Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Jewish Community Will Not Attend Joint Jasenovac Commemoration

ZAGREB, March 19, 2019 - The head of the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Communities in Croatia, Ognjen Kraus, said on Tuesday he would not attend together with the government this year's commemoration for the victims of the WWII Jasenovac concentration camp, while the head of the SABA alliance of antifascist fighters, Franjo Habulin, said SABA would decide on Thursday whether to attend a joint commemoration.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenković last week invited representatives of SABA, the Jewish community, Serbs and Roma to take part in a joint commemoration. Kraus said the Jewish community would not accept.

"Nothing has changed over the past year. Nothing new has happened," he told the press, citing historical revisionism and the government's stance on the Ustasha salute "For the homeland, ready".

"There is a wish to be together as well as arguments against it," Habulin said, adding that a joint commemoration would be useful.

"It would be a sort of coming closer to opening the possibility for talks and for resolving through talks the problems concerning historical revisionism and the negativism which has accumulated over 20 years and more in Croatia, which isn't good," he said.

An argument against a joint commemoration would be the fact that nothing has been done over the past year and SABA members believe the situation is worse than last year, added Habulin.

More news about the Jasenovac concentration camp site can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Plenković Will Not Attend Bleiburg Commemoration

ZAGREB, March 18, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Sunday that the government would go to Jasenovac this year to pay tribute to the victims of the WWII Ustasha-run concentration camp, adding that he would not go to Bleiburg because he had "another major obligation scheduled for that day."

"We have spoken with the Antifascist Federation, with Mr Habulin, at his request, and have again expressed our desire for one single commemoration to be organised. We think that that would be good. We have also spoken with the president of the Jewish community and conveyed the same message to him. They will certainly have consultations and decide what to do. Our position is very clear: we will go to Jasenovac to pay tribute to the victims of the Ustasha regime, clearly and unequivocally as we did in the newly-adopted history curriculum," Plenković said in an interview with the RTL commercial television channel on Sunday evening.

He said he would not be going to Bleiburg, a town in southern Austria where tens of thousands of Croatian civilians and soldiers of the defeated pro-Nazi Ustasha regime surrendered to allied forces in May 1945, but were handed over by British troops to Yugoslav forces. Many were executed on the spot, while many perished during so-called death marches back to Yugoslavia.

"I have something else scheduled for that day, but it is too early to make it public," the prime minister said.

Responding to the interviewer's remark that he had not visited Bleiburg in the past two years either, Plenković said that the parliament president, his ministers and envoys had been there. "I know at this point that I have another major obligation scheduled for that day," he added.

"Our position is that a commemoration should take place. Whether a Mass will be celebrated or not depends on relations between the Croatian and Austrian bishops' conferences. I think that that would be good and believe that they will find the best solution through dialogue. What is crucial is that those who will go there do not politicise the commemoration, do not wear unlawful insignia and do not try to misuse the event," Plenković said, recalling that the Croatian parliament was the sponsor of the commemoration.

Speaking of the forthcoming election for the European Parliament, set for May 26, Plenković said that President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović would formally call the election on March 26, adding that his HDZ party was preparing it. "I am certain, and many surveys indicate so, that the election will reaffirm the HDZ as a dominant force among serious pro-European parties on the Croatian political scene," the PM said.

Asked if he had spoken with Milorad Pupovac, the leader of the Independent Democratic Serb Party, who did not show up at a meeting of the ruling coalition last week and who had announced earlier that his party might leave the coalition, Plenkovic said that he had not.

"I am still here, waiting for his call," Plenković said and added: "In any case, I want all minority MPs to be part of the parliamentary majority and the ruling coalition. I want them to be part of the common efforts of this government in many projects, plans and activities for which the minority MPs have made useful suggestions. I want every Serb, Bosniak, Albanian, Slovak, Hungarian and Roma to feel good in Croatia in 2019 and to want to live here."

Plenković said that there were certain political forces who constantly wanted to polarise society. He would not name them, saying he did not want to promote them.

More news about the Bleiburg commemorations can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

SDP President Wants to Ban Fascist Symbols

ZAGREB, March 9, 2019 - The president of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Davor Bernardić, in Požega on Saturday commented on the decision by the Roman Catholic Church in the Austrian federal state of Carinthia to withhold permission for this year's memorial mass at Loibach, a field near Bleiburg, saying that the time had come for Croatia to ban fascist symbols, recalling that Austria, regardless of the right-wing and conservative government, had banned the display of fascist symbols and the use of Holy Mass for political purposes.

"The time has come for those who lead the Croatian government to raise awareness about that issue and ban those symbols and for Croatia to finally turn to the future. But to do so, it first must cut all ties with ghosts of the past once and for all and ban the use of fascist symbols," Bernardić said.

The commemoration in Bleiburg is being exploited for political purposes and you can see there uniforms for failed fascists, Nazi and Ustasha regimes under whose insignia millions of people were killed.

The Roman Catholic Church in the Austrian federal state of Carinthia has turned down a request by the Croatian Bishops Conference (HBK) to hold a mass at Loibach, a field near Bleiburg because the event is used for political purposes, the local church said on Friday.

The Bleiburg commemorations are held in tribute to tens of thousands of Croatian civilians and soldiers of the defeated Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia who surrendered to allied forces there in May 1945, but were handed over by British troops to Yugoslav forces. Many were executed on the spot, while many perished during so-called death marches back to Yugoslavia.

More news on SDP can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Culture Minister Receives US Holocaust Memorial Museum Official

ZAGREB, March 8, 2019 - Robert Williams, the Deputy Director of International Affairs at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, said that his impressions during his visit to Croatia were positive and that significant progress had been made in addressing issues concerning the Holocaust, the Culture Ministry said in a press release on Friday after Minister Nina Obuljen Koržinek met the US official.

Williams was quoted as saying that the aim of his visit to Croatia, as a representative of an independent organisation of the U.S. Administration which deals with the Holocaust and education about that period of history, was to offer assistance to the Croatian government and the civil sector in dealing with issues concerning the Holocaust and its victims, reads the press release.

In the context of education about the Holocaust, the minister pointed out the efforts of the government and relevant departments to ensure that visits to the Jasenovac Memorial Centre were part of the obligatory curriculum. Visits to Vukovar and Jasenovac would provide a very strong message to young people that crime and suffering can happen to anyone at any time.

The minister said that the Jasenovac Memorial Museum exhibition should be updated with emphasis on historical evidence, victims and their suffering, and perpetrators of crimes.

She said it would be valuable to set up cooperation with international experts for the purpose of exchanging good practice and optimal research methodologies.

Williams, who also represents the US at the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA), supported such approach.

In this context he advocated research including international experts who would have access to all necessary archival materials, including those taken away from Croatia and not returned during the process of succession to the former Yugoslavia.

Williams invited Croatian experts to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, saying that the focus of this museum was being expanded to include all groups of victims of the Nazi and totalitarian regimes.

Concerning the issue of raising awareness of the consequences of the Holocaust, the minister recalled that in a bid to encourage the development of a culture of remembrance, the Croatian government has established a council to deal with the consequences of undemocratic regimes.

She said that the council had adopted a document with a set of guidelines and that this paper was the first Croatian official document to include the internationally adopted definition of anti-Semitism, which Williams welcomed.

Obuljen Koržinek briefed Williams about a series of activities her ministry was undertaking to protect the Jewish heritage in Croatia, which represents a valuable element of the entire Croatian national heritage.

She informed him about the new law on archives, and he reassured her that the organisations he represents will help Croatia to gain free access to the archival material seized from Croatia.

More news on the historical issues stemming from the Second World War can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

President Tries to Clarify Her "For the Homeland Ready" Comments

ZAGREB, February 23, 2019 - Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović said on Friday that the salute "For the Homeland Ready" was the official and discredited salute of the 1941-1945 Independent State of Croatia (NDH) and that it should be distinguished from the salute "For the Homeland Ready" used by some members of military units that fought in the 1991-1995 Homeland War.

Speaking in an interview with national radio, the president further explained her recent statement that she had been wrong to say that the salute "For the Homeland Ready", used by the pro-Nazi Ustasha regime in Croatia during World War II, was a Croatian historical greeting, and that her point was that the salute as such was "compromised and unacceptable".

Her admission has met with criticism from the far-right end of the political spectrum.

Asked if it was a mistake to make this admission, she answered in the negative and reiterated that the salute used during the NDH regime was compromised, whereas the situation was different during the 1991-1995 war of independence when some of the units used that salute and it became part of their insignia.

She quoted the first Croatian President Franjo Tuđman as saying that the Ustasha-led NDH was a quisling and Fascist state as well as an expression of the Croatian people's desire for independence from the Yugoslav state. President Tuđman and we agree that the fact that the NDH was in a coalition with the Axis powers and all that happened during WWII compromised the salute "For the Homeland Ready", she said pointing out the different context of the Homeland War.

During the 1991-1995 war, there were specific conditions when Croatia was exposed to a war waged against it by forces that used "a five-point red star which was compromised during the attacks against Vukovar and other parts of Croatia", the president said underscoring that soldiers wearing the five-point red star were allied with Serb units with Chetnik insignia in the Homeland War.

In those specific conditions people who used this salute defended Croatia. They wanted a free, independent Croatia, the president said.

She underscored that no government in Croatia had questioned this fact and added that it was now up to lawmakers and the government to propose a law on the matter.

Grabar-Kitarović warned of attempts being made from abroad to belittle the Homeland War and the actions of the forces that defended Croatia during the 1991-1995 war.

More news about the Ustasha regime can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 22 February 2019

American WWII Airplane Found in the Sea Between Vis and Biševo

Croatian Radiotelevision reports on the newest finding in the sea near Vis: an airplane, probably an American WWII airplane found there recently!

A diver from Komiža Andi Marović, recepient of the Blue Ribbon for his efforts in salvaging the Adriatic from the ecological disaster, has found yet another wreck from the World War II. Supposedly it is a B24 bomber airplane, wound in the Biševo channel, and HTV crew was present for the dive. Last year, some divers thought that the spot seemed somewhat suspicious, but recently a piece of aluminium was recovered there, which lead the divers to dive at the spot once more. After 20 minutes at the bottom, and 4 hours of decompression (it was at the depth of 90 meters!), they resurfaced with smiles on their faces. The visibility at the bottom was excellent, so they discovered that the airplane is not in one piece, but most bits are there. 

- You can see the engines and propellers, bits of the body of the plane and many smaller parts such as the landing gear - the divers explained.

The crew has been finding planes around Vis regularly, and they know that there are as many as 27 allied planes from the WWII around Vis. It was an important hub of activity during the war, and you can read more about that here.

They speculate that the WWII airplane found might be the B24 bomber which was forced to land at sea 75 years ago, as historical records report. There were 10 people onboard, 6 parachuters were saved, while the sea claimed the remaining four, as well as the plane. 


Thursday, 31 January 2019

World Jewish Congress Welcomes Holocaust Comments by Zagreb Archbishop

ZAGREB, January 31, 2019 - The World Jewish Congress (WJC) has praised the Catholic Church in Croatia for having held the commemoration last Thursday in memory of the victims of the Holocaust and underscored that "is emboldened by the strong address delivered by Cardinal Josip Bozanić."

"The World Jewish Congress deeply welcomes the powerful commemoration held by the Catholic Church of Croatia last week in honour of the victims of the Holocaust and is emboldened by the strong address delivered by Cardinal Josip Bozanić, Archbishop of Zagreb, in which he declared it unacceptable to permit the re-emergence of antisemitism,” WJC CEO and Executive Vice President Robert Singerwas quoted as saying on the organisation's website.

"In the 74 years since the end of the Holocaust, the Jewish world has been duly concerned by the Catholic Church of Croatia’s glorification of Ustasha nationalists and the horrific crimes that they carried out in collaboration with the Nazis, and by its repeated tendencies to whitewash the tragedy endured by the Jewish community and other minorities during World War II," Singer was quoted as saying.

“In the current climate of rising antisemitism and Holocaust revisionism in Europe, it is essential that the Catholic Church of Croatia lead the way in coming to terms with the crimes of its countrymen and ensure that its perpetrators are not rehabilitated in anyway. It is also imperative that the Church work together with the government, hand-in-hand with the Jewish community, to stop the obfuscation of history and the glorification of Nazi collaborators."

"The official commemoration held on 24 January at the Cathedral of Zagreb is without a doubt an encouraging and almost miraculous step forward by the Church in addressing the darkest moments of its history, something that the Jewish community of Croatia has been waiting for more than seven decades," Singer added.

At the commemoration, Cardinal Bozanić paid tribute to victims of inhumane conduct in the past and condemned attempts aimed at annihilating the Jewish people, while representatives of the local Jewish community welcomed the cardinal's move as a historic event.

The dignitary said that the ideology of racism was directed against God and the human beings and was "created on the untruth about the man and about the Jewish people."

During the prayer, a 60-metre-long and 5-metre-wide banner was displayed on the cathedral's walls with the text from Biblical verses written by Isaiah about the remembrance of victims saying "I will give them – within the walls of my house – a memorial and a name far greater than sons and daughters could give. For the name I give them is an everlasting one. It will never disappear!".

"We thank the Catholic Church of Croatia for this unprecedented move, and hope that it is the start to a new era for Holocaust memory and the fight against antisemitism in the country," Singer added.

 More news on the Jewish issues in Croatia can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

European Court Confirms Ustasha Salute Ruling

The European Court of Human Rights has refused to discuss the lawsuit filed against Croatia by former football player Josip Šimunić. The former footballer sued Croatia at the court in Strasbourg because of the final verdict issued by the High Misdemeanour Court in December 2016, with a 25,000 kuna fine against Šimunić for his chanting of the Ustasha salute "For Homeland - Ready" (Za dom - Spremni) at a football stadium after the end of the football match between Croatia and Iceland, reports Jutarnji List on January 30, 2019.

As a well-known footballer and an idol to his many fans, Šimunić had to be aware of the possible negative impact of the chant in the eyes of the public and should have refrained from it, the court in Strasbourg said in its verdict, expressing satisfaction with the 25,000 kuna fine that Croatia’s High Misdemeanour Court ordered.

After the football match held in November 2013, Šimunić raised his hand and said over the microphone “For Homeland”, (Za dom) three times, with the audience answering three times "Ready" (Spremni).

The final verdict of the High Misdemeanour Court, issued by Judge Branka Žigant Živković, which Šimunić failed to overturn at the European Court of Human Rights, states that the chant symbolises the official greeting used during the times of the totalitarian regime of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH, considered to be a Nazi-puppet state in Croatia during the Second World War) and as such represents a demonstration of racist ideology, contempt towards other people because of their religious and ethnic affiliation, and the trivialisation of the victims of numerous crimes against humanity which took place during those years.

In a lawsuit sent to the court in Strasbourg, Šimunić claimed that the verdict had violated his right to a fair trial, namely Article 7 of the Human Rights Convention, which states that it is not possible to be sanctioned for something which is not expressly prohibited by law.

In his lawsuit, Šimunić argued that the "For Homeland Ready" slogan was not explicitly prohibited by any Croatian law, that his right to freedom of expression had been violated, and that Croatia had discriminated against him because many others in Croatia were not punished for using the same slogan.

Rejecting Šimunić’s lawsuit, the Human Rights Court stated that it was not within the jurisdiction of that court to analyse the way in which local courts enforce laws and domestic jurisprudence. Šimunić did not appeal to the Croatian judiciary based on the fact that the usage of the Ustasha salute was not criminalised under Croatian law. That means that he cannot sue on those grounds in Strasbourg.

The Municipal Misdemeanour Court in Zagreb initially imposed a fine of 5,000 kuna, but the High Misdemeanour Court later increased the penalty to 25,000 kuna. Šimunić was convicted under the Law on Fighting Disorder at Sports Venues.

Translated from Jutarnji List (reported by Slavica Lukić).

More news on the historical issues stemming from the Second World War can be found in the Politics section.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Croatian Government Pays Respect to Holocaust Victims

ZAGREB, January 27, 2019 - The Croatian government on Sunday joined in marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, which commemorates the 1945 liberation of the biggest Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, saying that the protection of every person's dignity was a joint duty and obligation towards Holocaust victims and underlining the importance of educating young people about the mindless tragedy of the Jewish people across occupied Europe.

"International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates the darkest period in human history - the systematic persecution, genocide and horrible suffering, primarily of the Jewish people, as well as of other victims of the Nazi regime. As a notion, the Holocaust is the full negation of humanity as well as of all cultural and civilisational attainments and fundamental moral values of humankind," the government said in a statement.

Recalling that International Holocaust Remembrance Day provides an opportunity to pay tribute to the millions of innocent women, men and children killed only because their religion or ethnic background were different, the government called for educating young people about the suffering of innocent victims and the tragedy of the Jewish people across occupied Europe.

This also refers to education about the 1941-1945 Independent State of Croatia (NDH) and the Ustasha-run concentration camp of Jasenovac and other places of suffering, where thousands of Jews and members of other ethnic groups, as well as Croatian antifascists and democrats, were killed, the government said.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day also provides an opportunity to pay tribute to the 117 Croatian Righteous Among the Nations, who during World War II risked their own lives to save Jewish fellow citizens, the government said.

Only young people who have been made aware of and have been taught lessons from the past will be able to build a modern society, free of any hate and intolerance, in line with democratic and European values, reads the government statement. "Further strengthening the freedom and equality of all people as well as protecting the inalienable dignity of every person should be a joint duty and obligation towards all Holocaust victims," the government says.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day was designated by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/7 on 1 November 2005. It commemorates the genocide that resulted in the death of an estimated 6 million Jewish people.

Croatia has actively participated in commemorating the Holocaust as well as in Holocaust education and research through its membership of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and many other initiatives.

More news on the Ustasha regime in Croatia can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Zagreb Archbishop Condemns Horrors of Jasenovac and Holocaust

On the occasion of the International Day of Remembrance of Holocaust Victims, a prayer-commemorative gathering was organised by the Zagreb Archdiocese and the Hatikva Jewish Information and Educational Centre in front of the Zagreb Cathedral. The event was attended by the Archbishop of Zagreb Cardinal, Josip Bozanić, reports HRT on January 26, 2019.

“The memories in Judaism and Christianity connect the past and the present because, while we remember the victims of inhumane treatment and the attempt to destroy the Jewish people, we encounter the secret of evil, but we are not looking at it only in the framework of the past, but we are aware of it in the present as well,” emphasized Cardinal Bozanić.

“The ideology of racism, directed against God and man, was born in the falsehoods about the man and the Jewish people, spread by hatred, and turned into an inexpressible measure of suffering, which neither words nor images can express,” added Bozanić.


Bozanić also recalled the suffering of the Jewish community in Croatia. “We need to pay special attention to what has happened in our midst, in Croatia, emphasising without any reservation the truth about the horrors of Jasenovac and other camps, where innocent people suffered. Now, 74 years after the end of the Second World War, we also remember the great suffering of the Croatian Jewish community, especially the Jews in Zagreb, which are deeply woven into the life of our city. Of 11,000 Jews, less than 2,000 survived.

He added that it is entirely unacceptable to allow any form of anti-Semitism to be awoken today, although such ideologies exist even now. “They are growing based on the untruths with devastating results of the conflict, intolerance and hate, with the consequences of suffering not just for individuals and certain groups but also the entire peoples.”

The Centre leader Julija Koš said that the rabbi was not present in Zagreb and that she was there as his representative. She read a song saying that each Holocaust victim has his or her name because for the Jewish people the name of the person is the identity, which can be brought back by our memory. “Today's event is so important that its meaning cannot yet be comprehended. Each sentence of the Cardinal's address contains a message what we need to do to heal the society, and messages for future generations that will be more similar to other young Europeans,” said Koš. “Teachers and parents will see where we have lost 25 years of upbringing for good and where we let many forces lead the youth towards the evil that has passed a long time ago,” she said.

Some of the descendants of the perpetrators are aware of the truth, some are not, but none of them are guilty, she said, adding that in other European countries more descendants are aware, while there is a small part of those who advocate for their forefathers who committed the crimes. “In Croatia, we have a small percentage of these, but they are sometimes very loud," added Koš.

Answering the question about the Catholic Church providing venues for the promotion of books that deny the Holocaust, Kristijan Lepešić said that this event had marginalized them. “The most important thing is that this is the largest such event we have seen in Europe. This is a major step forward for the Catholic Church not just in Croatia, because Cardinal Bozanić is a member of the Roman Curia, and I think this is the best way to marginalise the forces that promote such books,” said Kristijan Lepešić.

The event was attended by ministers Marija Pejčinović Burić and Nina Obuljen Koržinek, as well as Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić and Speaker of Parliament Gordan Jandroković.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked on January 27, in memory of the day in 1945 when the Soviet Red Army liberated the largest and the most notorious Nazi death camp in Auschwitz, where more than a million and a hundred thousand people were killed. During the Holocaust, more than six million Jews were killed.

More news on the Jasenovac concentration camp can be found in the Politics section.

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