Why Are There Separate Jasenovac Memorial Events?

By 21 April 2018

For the third year in a row, groups representing victims will boycott the official government commemoration for those killed at the Jasenovac concentration camp.

For the third year in a row, representatives of Jewish, Serb and anti-fascist organisations will not participate in the official state commemoration in the memory of victims of the Jasenovac concentration camp which will be held on Sunday. Most of them will visit Jasenovac on Saturday, while the Coordination of Jewish Municipalities has already held a commemorative event earlier this week. President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović visited Jasenovac separately on Friday, reports tportal.hr on April 21, 2018.

The reason for separate commemorations this year, according to representatives of the Jewish communities, is the government's position on the Ustasha salute “For Homeland Ready.” “We demand that the government and the parliament adopt the law on the ban on the Ustasha slogan and Ustasha symbols in the shortest possible time,” said the president of the Jewish Municipality of Zagreb Ognjen Kraus, saying that the Jewish community, when it comes to totalitarianism, cannot agree with the equalization of the National Liberation Fight (partisans) and the Independent State of Croatia (NDH).

The same situation occurred in 2016 and in 2017, when representatives of the Jewish and Serb minorities, members of anti-fascist associations and left-center parties ignored the state commemoration and decided to pay tribute to the victims of the Ustasha death camp separately.

Two years ago, the Coordination of Jewish Municipalities announced a week before the official commemoration a boycott of the state ceremony, emphasising that they had opted for such move in protest against the exhibition at the museum in Jasenovac and due to “daily events related to the revitalisation of the Ustasha ideology.” The Jewish municipalities were joined in a boycott by representatives of the Serb National Council and the Federation of Anti-Fascists of Croatia.

The first year of the boycott was marked by a protest made by the oldest survivor of the camp, Pava Molnar, who requested that her letter should not be read during the commemoration. Despite her request, the letter was read. The 2016 ceremony was attended by then Minister Tihomir Orešković, then Speaker of the Parliament Željko Reiner and four ministers, including then Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegović, well-known for a series of controversial statements about the World War II period and the Ustasha regime. Instead of President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, who was visiting the United States at the time, the ceremony was attended by her envoy Branko Lustig.

The boycott of Jewish and Serb representatives and Croatian anti-fascists was provoked by incidents which featured frequent chants of the Ustasha slogan, especially during the friendly football match between Croatia and Israel in Osijek, as well as the government’s blatant and abstract condemnations of “all totalitarianisms.”

In 2017, the official commemoration was attended by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and an envoy of then Speaker of Parliament Božo Petrov. The President’s envoy was her Chief of Staff Anamarija Kirinić. During the commemoration, which was not attended by survivors, there were no speeches. Representatives of Jewish and Serb minorities and anti-fascist associations held a separate ceremony the day before.

President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović visited the memorial area separately from the commemorative events. In 2015, she was met by then director of the Memorial Area Nataša Jovičić early in the morning. Her visit to Jasenovac was reported by her office only later.

This year, the president announced she would again not attend the commemoration at Jasenovac and that her envoy would be the president of the Croatian Helsinki Committee Ivan Zvonimir Čičak. However, Grabar Kitarović visited Jasenovac on Friday. She wrote in the memorial book that “no political objective or system can justify the crimes committed in their name. The Republic of Croatia, being a democracy founded on the positive values of the struggle of the Croatian people for freedom, including anti-fascism, condemns without any reservations the crimes committed in this camp.” She did not attend the official Jasenovac commemorations in 2016 and 2017, explaining that “she does not want to participate in further intensification of ideological divisions.”

The commemorations are held in memory of April 22, 1945, the day of the breakout of the remaining prisoners from the camp, and in honour of the victims and survivors of the largest concentration camp in the Independent State of Croatia.

Of 1,073 prisoners living in the camp in April 1945, 600 attempted to break out, but only about a hundred survived. The remaining 473 detainees who did not participate in the break out were killed.

The Jasenovac concentration camp operated from August 1941 to April 1945. It was a death camp where men, women and children were killed because of their religious, national and ideological affiliation.

Data on the total number of victims killed in Jasenovac, mostly Serbs, Jews and Roma, varies from source to source. To date, 83,145 victims have been named, including more than 20,000 women and 20,101 children under 14 years of age. Although the Jasenovac Memorial Area is working on determining the exact number of victims, the final number will remain unknown because many of the detainees were killed as soon as they were brought and before they were registered.

Translated from tportal.hr (reported by Vanja Majetić).