BELGRADE – Director of the Jerusalem-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, says the current situation regarding neo-fascism in Croatia is very bad.
Zuroff has repeatedly warned about the rise of neo-fascism in Croatia, and now say he is not optimistic that the situation could change, except with “a real leadership” in that country.
He, however, noted that Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic had her photograph taken while visiting Canada recently wrapped up in the Ustasha flag – and wondered, “what can one expect.”
The Ustasha regime was in power in the Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia (NDH), that existed from 1941 until 1945 and ran death camps for Serbs, Jews, and Roma, including in Jasenovac.
“That is the message that is being sent to the Croatian people. One can conclude either that she is nostalgic towards the Ustasha, or the wrong person for the job. Unfortunately,” Zuroff has told Radio Free Europe.
Referring to the fact Croatia is a member of the EU, Zuroff added that he thought “someone in the European Union should wake up and explain what is going on in Croatia – because what is happening now in that country is truly unacceptable.”
“I personally raise my voice against Nazism everywhere, but changes will be possible only when Croatian citizens themselves understand that these things are totally unacceptable,” he said.
As for the recent unveiling of a memorial plaque in Jasenovac that features the Ustasha greeting, “For home ready,” Zuroff said he feels there is “no desire in Croatia to launch an investigation.”
“Actually, there is no desire to do anything about that issue. This is a problem and it is a sad story. I doubt that any serious action will taken in the present circumstances. It is inconceivable that a memorial plaque like that is installed anywhere in Croatia, especially not in Jasenovac,” said the Simon Wiesenthal Center director.
He explained that the greeting represents an insult to all those who lost their family members in Jasenovac, Jadovno or other Ustasha concentration camps in Croatia, and also to those that the Ustasha sent to Auschwitz.
“It is an insult to all those who have suffered under the Ustasha regime, which was one of the most blood thirsty in Eastern Europe during the Second World War,” said Zuroff.
Asked “why there was no pressure from the West, from Brussels, Washington, or from Jerusalem,” Zuroff said that Croatia itself “has a law against propagating Ustasha slogans.”
“This can be prohibited and punished, but the government is afraid to do so. In Croatia today, there is a large number of people who believe that the cry of ‘For home ready’ is a great thing and that the Ustashas are God’s gift to humanity. Many think that they were heroes who knew how to confront Croatian enemies and so they want them to come back,” he said.
Otherwise, how would one explain (Catholic) mass that is served each year in the heart of Croatian capital Zagreb for the NDH leader, Ante Pavlovic, “one of the greatest mass murderers during the Second World War,” asked Zuroff, adding that he would not be surprised if it happens again this December.
“Does Pavelic deserve mass? Of course not. It’s a digrace,” said Zuroff.
Asked “how come so many young people support the Ustasha idea,” Zuroff replied that “it depends on the environment they grow up in and how they are brought up.”
“Education has failed here as well, but also the political leadership of the democratic Croatia, particularly (former president) Franjo Tudjman. Although he fought against the Ustasha, and although his brother was killed by the Ustasha, and although he was a Partisan, he became a Croatian nationalist. He did this for political reasons, because he wanted to become president,” said Zuroff.