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Profile 14 Sep 17

Catholic Bishop Becomes Croatian Far-Right Champion

Croatia's far right, which has been on the march in recent months, has an unusual cheerleader - a controversial Catholic bishop who has even preached his nationalist message with a live band.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Vlado Kosic (centre) leading the prayer. Photo: Sisak Diocese

As the far-right movement’s presence in the Croatian media grows, a Catholic bishop from the town of Sisak, Vlado Kosic, has gradually become one of its most visible figures.

With frequent anti-communist and anti-Serb slurs interwoven into his sermons and social media posts, 58-year-old Kosic is now one of the most vocal far-right commentators.

On Saturday, he had a prominent role at a concert staged by Croatian nationalist singer Marko Perkovic Thompson in the capital Zagreb.

Known for his use of the Croatian WWII fascist Ustasa slogan ‘Za dom spremni’ (‘Ready for the Home(land)’) in his famous 1991 wartime song ‘Cavoglave’, Thompson and his concerts are banned across Europe.

During the concert, Kosic - clad in a brown leather jacket - recited verses from Thompson's song ‘Maranatha’, while the band provided accompaniment.

"As long as there is a heart, there will be Croatia; show us the way to the heaven in the sky; Maranatha, come Jesus, my Lord,” he declaimed, triggering an uproar from Thompson's fans.

With Croatian politicians, media and the public currently engaged in ferocious debate about whether the public use of  ‘Za dom spremni’ should be banned, Kosic has used social networks to support the far-right movement’s attempts to defend the WWII slogan.

The bishop has claimed it was a historical Croatian greeting, despite the fact that many experts stress there is no proof of that.

Kosic was also one of the signatories of a petition which was sent to Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic in August 2015, demanding that the slogan be used as a salute in the Croatian armed forces.

Shaped by the 1990s war

Kosic recits verses on Thompson's concert in Zagreb on Saturday.

Born in the village of Druzbinac, near the northern town of Varazdin, Kosic graduated from the Zagreb Catholic Theological Faculty in 1985, after which he was ordained.

In 1990, he became a vicar in the village of Hrastovica, near the town of Petrinja in central Croatia. In September 1991, he fled the village along with the majority of its occupants, before the advancing forces of rebel Croatian Serbs, who later burned the local church.

In 1992, he was named the vicar of Petrinja, although in exile as Serb forces were still controlling the area. Pope Benedict XVI named him bishop in 2009.

In recent years, Kosic, who became known for his far-right, anti-communist and anti-Serb stances, has appeared frequently in Croatian media and is believed to have a strong influence on rightist and even centre-right politicians.

When the centre-right Bridge of Independent Lists, MOST, became the kingmaker after general elections in November 2015, Kosic put pressure on MOST’s leader Bozo Petrov – who was close to the Catholic Church – to drop negotiations with the centre-left coalition led by the Social Democratic Party, SDP.

At first it appeared that the SDP’s coalition and MOST would form a government, which angered Kosic, who described the centre-left party as “the communists who inflicted the most harm upon the Croatian people in their history”.

The next day however, Petrov managed to change his party’s position and MOST started talking to the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ coalition, and their negotiations eventually led to them forming a government together.

Kosic actively promoted the HDZ and its leader Andrej Plenkovic during the campaign for the early parliamentary elections in September 2016, which the HDZ won, and then formed a government with MOST and national minority representatives.

However, Kosic was not happy that the HDZ formed a coalition government with the liberal Croatian People’s Party, HNS, while sidelining the HDZ's own former member Zlatko Hasanbegovic, a controversial former culture minister and unofficial far-right leader.

“Is it a Christian Democratic thing to introduce as your vice-president a man who participates in a gay parade [a reference to the HNS’s acting president Predrag Stromar], while you have got rid of a man who participated in the [anti-abortion] Walk of Life [a reference to Hasanbegovic],” Kosic wrote on Facebook.

Quarrels with the SDP

Back in 2013, the government, which was led at the time by the SDP, tried to introduce Cyrillic script alongside the Latin alphabet on signs on public institutions in the eastern town of Vukovar, a symbolic place for Croatians as it was devastated by the Yugoslav People’s Army and Serb paramilitaries during the war in 1991.

The move was the SDP’s effort to implement the legal rights of the Serb minority in the area, in line with the country’s minorities legislation.

Kosic attacked the SDP government and its HDZ-led predecessor, claiming that they “teamed up with Serbs in their struggle for power”, and referring to Croatian Serb political representatives as “destroyers and aggressors”.

He alleged that it was “Serb Chetniks” – the WWII extreme nationalist movement which collaborated with Nazi Germany and fascist Italy – who were demanding the introduction of the dual-script signs in Vukovar.

In various speeches and interviews, Kosic claimed that mainstream anti-fascism was a mere “a mask behind which criminal Communism hides”.

On various occasions, he promoted the far-right theory that the WWII Ustasa concentration camp at Jasenovac continuing to function as a Communist concentration camp after 1945 – a claim for which there is no scientific proof.

He also glorified some of the Croats who were sentenced as war criminals over their role in the 1990s conflicts. 

After Dario Kordic, former leader of the self-proclaimed wartime statelet Croatian Republic of Herceg-Bosna, was released from prison in June 2014 after serving his sentence for war crimes against Bosniaks in central Bosnia, Kosic said that Kordic was unjustly sentenced and that he was a “moral giant”.

Kosic’s views explain his dissatisfaction with the government’s decision on Thursday to remove the plaque honouring fallen members of the 1990s paramilitary Croatian Defence Forces, HOS - which included the slogan ‘Za dom spremni’ - from the municipality of Jasenovac, near the former Ustasa concentration camp.

He described the removal as a “shameful act by the government”.

“If tomorrow, Serbian brothers are disturbed by the Croatian national anthem, this government will forbid it because the Ustasa also sang that anthem. Long live Serbian Croatia!” he wrote ironically on Facebook on Thursday.

His mixture of humour and Croatian nationalist sentiments yet again delighted his increasing number of admirers. In the comments section on far-right news site Direktno.hr, one of them wrote: “Bishop, your every word is worth gold.”

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