The Era of Revisionism (II)

ZAGREB/BERLIN | | kroatien

ZAGREB/BERLIN (Own report) - The participation of government members at commemorations honoring Nazi collaborators has provoked controversy in Croatia. Several Croat ministers, including the minister of culture, are expected to attend tomorrow's commemoration ceremonies for Ustasha combatants killed by Yugoslav partisans in May 1945. Croatia's Minister of Culture promotes Ustasha commemorations - heavily frequented, since years, by Croatia's rightwing extremist organizations - while spreading doubts about the Nazi collaborators' crimes. There is growing approbation among Croats for a film downplaying the slaughter committed in Croatia's Jasenovac extermination camp. The foundations for the growing prominence of Croat revisionism, accompanied by a manifestly rightwing development, were laid - with German support - at the beginning of the 1990s. Franjo Tudjman, leading politician of secessionist Croatia, at the time, had not only played down the crimes at Jasenovac, but even glorified the Ustasha. Bonn helped to impose international acceptance of Croatia's secession under Tudjman's leadership, thereby paving the way for the rise to power of Croatia's extreme right.


The controversy, centering on the commemoration ceremonies in Austria's Bleiburg, is the most recent in Croatia's rightwing development. From the public's perspective, this is particularly tied in with two aspects: one being the current attempt to play down the crimes Croatia's Nazi collaborators had committed in the Jasenovac Concentration Camp. Jasenovac was the only World War II concentration camp that was not run by Germans. Historians have evidence that between 85,000 and 100,000 people, among them 52,000 Serbs, up to 18,000 Jews and more than 16,000 Roma, had been systematically liquidated by Croat fascists. Since March, a film entitled "Jasenovac - the Truth" is being shown around Croatia, as well as in Croat expatriate communities - also in Germany. The film calculates the total number of the murdered to be between 20,000 and 40,000 and euphemizes the extermination camp as a "labor camp." The official number of deaths, according to the documentary, is based "on communist propaganda."[1] The film, which is arousing a growing interest among Croats, recently received a boost through praise from Croatia's Minister of Culture. "Jasenovac - the Truth" is helpful, said Minister Zlatko Hasanbegović, because it "speaks to a series of taboos."[2]

The Axis Powers Perspective

That Hasanbegović was appointed, January 22, Minister of Culture is also considered an expression of the country's rightwing development. In the early 90s, Hasanbegović was active in an organization of Ustasha loyalists. In 1996, for example, he published articles in the publication "Nezavisna Država Hrvatska" ("Independent State of Croatia"), which was identical with the name of the Ustasha state founded in 1941.[3] He was also a member of the HČSP Party (Hrvatska čista stranka prava, the "Croatian Pure Party of Rights"). As a historian, Hasanbegović's scholarly work had been concentrated on "playing down Ustasha crimes" and "taking seriously the perspective of the Axis Powers, rather than limiting the view to that of the Allies." He alleges that this is important because current historiography is under the control of an "Israeli lobby."[4] As the sole Muslim in the current Croat government, he is also engaged in "shedding a new light" on the Bosnian-Muslim Handshar Division of the Nazi's Waffen SS. He considers the Handschar Division's assistant Imam, Husein Djozo, to be one of the "Bosnian Muslims' most remarkable and interesting personalities."

Culture War

A while ago, Hasanbegović had suggested a reduction of state finances for the annual commemoration activities in Jasenovac. He, simultaneously, began to take part in commemoration festivities in Bleiburg, Austria, where Croatian right-wingers annually hold memorial ceremonies for the Ustasha combatants and other Nazi collaborators, killed in May 1945 by Yugoslav partisans. While the minister of culture is now praising the euphemization of crimes committed in Jasenovac, Croatia's parliament has passed a bill to provide financial support to the Bleiburg memorial events. Alongside the chair of the governing HDZ Party, Tomislav Karamarko, several ministers and possibly even Prime Minister Tihomir Orešković are expected to attend tomorrow's (Saturday's) event. Observers refer to a "culture war" - an attempt to systematically push the political spectrum to the right to lay the groundwork for an eventual assault on the country’s liberal democracy.[5]


This rightwing development currently making headway in Croatia had, in fact, been launched back at the beginning of the 1990s. The militarily induced collapse of Yugoslavia, at the time, permitted the far right in Croatia to take over the top leadership positions in the newly formed state. The Federal Republic of Germany had performed the obstetrics by supporting the ultra-rightwing Croat separatists long before the developments in the 1990s had even begun. By breaking up Yugoslavia, Bonn sought to weaken Belgrade's potential resistance to Germany's policies toward southeast Europe. The victors of World War I had a reason for planning the creation of Yugoslavia. With this proficient state, they had hoped to hinder new German forays into the Southeastern Europe. In its promotion of Croatian separatism, Bonn was also shoring up the future president Franjo Tudjman ( reported [6]) - in spite of his euphemization of the Jasenovac extermination camp, as a "transit and labor camp," in which, at most, "30,000 - 40,000 prisoners died." Tudjman also venerated the Ustasha state of the Croat Nazi collaborators, as a glorious "expression of the Croatian people's quest for independence and sovereignty."[7] In spite of British-French warnings of an escalation of the war, the German government surged ahead to recognize the Croatian state, December 23, 1991. Those who benefited most were the strongest and most resolute faction of the separatists under Tudjman's leadership.

Socially Acceptable

Years ago, Gregor Mayer impressively described the - predictable - resulting development on Croatia's society, once, with Bonn's help, the far-right was reinforced in Zagreb. Already during in the secessionist war, the "frontline soldiers and volunteers (...) were greeting each other with the Ustasha's 'Za Dom Spremni!' ('For the Fatherland, Ready!')" and singing Ustasha songs.[8] Under Tudjman's leadership, "streets and squares were renamed in rapid succession" - often given names of Ustasha leaders, such as the "Nazi ideologue, Mile Budak." "Ustasha functionaries returning from emigration, seeped into state administrations and educational systems," Mayer reports. Even the Catholic Church was glorifying the Ustasha. Ustasha leader Ante Pavelic's "only mistake" was that he "allowed the Croatian state to disappear," was said during a mass in downtown Zagreb.[9] "The 'cleansing' and piecing together of the country's history was also taking place in schoolbooks, and becoming firmly anchored in broad sectors of Croatia's population," Mayer notes. The "manipulations carried out by the founding fathers" have created "a 'socially acceptable' image of the history and society" that "radical right-wingers and neo-Nazis can still refer to." Germany had supported Tudjman - in its efforts to form Europe along the lines of its hegemonic plans.

For more on this topic see The Era of Revisionism (I).

[1] Danijel Majic: Holocaust-Relativierung in kroatischer Doku. 22.04.2016.
[2] Adelheid Wölfl: Kroatische Kontroverse vor Jasenovac-Gedenken. 20.04.2016.
[3] Minister says photo yet another attempt to vilify him. 10.02.2016.
[4] Krsto Lazarević: Freund der Ustascha. 18.02.2016.
[5] Paul Hockenos: Croatia's Far Right Weaponizes the Past. 06.05.2016.
[6] See Nützliche Faschisten.
[7], [8], [9] Gregor Mayer: Kroatien. In: Gregor Mayer, Bernhard Odehnal: Aufmarsch. Die rechte Gefahr aus Osteuropa. St. Pölten/Salzburg 2010. S. 201-233.