will include representatives of all relevant stakeholders, including the Croatian Jewish community, as well as representatives or descendants of the other ethnic groups that were victimised by the Ustasha. And I would urge them to initiate educational programming on all levels, from high school and universities to communal groups of all ethnicities and faiths, regarding the crimes against humanity that were committed by the Ustasha in the name of the Croatian people. We also call on them not to trivialise or minimise the role played by the Ustasha during World War II, but on the contrary to condemn and repudiate its present-day resurgence, again, regardless of any political considerations.”

The article published in Tablet can be found here.


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