News 23 Apr 16

Croatia Govt Criticised at WWII Death Camp Commemoration

Anti-fascists held an alternative memorial for victims of the Jasenovac concentration camp after boycotting the state ceremony, accusing officials of downplaying the Croatian WWII Nazi-allied regime’s crimes.

Sven Milekic
Zoran Pusic makes a speech at the anti-fascist commemoration. Photo: Josip Ivanovic.

Around 500 people attended the commemoration on Friday organised by the Anti-Fascist League of Croatia at Victims of Fascism Square in Zagreb after Croatian Serbs and Jews boycotted the official state ceremony at the Jasenovac concentration camp memorial site earlier that day.

The Anti-Fascist League’s president, veteran activist Zoran Pusic, accused the government of downplaying the fascist politics that led to more than 83,000 deaths at Jasenovac during WWII under the Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia, NDH and its Ustasa military units.

“Victims of Jasenovac and other Ustasa camps are not victims of natural disasters, or even revenge,” Pusic told the commemoration.

“They are the victims of policies and ideas that ruled under the NDH and whose apologists are in today’s RH [Republic of Croatia] government,” he said. 

Anastasija Kaptelova performing the Roma anthem 'Gelem, Gelem' at Friday's memorial.

Pusic’s comments were a dig at culture minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic, who has been criticised for his opinions about Croatia’s WWII regime and his right-wing past.

Senior ministers including Hasanbegovic and Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic attended the official commemoration earlier on Friday at the Jasenovac memorial in central Croatia.

But the event was boycotted by Croatian Jews and Serbs, who are protesting against the permanent exhibition at the Jasenovac memorial, which they believe does not convey the concentration camp’s horrors adequately, and against what they see as a revival of wartime fascist values in Croatian politics.

Daniel Ivin, a Holocaust survivor who was a member of the WWII anti-fascist movement and a human rights activist in the 1990s, told the anti-fascist commemoration on Friday that Croatia’s right-wing government is trying to reinterpret history for its own political purposes.

“We know that with the new government we don’t have a future, but in recent times, they are starting to take our past [as well]. And if someone takes a nation’s past, this is already a crime in itself,” Ivin said.

Natasa Matausic speaks about a breakout by Jasenovac prisoners in 1945. Photo: Josip Ivanovic.

The Jasenovac camp was set up by the NDH in August 1941, and run by its notorious Ustasa units.

Until it closed in April 1945, a total of 83,145 people were killed or died because of the poor conditions at the camp, according to researchers at the Jasenovac memorial.

They included 47,627 Serbs, 16,173 Roma, 13,116 Jews and 6,229 anti-fascists and others.

At the anti-fascist commemoration, one of the creators of the permanent exhibition at the Jasenovac memorial, historian Natasa Matausic read a story about the last break-out of prisoners from the concentration camp on April 22, 1945, before the Ustasa shut it down and executed the remaining inmates.

Mile Nikolic of the Roma National Council read a testimony about the killings of Roma people at the camp, while singer Anastasija Kaptelova sang the international Roma anthem Gelem, Gelem (I Went, I Went), which tells the story of Roma killed by the Ustasa’s ‘Black Legion’ unit.

Kaptelova also concluded the ceremony by singing John Lennon’s Imagine.

Actor Vili Matula reads a poem by Ivan Goran Kovacic, who died in WWII. Photo: Josip Ivanovic.

The Serbian National Council, the main association representing Serbs in Croatia, held its own commemoration earlier on Friday at an Orthodox church in the village of Mlaka near Jasenovac.

It was attended by anti-fascists and Jewish community representatives as well as culture minister Hasanbegovic and Serbian labour minister Aleksandar Vulin.

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