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News 09 Dec 16

Croatia Ban on Red Star Carries Risks, Professor Says

After Croatia's new Prime Minister raised the possibility of banning all totalitarian symbols, possibly including the red star, a professor has called the proposal risky and wrongheaded.

Sven Milekic
Former anti-fascist figher in the municipality of Kumrovec in nothern Croatia. Photo: Sven Milekic/BIRN

The possible adoption of a law in Croatia banning the diplay of all totalitarian symbols, announced by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on Monday, carries potential risks and dangers, an expert has said.

As the new law would ban all totalitarian symbols, it opens the possibility of including the red star, symbol of the Communist-led Yugoslav Partisan army which fought the Axis powers in World War II and took power in Yugoslavia in 1945.

Professor Tihomir Cipek, from the Zagreb Faculty of Political Sciences, said he was uncertain if such a law could be passed because it might open up a constitutional issue.

“If it is seen as changing the constitution, a two-thirds majority of MPs will be needed for this, which is impossible," he said.

"But if it is passed as just one of law, which isn’t changing anything essential, it is possible since [the junior government party] MOST seems keen to support the initiative,” he said.

He explained that Croatia was constitutionally founded as the successor to the State Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Croatia from World War Two.

As this body was led by the Communists, “the two can’t be completely separated”, and criminalising one would lead to criminalising the other", he maintained.

Although a moderate politician, Plenkovic’s governing centre-right party, the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, often claims that Communist-run Yugoslavia was a totalitarian regime, like the Ustasa Fascist-led wartime entity, the Independent State of Croatia.

Plenkovic’s statement on Monday followed a row in Croatia over the erection of a plaque in the municipality of Jasenovac, which was home to a notorious wartime Ustasa-run concentration camp where over 83,000 Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-Fascists were killed between 1941 and 1945.

The plaque has caused controversy as it is engraved with the Ustasa slogan, "Za dom spremni" ("Ready for the Homeland").

However, since the plaque was put up by the association of former fighters of the Croatian Defence Forces, HOS, which was integrated into the Croatian army in 1992, and since the phrase is on the legally registered coat-of-arms of this association, Plenkovic declined to condemn the plaque.

Cipek emphasised that although both totalitarian systems were responsible for deaths of millions, Communism did not go directly against Enlightenment values and did not, for example, claim “that certain groups of people are not people at all. This is why such symbols as the red star or hammer and sickle are not banned in Western Europe," he observed.

“This approach of equalizing the two totalitarian systems, coming mostly from northeast Europe, with its strong anti-communism, intentionally or unintentionally rehabilitates one totalitarian regime, and that is fascism,” he concluded.

A number of European countries have banned the public display of the red star, including Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine. Others are considering following suit.

However, the European Court of Human Rights in 2008 ruled in favour of a Hungarian politician, Attila Vajnai, who was handcuffed and sentenced to a year's parole in 2003 for wearing a red star, saying the ban violated his freedom of expression.

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