Croatian leaders commemorate Nazi death camp victims
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Croatian leaders commemorate Nazi death camp victims

Memorial at ‘Croatia’s Auschwitz’ boycotted by critics who accuse state of tolerating surge in support for far-right nationalism

Illustrative: Members of the Jewish community walk in front of a memorial in the shape of a flower in Jasenovac on April 15. 2016. (AFP PHOTO / STRINGER)
Illustrative: Members of the Jewish community walk in front of a memorial in the shape of a flower in Jasenovac on April 15. 2016. (AFP PHOTO / STRINGER)

ZAGREB — Croatian leaders Friday honored the victims of the Balkan country’s most notorious World War II death camp, in an event boycotted by critics who accuse rulers of tolerating a revival of pro-Nazi ideology.

Local activists including Jews and ethnic Serbs have expressed alarm at a surge in support for far-right nationalism since the center-right government took office in January.

Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic, several ministers and other officials attended the commemoration at the site of Jasenovac camp which was dismantled 71 years ago.

The site known as “Croatia’s Auschwitz” is now home to a museum and a memorial.

Letters by survivors of the Nazi death camp were read out during the sombre ceremony, which concluded with a religious service.

But this year’s commemoration at Jasenovac, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of Zagreb, was marked by an unprecedented boycott by the country’s Jews, Serbs and anti-fascist activists who organised separate events.

They say that the authorities have turned a blind eye to moves from right-wing Croatians to downplay the crimes of the Nazi-era Ustasha regime.

Croatia's Ustaše militia executing people over a mass grave outside of the Jasenovac concentration camp in 1942 or 1943. (Wikimedia commons)
Croatia’s Ustaše militia executing people over a mass grave outside of the Jasenovac concentration camp in 1942 or 1943. (Wikimedia commons)

In January, ultra-nationalists shouted pro-Nazi slogans as thousands of people, including deputy parliamentary speaker Ivan Tepes, staged a protest in the capital.

Similar slogans were also chanted during a friendly football match between Israel and Croatia in March which was attended by top officials including the prime minister.

Although the Ustasha ran Croatia as a Nazi puppet state, their sympathizers see them as the country’s founding fathers.

The prime minister and President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic both voiced regret over the boycott.

They explicitly condemned the Ustasha’s crimes for the first time during a visit by Nicholas Dean, US State Department special envoy for Holocaust issues earlier this month.

The total number of people killed at Jasenovac — mostly Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascist Croatians — remains disputed. It varies from tens of thousands to 700,000, according to Serbian figures.

Some 75 percent of around 40,000 Croatian Jews were killed by the Ustasha, and Jews now make up less then one percent of Croatia’s population of 4.2 million.

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