The Next EU Council Presidency

ZAGREB/BERLIN | | kroatien

ZAGREB/BERLIN (Own report) - Serious accusations are being made concerning racist attacks, official commemorations honoring Nazi collaborators and excessive police brutality against refugees are accompanying Croatia's preparations for taking over the Presidency of the EU Council on January 1, 2020. Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Zagreb, yesterday, for consultations with Prime Minister Andrej Plenković about the duties he must assume in the context of Croatia's council presidency. The Croat government will also seek to ward off refugees more efficiently. For years, Croatia's border police have been using brute force to deport large numbers of refugees to Bosnia Herzegovina, in violation of international law. In addition, the Council of Europe has certified that the country is experiencing an increase in racism and glorification of the fascist Ustaša regime. One of the popular commemoration ceremonies honoring Croat Nazi collaborators is celebrated under the "patronage" of Croatia's parliament in Zagreb.

Merkel in Zagreb

Yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed Croatia's EU Council presidency with Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, which his country assumes on January 1, 2020. Berlin will "wholeheartedly and fully support the agenda of Croatia's presidency," the chancellor proclaimed. We are pursuing "the same priorities" and will continue "to maintain very close contact."[1] Besides regulating Britain's exit from the EU, the priorities will also include the adoption of an EU budget, and the launching of admission negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia - against France's opposition. Paris had recently blocked the initiation of negotiations.

Praise for the Ustaša

Last year, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has issued a damning report on Croatia, the country assuming the presidency of the EU Council on January 1, 2020. According to the commission's report published May 15, 2018, "racist and intolerant hate speech" is escalating in Croatian public discourse. The anti-racism commission names "Serbs, LGBT persons and Roma" as the "main targets."[3] Television channels were also found to contain racist comments, for example, Zagreb’s Z1 TV channel, warned that children, who walk near the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in Zagreb could become "victims of Četnikslaughter." In fact, the Serbian Orthodox Church in Croatia suffered 20 incidents of vandalism in 2016 alone. Already in 2014, Croat national chauvinists assaulted a cafe in Vukovar, a border town with a large Serbian minority population and the café owners sustained serious injuries. The ECRI also reported that there is a growing rise of Croat nationalism, "particularly among the youth," which primarily takes the form of "praising the fascist Ustaša regime." Croatia's national soccer team aroused international attention during the 2018 World Cup Championships, when they bellowed out songs with Ustaša lyrics.[4]

With the Parliament's "Patronage"

References to the Ustaša are anything but incidental. During the preparations for Croatia's secession from Yugoslavia - and especially during the war of secession in the first half of the 1990s - for many separatists, the former Ustaša fascism had played an important role, as a major ideological point of reference. This was especially promoted by Franjo Tuđman, Croatia's president at the time, who was enjoying active support from the Federal Republic of Germany for Croatia's attempts to secede from Yugoslavia. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[5]) Veneration of the Ustaša has since lived on in segments of Croatia's population. For example in Bleiburg (Austria) close to the Slovenian border, a large commemoration ceremony is annually held in honor of the Croatian Nazi collaborators, numbering in the five-digits, who had been executed by Yugoslav partisans for their crimes during their collaboration with the Nazis. The Bleiburg Ustaša commemoration has been under the patronage of the Croatian Conference of Bishops since 2003, and now, under the "patronage" of the Croatian parliament as well. Last year, for example, a denier of the mass murders carried out at the Ustaša's Jasenovac Concentration Camp, and a speaker at a meeting of the NPD (the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany) were among the participants. The ceremony is regularly visited by high-ranking politicians, including ruling Croatia's HDZ party ministers. Last year, Prime Minister Plenković excused his absence, explaining that on that particular day, he would be welcoming a very prominent politician at his party's election campaign rally - Chancellor Merkel.

Banned Concerts

Merkel's May 18 appearance in Croatia's EU election campaign created a stir. The 29-year-old HDZ top candidate, Karlo Ressler, praised the Bleiburg Ustaša commemoration in the German chancellor's presence at the rally. The HDZ - which, in the framework of the European People's Party (EPP), closely cooperates with the CDU - also intoned Croatia's popular song "Lijepa li si". Prime Minster Plenković enthusiastically and Chancellor Merkel politely clapped to the rhythm. "Lijepa li si" was composed by Marko Perković (artist's name "Thompson"), a highly popular singer in Croatia, who repeatedly sings praises to the Ustaša. Therefore, his concerts at times were banned in other countries - including Germany. "Lijepa li si" is a national chauvinist anthem that also claims Herceg-Bosna as part of Croatia. The region is part of neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina. After Merkel clapped in rhythm, letters of protest arrived in Germany's Sarajevo embassy. As an excuse, Berlin explained that Merkel, who does not have command of the Croatian language, had simply no idea of the song’s national chauvinist contents.

"A Bit of Violence"

Croatia, known for its racist and national chauvinist outbursts, is planning to make the warding off of refugees one of its priorities during its EU Council Presidency. Since quite some time, the country has been under heavy criticism, because, since 2016, its forces of repression have been carrying out illegal summary collective expulsions to Bosnia-Herzegovina, often with brute force. Human Rights Watch has documented that numerous refugees, including children, have been beaten and kicked by Croatian border guards. Some had been forced to run the gauntlet between lines of Croatian police officers. The deportations, which are in violation of international law, are often carried out "in remote border areas," and refugees were "at times, forced to cross freezing streams," Human Rights Watch reports.[6] An incident is currently under investigation, in which a refugee suffered a serious gunshot wound from the weapon of a Croatian police officer.[7] Asked about police violence at the border, Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović declared in an interview last July, "of course there is a bit of violence, when you expel someone." However, "the minister of the interior, the chief of police and the local police" had assured her "that they did not use too much violence."[8]

 

[1] Pressekonferenz von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel und dem kroatischen Ministerpräsidenten Andrej Plenković in Zagreb. 20.11.2019.

[2] See also Collateral Damages in the Power Struggle.

[3] ECRI Report on Croatia (fifth monitoring cycle). Strasbourg. Adopted on 21 March 2018. Published on 15 May 2018.

[4], [5] See also Palatable Slogans.

[6] EU: Push-Backs an kroatischer Grenze beenden. hrw.org 08.11.2019.

[7] Polizeischuss verletzt Migrant. zdf.de 17.11.2019.

[8] Andrea Beer: "Natürlich gibt es Gewalt, wenn man Menschen abschiebt". ard-wien.de 12.07.2019.