News 11 Oct 17

Croatian Historians Oppose Bans on Fascist, Communist Symbols

A group of historians launched a petition against a government-appointed body that is examining how to deal with the legacy of Croatia’s pro-Nazi and Communist regimes, arguing against banning their symbols.

Sven Milekic
Zvonko Kusic, president of the Council for Dealing with Consequences of the Rule of Non-Democratic Regimes. Photo: Croatian government.

Twenty-four Croatian historians, led by controversial former Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic, have started an online petition against the work of the Council for Dealing with Consequences of the Rule of Non-Democratic Regimes, saying that “repression and bans” cannot heal political divisions.

The government set up the Council in March to address the legacies and symbols of both the Croatian WWII fascist Ustasa movement and socialist Yugoslavia, which have been at the centre of numerous recent political disputes in the country.

The Council, which is made up of legal experts, historians and representatives of cultural institutions, is supposed to give recommendations for legal changes to regulate the use of symbols of both the regimes.

But the historians argue that imposing bans is not a solution.

“Only undemocratic, totalitarian regimes prescribe truths, and only those who know nothing about history do not understand that prescribing truth is one of the main reasons for their failure,” their petition says.

“It is entirely illusory to think that social transgressions, as a component of every democratic society, can be eliminated by repression and bans,” it adds.

It claims that 20-century history is being misused by politicians and says that imposing state-approved truths will limit freedom of expression.

“Any ban or ‘truth’ that is directly or indirectly prescribed by the state can not only deepen the existing social divisions and contribute to new ones but also seriously jeopardise freedom of expression and research,” the petition says.

“For a democratic regime it is easier to take the negative consequences of the abuse of totalitarian symbols and apologies for totalitarian regimes, however unreasonable and harmful they are, rather than to endanger freedom of thought and speech, freedom of expression and research,” it adds.

The petition, launched on Monday on the website Freedom of Thought, has already attracted over 500 signatories, some of them professors and academics.

However at least one, a signatory calling himself Josip Broz from the Croatian village of Kumrovec - a reference to Yugoslav President Tito, who was born in Kumrovec – appears to be false.

The trigger for establishing the Council was a dispute over a plaque with the Ustasa chant ‘Za dom spremni’ (‘Ready for the Home(land)’), which was installed by 1990s war veterans near the site of the biggest former Ustasa concentration camp, Jasenovac.

The plaque was removed in September and taken to a nearby town of Novska, to a memorial site dedicated to 1990s war veterans.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has said on many occasions that the Council will deal with the issues of ‘Za dom spremni’ and the Communist red star, which was used by anti-fascist Partisans.

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