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Rival Events Commemorate Croatian WWII Camp Victims

Croatia’s Jews, Serbs and anti-fascists have again boycotted the state commemoration of victims of the Jasenovac WWII concentration camp over claims that the government tolerates pro-fascist activities.

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Commemoration at the Jasenovac ‘Flower’ memorial on Saturday. Photo: BETAPHOTO/HINA/Lana Slivar Dominic

The Coordination of the Jewish Communities of Croatia is commemorating victims of the WWII concentration camp at Jasenovacon Monday, after boycotts of the state-backed ceremony at the weekend over allegations that the government is tolerating the actions of fascist sympathisers.

Members of Croatia’s Jewish community, which numbers around 2,000 people, will pay their respects at the site of the former camp in central Croatia at a commemoration which coincides with Jom HaShoah, Jewish Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Coordination of Jewish Communities announced its boycott of the state commemoration last month due to the government’s alleged leniency towards those sympathetic to the WWII-era Nazi-allied Ustasa regime.

The Coordination also boycotted the state-organised commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, as well as last year’s official commemoration at Jasenovac for the same reason.

The state commemoration was held on Sunday at Jasenovac, attended by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and other ministers. For the second year in the row, there were no officials’ speeches at the ceremony, only camp inmates’ testimonies, poems and religious ceremonies.

“Together with the ministers… I came to pay my respect to all the victims of this concentration camp, [to] condemn the crimes committed during the Ustasa regime, not only here but at other killing sites, and once again repeat that the goal of modern democratic Croatia is that such crimes aren’t committed ever again,” Plenkovic said after the ceremony.

Plenkovic’s centre-right government has been criticised for not removing a controversial plaque in the village of Jasenovac.

The plaque, installed by 1990s war veterans from the Croatian Defence Forces, includes an Ustasa slogan, ‘Za dom spremni’ (‘Ready for the Home(land)’), which even US State Department envoy for Holocaust issues Tom Yazdgerdi said was “especially offensive to the Holocaust survivors and their family members”.

The slogan, which is used as a salute, is part of the official coat of arms of the Croatian Defence Forces’ veterans association.

Five anti-fascist activists staged a protest at Sunday’s official commemoration at Jasenovac, holding a banner with the words: “Remove the Ustasa salute”.

When asked about the plaque, Plenkovic responded: “Their [the Croatian Defence Forces’] coat of arms is legitimate and approved, and was approved by governments of various political orientations.”

He accepted however that its use near Jasenovac had caused a dispute and said that the recently-formed, government-backed Council for Dealing with Consequences of the Rule of Non-Democratic Regimes will try to find ways to better regulate the issue.

Anti-fascist protesters at Jasenovac on Sunday. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Stipe Majic.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, officials from Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska and representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church also held a commemoration on Saturday in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, where part of the Jasenovac complex was located.

Vucic said in his speech that there was now an attempt to “resurrect the Ustasa ideology”.

The Serbian National Council, which represents Serbs in Croatia, and the Alliance of Anti-Fascist Fighters and Anti-Fascists held their own commemoration on Saturday, after also boycotting the state commemoration.

Several thousand people attended, compared to the hundreds who joined the state event, including a number of foreign ambassadors, among them the US ambassador to Zagreb, Julieta Valls Noyes.

“We won’t allow ourselves to be overcome by the historical revisionism that has gained deep roots in today’s Croatia, whose ultimate goal is to turn WWII winners [anti-fascist Partisans] into defeated criminals, and those who have been defeated and proven to be criminals [the Ustasa], into national heroes,” the president of the Alliance of Anti-Fascist Fighters and Anti-Fascists, Franjo Habulin, told the commemoration.

Croatian Defence Froces veterans hold the flag with the slogan “Za dom spremni”. Photo: N1

During the day, a few Croatian Defence Forces war veterans were present in front of the plaque near the Jasenovac camp with their official flag and chanted the controversial slogan “Za dom spremni”.

According to a name-by-name list put together by the Jasenovac Memorial Site, 83,145 people were killed or died at the camp between August 1941 and April 1945.

That number included 47,627 Serbs, 16,173 Roma, 13,116 Jews, 4,225 Croats (as anti-fascists and as real or presumed enemies of the regime) and others.

Around 30,000 out of some 40,000 Jews who lived on Ustasa-held territories before WWII were either killed at Jasenovac or other places in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, or were sent to Nazi death camps, mostly to Auschwitz.

This article is also available in: Shqip Македонски Bos/Hrv/Srp

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