in focus 23 Jun 15

Serbian Minister Sparks ‘Fascism’ Row With Croatia

In comments likely to infuriate Zagreb, Serbian labour minister Aleksandar Vulin claimed that fascism is on the rise in Croatia after his trip to a WWII concentration camp sparked anger.

Gordana Andric
BIRN
Belgrade
Vulin at the Jadovno memorial. Photo: Beta.

Vulin on Tuesday hit back at critics of his trip to a memorial ceremony at the WWII concentration camp and said that Belgrade and Zagreb should talk openly about the “rise of fascism” in Croatia.

“I think we are actually helping our friends in Croatia when we say that we are ready to fight together with them against the rise of fascism,” he told Serbian public broadcaster RTS.

Vulin ran into controversy on Sunday when he visited a memorial for people killed by Zagreb’s WWII-era Nazi-allied regime at the Jadovno concentration camp near the Croatian town of Gospic.

Members of some Croatian war veterans’ associations tried to block the road to the memorial saying that the number of Jadovno victims has been “fabricated”.

Vulin then caused anger in his speech during the commemoration by referring to Alojzije Stepinac, who was archbishop of Zagreb during WWII, as an “Ustasa [Nazi-allied] bishop”.

The Catholic Church is currently considering whether to canonise Stepinac, but many Serbs accuse him of blessing the wartime regime in Croatia.

During his speech, Vulin also criticised Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic for recently visiting both a WWII memorial in Bleiburg in Austria dedicated to Croatian fascist troops and civilians killed by Yugoslav Partisan forces, and Jasenovac, the Nazi-style concentration camp in Croatia.

Grabar Kitarovic responded by saying that while Serbia has officials like Vulin, it “cannot enter a union of free, democratic states like the EU”.

“Basic upbringing dictates that when you come to someone’s house, you respect your hosts. The same applies when you go to another country,” she said on Monday.

Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic said that there would be no official diplomatic response to Vulin’s statement, but added that “it looks very inappropriate for any decent country that their minister behaves like this”.

This is not the first time that Vulin’s comments have sparked a row with Croatia.

In April, Vulin called on Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic to come to Serbia and meet “the 250,000 [people] expelled during [Operation] Storm” - a military offensive by Zagreb’s forces in August 1995 that seized back Serb-held territory in Croatia but caused a massive exodus of Croatian Serbs.

Croatian war veterans’ minister Predrag Matic responded angrily to Vulin’s comment, suggesting he should seek medical treatment, implying that he is mentally ill.

Vulin has also made controversial statements regarding Serbia’s relations with Kosovo, the EU, Russia and the US.

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