Government’s Historical Commission to Announce Conclusions on Wednesday

By 27 February 2018

ZAGREB, February 27, 2018 - The Council in charge of dealing with the consequences of undemocratic regimes is expected on Wednesday to outline its conclusions and guidelines for treatment of symbols, insignia and salutes of totalitarian regimes.

The council, established on 2 March 2017 for a year-long term, is perceived by the public as an authority expected to have a say in how to treat the displaying of symbols of the 1941-1945 Nazi-style Ustasha regime and of the Communist regime during the Yugoslav federation after the Second World War and whether to ban such insignia.

This 17-member task force was entrusted with defining comprehensive recommendations for coming to terms with the past and legally regulating the use and display of symbols and insignia of undemocratic regimes.

After its first meeting in June, the council's chairman, Zvonko Kusić, who is the president of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts (HAZU), said that the Council should come up with a solution to long-term social reconciliation so that extremist and uncritical views and manipulation were not passed onto younger generations.

According to unofficial information, the council is likely to recommend the ban of Ustasha symbols and salute "For the Homeland Ready", however, the salute could be allowed in certain exceptions, that is within the insignia of the Croatian Defence Force (HOS), the armed wing of the Croatian Party of Rights (HSP), in the 1991-1995 Homeland Defence War. The council seems inclined to recommend the ban of the Chetnik Kokarda caps and Nazi "SS" symbols, according to the same unofficial source.

However, the council is apparently split over how to treat the Communist red-star symbol. Those of the Council members who oppose the ban corroborate their opinion by a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Attila Vajnai, Chairman of the Hungarian Workers' Party.

In the ruling delivered in 2008 in the case Vajnai vs. Hungary, the ECHR decided that the ban in the case of that politician was violation of the freedom of expression (Art. 10 ECHR). In 2004, Vajnai was convicted - under a law prohibiting the displaying of totalitarian symbols in public - for wearing a red star on his jacket during a demonstration. The Court held that the conviction was an interference with Vajnai's right to freedom of expression.

Although the Court accepted that the conviction was provided by law and had the legitimate aim of the prevention of disorder and the protection of the rights of others, it concluded that the interference was not "necessary in a democratic society". Hungary referred to the dangers of Communism as a form of totalitarian government. The Court, however, considered that twenty years after the fall of Communism in Hungary there was no "real and present danger" of its restoration. The Strasbourg-based Court says it is mindful of the fact that the well-known mass violations of human rights committed under Communism discredited the symbolic value of the red star. However, in the Court's view, it cannot be understood as representing exclusively Communist totalitarian rule, as the Hungarian government has implicitly conceded. It is clear that this star also still symbolises the international workers' movement, struggling for a fairer society, as well certain lawful political parties active in different Member States, according to the European court.