News 24 Mar 17

US Holocaust Envoy Warns Croatia About Fascist Symbols

On a visit to Croatia, the US State Department envoy for Holocaust issues warned the authorities that symbols of the WWII fascist Ustasa movement are offensive to victims and their families.

Sven Milekic
Tom Yazdgerdi (right) with a Croatian official during his visit to Zagreb. Photo: Ministry of Justice.

The US State Department envoy for Holocaust issues, Tom Yazdgerdi, visited Croatia on Thursday and Friday and expressed concern about the continued use of the slogan of the WWII fascist Ustasa movement in the country.

Yazdgerdi said during his annual visit that a plaque with the Ustasa slogan ‘Za dom spremni’ (‘Ready for the Home(land)’) which was installed last year not far from the WWII concentration camp in Jasenovac was particularly problematic.

“I think that symbols are important, we know that this plaque is especially offensive to the Holocaust survivors and their family members… It is hard, especially for the Holocaust survivors, to watch those symbols,” he told Croatian news agency, HINA on Thursday.

Yazdgerdi met Justice Minister Ante Sprlje, Culture Minister Nina Obuljen Korzinek and officials from the foreign mnistry and the prime minister’s office to convey his views.

He said he hopes that the newly-formed government Council for Dealing with Consequences of the Rule of Non-Democratic Regimes will deal with the issue of the continued use of Ustasa symbols.

He said that Croatia as a member of an intergovernmental organisation, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, has to ensure that the Holocaust is taught appropriately in schools and that concentration camps such as Jasenovac are appropriately commemorated.

Yazdgerdi emphasised however that the US “won’t tell the Croatian government how to act” and said that the government “mostly reacts” to problematic issues related to the Ustasa legacy.

Representatives of Croatia’s 2,000-strong Jewish community have decided to boycott this year’s official state commemoration at Jasenovac in April, arguing the government hasn’t acted to stop the display of fascist symbols.

The Jewish community boycotted the commemoration last year as well, for similar reasons.

It has also boycotted the state-organised commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, again citing the same reasons.

At the foreign ministry on Thursday, Yazdgerdi discussed the issue of returning Jewish property seized during WWII.

The confiscations under Ustasa rule were part of a process known as the ‘Aryanisation of property’, in which the property of Serbs, Jews and Roma was given to ethnic Croats according to racial laws passed in 1941 and modelled upon Nazi legislation.

It is currently impossible to get restitution for property confiscated under Ustasa rule.

Yazdgerdi said that there has been progress on the issue but described it as “rather slow”.

“Our main message: we would like the government to speed up the process. Why? Because survivors [of the Holocaust] are dying every day,” he urged.

Yazdgerdi went to visit the memorial site in Jasenovac with Culture Minister Obuljen Korzinek on Friday.

Unlike last year’s visit, when Yazgerdi’s predecessor, Nicholas Dean met Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic and the prime minister at the time, Tihomir Oreskovic, this year the US envoy met lower-ranking officials.

The Croatian WWII fascist Ustasa movement passed racial laws against Serbs, Jews and Roma – modelled upon Nazi legislature – and persecuted them, along with anti-fascists.

Over 83,000 of them perished in the biggest concentration camp, Jasenovac, which is located in central Croatia.

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