[Balkan Transitional Justice]
Feb. 14, 2019
Croatia’s Church Must Fight Ustasha Nostalgia Sincerely
Instead of just commemorating the Holocaust with public gestures, the Croatian Catholic Church should show its commitment to truth by stopping churches from hosting events at which the WWII fascist Ustasha movement’s crimes are downplayed.
The monument at the former Jasenovac concentration camp during an official Croatian government commemoration in 2016. Photo: EPA/ANTONIO BAT.
Scene 1: A 50-metre-high banner bearing the words “Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day” in both Croatian and Hebrew hangs from the tower of Zagreb’s Catholic Cathedral, a well-known city landmark.
At a grand state ceremony on January 24, Zagreb Archbishop Josip Bozanic unveiled the banner to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the day when on January 27, 1945 the Soviet Red Army reached the Auschwitz death camp. The Catholic Church paid for the banner to be made itself.
Paying respects to the Jewish victims of World War II, Bozanic read a psalm in Hebrew and said that everyone must remember “the great suffering of the Croatian Jewish community”, noting how the Jewish population of Zagreb plummeted from 11,000 to 2,000 people.
While mentioning the killing of six million Jews during the Holocaust across Europe, he emphasised that we “must give special attention” to the fact that part of it took place in Croatia. Besides the Nazi camps, he said we must “highlight the truth about the horrors of Jasenovac” – the biggest WWII concentration camp in Croatia, where Jews were killed.
The event was labelled ‘unprecedented’ by media and some members of the Croatian Jewish community, and was praised by politicians and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a prominent Jewish human rights organisation.
Scene 2: A middle-aged man going by the name of Roman Leljak presents a book and film named ‘The Myth of Jasenovac’ at the Saint Ante Padovan Church in the Croatian coastal town of Sibenik.
At the promotional event on February 9, Leljak explained how he wants to tell “the final truth” about the camp, which he argued was not ruthless as it has been described.
He also insisted that the wartime Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia, the NDH, which ran the camp, “gave the Jews a chance to survive”.
During his presentation, a priest exclaimed emotionally: “You are a divine providence! Where do you find inspiration for such courage for all you do?”
Fake ‘facts’ and double standards