The Independent State of Croatia, often referred to simply by the abbreviation NDH, under Ante Pavelic, was a World War II puppet state of Nazi Germany and Italy established in part of Axis-occupied Yugoslavia. So too was Serbia under Milan Nedic. However it needs to be pointed out that the NDH Pavelic’s regime was not a product of democratic election or referendum but rather an installation of government, which was not supported by all of the Croatian people and, hence there existed three opposing sides: pro Ustashe, pro-communists and those who wanted neither one or the other, were politically neutral, but did want independence. Since WWII there have been and there are Croats who celebrate 10 April (1941) as a celebration of Croatian independence, but there are and have been many more who do not and did not celebrate this date. I belong to the latter. The regretful fact is that the anti-Croatian propaganda throughout the world chooses to promote more the former than the latter! I feel privileged to have been asked about my thoughts on 10 April and its meaning for Croatian independence. I have translated the short interview with me published in the Australian “Boka Cropress” newspaper.
Boka Cropress: What does celebrating 10th April mean to you?
Ina Vukic: Personally I do not nor have I ever celebrated the 10th of April but I do regard it as a historical symbol from 1941 which has a large meaning in a victory, however minor by some comparisons. of the Croatian people over the Greater Serbian-hegemonic Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the oppression of the Croatian people inside its legitimate and historical territory. Sadly, that meaning of the 10th of April has been lost and it has, I would say, sold itself to an eternal “conviction or biased judgment” with the mere moment of decision as to the date of the declaration of NDH (Independent State of Croatia); for choosing to use the power of Nazi Germany as the vessel that would enable an “easy” proclamation of the Independent State of Croatia (as there were many against it at the time).
While the NDH was not founded on the wish to “kill”, the decision to declare or establish the NDH under the protection or alliance with Nazi powers that had at that time entered Croatian territory, in my eyes, represents a very bad moral and political decision made by the NDH leaders. The truth is that during NDH there were a large number of crimes committed and they were committed within the context of historical facts – from Pavelic’s alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy to the Yugoslav communist-antifascist movement, Serb Chetnik intrusions and the support of the Allied forces including communist Russia. It is clear that these crimes were not committed by one side only – NDH, and it is clear why NDH is falsely accused of them all.
It’s necessary to understand that despite all the Serb-communist or antifascist thrust filled with lies that equates NDH with WWII Nazism (and not with the pure and just plights for freedom) 10th of April has an important meaning to many of those wanting a Croatian statehood independence, especially many living in the free “West” before the establishment of today’s free Croatia. That was the day of Croatian gatherings and thanksgiving to those who had throughout the history (not only since 1941 but also before) advocated and sacrificed for the Croatian freedom and state independence, a day of remembrance of the 1941 proclamation of Independent State of Croatia, remembrance of the heroic battles fought by its defenders and a day of prayer for all the Croats who were murdered by the Serb Chetniks and Yugoslav communists during and after WWII just because they wanted a Croatian state.
The Serbs and the Yugoslavs and the communists did not rise in 1941 against NDH because of “Ante Pavelic’s regime” but because they did not accept any form, not even the most democratic form of a Croatian state. Although these same opponents of NDH to this very day hide and try to circumvent the fact of the political WWII state regimes the truth is that by May 1942 Serbia had been one of the first European countries to declare itself officially and with sinister pride as “Judenfrei” (Jew free) and had by then under Milan Nedic’s regime exterminated some 94% of its Jewish population!
I hold that with the establishment in 1991 of today’s independent Croatia the Day of Croatian Statehood that is celebrated on 25 June is the symbol of absolute victory of the Croatian people for a lasting and democratic freedom than what 10 April symbolizes because in 1990’s Croatian people had without anybody’s help and in unity defended their right to self-determination and freedom.
And hence, celebrating 10 April (1941) represents a marking of a historical fact that is placed only as one of many attempts in history to achieve freedom for Croatian people and not as important as 25 June (1991) is. At the end of the day, why should Croatian people be different in this to any other people of the democratic and free world? Why should the Croatian people as a whole permit that their honourable intents for freedom via NDH remain muddied by the events in WWII that have more to do with individual criminal pursuits during WWII and with certain policies and laws brought about during those rapturous and politically explosive times for political power in Europe rather than uplifting the history with the real idea for freedom for Croatian people if we do not expect that from other nations who have, for example, branded their history of colonization and imperialism with equal if not greater criminal undertakings via their state establishments?
I do not celebrate 10 April; I celebrate 25 June as the symbol of free and independent Croatia.
There have been and there always will be those in the “West” and in Croatia who will criticize those who celebrate 10 April; regardless of that, whoever wishes or whoever wants to celebrate 10 April as a symbol of independence as far as I am concerned – let them be – just as I hold no judgments against, for instance, a British person when he/she remembers with fondness the history of British nation despite its devastating murderous sprees across colonised foreign lands in history for power and harnessing of riches from the colonies, from indigenous lands, resources and people, or against a Belgian when he/she celebrates his/her national day, which is soaked in dark colours of genocide in its African colonies, or some Russian his/her Victory Day – soaked in blood of some 30 million innocent victims of Stalinism … At the end, among those nations that were similar to NDH in WWII, NDH was not a greater murderer than what they were, and Croatians have never, like Americans, celebrated the dropping of any atomic bombs nor can they be compared to Israelis, who after the Holocaust tragedy to today are seen by many as hangmen of the Palestinians – and so, who has the right to judge those who celebrate 10 April in the name of independence and self-determination?
Boka CroPress: When we talk about or mention the WWII Independent State of Croatia, how do we place ourselves in relation to the crimes that were perpetrated then?
Ina Vukic: Personally I hate and condemn all crimes in the world, which have always and which are occurring to this day. In accordance with the measures of humanity there is no justification for crime; not in today’s world even though, to regret, we still find attempts to justify crimes from history – even genocide. Evidently, numerous crimes of extermination of various peoples in history (except the Holocaust) have become a political tool to which punishment does not belong! And hence, the world has been brought into a contemptible reality in which differing standards of tolerance for enormous historical crimes exist. The Communists will say, for example, that the crimes against innocent people were necessary for “freedom”! Members of nations who had in centuries past engaged in brutal extermination of indigenous people in the countries they colonised, might shrug and say something like: “yes, it was horrible but necessary in those times of promoting and creating prosperity for the people of our country and for the enlightenment of the indigenous people in those wild lands!”
In such political wilderness of the world, where the innocent victim of crime often represents a negligible value, it is important to fight for justice for victims. Because, there is nor has there ever been a lasting or real reconciliation without the real, the true justice in the eyes of humanity, regardless of how much politicians try to convince us that it’s not like that, that the horrors of certain crimes can be overcome without condemnation, without justice. That kind of reconciliation without justice for the victim is very dangerous because it implies forgiveness and/or forgetfulness, which in reality feed the possibility of the same crimes being perpetrated in the future.
In relation to the crimes perpetrated in NDH (and soon after WWII) Croatia has always been and remained a victim of discrimination against innocent victims. That is, the crimes of the Holocaust have been processed and perpetrators pursued but those – the communists or antifascists as they like to be called now – who perpetrated equally horrid crimes against innocent people and their crimes have persistently been swept under the carpet, hidden, or their crimes, if recognized, even justified as ‘necessary’! I believe that this is where the roots lie of the widespread plight for justice among Croats after WWII to this day and in this plight we can often see emotions of guilt, anger and pain.
The crimes that were perpetrated within NDH during WWII are an undeniable fact and this fact must be acknowledged with regret even though the Croats of today are not responsible for those crimes. However, it is essential to include in those crimes the crimes committed by the communists and the Partisans, who more and more like to refer to themselves as antifascists even though they fought for Yugoslavia and not the freedom of Croatian people. Therefore, it is essential to recognise and accept as fact all crimes – including those perpetrated in the NDH – as something that is repugnant and unnatural to humanity.
It is morally wrong to judge the crimes committed in the name of NDH without, in the same breath, judging the crimes committed by the communists of those times.
In the matter of crimes of WWII many automatically think only of the crime of the Holocaust, which is unacceptable in today’s world – absolutely unacceptable. If we are people that seek and pursue justice then we must confront, or place in the same basket of historical horror all of the crimes perpetrated against innocent people regardless of who the perpetrator was. It’s not without a reason that those who had in Croatia justified and defended communist crimes, or those who still do, had not welcomed with open arms the relatively recent unshakable research findings by dr Esther Gitman of the rescue and survival of Jews in NDH, including the enormous role Blessed Aloysius Stepinac played in the rescue of the Jews. The communists had hidden the truth about Stepinac’s goodness after WWII and falsely convicted him, as they did other Croatian rescuers of the Jews, as Nazi collaborator – and even today, despite these and other similar findings – they keep to their false convictions like cowards that deserve the harshest of punishment and ostracizing through processes such as Lustration would be!
How to place ourselves vis-à-vis the crimes committed during NDH? The only answer is – with the harshest of judgments! All crimes are a profound anomaly of humanity and only through judgment can we place them where they belong: into a sad history that still needs clearing and that still needs to be woven with the full truth! If I had governing power in Croatia of today I would demolish to the ground all the monuments raised to mark the so-called communist-antifascist battles during former Yugoslavia, I would leave Jasenovac and other monuments to the victims of the Holocaust and I would build equally large monuments to the victims of communist crimes.
Boka Cropress: What is the main message for the young generation in relation to the celebration of the historic 10 April?
Ina Vukic: I believe that I have laid out the main messages for the young in my answers to the above questions. Nevertheless, I think that the most important thing for the young is to separate that date from 1941 of NDH declaration from the intent to achieve an independent Croatia. If they manage to achieve this then 10 April will become less important because it is a strong reminder that NDH was a failed attempt at creating an independent state of Croatia.
The liberation process and the defensive (Homeland) war of the1990’s were successful because the majority of people believed in freedom and wanted freedom for centuries before 1941, just as they did after NDH, as best demonstrated by the 1970’s Croatian Spring uprisings, and also because of the efforts invested for freedom from the diaspora where there were more of those that did not than those that did celebrate 10 April – but none wanted to live as Yugoslavs.
And so, today’s Croatia’s independence is the act and achievement of a far greater section of the Croatian national body of people than what is represented by the followers of “Ante Pavelic’s” NDH and, since we are talking about celebrating Croatia’s independence, I think it fairer and more proud to accept that fact and celebrate 25 June because that date truly includes all who had in any way fought for Croatian independence without the defining and morally unacceptable reliance upon any foreign power and might – this independence and democracy of Croatia created in 1990’s is the product of the work of the Croats!