Croatia: Stuck between EU tolerance and Neo-Nazism

By Alexey Toporov


By Alexey Toporov

How Croatian President fought Great Serbia with Nazi songs

A few days ago, Croatia celebrated Statehood Day, which did not go without a scandal, which is quite common for this young European democracy – a small orchestra and vocalists who performed patriotic songs met the guests at a ceremonial reception at the presidential residence on Pantovchak Street. After the performance of the anthem, the hosts treated the audience, among whom were the country’s VIPs, foreign ambassadors, as well as the (Serbian Orthodox) metropolitan of Zagreb Porfiry Perich, with a song from the repertoire of Marko Perkovic Thompson (this pseudonym – Thompson – the singer took for himself in honor of the weapon of the same name, which was actively used by Croatian separatists in the first years of the Yugoslav wars in the 90s) – a popular far-right performer in the country who is known for praising the murders of Serbs in the concentration camps of Jasenovac and Stara Gradiška.

Media noted that not all representatives of the Croatian elite felt comfortable, as was evident on the faces of Prime Minister Andrei Plenkovic and Speaker of the Parliament Gordan Jandrokovich. But Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic looked quite happy, especially since she had repeatedly stated that Thompson was her favorite singer. Also quite clever and prudent, the Croatian leader at first did not hesitate to use the well-known motto of the Croatian Nazi-Ustasha “Za dom spremni!” (“For the Homeland!”). However, after the respected western partners hinted to her that in an enlightened and democratic Europe slogans of Hitler’s accomplices were not comme il faut, she tried to justify it by saying that she was misled by advisers, adding that it was the historical battle cry of the Croatian people. Kitarovich, a rather good-looking woman, truly knows how to “act like a blonde” when it suits her.

She did this when she sent a congratulatory telegram, timed to coincide with the Day of the Anti-Fascist Struggle that was observed several days earlier in the vicinity of the city of Sisak. This event was not attended by any official of the country, except the retired President Stipe Mesic, who traditionally silenced all protocol gaps. In her short message, the President noted that “most of the Croatian people and Croatian citizens of other nationalities chose anti-fascist resistance during the Second World War”. Perhaps her fellow Croats of those years, who lived in the Third Reich-allied Independent State of Croatia (NDH), would be very surprised to learn this, as well as the aforementioned “citizens of other nationalities” (Serbs, Gypsies, Jews) who were massacred by hundreds of thousands for this very “other nationality” reason in the Ustaša death camps. And, of course, such an assertion of the country’s leader was hardly appreciated by the modern descendants of the Ustasha, who are going to commemorate their predecessors in Bleiburg, Austria, where at the end of the Second World War, Yugoslav partisans conducted mass executions of Croatian and Slovenian armed collaborators. Incidentally, Kitarovic herself took part in these events, and only this year, under pressure of the European and Jewish public, Croatia’s VIPs decided to ignore it.

Back to the Statehood Day, we should note that in her statement on the occasion, the President of Croatia did not go without traditional stings to its neighbors, saying that “despite the fact that a democratically elected government guaranteed constitutional rights (to Serbs), we faced the aggression of Great Serbia, which we overcame thanks to the courage of our defenders. ” Who should be considered the “Great Serbia” – the militias of the Serb-populated areas of what today is Croatia, who defended their homes and whose inhabitants refused to obey the discriminatory rules of the new state, or the Yugoslav People’s Army, whose soldiers and officers were gunned down by armed separatists without trial, the president-blonde did not specify.

“The problem of Croatia is that there is no clear distinction between Bleiburg and Yasenovac. They are, of course, incomparable, but still the government comemorates Bleiburg first, and Jasenovac second, although it should not be that way, – the chairman of the only Croatian Party of ethnic Serbs – the Independent Democratic Serb Party (NCSA) Milorad Pupovac commented. “The Croatian elite and society as a whole are hostages of the slogan“ Kill the Serb! ”… The average Croatian citizen does not feel the need to hate, but feels burdened by the current situation. People leave this country not only for economic reasons, but also because they do not want to live where intolerance reigns … Representatives of ethnic minorities, as well as the Croats themselves, leave because violence connected with politics, sports (football in particular), religion or even music, permeates the society. People are afraid and they refrain from participating in public life. Some refuse to participate in elections as candidates or voters or appear in places where television cameras are located, for example, in Orthodox churches during Christmas. ”

Serbs instead of footballs

For anyone on the outside, it’s not possible to explain what it’s like to live in such an atmosphere. The NDSP headed by Pupovac, represented in the country’s parliament, during the recent election campaign to the European Parliament, installed posters under the slogan “Is it easy to be a Serb in Croatia?” in many Croatian cities, in which the word “Serb” was written in Cyrillic. This provoked numerous acts of vandalism: billboards were broken, damaged, set on fire, insults were written on them, swastikas, Ustasha symbols, etc. The e-mail addresses and telephone numbers written on the office of the party located in Vukovar were literally torn away and replaced by numerous written or sprayed threats and insults. In April, a deputy chairman of the Serbian national minority council, Radoje Petkovic, a member of the Pupovac’s party, was beaten up near a cafe in the city of Rijeka and died in early June due to his injuries. The prosecution found that the attacker was “ethnically motivated.”

As a result, the NDSP didn’t pass in the elections for the European Parliament, although its leadership does not consider the result a defeat: about 30 thousand people voted for the party as a whole, not only Serbs but also representatives of other national minorities, as well as Croats. Pupovac noted that the pressure put on his political party, on the contrary, added to their popularity among those parts of Croatian society that reject xenophobia. There are a lot of such people, but they are quite divided and underrepresented in the elite of the country, which recent incidents connected with attacks on the Serbs in the cities of Supetar and Dubrovnik showed.

In the first case, unknown masked men (who were later identified to be hooligans) attacked three seasonal workers — Serbs from Vukovar and a girl who was with them. A local fireman stood up to the attackers and as a result, got beaten up too.

The victims suffered numerous punches and kicks, while one of the perpetrators is said to have used a  bottle. After that, according to one of them, the locals approached them (the town in questions is small, so the news travel fast) and expressed sympathy and support. One of the victims stated that he was not going to stop working there, but in an interview with the media, he admitted that he would now feel uncomfortable, because earlier he “didn’t have ‘Serb’ written on his forehead, but now everyone knows about it.”

In response to the attacks, the mayor of Supetar, Ivana Markovich canceled the budget financing of the football cup held in the town, as well as holding the cup on the territory of the municipality. Previously, she did not allow local fans to paint “Vukovar Defense”-themed graffiti on the walls of houses. Soon, she was attacked on her page on one of the social networks, with particularly provocative questions, such as whether she loved Croatia, to which she replied that she did, but not by insulting or beating people, waving flags and chest thumping, but by working hard: with highest rates of employment growth in the country, this is one of the few Croatian cities where there is a population increase, while in primary schools, textbooks and notebooks are provided to children free of charge, and students are paid some of the highest scholarships in the country.

Expectedly, the detained attackers, aged 19 and 23, who were intoxicated, were promptly released but were detained again later, under pressure from the public.

In Dubrovnik, hooligans also came under the spotlight for attacking a seasonal worker (waiter) – a Serb from Trebinje (Republika Srpska, B&H), and threatening him and telling him to leave the city within 24 hours.

These acts were not ignored by the country’s leadership, and they were publicly condemned by Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, and Andrei Plenkovich, as well as by representatives of the local intelligentsia:

“We, Croats, do not need much, give us Serbs and give us willows! – the writer Vedrana Rudan commented on the incident with bitter irony , referring to the famous Ustasha slogan “(Hang) Serbs on the willows!”.

“When football stars Dalich and Modric are invited to someone’s birthday, they sing Thompson’s songs glorifying Jasenovac, while President Kolinda is taking pictures with Neo-Nazis at Bleiburg and recruiting those who promote inter-ethnic strife, with one of the MEPs (representative of the coalition of ultra-right “sovereignists” Ruzha Tomashich) stating she does not renounce Ustashe, then what can we expect from hooligans and gangs who are beating us and would probably be killing us if given the chance? – editor of the news portal “Index” Matija Babich noted. – All those who have different opinions and views risk their lives by speaking about this. Croatia is a seriously backward country. ”

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However, it cost Babich, known for his anti-fascist views, for speaking about this, as a billboard saying “Matija Babic = Arkan (commander of Serbian volunteer units during the war of the 1990s)” appeared on one of the overpasses in Split, with the notable Serbian cross with four letters “S”, meaning: “Only unity will save the Serbs.” This provocation was the work of right-wing hooligans, whose creativity is always easily recognizable.

Habits hard to get rid of

The journalist, unfortunately, was right – this is not only the case with radical ultras (hooligans). Ruzha Tomashich, who was elected into the European Parliament, who lived in Canada for quite long, in her youth was known for wearing the uniform of Ustasha and reading poems dedicated to the Croatian Fuhrer Ante Pavelic at Croatian émigré gatherings. Having become a Croatian politician, she traditionally spoke of Serbs with extreme prejudice. When, before the recent elections for the European Parliament, asked to express her attitude toward the Ustasha movement, she stated that she would not renounce Ustashe, since there were people among the Ustashe who “simply defended their homeland”, and “that Pavelic, of course, was wrong for establishing death camps, but he acted on the basis of the realities of his era and, to understand his motives, we had to live in those times …”

Characteristically, when journalists asked other leading Croatian politicians to comment on the election of women with a similar system of values ​​to the European Parliament, they kept silent. But their German colleagues were indignant:

“The actions of the Ustasha during the Second World War have no justification,” said the representative of the ruling CDU, Elmar Brok. “MEP Tomashich is obliged to explain whether she believes that she was wrong for giving similar assessment of the participants of those events earlier, or continues to justify them.”

But to give an objective assessments of NDH and the Ustasha movement, the successor to which, without any mystifications, especially regarding Croatia’s chessboard-like coat of arms (in Hitler’s satellite NDH there were white squares at the corners of the coat of arms, while the current coat of arms has the red squares, and this distinction invariably underlines its present leadership), is post-Yugoslav Croatia, the establishment of this country was clearly premature. It was under the revived slogans of the NDH that an armed rebellion against Yugoslavia began, and they were also used by paramilitary Croatian formations, while they were ethnically cleansing the territory of present-day Croatia of Serbs who lived there for centuries. And only in June of this year, at the Institute of Forensic Medicine and Forensic Science, DNA analysis by the government commission of Serbia identified the remains of eleven Serbs killed from 1991 to 1995 in Sibenik, Sas, Petinje, Vukovar, Gračac, Vodoteka, Vrbovliani. In total, to date, this commission exhumed the remains of 1,400 Serbian people in Croatia, from 2001 to 2019.

“NDH is not only the creation of quislings and the greatest fascist crime, as is commonly believed, but also the fruit of the historical aspirations of the Croatian people,” said the first leader of independent Croatia Franjo Tudjman at the dawn of the 1990s.

That is why literally all Croatian cities have black-shirted processions, shouting the same motto: “Za dom spremni!” The last such march passed without any interference in the capital Zagreb right on the eve of the Statehood Day. In addition to their traditional slogans, the thugs shouted: “Croatia is not free, we will free Croatia!” However, when asked how and from whom they (the descendants of the Ustasha) were planning on liberating their country this time, they remained silent. Perhaps from the remaining Serbs (in 1991, representatives of this ethnicity made up more than 13% of Croatia’s population, while now it’s less than 4.5%). Or perhaps from those “not in line” with them, such as Matija Babic, Ivana Markovich, and Vedrana Rudan.

Apart from this, similar incidents occurred in other parts of the country: for example, mayor of Konshchina decided to gift the residents of his village a fountain in the form of the letter “U” with “ears” of benches along the left and right edges of the horseshoe, making the composition similar to symbols of the Ustasha movement, while in another incident one of the stadiums in suburbs of Dubrovnik had benches laid out in the form of a swastika …

Partners’ disapproval

True, the western custodians of the country are unlikely to turn on their fully nationalist-oriented comrades. It was in the early 90s that the collapse of Yugoslavia stood on the geopolitical agenda, and Ustashe were needed. Now the “independent” Croatia, a member of the EU and NATO, is trying to impose a different image. Despite the increase in right-wing radicalism, Croatia’s capital has held annual gay parades since 2002.

But then the US State Department recently released a report on religious freedom with data for 2018, which heavily featured Croatia, indicating that non-Catholic children are discriminated against in local schools, the streets of the country are painted with xenophobic graffiti, verbal and physical attacks on non-believers regularly occur and the Jewish, Serbian, and Gypsy communities principally spend days commemorating the victims of the Jasenovac concentration camp, separate from the country’s leadership, because it continues to adhere to the symbols of the NDH and glorify the Ustashe. It even went to the point of the Jewish community of Zagreb actually condemning the intention of the Croatian authorities to establish a monument to the victims of the Holocaust as an attempt to conceal and justify the Ustasha crimes against Jews, Gypsies, and Serbs. Regarding this matter, which is rather serious, the World Jewish Congress supported its Jewish compatriots,

“We condemn the decision of the Zagreb municipality to erect monuments to the six million victims of the Jewish Holocaust, while ignoring the active role of the Independent State of the Croatia and Ustaša regime, who were actively engaged in similar crimes during World War II.”

In this case, the Jewish community, of course, acted as a kind of heavy artillery, because if the progressive world community ignored the massacres of Serbs for decades, then they would not allow for the Holocaust to be used as a cover-up. And the former head of the Croatian Foreign Ministry, and now Member of Parliament (Sabor) Vesna Pusic, when discussing the National Security Strategy, was forced to admit that in today’s Croatia “if you are a woman, Serb, Gypsy or gay, you cannot be sure if unknown extremists will attack you in the street.” And the politician sees the reason for this in the “confusion in the values” of the Croatian elite, including representatives of the legislative power to which she belongs.

Thus, present-day Croatia clearly hints that the time to bring the spirits of its Nazi past into this world has passed and the time has come to close the Pandora’s box. After which, in line with the European Union, a path of tolerance is to be followed. But how quickly will it turn out from the local establishment, which obtained the power to the sounds of well-known, or better said, infamous marches, is a big question.


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