Thursday, April 24, 2014

Jasenovac, Croatia and the politics of genocide / Nebojsa Malic - Reiss Institute April 22, 2014

On April 22, 1945, a group of surviving inmates broke out of Nazi Croatia’s main death camp, Jasenovac. Just fifty years later, their memories – and the grisly history of Jasenovac – had become prey to politics, propaganda, and historical revisionism more concerned with the 1990s Yugoslav wars than with the truth about “Independent Croatia” and its factory of death.

On April 10, 1941, four days after armies of the German Reich and their allies attacked the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Croat nationalists (Ustasha) allied with Hitler and Mussolini declared the “Independent State of Croatia” (NDH), comprising most of today’s country by that name, present-day Bosnia-Herzegovina, and parts of northern Serbia. Some 2 million Serbs lived in that territory, and one of the first goals of the Ustasha state was to change that – permanently.

South Gate of Jasenovac III “Brickworks” camp
(via Donja Gradina Memorial Association)
As historian Srđa Trifković noted:
“The most salient feature of Ustasha ideology and state was the morbid hatred of the Serb. To a Nazi, the Jew was a necessary political, social, and psychological concept. To an Ustasha Croat, the Serb was much more: an integral part of his Croatness. Without him it could not be defined, let alone practiced.” (The Real Genocide in Yugoslavia: ”Independent” Croatia of 1941 Revisited, Chronicles, April 21, 2000)
Racial laws targeting Serbs and Jews appeared as early as April 18, 1941. By July of that year, Italian sources estimated that over 350,000 Serbs and Jews had already been killed. It is important to note that deliberate, organized mass murder in the NDH predated the Holocaust by six to eight months; it was in January 1942 that the Nazis organized a meeting at Wannsee to discuss the extermination of Jews. Yet Croatia is barely mentioned in discussions of the Holocaust – like a book whose first chapter was torn out.

The hub of Croatia’s genocidal endeavor was Jasenovac, a complex of camps named after the ash trees (jasen) that grew alongside the river Sava, near the present-day border with Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was the largest death camp in the NDH, and the third-largest in Nazi-occupied Europe.

In April 1945, as the NDH crumbled under the advance of the British- and Soviet-backed Communist “People’s Liberation Army of Yugoslavia”, the Ustasha tried to kill the last of the Jasenovac inmates and destroy the evidence. The 760 women at the adjacent camp of Stara Gradiška had already been massacred. Of the 1,000-plus surviving men, 700 chose to risk a breakout. Only 80 of them succeeded.

In 2005, on the 60th anniversary of the breakout, a commemoration was held in Donja Gradina – part of the Jasenovac complex in what is now the Serb Republic (Republika Srpska) of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The ceremony was held on April 17, specifically to avoid the overlap with Passover festivities out of consideration for the Jewish participants. Presidents of Serbia and the Serb Republic attended the event, along with some 3,000 others. Yet the mainstream Western media did not mention it at all (unlike the Russian Itar-Tass, the Greek Kathimerini, and the Chinese Xinhua).

However, the April 23 commemoration organized by the Croatian government and attended by some 2,000 people received widespread coverage. All the major Western media cited the speech by Croat PM Ivo Sanader about the evils of fascism, but no one mentioned the role of Sanader’s predecessor Franjo Tuđman in resurrecting NDH symbols and values, or Tuđman’s denials of both the Ustasha crimes and the Holocaust.

Nor did anyone say a word about the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the Ustasha state – and its program of genocide against the “Eastern schismatics” (i.e. Orthodox Serbs) first and foremost. The ban on entering parks and public transportation in Ustasha-run Zagreb during WWII listed, in very deliberate order: “Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, and dogs.”

But the very worst part came when everyone, from BBC to AP and Reuters, spoke of “independent historians” or “most estimates” that put the number of Jasenovac dead at 100,000; anything above that was dismissed as claims of “Serb nationalists.”

The postwar Communist regime of Josip Broz Tito, eager to establish its legitimacy by asserting moral equivalence between the Nazi Ustasha and the royalist Yugoslav resistance, actively suppressed the efforts to establish the exact number of Ustasha victims. Tito’s sponsors in the West supported this, and went along with the cover-up. The casualty numbers quoted by Tito’s government after WW2 – 1,7 million people – may have been arbitrary and intended to boost reparation demands from Germany, but their revision down to 1 million was the work of Croatian economist Vladimir Žerjavić. It is worth noting that Žerjavić also vastly exaggerated the number of deaths in the 1992-95 Bosnian War – he claimed 220,000, while the actual count came to just under 100,000.

Meanwhile, sources such as Hermann Neubacher and Glaise von Horstenau – Hitler’s political and military envoys in the Balkans – mention Croat boasts of killing a million Serbs in 1941 alone, and how they thought 750,000 a “more realistic” number. Either way, there is no doubt whatsoever that the Ustasha Croatia had clear genocidal intent towards the Serbs and the Jews, or that it did everything it could to put it into practice.

Contrast the dismissive tone of reports about Jasenovac with reports on Srebrenica, where the deaths of several thousand Bosnian Muslims (claims range from 7,000 to 10,000)in July 1995 have been termed “genocide” by the mainstream Western press, and the NATO-backed “war crimes tribunal”.  Any attempt to question this judgment, based on numerous factual problems with both the allegations and the evidence offered, is denounced as “genocide denial.” But the denial of a real, documented genocide in Croatia is not a problem!

How can this be? Because today, “genocide” has become above all a political notion. The mass murder of Jews at the hands of Hitler’s Reich has been appropriated by Washington as an argument in favor of “humanitarian intervention” worldwide (e.g., Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya). The mass murder of Serbs at the hands of the Ustasha, with the active involvement of the Catholic Church, does not fit into the carefully crafted and nurtured image of Serbs as evil murderous aggressors; the Croats, “Bosnians,” and Albanians as their innocent victims – and the US-led West as the white knight in shining armor riding to their rescue.

This is why the 2005 commemoration of Auschwitz – entirely appropriate and necessary in itself – was turned into a political spectacle, while the Serb and Jewish commemoration of Jasenovac was shoved down the proverbial memory hole.  As readily as XX century rulers committed mass murder, XXI century politicians cry “genocide” to describe the suffering of officially designated victims, while actual genocides perpetrated against those out of grace – our out of sight – remain unacknowledged.

Nebojsa Malic
April 22, 2014


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