News 11 Aug 16

Serbia to Highlight Croatia Concentration Camp at UN

Serbia plans to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day next year by organising an exhibition at the United Nations about the Jasenovac concentration camp run by Croatia’s WWII Nazi-allied regime.

Milivoje Pantovic
BIRN
Belgrade
Monument at the Jasenovac memorial site. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Bern Bartsch.

The Serbian foreign ministry, which is intending to stage the planned ‘Hidden Holocaust’ exhibition at the UN in New York in 2017, told BIRN that it wants to draw attention to the rehabilitation of xenophobic and racist ideologies while commemorating the anniversary of the opening of the WWII Jasenovac camp.

“This project is intended to mobilisethe global public to contribute to the preservation of the universal values such as peace, freedom and the protection of human rights,” the ministry’s Department for Migratory Politics, Diaspora and Social Agreements said in a written statement to BIRN.

The move is likely to anger Zagreb, but the Serbian foreign ministry insisted that it was not an anti-Croatian initiative.

“The exhibition about Jasenovac is not a ‘Serbs against Croats’ exhibition,” the ministry said.

But in what appeared to be a swipe at Croatian right-wingers who have downplayed the number of victims of Jasenovac, it argued that it was necessary to remind people about the atrocities of WWII.

“The Allies were victorious in WWII but attempts to revise history are a wake-up call. One exhibition will certainly not change the world and eradicate dark ideologies, but it could certainly raise awareness about the problem,” it said.

The ministry said that visitors to the exhibition will be able to hear recorded testimonies of survivors and the personal possessions of some of the prisoners, as well as publications and posters from the NDH era.

It is also planned that film director Emir Kusturica will contribute to the project, while artists Ljubisa Mancic and Katarina Tripkovic are already making sculptures inspired by the victims’ experiences at Jasenovac.

“They will try to show the pain and suffering of the victims, if it is even possible since the horror at Jasenovac is hardly imaginable,” the ministry said.

After taking power in April 1941, the Nazi-allied wartime Independent State of Croatia, NDH passed laws similar to Nazi legislation, targeting Serbs, Jews and Roma.

On territory controlled by the NDH, encompassing today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina, parts of Serbia and most of Croatia, the fascist Ustasa organisation opened dozen of concentration camps, the biggest of them at Jasenovac.

Serbs, Jews, Roma and Croats who opposed the regime were killed.

The death toll remains disputed; Croatia argues that around 83,000 people died at Jasenovac, but Serbia and the Yad Vashem remembrance centre from Jerusalem claim that 600,000 people perished.

Recently there have been attempts by Croatian nationalists to suggest the death toll was even lower. In April this year, Croatian director Jakov Sedlar made a film called ‘Jasenovac - The Truth’ which claimed there were 20,000 to 40,000 victims.

Controversial Croatian culture minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic attended the premiere of the film and praised it for raising “taboo topics”, sparking a rebuke from the Israeli ambassador to Zagreb.

During the nineties wars in the former Yugoslavia however, there was a tendency in Serbia to inflate the alleged number of the victims at Jasenovac.

According to the foreign ministry, representatives of the Serbian diaspora are working together with Jewish organisations on securing the exhibition space at UN headquarters.

Partners in the project include Yad Vashem, the Andric Institute headed by Kusturica, the University of Belgrade, the Jasenovac Research Institute and a Serb diaspora NGO called 28. Jun, the ministry said.

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