President Rejects “Malicious Interpretations" of Her Speech in Argentina

By 15 March 2018

ZAGREB, March 15, 2018 - President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović rejected "malicious interpretations" of her statement that after World War II many Croats found a space in Argentina where they could freely express their demands for the freedom of the Croatian people and homeland, her office said in a press release.

"That statement is in no way in contradiction with very clearly stated attitudes about the NDH (1941-45 Independent State of Croatia) and of the contribution of anti-fascism in creating the modern Croatian state," said the press release.

The head of the SDP's parliamentary group, Arsen Bauk, earlier in the day condemned the president's statement, ironising that many Germans like Eichmann and Mengele as well as Ustasha criminals Ante Pavelić, Dinko Šakić and others found their "space for freedom" in Argentina.

The president rejected that interpretation. "Only malicious people can interpret the president's statement as glorifying a totalitarian regime and its leaders," the statement said. "It is sad that even today the sacrifice of many emigrants is not recognised, who were not allowed to express their patriotism in their own country, their desire for freedom and Croatia's independence and who, during the era of the former Yugoslavia, were imprisoned, persecuted and even murdered," the press release said.

On Monday, Grabar-Kitarovic was awarded as an honorary citizen of Buenos Aires and on that occasion she said: "Croats in Argentina shared the fate of their people during the former Yugoslav communist regime, which did not tolerate any expression of the national name, the Croatian flag and coat of arms or confession of faith," and that "after World War II, many Croats found freedom in Argentina where they could testify their patriotism and express their justified demands for the freedom of the Croatian people and homeland."

Vesna Pusic of the GLAS party said today that it was "unheard of for the president to speak against the constitution of her own country."

There are no precise numbers of how many Croats and their descendants live in Argentina today, but it is estimated that there are about 250,000, the State Office for Croats Abroad notes on its website, mentioning three waves of emigration.

Croats began emigrating to Argentina in larger numbers post 1848. A second wave of emigration, which was much larger than the first, occurred between the two world wars (1918-1939).

The third and last wave occurred after WWII (1945-1956) when about 20,000 Croats arrived in Argentina, mostly political emigrants, but also some Ustasha leaders.

Criticising the president, Bauk explained that not all Croats who went to Argentina prior to and after WWII were members or officials of the Ustasha movement, but noted that given the context of the president's statement and some statements made after her address, she needed to explain it.