News 11 Feb 16

Croatian Culture Minister Wrote for Pro-Fascist Journal

The future of Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic looked more uncertain after a newspaper revealed that in 1996 he wrote articles hailing Croatian Fascist Ustasa fighters as heroes.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Zlatko Hasanbegovic. | Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA/Dario GRZELJ/DS

Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic is in more hot water after a Croatian weekly, Novosti, on Wednesday published excerpts of texts written by him in 1996, praising the pro-Nazi Croatian Ustase movement - which ruled Croatia in a bloody fashion under German and Italian auspices in the 1940s.

The articles were published in the journal Independent State of Croatia, NDH, the bulletin of the pro-Ustasa Croatian Liberation Movement, HOP, registered as a party in 1992.

The HOP was originally formed in the 1950s by Ante Pavelic, the former leader of the Ustasa puppet state, The Independent State of Croatia, NDH.

Its branch in Croatia was founded by his son-in-law Srecko Psenicnik, who was editor of the bulletin.

Hasanbegovic was a member of another far-right formation, the Croatian Pure Party of Right, HCSP, before joining the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, which proposed him for the minister's post.

Excerpt of Hasanbegovic's text in which he wrote about Ustasa fighters as "heroes" and "martyrs". | Photo: Novosti

Hrvoje Simicevic, the journalist who reported the story for Novosti, found the bulletin in the National Library.

In two articles published in 1996, Hasanbegovic, then a 23-year-old student, praised the Ustasa as “heroes” and “martyrs”.

Novosti also published a series of photos accompanying the texts, with Hasanbegovic posing on the waterfront in Split in what looks like an Ustasa cap.

“Forget about the cap, that’s not the point... The point is that he not only wrote for the bulletin but what he wrote as well. He wrote that they [the Ustasa] are heroes and martyrs; he wrote that he was a follower of the Ustasa movement, it can’t be more explicit than that,” Simicevic told BIRN.

Hasanbegovic held a short press conference on Thursday, claiming that his “conscience is clear in moral, civil and political way.

“I have never in any way been an apologist for any criminal regime, regardless of whether it was an Ustasa or communist regime,” he said.

“In my appearances and works I have emphasized that the Ustasa crimes aren’t only burdened with defeat but represent the greatest [moral] downfall whose shadow... hangs over the Croatian people,” he continued.

Hasanbegovic said that his current party, now the leading party in government, stood firmly on the foundations of anti-fascism, democracy and parliamentarianism.

“My acts as minister should be judged by my work rather than by selective manipulation of facts from the distant past... The selective use of peripheral statements, taken out of context, from 20 years ago, from my youth, student life, represents a political manipulation,” he said.

Hasanbegovic concluded that had already said everything he needed to say before about the photographs. He did not answer questions from journalists, leaving the press conference neither confirming nor denying that he wrote for the bulletin.

Hasanbegovic (first from the left in the upper row) with what seems to a Ustasa cap. | Photo: Novosti

On Wednesday, however, he denied that he had worn “an Ustasa cap” in the photo, claiming it was “another in a series of hoaxes and provocations” against him.

He said the photo was taken in 1993 and that the cap was a part of the official uniform of Croatian Defence Forces, HOS, a paramilitary unit that was later integrated into the official Croatian military.

HOS first functioned as a party army of right-wing Croatian Party of Rights, HSP, and kept the Ustasa chant "Za Dom Spremni" ["For the Homeland, Ready"), which is still present on their coat of arms.

Regional N1 television went to the National Library on Thursday and confirmed the authenticity of the photograph.

Parliament debated the issue on Thursday morning, with opposition MPs demanding Hasanbegovic’s removal.

“The cap is the smallest issue, the issue is what he wrote in a pro-Ustasa bulletin and how he wrote it,” Jaroslav Pecnik, MP for the left-wing Croatian Labourists – Labour Party, said.

The vice-chair of parliament, Robert Podolnjak, from the HDZ’s junior partner in government, the Bridge of the Independent Lists, MOST, on Wednesday urged the minister “to distance himself from the Ustasa regime and from the Independent State of Croatia, to clearly express his anti-fascism”.

From the beginning of the appointment, Hasanbegovic has been at the centre of controversy and of protests by artists, writers and civil society groups.

His decision to dissolve the council for non-profit media, in charge of giving state funds for non-profit media, drew protests from many media and intellectuals.

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