The past week has marked the 70th anniversary of liberation of WWII concentration camps throughout Europe. In Croatia, on 22 April 1945 some 600 prisoners at the Jasenovac camp revolted and broke out; most were killed in this break out. 22nd April is the official Remembrance Day for the victims of Jasenovac camp.
On that morning in 2015, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic went to Jasenovac memorial site – on her own, alone, somber – bowing in deep respect to the victims who perished there during WWII.
“At this moment, 70 years ago today, began the break out of the Jasenovac camp. I bow to the victims and express deep respect to the people who were tortured and killed here. Those were people who had first and last names, who had families and homes, their identity, their wishes and hopes, their dreams, everything that makes a person unique.
As President of the Republic of Croatia and as a human being I unreservedly condemn the crimes of torture and killings that were perpetrated in this place. The ideology that caused these crimes is condemned both morally and legally. Those politics were the will of the regime that tied itself to the Nazi-Fascist Axis and it dishonourably used the legitimate wish of the Croatian people for its own state.
This is a platform of warning in our time too, to resolutely keep the legacy of freedom, democracy, human rights and acknowledgement of diversity. The Republic of Croatia is rightfully proud of its achievements in the protection of human and minority rights. In order to preserve and advance this high level of freedom, it is especially necessary to educate the young to correctly understand democracy and educate them for true humanism and a society in whose centre will always be man in his uniqueness”, President Grabar-Kitarovic wrote, in the Book Of Impressions at the Jasenovac Memorial Centre.
President Grabar-Kitarovic did not attend on Sunday 26 April 2015 the ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the break-out of inmates from the Ustasha-run Jasenovac, organised by the government, but did send her envoy, Branko Lustig – a survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, who delivered a speech at Jasenovac.
Sunday’s ceremony was attended by surviving former inmates, top Croatian officials, several foreign ambassadors in Croatia, and many other delegations who paid tribute to 83,000 victims of this WW2 camp, says on the Croatian government website (retrieved 29 April 2015).
President Grabar-Kitarovic’s absence from the commemoration on Sunday had given rise to quite a bit of polemicizing and criticising in the Croatian media, almost all of whom failed to pick up on the true meaning and the righteousness of her visit to Jasenovac on Wednesday before.
Just as well Grabar-Kitarovic did not attend the commemoration of 70th anniversary of liberation of Jasenovac last Sunday for it was a disgrace! It was a platform for “Tito’s communist fraternity” that did not focus on the victims who perished there as much as it did on revitalising the personality cult of Josip Broz Tito, the communist regime camouflaged under the term of antifascism. It’s not by accident that in his speech Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said: “For me, there was only one Croatian army in WWII and they were Croatian Partisans and Partisans of Croatia.”
The fact is that Croatian Partisans were members of Yugoslav Army; there was no Croatian Partisan Army. Tito led the Yugoslav Army whose aim was to retain Yugoslavia as a communist federation of states, as opposed to the Kingdom that had crashed as WWII started.
What disappoints and saddens enormously is that Prime Minister Milanovic’s speech at Jasenovac on Sunday did not contain a single word of condolence or sadness for the victims who perished there. He chose to focus on politics! E
How utterly depraved!
There was a march of silence at Auschwitz on Monday 27 January 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of liberation of this Nazi death camp that represents the largest extermination site in human history. In his speech at Auschwitz, after bowing and giving respect to the victims Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski drew a parallel between Nazi Germany and the USSR, recalling the massacre of Polish elites by Soviet forces, BBC reports.
“It is our duty to remember for ourselves and for the future,” Komorowski said, concluding his opening speech to loud applause.
And remembering the victims is what Croatia’s President Grabar-Kitarovic did on Wednesday 22 April at Jasenovac. Were she to be present there on the Sunday 26 April, I would imagine she would have been tempted to draw a similar parallel, only, instead of USSR, in the case of Croatia it would be Tito’s communist Yugoslavia. The crimes of the latter have yet to be condemned and judged; their victims have yet to achieve justice and proper remembrance.
To President Grabar-Kitarovic it’s the victims that matter and she has demonstrated the courage to point the finger of condemnation and abhorrence at all totalitarian regimes responsible for murders and extermination of innocent people.
Speaking on Croatian TV news Tuesday 28 April she confirmed that she would go to the Bleiburg commemoration in mid-May but that she would not hold a speech.
“I repeat, I think that execution sites must not be used to send political messages and politicking but exclusively as a place of commemoration of the victims and condemnation of all totalitarian regimes,” she said.
In May 1945, after the victory of Tito’s Partisans, thousands of unarmed soldiers of the WWII Independent State of Croatia and civilians, with women and children and the aged, had walked on foot the great distance, and often rugged terrain on the way to Bleiburg Austria, in order to seek refugee status in the West. Communism was not what they subscribed to. However, they were returned and handed over by British forces to the Yugoslav Communist authorities and hundreds of thousands were killed during death marches on their way back to Yugoslavia, while some were killed by the Partisans without trial in the Bleiburg field. They too, just like the victims of Jasenovac, of Auschwitz of all death camps, deserve remembrance and respect for they were targeted by communists not because of their ethnicity or religion but because of their political beliefs and plight for independence and democracy.
Equalisation of the Nazi/Fascist Holocaust crimes with Communist crimes is and may be and is undoubtedly seen by many scholars, politicians and ordinary people as the greatest threat to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and that it serves to exculpate populations complicit in the extermination of their Jewish (and other) minorities during WWII. But remembering the crimes of Holocaust must not and should not obstruct or deny the remembering of the crimes of communism and in paying fit tribute to its victims. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)