Croatian Minister of Culture Hasanbegovic's Perceived Past Ustasha Sympathies Dominate National Media

By 11 February 2016

One story dominates the Croatian media this morning.

It seems that not a day can pass in Croatian politics without a controversy involving new Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegović. Yesterday evening, Novosti Weekly published a photo showing Hasanbegović with a cap very similar or identical to caps which were used by members of the Ustasha during the Second World War. Novosti also writes that during the 1990s Hasanbegović regularly published articles in the The Independent State of Croatia magazine in which he unambiguously celebrated the Ustasha movement and was often photographed with figures such as Mladen Schwartz, Velimir Bujanec and Ante Pavelić's son-in-law Srećko Pšeničnik. The magazine was edited by Pšeničnik, who was also president of the Croatian Liberation Movement (HOP), reports Croatian media on February 11, 2016.

The Culture Minister was listed as a contributor in the masthead of the magazine from April to November 1996, but he appeared as an author starting from February and the first issue. The photograph itself was published in the magazine in 1996. In his articles, Hasanbegović praised the "Ustasha heroes" and the Croatian puppet government during the World War II. In one of the articles about the opening ceremony of a mosque in Zagreb, Hasanbegović writes about "the Ustasha heroes whose martyrdom bones are now rolling in the ground".

"Because of these true heroes, martyrs who laid their lives at the altar of the homeland from the fields of Bleiburg to Foča and Fazlagića Kule, the duty of all of us, their admirers and followers, authentic Croatian nationalists, humiliated, deceived and defeated Muslims and Catholics, is to remove the masks from the faces of today's Slav-Serbian prestidigitators, hypocrites and moral freaks and show the way out from this dark tunnel, toward reconciliation, harmony and religious tolerance, in a truly free and united homeland from the Mura, Drava and Drina rivers to the Adriatic sea", wrote Hasanbegović. In his articles, Hasanbegović often wrote about the history of Muslims in Croatia, especially highlighting their cultural and political progress during Pavelić's rule.

In a statement published yesterday evening, Hasanbegović commented on the photograph. He said that this was yet another in a series of hoaxes and provocations by members of the Serbian National Council, which publishes the Novosti magazine. "This is another in a series of hoaxes and provocations whose goal is to discredit and politically liquidate me. On the photo, you can easily see that there were subsequent interventions done. The photo was not taken in 1996 but in 1993, at the Split Waterfront during an event for the 9th Battalion of HOS, which was a unit within the 4th Guards Brigade of the Croatian Army. In the photo, I can see two members of the unit and parts of their official uniforms. I would like to remind you that this is the unit in whose honour the City of Split and Mayor Baldasar have built a monument. Everything else are insinuations that I have no intention to comment on", said Hasanbegović.

Some sources have claimed that the photograph might have been digitally altered, but Novosti strongly denies the allegation. "There were no interventions done, and the minister did not explain what kind of interventions he was talking about. We have scanned the article from the magazine which is currently located at the National and University Library and cannot be taken out", said Ivica Đikić, editor-in-chief of Novosti. "On our website, we have published a copy of his text in he which glorifies the Ustasha movement, writes that the Ustasha were martyrs and heroes. As for the question whether he was a contributor to The Independent State of Croatia magazine, well, he was listed in the masthead of the magazine", explained Đikić.

Journalist Hrvoje Šimičević found the magazine at the National and University Library. "Since Hasanbegović had denied that he was a member of the Croatian Liberation Movement (HOP), and the HOP was the publisher of The Independent State of Croatia magazine, I thought I might find the minister there", said Šimičević. "I opened the first of a dozen issues of the magazine and came across a youthful, but still recognizable face of the Culture Minister. I also found his articles in which he celebrated the Ustasha movement", said Šimičević. "One of the photos I found shows him with Ante Pavelić's son-in-law, who was the publisher and editor-in-chief of the magazine. So, he wrote articles in a magazine which was actually named 'The Independent State of Croatia' and was edited by Pavelić's son-in-law", said Šimičević.

He commented on earlier statements made by Prime Minister Tihomir Orešković, who has repeatedly described Hasanegović as a "convinced antifascist". "I find it interesting that he said it twice, and I wonder whether he would say it a third time", concluded Šimičević.

Deputy Speaker of the Croatian Parliament Robert Podolnjak (MOST) said on Wednesday evening that MOST expected from Hasanbegović to clearly state that he is a convinced antifascist and to clearly distance himself from the Ustasha regime and all the evils committed during the period of the Independent State of Croatia. "That is the first unconditional requirement for the Minister to clearly explain his views to the Croatian public", said Podolnjak. "MOST's first condition is that the minister must very clearly and unambiguously distance himself from the Ustasha regime and clearly express his antifascism", said Podolnjak.

Goran Pauk (HDZ) also commented on the affair. "I think we have all expressed our common position that we are absolutely against any totalitarian regimes. I am sure Hasanbegović thinks the same. We are against the Ustasha movement and against fascism, but also against communism and all these kinds of regimes. It is my firm belief that Mr. Hasanbegović does not belong to that world", said Pauk. "I am not able to comment on everything that was written, but of course we cannot support any kind of Ustasha worldview or something like that", said Pauk.

Milijan Brkić, HDZ general secretary, wrote a post on Facebook. "The search for traces of the 'Ustasha' has turned into hysteria. Special groups of activists, similar to former OZNA, Yugoslav secret police, are searching for the 'Ustasha', 'fascists', 'nazis' to justify their existence. Without 'fascists' there is no need for 'antifascists'. Especially prominent target is the Culture Minister. Especially trained and equipped 'troikas' are digging through old newspapers in order to find something that would compromise him, just so they would protect their privileges and remaine financed from the budget", wrote Brkić.

"Britain's Prince Harry was photographed with a swastika. Metropolitan Porfirije sang Chetnik songs, while Stipe Mesić sang Ustasha songs. He argued that we 'won twice' and he still became a honorary president of the 'antifascists' or something like that. Tomislav Nikolić was a Chetnik duke and is now the President of Serbia, while former Chetnik Aleksandar Vučić is the Serbian Prime Minister. And now the problem is that Hasanbegović in 1993 took a photo with a HOS cap", wrote Brkić. He added that HDZ is against all totalitarianisms, nazism, fascism and communism and all ideologies. Let us stop digging our national wounds and turn towards the future, wrote Brkić.

Jadranka Kosor, former Croatian Prime Minister, commented on the photo."If the photo and information in the article are authentic, then there is no doubt that he must be dismissed. If he has expressed such opinions, such a person cannot be a member of the government in a EU member state. That would be contrary to the Croatian Constitution. If he is not dismissed, then this is a caricature and not a government", said Kosor.

Political analyst Davor Genero agreed that such behaviour would be unacceptable. "If what Novosti claim is true and if the photo is authentic, then Hasanbegović must immediately resign. There is nothing to discuss, the matter could not be any clearer", said Gjenero.

Source articles: