Relativisation of the Ustasha crimes violates the fundamental values of the Constitution, with a lack of reaction opening room to hatred
Condemnation of fascism, in Croatia inaugurated in the form of the Ustasha regime of the Independent State of Croatia (ISC), a puppet state created under the aegis of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, is a fundamental value of the modern democratic world, with particular recognition given to anti-fascist struggle in those countries that once found themselves under fascist rule, including Croatia. According to the historical foundations of the Croatian Constitution, which not only carry immense symbolic and political significance and include the legal grounds, goals, purpose and basic values of the state and society, but are also important for understanding and interpreting the Constitution, in the course of the Second World War the Croatian national sovereignty manifested itself in decisions of the Territorial Anti-Fascist Council of the National Liberation of Croatia (Cro. Zemaljsko antifašističko vijeće narodnog oslobođenja Hrvatske, ZAVNOH), and in opposition to the proclamation of ISC.
The international human rights system was established after the Second World War as a response to the horrors of fascism and Nazism, and a guarantee that such evil shall never happen again. It is through adhering to the principles and values, but also obligations, from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the EuropeanConvention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), and other international documents in this field, that realisation of human rights and freedoms is guaranteed to all citizens irrespective of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political opinion, religion, disability or other characteristics.
Despite this, explicit Ustasha or Nazi symbols, or those associated with the Ustasha movement, continue to be present in the Croatian public sphere. In recent years, books have been printed, articles and interviews published, panels held, documentaries made and television programmes broadcast that deny or downplay the criminal character of the ISC. Except in inflammatory and nationalist-oriented media, such statements are made in the official newspaper of the Catholic Church, and have also penetrated the mainstream media, including the public broadcaster.
With reactions from the government often lacking or being inconsistent, the impression is created that such statements are tacitly tolerated, creating an atmosphere in the society that encourages the bolstering of revisionist views about the character of the ISC, which was founded on racist and nationalist ideologies and, following the Third Reich model, adopted and implemented its own racial laws, as well as about the scale of crimes committed in its name.
The importance of official reaction was stressed by the European Parliament in the October 2018 Resolution on the rise of neo-fascist violence in Europe, which called upon the European Union member states to condemn and counteract all forms of Holocaust denial, including trivialising and minimising the crimes of the Nazis and their collaborators, and take further measures to prevent, condemn and counter hate speech and hate crime. Among other things, the Resolution expressed concern at the rise of right-wing extremism and neo-fascism in Croatia, and pointed at the acts of violence or promoting extremism in Norway, the United Kingdom, Italy, Poland, Greece, Germany, France, Spain, Sweden, Latvia and Ukraine.
Displaying Nazi and Ustasha symbols in the public sphere and the government’s inconsistency in their unambiguous condemnation
Symbols and slogans of the so-called Axis powers can be found written or drawn on bus stops, building walls, stadiums and posters, but also on monuments to the Anti-Fascist Struggle. The Ustasha “U”, the salute “For Homeland – Ready” (Croatian: Za dom spremni) and its acronym “ZDS”, as well as swastikas, are present throughout Croatia. These emblems are also used in comments on websites or social networks and offend or humiliate, even incite hatred towards the Roma, Serbs, Jews and others. Sympathies for the ISC and the Ustasha legacy are increasingly expressed in slogans alluding to this state and movement, such as on T-shirts inscribed with the expressions “Ostaše U Hrvatskoj” (Eng. They stayed in Croatia, with the word “Ostaše” pronounced as Ustasha), the character of “Ujko Smješko” (Eng. Uncle Smiley – a letter U asn Ustasha is put on the face of a smiley) or the slogan ” ZDS – Znamo Da nekima Smeta” (Eng. We know this bothers some), thus becoming a way of expressing opposition to the government, but also to the highest values modern Croatia is based on, according to its constitutional definition. It is particularly worrying that such symbols are displayed by young people. For instance, during the celebration of the end of the last school year, several monuments to the Anti-Fascist Struggle were defaced with swastikas, the Ustasha “U”, and the letters “ZDS”.
“For Homeland – Ready” was the official salute of the ISC, used at the closing of documents depriving members of non-Aryan peoples of civil rights, ordering their internment to camps and seizure of their property, and is inseparable from the crimes committed in the Second World War. It is therefore wrong to link it to the positive connotations of defending the Republic of Croatia during the Homeland War, which is being done nevertheless, particularly by using the insignia of the Croatian Defence Forces (Cro. Hrvatske obrambene snage, HOS) which includes the Ustasha salute “For Homeland – Ready”. These forces, originally formed outside the regular military of the Republic of Croatia, with an acronym identical to that of the Croatian Armed Forces (Cro. Hrvatske oružane snage, HOS), an army created by merging the Ustasha and Croatian Home Guard forces at the end of the Second World War, also named some of its units after prominent Ustasha leaders.
It was the unveiling of a memorial commemorating the fallen members of HOS bearing the inscription “For Homeland – Ready” in Jasenovac, on the very building where the command of the Ustasha concentration camp had been located, that served as the immediate motive for the Croatian Government to form a Council for Dealing with the Consequences of the Rule of Undemocratic Regimes in March 2017, which was tasked with drafting recommendations on facing the past and on legally defining the use and display of symbols, emblems and other insignia of undemocratic regimes. After working for a year, the Council adopted the Dialogue Document in February 2018 as a platform for considering the direction on how to legally define the use of symbols of totalitarian regimes and movements from the 20th century Croatia. Though not legally binding, the Dialogue Document, having been adopted by a council formed by the Government, was expected to be backed with the political will to fulfil the recommendations it contained.
The Dialogue Document states that the existing criminal and misdemeanour legislation contains mechanisms for effective prevention and sanctioning of public use of hate symbols but, guided by the principles of legal certainty and legal predictability, still recommends a clearer normative regulation of their public use so that anyone who publicly uses certain insignia is in a position of certainty to predict the consequences of their actions in practice. Additionally, it explicitly states that, due to a failure of competent authorities, for more than a quarter of the century, the salute “For Homeland – Ready” has been de facto and de lege (also) linked to the Homeland War, which today serves (also) as proof in social discussions that the meaning of the disputed salute, that originated in the Ustasha regime, became ambiguous because of its use in the context of the just and legitimate Homeland War, and that the proposition is not acceptable because it does not take into account the fact that even during the Homeland War this salute was contrary to the Constitution. However, there was a lack of a proper official response, thus today we are faced with this salute as given. The document stressed, however, that public use of this salute may be allowed in exceptional circumstances, when those who were killed during the Homeland War fighting for the Republic of Croatia under these insignia are honoured. Even so, after the Council adopted such conclusions and recommendations, a question arose in the public whether the salute, deemed unconstitutional by the Council itself, can even be used on an exceptional basis, and whether its use in such cases would still contravene the Constitution. However, institutional disregard for public use of the salute “For Homeland – Ready”, even in cases outside the said exception, caused, inter alia, by a failure to adopt appropriate legislative amendments, continued in spite of the conclusions and recommendations made by the Council.
Although the High Misdemeanour Court and the Constitutional Court had already taken a stand that the salute “For Homeland – Ready” was contrary to the principles on which the independent, sovereign and democratic Croatia is based, judicial proceedings have failed to be initiated and legal remedies sought. Member of the Croatian national football team Josip Šimunić was convicted by the Zagreb Misdemeanour Court ruling PpJ-4877/13 of 8 December 2015 and the High Misdemeanour Court ruling Jž-188/2016 of 27 January 2016 for shouting “For Homeland” at the Maksimir stadium after the match between Croatia and Iceland, inviting the audience to reply “Ready”. The ruling by the High Misdemeanour Court clearly highlighted the racist character of the ISC, explaining that this salute symbolises hatred of people of other religion or ethnicity, manifestation of racial ideology, and disdain for victims of crimes against humanity. The Constitutional Court agreed with this explanation in decision U-III-2588/2016 of 8 November 2016, which rejected a constitutional complaint filed by Šimunić. Moreover, the High Misdemeanour Court ruling Jž-2824/2014 of 3 December 2015 convicted the vice-president of the Croatian Pure Party of Rights (Cro. Hrvatska čista stranka prava, HČSP) Josip Miljak and two more defendants for using this salute, raising the right hand to salute, and signing Ustasha songs. Their appeal was rejected by decision U-III-1296/2016 of 2 May 2016, with an explanation that the Constitution clearly shows that the Republic of Croatia is not based on the historical attainments of the ISC, and that freedom of expression is limited by the Act on Offences against Public Order and the Constitution, in order to protect the rights and freedoms of other people, as well as public order.
Apart from this, the Constitutional Court decision U-II-6111/2013 of 10 October 2017 nullifying the naming of a street in the village of Slatinski Drenovac after 10 April, the date when the ISC was proclaimed, explained that it is a well-known historical fact that the ISC was a Nazi and fascist puppet-state, and as such represented an absolute negation of the legitimate aspirations of the Croatian people for their own state, a grave historical abuse of those aspirations, and that the Republic of Croatia is no successor to the ISC on any grounds. The Constitutional Court further emphasised that their positions do not refer only to names of streets, towns, symbols etc., but rather represent the principles the Constitutional Court holds about the character of the ISC as a negation of fundamental values of the constitutional order of the Republic of Croatia, reiterating its view that the Constitution, as the fundamental legal act of the Croatian state, is not value-neutral, and that democracy based on the rule of law and protection of human rights is the only political model the Constitution takes into account and the only one it accepts.
Notwithstanding these decisions by the High Misdemeanour Court and the Constitutional Court, and despite initiating misdemeanour proceedings for shouting the salute “For Homeland – Ready” during the performance of the song “Bojna Čavoglave” (Eng. Čavoglave Battalion) by Marko Perković Thompson, the police decided not to appeal the first-instance acquittal judgement from May 2018, thus preventing the High Misdemeanour Court from stating its position. Additionally, the police justified their decision not to press new misdemeanour charges after the singer repeated his action in 2018 on account of the earlier acquittal passed by the first-instance court, which had become final only due to their own decision not to seek legal remedies at their disposal.
In justifying the song “Bojna Čavoglave” by explaining that it had been performed many times in its original form – including the salute “For Homeland – Ready” – the first instance court based its decision on the wrong assumption that something that had been unlawful from the beginning could, with the passing of time and being (tacitly) tolerated by competent authorities, become lawful. Such reasoning by the first-instance court is concerning, as is the lack of counter-reaction by the police as the plaintiff. The court explained its decision, among other things, by stating that, according to data from the Croatian Composers Society, this song had been played in its original form on radio and TV stations several hundred times from 1998 to 2017. However, the police should not create case law making this salute permissible by failing to use existing legal mechanisms, contrary to the above positions of higher courts.
Moreover, when members of the 9th HOS Battalion bearing the name of the Ustasha leader Rafael Boban lined up in Split on the date of proclamation of the ISC to mark the alleged anniversary of the unit’s establishment and honour their veterans fallen in the Homeland War, they wore black uniforms and shouted the salute “For Homeland – Ready”. Their lineup was attended by representatives of the City of Split, the Split-Dalmatia County and the Ministry of Croatian War Veterans. However, the police pressed no misdemeanour charges, drawing on the acquittal by the first-instance court in an identical case a year earlier, in which they failed to appeal, too.
In both of these cases, the police created case law, together with the first-instance courts, to which they later referred to, but one which should not constitute a basis for acting in future cases. Namely, the police and the courts are due to act based on the Constitution, international agreements, laws and other valid sources of law, taking into account earlier judgements of high courts, and not positions taken in particular cases by lower-instance courts. For this reason, we asked the Ministry of the Interior and the Police Directorate to provide explanations for the legal reasons, including criteria from the Dialogue Document,that led them to decide not to appeal to first-instance rulings, or press charges, in the above cases. We also requested additional information about possible similar cases of (not) processing persons shouting the disputed salute and/or drawing symbols or slogans of the Nazi, fascist or Ustasha movements. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this analysis, we have not received any reply from the Ministry of the Interior yet.
Along with the above mentioned, it is not clear why there was no reaction from the State Attorney’s Office, as the authorised prosecutor pursuant to Article 109 para 1 of the Misdemeanour Act. As the police did not appeal the first-instance acquittal, and decided not to press any charges in similar situations in the future, the State Attorney’s Office could, or even should, reconsider its practice of not pressing charges in misdemeanour proceedings.
This year’s Bleiburg commemoration proved that tolerating hate symbols certainly contributes to their displaying, with the Austrian authorities arresting and later sentencing several Croatian citizens who raised their right hands and shouted “For Homeland – Ready”. While such incidents are not prosecuted in a consistent and systematic way in Croatia, and are treated, if processed, as misdemeanour cases, with modest fines imposed, mostly under HRK 1000, these perpetrators were sentenced to 15-month prison terms with a probation period of 2 or 3 years. What’s more, in order to define illegal symbols in this country even more specifically, thereby contributing to greater legal security, the Austrian Interior Minister announced extending the list of illegal symbols to explicitly include those linked to the Ustasha regime.
Unlike the Austrian or German legislations, which precisely define illegal symbols, the Croatian legislation allows sanctioning such form of expression, but leaves assessing its (un)acceptability to case law. It is obvious, however, that the practice of lower-instance courts, as well as state authorities, points to the need for a clearer normative regulation in this area. In Croatia, shouting the salute “For Homeland – Ready” or displaying Nazi, fascist or Ustasha iconography is processed as a misdemeanour case, in line with special regulations, such as the Act on Offences against Public Order, Public Assembly Act, Act on Prevention of Violence at Sports Events, or Anti-Discrimination Act, which do not expressly define illegal symbols. With regard to rulings by first-instance misdemeanour courts where defendants were acquitted because their actions were not expressly described in the above laws, it is clear that illegal symbols must be defined more precisely.
This is further evidenced in actions taken by some state administration offices, which registered the statutes of organisations including the salute “For Homeland – Ready” in the course of 2017, explaining it by stating that this salute is not expressly forbidden by any regulation. In addition, the Ministry of Public Administration instructed the Zagreb City Office for General Administration in 2017 to register such statutes as long as the Council for Dealing with the Consequences of the Rule of Undemocratic Regimes has put forward its recommendations. Even though over eight months have passed since the Council made its recommendations and adopted the Dialogue Document, the Ministry of Public Administration has yet to propose amendments to relevant provisions of the Non-Governmental Organizations Act, and also failed to reply to our questions if they were planning to do it. Still, it remains to be seen how other competent ministries will integrate the conclusions from the Dialogue Document into proposed new legislation, such as the Act on Undesirable Communication on the Internet, the Graveyards Act, and the Homeland War Memorials Act.
Along with the aforementioned, some actions taken by other state authorities and government representatives are also contentious, as well as their inconsistency in a clear condemnation of the criminal Ustasha regime and its symbols. For instance, the Croatian President said in 2017 that she considered the salute “For Homeland – Ready” an old Croatian greeting. Her speech in Buenos Aires in March 2018 also provoked a lot of criticism, when she said that after the Second World War many Croats had searched and found space of freedom in Argentina, where they could express their patriotism and make legitimate assertions for liberating the Croatian people and its homeland. However, in May, when she visited the Jasenovac Memorial Site with the Israeli President Rivlin, she stated that the Republic of Croatia was established based on the Anti-Fascist Struggle and the Homeland War.
In addition, the Ministry of Croatian War Veterans has for years financially supported several pronouncedly revisionist-oriented organisations, such as the NGO Croatian Home Guard (Cro. Hrvatski domobran) which issues a paper with the same name, where the Ustasha regime is celebrated and the scale of the crimes they committed denied. Moreover, burials of discovered and exhumed victims of crimes perpetrated by Partisans – civilians as well as Ustasha and Croatian Home Guard soldiers – are given military honours. For this reason, we asked the Ministry of Croatian War Veterans, based on what legal grounds and what criteria the remains of 55 victims exhumed on the territories of municipalities of Plitvička Jezera and Rakovica, which included members of the Ustasha armed forces, had been buried at the local cemetery in Vaganac with military honours. At the time of writing this analysis, we received no answer to this, or to the question whether there had been other burials of victims killed during and after the Second World War with military honours in 2018.
There is no doubt that victims of crimes perpetrated by Partisans at the end and after the war were disregarded for decades, and that they deserve to be found, exhumed and buried with dignity. However, burying members of the defeated army with military honours can be interpreted as giving official state legitimacy to the puppet-state and the ideology entirely contrary to the values the modern Republic of Croatia is based on.
Denying (the scale of) crimes in historiography – freedom of scholarly research or a criminal offence
Revisionist, even negationist views about the character of the Ustasha state and the scale of the crimes it committed are particularly present in historiography. Some historians and various researchers, including some Catholic priests, claim that the Jasenovac camp, which represents an undisputed symbol of crimes committed in the ISC, was merely a labour and internment camp, thus reflecting its official name used by the Ustasha administration. They argue that Jasenovac was not a “death camp” where inmates were brought to be killed, and that there were no mass murders there. They contend that it was a camp for opponents of the ISC, for most part communists and their collaborators, and for some Jews excluded from deportations to German camps. They deny that the camp was established for the concentration, isolation, forced labour and liquidation of Roma, Serbs and Jews, the population discriminated against by racial laws. In addition, they claim that opponents of the communist regime and Cominform supporters were incarcerated there after 1945, with some arguing that the most victims were actually killed after the war by the post-war regime.
Many of them are clearly motivated by the decades-long silence about the crimes committed against soldiers of the defeated ISC, by personal histories and persecution experienced in communist Yugoslavia, and by Yugoslav historiography which claimed, until the late 1980s, that about 700,000 people had been killed in Jasenovac. Though exaggerated several times, this estimate was not permitted to be questioned in the former state, and the Greater Serbia ideology used it to mobilise a part of the Serb population during the 1990s rebellion. Furthermore, these historians unanimously contest the list of individuals, put together by curators of the Jasenovac Memorial Site Public Institution (Cro. Javna ustanova spomen područja Jasenovac, JUSP) and containing more than 83,000 names of victims, claiming that it had been multiplied several times. Some argue, for instance, that only 1000 people probably died in the Jasenovac camp of all causes, most of them by natural death, mainly due to typhus and similar diseases. They deny that children were also murdered in this camp, although there are over 20,000 of them on the official JUSP list of victims, while some distort the facts and circumstances surrounding the suffering of Serb children separated from their parents in Jasenovac and other camps or detention centres in the ISC.
It is possible, even likely, that there are individual errors in the JUSP list of victims, but it is even more likely that not every victim has been included in it. Light can only be shed on individual fates by further researching, whereas each such research must be conducted in a scholarly and objective manner, with compassion for victims and respect for the feelings of members of affected communities. Despite this, these historians think that history of the 20th century Croatia should be researched anew, denying the credibility of numerous written proofs and testimonies about the scale of the crimes committed or ignoring them, while using selective evidence to support their assertions and taking things out of context in order to present the camp in a positive or much more benign light then it really was.
Additionally, publicly stated views about the ISC, such as those expressed by the secretary of the Association for Researching the Triple Camp Jasenovac (Cro. Društvo za istraživanje trostrukog logora Jasenovac), which is financially supported by the Ministry of Croatian War Veterans, that, if the fact was accepted that much fewer people were killed in Jasenovac than is officially claimed, that would change the assessment of the character of the ISC1 and that dispassionate discussion and future research would prove that the ISC and ZAVNOH should change their positions in the historical foundations of the Croatian Constitution2, lead to the conclusion that their ultimate goal is a reinterpretation of history of the ISC in order to rehabilitate this Quisling puppet state, in full or to a certain extent.
The question therefore arises whether, and to what extent, it is legally permissible to deny established historical facts about the crimes committed in the ISC, or where the limit is between the freedom of speech and a punishable offence. In each specific case, only the court can decide if an expression is allowed or not, based on the Constitution, international agreements, laws and other valid sources of law. The Croatian Constitution guarantees freedom of thought and expression, which includes freedom of the press and other media, as well as freedom of speech and expression. However, this freedom is not unlimited, as shown in the case Garaudy v. France (2003), when the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) took the position that denying the Holocaust, pursuant to Article 17 of the ECHR, constitutes an abuse of freedom of speech, and as such, a threat to democracy and human rights.
Apart from this, the Republic of Croatia is a party to the 1966 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, according to which member states are obliged to condemn all propaganda and all organisations which are based on ideas or theories of superiority of one race or group of persons of one colour or ethnic origin, or which attempt to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in any form. Furthermore, the EU Council Framework Decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law from 2008 obliges EU member states to declare as punishable criminal offences publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivialising crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and aggression, when the conduct is carried out in a manner likely to incite violence or hatred against a group or a member of a group that has been a victim of such crimes.
In deciding about impermissible expression (hate speech), the ECtHR makes an assessment whether specific statements may lead to violence or affect public order, with reasonable doubt that public order may be violated being sufficient in this respect. Along with establishing whether denial of crimes constitutes inciting hatred of members of communities that have been victims of such crimes, it is important to establish if the actual purpose of such speech is to rehabilitate the regime, i.e. if it has a decidedly revisionist agenda, and how damaging a particular speech may be for the groups it targets, both in terms of eroding their self-esteem and with regard to incitement to discrimination, violence or other impermissible actions against them. Only in case of a clear and present danger, i.e. probability that that it will incite violence of unlawful action, it is considered impermissible. However, when it comes to the Holocaust, the ECtHR is very resolute and consistent, and has rejected all requests attempting to justify Holocaust denial or relativisation as free speech3 Additionally, the ECtHR refrains from providing opinions on purely historical facts, that being outside its jurisdiction, but can still accept certain well-known historical truths and base its explanations on them4.
Article 325 of the Criminal Code, stipulating public incitement to violence and hatred as a punishable offence in Croatia, is aligned with the EU Council Framework Decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia, and speech would meet the criteria laid down only if it could incite to violence and hatred against groups of members of such groups. Since it is difficult to directly link denying the character of the ISC and the scale of its crimes with specific cases of violence or immediate threat of violence against members of the minority communities – victims of the Ustasha regime, advocates of such views are not criminally prosecuted. Following a citizen’s report about statements made by Igor Vukić at a panel held on the premises of the Serbian Business Association Privrednik in October 2016, when he claimed that there had been no genocide of Serbs in the ISC, we contacted the State Attorney’s Office, which replied that the County Attorney’s Office in Zagreb, after considering the case, concluded that no elements of a criminal offence had been established that would constitute a basis for further action, without explaining the reasons for its decision in more detail. Nevertheless, denying the criminal character of the ISC and the scale of crimes it committed, along with explicitly propagating racist and nationalist ideas, mainly against Serbs, who are, by a part of the society, still collectively blamed for the Homeland War and the crimes perpetrated in it, cause a lot of harm to the society, as they certainly exacerbate hate and affect the sense of security of members of affected communities.
Freedom of expression is one of the key democratic rights, and any restrictions of it should be considered with utmost caution, yet it also includes responsibility. Long covered-up and poorly researched communist crimes doubtlessly caused huge frustrations to those citizens whose family members had been killed, but it is entirely wrong to use them to deny or minimise the Ustasha crimes that preceded them. Therefore, only objective historiographic research and disclosure of historical documents can contribute to establishing the truth about past events. Moreover, the racist character of the ISC and the massive scale of its crimes is a reality that nobody, with a minimum sense of decency and respect for the victims, should not put into question, let alone publicly downplay or deny.
Effect on the communities persecuted by the Ustasha regime
Revisionist interpretations of the character of the ISC and haggling over the number of victims of the Jasenovac camp are a grave affront to living members of the victims’ families and to members of the communities that were victims of the Ustasha regime.
Representatives of the Roma, Serb and Jewish communities, as well as anti-fascist organisations, have for years expressed concern, warning of the rise of neo-Ustasha sentiments and a revision of history in the Croatian society. They are outraged at the government’s treatment of these incidents and symbols of the Ustasha regime, stressing in particular the unacceptability of using the Ustasha salute “For Homeland – Ready” in any context. They consider it necessary to change the current exhibition at the Jasenovac memorial, as it does not properly reflect the true nature of the camp, obscuring the cruelty that inmates were subjected to and failing to show that victims belonged to the communities persecuted by the Ustasha regime. For these reasons, representatives of Serb and Jewish associations and anti-fascist organisations have refused to participate in the official state commemorations since 2016, commemorating the dead on their own.
On top of that, the genocide of the Roma, who remain the most exposed to social exclusion and discrimination even today, is still insufficiently remembered. It was only in December 2014 that the Samudaripen – the international day of remembrance of Roma genocide victims – was proclaimed, of which the public should be additionally informed and sensitised. The Serb National Council, however, has been recording cases of historical revisionism, violence and hatred of Serbs, and pointing at the rise of these phenomena, since 2014. Representatives of the Jewish community believe that a monument to be erected in Zagreb should commemorate the victims of Ustasha crimes, and not all European victims of the Holocaust, since that would undermine the crimes committed by the Ustasha.
Another thing that concerns is that revisionist works are promoted in organisations run by the Catholic Church, and that persons denying or downplaying the character of the Ustasha state and the scale of its crimes include individuals in high positions in the church hierarchy. For instance, Stjepan Razum, a priest and department head at the Zagreb Archdiocese Archives, and president of the Association for Researching the Triple Camp Jasenovac, claimed back in 2012 that one side had been for independent Croatia, for which the Home Guard and Ustasha had fought, assisted by the Germans, and the other one against Croatia, which included the Partisans, Chetniks, Italians and others5 denying mass killings in the Jasenovac Ustasha camp, while the Bishop of Sisak, Vlado Košić, said in 2017 that the Ustasha regime could not be equalled to fascism, but rather to an organised military effort to defend Croatia as a state6.
In addition, dissatisfaction is voiced with the public broadcaster (Croatian Television), whose role should be to provide objective information, but which, among other things, promoted negationist publications by Igor Vukić and Roman Leljak in its programme, which was also condemned by JUSP Jasenovac. Vukić’s book Radni logor Jasenovac (Eng. Jasenovac Labour Camp) was promoted on Croatian Television on a daily basis, which continued even after the Programme Board denounced the views put forward by the author during the programme.
The occurrences of denying the character of the ISC and the scale of crimes committed by the Ustasha regime, as well as displaying symbols in public or using syntagms expressing sympathies for it, have become so commonplace in the Croatian society that they are almost tacitly accepted. Findings of the Study of Croatian secondary school graduates’ political literacy (September 2015), according to which as many as half the students were not sure if the ISC was a fascist creation, point to the necessity to not only educate, but also foster tolerance and the culture of historical remembrance. Apart from this, in a report sent to the Republic of Croatia in 2018, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) recommended introducing mandatory education on human rights, as part of civic education, in all curricula, especially when it comes to the right to equality and prohibition of discrimination.
Therefore, all responsible members of society have the important role to continuously react to the occurrences of relativising the character of the Ustasha state, to prevent them from being an important factor in the creation of public opinion. However, the greatest responsibility is on the government, which must stand up for the respect and implementation of the Constitution and the rule of law, putting an end to actions that symbolically or directly support or glorify the ISC and deny or play down the crimes it committed.
It must be clearly stated that, according to the Constitution, the Croatian national sovereignty manifested itself in opposition to the proclamation of the ISC, that the ISC is incompatible with modern Croatia, and that the Croatian Parliament confirmed in its 2005 Declaration on Anti-Fascism the anti-fascist democratic grounds and commitment of the Republic of Croatia, calling on the need to affirm and cultivate anti-fascist values.
Requests by representatives of the Roma, Serb and Jewish communities and the anti-fascist organisations need to be taken into consideration, to create conditions for a joint commemoration which would pay respect to victims in an appropriate way and express solidarity with the communities persecuted by the Ustasha regime, allowing the Jasenovac Memorial Site to fulfil its role – serve as a reminder of the horrors man is capable of doing to another man.
Denying the crimes committed in the ISC, or their scale, means denying a past full of hatred and violence against the Roma, Serbs, Jews and political opponents of the Ustasha regime. It encourages, and sometimes constitutes, hate speech leading to discrimination, even violence against members of these groups. This serves to cultivate a continuity of hate – and violate the values of equality, rule of law and human rights the Croatian Constitution is based on.
3 M’bala M’bala v.France (2015), Garaudy v.France (2003), Marais v. France (1996), Honsik v. Austria (1995).
4 Ždanoka v. Latvia (2006).
5 Hrvatski list, 9 August 2012
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