Croatia’s burden with the fascist past

Editors of croatian television were to be put out of action for broadcasting a compromising speech by the current president of the republic, stjepan mesic

It is a press scandal of the first order that has been stirring the public in croatia since the weekend. Only after days of strong protests, the suspension of three editors of the state television station hrt was lifted yesterday. The offense of the critical journalists: they had shown the video recording of a meeting of the croatian diaspora in sydney, at which the acting state president stjepan mesic glorified the proclamation of the fascist independent state of croatia (ndh) of 1941 and denied crimes of the ustasha regime, which was allied with the german reich.

Hrt head mirko galic’s accusation against the journalists was that they had been "unprofessionally" . In fact, however, the actions of the hrt management show two things above all: as soon as journalists in croatia report critically, freedom of the press is not far behind. And: the public and politics have still not found a clearer way of dealing with the atrocious crimes of the fascist regime during the second world war. Between 1941 and 1945, the ustasha movement murdered a large part of the serbs, roma and jews in croatia.

Hrt editors danko druzijanic, goran rotim and petar stefanic had shown the controversial video on saturday in two of the channel’s main news and information programs. They were reacting to the publication of the footage a few hours earlier on the internet portal index. As can be clearly seen and heard in the excerpts, mesic declared on 2. June 1992:

In the second world war the croats won twice and we have no reason to apologize to anyone. It is demanded from the croats, go and kneel in jasenovac, kneel here … We do not have to kneel before anyone! We have won twice, and the others only once. We won on april 10. April (1941), when the axis powers recognized the croatian state. And we were victorious because after the war we were again at the table of the victors.

In his speech, mesic alludes to the jasenovac concentration camp, which was run by the ustasha during the second world war. According to scholars, about 100,000 people were murdered in jasenovac.000 people were murdered. The largest group of victims were serbs, followed by roma, jews and croatian anti-fascists. The camp was under the direct control of the ustasha and not of the germans, who had brought the ustasha to power on 10 april 1941. April 1941 to power.

The condemnation of mesic’s speech by human rights organizations in croatia is mixed with astonishment. Mesic, who has been president since 2000, is widely regarded as a tolerant politician who is oriented towards reconciliation with the serbs. It was mesic who, in recent years, has repeatedly addressed the croatian public in a critical manner and called for a confrontation with the crimes of the ustasha.

There is enough reason for this: in croatia there is still a veritable cult of the ustasha. For example, one of the most popular rock groups in croatia is called thompson. This is the name of the machine gun used by the ustasha to fight in world war ii. A hit of the group has the title "jasenovac". This song celebrates the murder of the inmates of the concentration camp. "Thompson"-frontman marko perkovic has been able to perform unhindered for years despite propagating violence glorifying nationalism and right-wing extremism. On the "thompson" concerts, symbols of the ustasha movement are regularly displayed.

How difficult croatia is to come to terms with the crimes committed during the second world war is also shown by the controversy surrounding a museum that was reopened in jasenovac only a few days ago. The exhibition shows only the names of tens of thousands of victims. But not their nationality or religious affiliation. This meets with the protest of the victims’ associations.

The speech of stjepan mesic makes clear above all the historical reference with which the croatian democratic community (hdz) mobilized the croatian population and the large diaspora for the independence of the country from yugoslavia at the beginning of the 1990s. In 1989, mesic was one of the founders of the party that, under the leadership of franjo tudjman, who died in 2000, pushed for croatia’s secession from yugoslavia. Between 1991 and 1995, this led to a bloody war that ended with the expulsion of most of the serbian population from croatia.

After mesic claimed in the past few days that he could not remember the speech, the president then declared that behind the release of the video footage there were "dark circles" from the "mafia", who wanted to compromise him. By way of justification, meanwhile, he said that the speech was given at a time when croatia was "at war" had been at war. "For the defense of croatia" "all the people" had to be united. Mesic claims that his speech in no way supported the ustasha regime "support" the ustasha regime. Considering the wording, this statement of the president of the republic is astonishing.

On the other hand, it is a positive sign that the suspension of the three hrt journalists has been met with strong protests. It is not only international organizations such as reporters without borders that are sharply criticizing the decision of the hrt administration. The journalists’ association and human rights groups in croatia itself also protested. On tuesday afternoon, after a heated special meeting lasting several hours, hrt’s board of directors took a stand against the editor-in-chief and declared that the broadcast of the footage was justified. However, the suspensions will remain in effect until a final decision is made.

Goran rotim, one of the journalists involved, explains about the affair:

I cannot believe that in 2006, in a democratic country that will sooner or later join the european union, journalists will be suspended for publishing a news item. Only we have done. We have published a message.

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