US State Department Warns About Pro-Ustasha and Anti-Serb Sentiments in Croatia

By 16 August 2017

The State Department has published its annual report on religious freedom.

In its latest global report on religious freedom for 2016, the United States has warned about the glorification of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), the downplaying of Ustasha crimes, and anti-Serb sentiments in Croatia, citing former Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic and film director Jakov Sedlar as persons whose attitudes on the Ustasha regime drew particular criticism from Jewish and Serb religious communities and non-governmental organizations, reports Večernji List on August 16, 2017.

Among events illustrating the state of religious freedom, Washington highlighted the commemoration at the Jasenovac death camp, which was boycotted by Jewish and Serbian leaders, accusing the then government of downplaying the Ustasha crimes.

The US administration also writes about the march of 5,000 people against the Council on Electronic Media which temporarily suspended the programming licence of the Z1 Television due to a talk show in which the presenter asked the viewers to keep away from the Orthodox Church in Zagreb, because “Chetnik vicars” could go out and butcher innocent passers-by.

The report also discusses the football match between Croatia and Israel, where fans chanted the Ustasha salute “For Homeland – Ready”, as well as the controversial documentary film “Jasenovac – The Truth”, directed by Jakov Sedlar.

Sedlar claims that the real number of people killed at the Ustasha camp was between 20,000 and 40,000, while the Holocaust Museum in the United States estimates that there were between 77,000 and 99,000 victims, according to the report, which adds that the Jewish representatives condemned the movie, which was in turned praised by Culture Minister Hasanbegović.

Several non-governmental organisations, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), criticised the appointment of Hasanbegović as the Culture Minister, claiming that he praised the pro-Nazi Ustasha regime and downplayed crimes from that period, according to the State Department. Washington also emphasises the criticism of the organisation against the Zagreb County Court which annulled the conviction of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac in 1946 for cooperating with the Ustasha regime. “Efraim Zuroff, head of the Jerusalem office of the SWC, said it was absolutely shameful and terrible, and it attempts to change history,” the report says.

The State Department also mentions concerns of the Serbian Orthodox Church due to growing social intolerance and the fact that in 2016 there were 20 vandal attacks on its property. Only two perpetrators have been found, and trials against them are underway, the report says.

The United States also warns that the Croatian government has not solved any of the major claims of the Serbian Orthodox Church for the return of its property, including in Osijek, Vukovar and Vinkovci, as well as requests for the restitution of Jewish assets seized during the Second World War.

“The law currently does not allow individuals whose property was confiscated during the Holocaust era to seek compensation in court if those individuals subsequently obtained another nationality. This affects Jewish property holders disproportionately,” says the State Department and calls on Croatia to speed up solving this problem.

The report also emphasises there are 54 registered religious communities in Croatia, but that the largest financial support is provided to the Catholic Church, thanks to four treaties with the Vatican. Last year, the Catholic Church received 285 million kunas from the state.

The whole report on Croatia can be found here.

Translated from Večernji List.