Establishment of First Anti-Fascist Unit in Occupied Europe Remembered

By 22 June 2018

ZAGREB, June 22, 2018 - The central event marking Antifascist Struggle Day was organised in the Brezovica forest near Sisak in memory of the day in 1941 when the 1st Sisak Partisan Detachment was formed, the first anti-Hitler unit in occupied Europe which marked the beginning of an organised national liberation struggle in Croatia in WWII.

As every year, the commemoration was organised by the Croatian Alliance of Antifascist Fighters and Antifascists (SABH), the Town of Sisak and Sisak-Moslavina County. Delegations, including of the president of the republic, parliament and the government, laid flowers at the local monument.

The 1st Sisak Partisan Detachment of 77 fighters was formed by the Communist Party in Sisak on the day when Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union.

Over 500,000 Croatian citizens took part in the organised national liberation struggle in Croatia. About 230,000 fighters from Croatia were part of the National Liberation Army.

SABH president Franjo Habulin said 77 years ago today a group of heroes, antifascists, formed a Partisan detachment as the first indication of antifascist resistance in Croatia at a time when Nazi-fascism was in full swing in Europe.

Although we live in a state founded on the values of antifascism, those values are not honoured and historical revisionism is increasingly strong, he said. "Although the state established Antifascist Struggle Day as a national holiday, what hypocrisy and huge lie! Because despite irrefutable historical facts, in independent Croatia, from its first days, when it was forced to defend itself from modern fascism, it was encouraged to treat fascists from WWII as patriots," Habulin said, adding that their crimes were being downplayed, even negated, sometimes from the highest positions in the state.

"In present-day Croatia, the incumbent authorities have transformed antifascism at state level into an attractively packaged product displayed in the window and meant for the world. Day in and day out we are faced with an increasingly aggressive propaganda by historical revisionists who assure that Tito's Partisans were the real criminals, that Federal Yugoslavia, in which Croatia kept many essential traits of statehood, was actually a dungeon of the Croatian people," Habulin said.

The incumbent authorities will prove they are ready to deal with the truth about the past only by showing that they understand the greatness of the antifascist struggle, that they accept antifascism as a lasting, indelible and unchangeable foundation of the present-day independent Croatia, and by honouring also those killed in the antifascist struggle and the victims of fascism, Habulin said.

"But I am not talking about respects paid once or twice a year on occasions such as this one. I am talking about respects paid in everyday politics, in daily conduct, by suppressing historical revisionism, building a future on sound foundations of the past, instead of systematically demolishing those foundations and replacing them with the ruins of a system which was globally defeated over seven decades ago," he said.

President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović's envoy, Međimurje County prefect Matija Posavec, conveyed her congratulations on Antifascist Struggle Day. "We have gathered at a place of recent Croatian history, a place which symbolises the history of the antifascist struggle in Croatia, a place of uprising against occupation, a place of struggle for freedom, for justice and equality, a place where 77 years ago today young and brave men gathered, determined to resist the occupying enemy and the regime which broke up Croatia and gave parts of its territory to foreign authorities," said Posavec.

He said the formation of the 1st Sisak Partisan Detachment marked the beginning of an organised struggle for freedom and peace, against the most horrible ideology in the history of humankind. "Antifascism and the Homeland War are in the foundations of the modern Croatian state. Antifascism and the Homeland War don't rule each other out and every division over historical issues in Croatian society is bad for Croatia's future. Any creation of artificial conflicts between those for the antifascist struggle and those for the Homeland War is pointless as they are not opposites," Posavec said.

The antifascist movement in Croatia was comparatively the biggest in Europe, with about 200,000 resistance fighters and the largest number of victims towards the end of WWII, so we have no right to allow anyone to diminish the greatness of their struggle and sacrifice, or to forget them, he said.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenković's envoy, Justice Minister Dražen Bošnjaković, said Croatia could be proud of having had in WWII one of the most significant resistance movements in occupied Europe. "To all those who don't understand and won't understand history, but want to downplay everything that happened, I wish to say: We can't change history because it happened, but we must have the right attitude, we must be able to evaluate our history correctly and objectively. And the Republic of Croatia was founded on antifascism. That is the right attitude and the only way to get rid of the burden of ideological confrontations," Bošnjaković said, whose speech was at one point met with disapproval.

"This place and this day aren't for factionalism or creating even deeper divisions. This is the only way to dedicate ourselves to the building of a stable and prosperous future for our country, which is in the interest of our children and future generations," he said, wishing for a tolerant social climate.

Bošnjaković said that 50 years after the formation of the 1st Sisak Partisan Detachment, the Croatian people again had to defend its freedom, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. "And the Croatian people accomplished that in the just Homeland War, led by Croatia's first president Franjo Tuđman and Croatian defenders," he said, noting that Tuđman had been an antifascist.

The commemoration was also attended by representatives of the diplomatic corps, Social Democratic Party president Davor Bernardić, Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić, former presidents Stjepan Mesić and Ivo Josipović, and several MPs.

Before the commemoration, several individuals waited for the participants outside the forest carrying banners with messages against the commemoration.

Bošnjaković later commented on the disapproval of his speech. "What happened in 1945 certainly wasn't what Croatian citizens and the Croatian people expected," he said, adding that "things happened in which certain groups suffered injustices, which people know today, and that's how we should evaluate that."

Bandić said Croatia "made a flawless contribution to the antifascist movement... Everything in the antifascist movement from 1941 to 1945 was flawless... and if the communist regime committed crimes from 1945 to 1990, those responsible should be held to account." He said Europe was founded on antifascism and that Nazism and fascism were the biggest evil that happened to humankind.