by Roland Binet (Braine-l’Alleud/Belgium)
Croatia is a nation that has been bathed in blood during numerous conflicts, as the victim of the odious Serbian aggression during the recent civil war, and for its football team proudly wearing the red and white checkered reproduction of the national flag. Happily, it is nowadays chiefly known as a tourist destination.
Speaking particularly of football, Der Spiegel (26/2016) recently described in a sports article entitled “Der Fluch des Vaterlands” (The Curse of the Fatherland) some of the most despicable aspects pertaining to the Croatian football federation and the supporters of the national soccer team. The current boss of the Croatian football federation is Davor Šuker, a renowned football player of international reputation, and himself an important component of the team that held Germany in check during the 1988 World Football Championship.
Šuker, according to pictures from 1996, was also shown in Madrid visiting the grave of Ante Pavelić, the leader of the fascist and pro-Nazi Ustaša, head of the semi-autonomous state of Croatia during World War II installed with the will and consent of Nazi Germany (note: I use Ustaša in singular form, Ustaši in plural}. As for Josip Šimunić, current co-coach of the national football team, he is reputed to have taken a mike in 2014 after the qualification of Croatia for the World Championship and shouting “Za Dom” (For the Fatherland), a rallying cry to which the supporters replied in chorus “Spremni” (Ready!). In fact, this was the Ustaša’s slogan during the war and in the course of their voluntary collaboration with the Nazis (all these cited facts are taken from the article “Der Fluch des Vaterlands,” Der Spiegel as cited above). So, we recently saw in France the abject behavior of Croatian hooligans during a football match, acting in pure World War III Ustaša fashion, 70 years after the end of the war!
Let us remember the facts. During the Second World War, Croatia chose the side of Nazi Germany and, thus, fought against the Third Reich’s “natural” enemies: the Serbians, the Jews and the Gypsies. Even some of the Germans were horrified by the cruelty of the Ustaši. The highest ranking officer in Yugoslavia, Edmund Glaise von Horstenau, evoked his firm disapproval in a report to Berlin, writing of the “the indescribable filthy things by that gang of murderers and criminals.”.In July 1941 he reported: “According to trustworthy reports these past weeks from numerous military and civilian observers, in the cities and in the countryside, the Ustaša has become completely out of control.” The most infamous concentration and extermination place under the control of the Ustaši was the Jasenovac camp, a place where the cruelty of its commanders and guards was on a par or even surpassed that of the Nazis. Thousands died there of hunger, beatings and executions. Croatia is reputed to have killed 30,000 Jews, 29,000 Gypsies and 600,000 Serbs during the war. Facts and figures are available in: Hitlers Buitenlandse Vrijwilligers (Hitler’s Foreign Volunteers), by Christopher Ailsby, in Dutch.
One of the sole and tireless voices in the search for historical truth and the hunt forNazis and criminal collaborators in occupied Europe is Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem. In 2010, as I was in mail contact with him, he had the kindness to send me the manuscript of his revised book Operation Last Chance. One Man’s Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice’ Chapter 13 is almost exclusively devoted to post civil-war Croatia.
What is his view of Croatia’s first president, Franjo Tudjman, after the country gained independence? “But when he became a politician in the late 1980s, he adopted an extremist nationalist line that glorified the Ustasha and sent a very negative message to Croatia’s minorities. In one of his most famous speeches he expressed his joy that ‘Thank God, my wife is neither a Serb nor a Jew’.” We, read, moreover, that Tudjman was “particularly active in attempting to shape historical memory in the new Croatia in accordance with his extremist nationalist views. One of his more outrageous proposals (…) was to turn Jasenovac into a national memorial for all the Croatian victims of political violence.” Thus, including the victims of Communism. What better way to occult the Ustaši’s countless war crimes and genocidal actions?
Zuroff also allows us a glimpse into some of the worst Croatian criminals’ mentality decades after they committed their crimes. He mentions an excerpt from a televised interview withf Dinko Šakić, one of the former camp commanders of the Jasenovac camp, broadcast 16 April 16 1998 on the Argentine Channel 13. The question was: “But how do you explain the cruel atrocities which took place there, the terror, the executions?” The answer is textbook logorrhea for escapism and self-vindication: “The people died a natural death. There was a typhus epidemic, for example, but there were no cremation ovens that killed anybody. I think that you are the one who does not understand. The real problem with Jasenovac was that we were not able to finish the job. I sleep like a baby. If I were offered the same post today, I would accept it” (citations from Dr. Zuroff’s Operation Last Chance).
Zuroff has repeatedly denounced the fascist and pro-Ustaša hardcore of Croatian football supporters, sometimes wearing a provocative U, or crying slogans harking back to the war and collaboration. This is what Spiegel defined as the curse of the Fatherland: “On players such as the Real star Modrić lies the actual curse of the mission imposed by the Fatherland: they live abroad, know the world, must however bear the shirt with the check pattern of a rabid national pride such as is barely known in Europe” (quote from the article “Der Fluch des Vaterlands” in Der Spiegel, 26/2016).
Let us remember that the check pattern for the Ustaša fascist movement and flag was: white squares on the outside corners, alternating with red-and-white squares on the inside. The present flag of Croatia, also prominently displayed on the shirts of the national team players boasts an inverted Ustaša check pattern, with red squares on the corners alternating with red-and-white squares inside. And, what was the currency at the Nazi time of Ante Pavelić? the kuna. What is the present currency of Croatia?the kuna. Small world indeed that Croatia.
The EU accepted Croatia as a full member without any reserve. One more country in the EU where displays of a Nazi and collaborationist past have not been erased nor given a correct historical and unbiased perspective. The founding fathers of the European Union must turn upside down in their graves actually seeing how their formidable ideals have been besmirched by mediocre politicians who are blind to the reality in too many EU countries of the former Soviet block of pro-Nazi manifestations, of antisemitic acts, and a renewed veneration – to the point that sometimes statues have been built, or mortal remains have been reburied with full honors with great pomp – of persons who in fact were and remain war-time criminals in the eyes and mind of any democrat with a sense of history and decency.
But let us spare the time for a thought for the millions of innocent civilian victims of a madman, his willing German and Austrian people, and hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic volunteers, who were willing and enthusiastic servants of death factories and killing squads.