Reactions by the Croatian government, the Opposition and the office of the President to the attacks made on Croatian soil by Serbia’s minister for employment and social affairs, Aleksandar Vulin, against Croatia’s Blessed Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac and the practice by which all victims of WWII and post-WWII, regardless of who committed the murders – whether Nazis, Fascist or Communist – deserve same respect and compassion, have been appalling.
On Sunday 21 June 2015 Serbia’s minister Vulin represented Serbia’s government at the commemoration for the victims that perished at the WWII concentration camp Jadovno run by the Ustashe. The commemoration was organised by the Serb National Council (SNV), the Co-ordinating Body of Jewish Municipalities in Croatia, the Karlovac Serb Orthodox diocese, and the Association of Anti-Fascists and Anti-Fascist Fighters of Croatia.
Serbia’s minister Aleksandar Vulin came there with the intention of offending today’s Croatia and today’s Croatian people, and the truth about Blessed Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac who is due to be pronounced a saint by the Vatican. In an angry and hateful voice Vulin shouted as he repeatedly referred to Aloysius Stepinac as the “Ustashe Vicar”:
“What do I say to the murdered Serbian children who after 74 years, on the streets of the most beautiful cities, hear the same song and names of those who had thrown them into the pit? What kind of a life is it that recommended the Vicar of the Ustashe to be made a Saint,” insinuating ominously that WWII-style fascism fills the streets of today’s Croatia.
Vulin then yelled, as if struck by vicious rabies, that the “same hands cannot lay wreaths at Bleiburg and Jasenovac”. With the latter he meant that the victims of the Holocaust and the victims of Communist crimes cannot be considered equally as victims! Even if both groups were butchered or slaughtered by equally brutal means and politically similar intents. This is so very wrong and the world and truth have no chance of peace with such views.
There have certainly been many efforts across the world by various personalities in differentiating between the victims of the Holocaust and the victims of Communist crimes. Efforts to place victims of the Holocaust much higher than those of Communist regimes on a scale that measures some concocted “severity of victimhood” – as if being a victim of murder isn’t a state of equal atrocity in all circumstances. The tantrum and the insulting words said by Serbia’s minister Vulin on Croatian soil must be condemned and discredited strongly by Croatian state leadership. All we’ve heard from them so far is that “Croatia is above Vulin’s provocation”, “Vulin is not our problem, he is not Croatia’s problem … Vulin is Serbia’s prime minister’s problem”, “Vulin does not deserve attention”, “this is not the time nor the place to react to such statements”… Appalling! Evasive! Half-baked! Offends!
Not good enough!
Undoubtedly, there are those who argue that responding to a fool’s words (and Vulin is a fool, to say the least) dignifies both the fool and his/her words and so, it’s best not to react, not to reply…The problem with this train of thought is that by following it one actually achieves the exact results that the fool (Vulin) wanted and these are: the wounding and the hurt of the people one is supposed to protect from hurt!
Vulin is Croatia’s problem because he insults the truth, he insults the Croatian people who live and have lived and have given their lives for the Croatian truth! Every Croatian politician, every leader must protect and defend that truth and not permit anyone to spit on the memory of the truth such as the one that comes with the goodness of Blessed Aloysius Stepinac and the suffering of all victims of crimes inspired by any motives.
Not a single Croatian leader had, at least, reminded Serbia’s minister Vulin, and thereby – Serbia, that Croatia’s WWII Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac is being prepared for sainthood in the Catholic Church because of his good deeds, which include his significant role in saving many Jews, Serbs, Roma etc. from WWII Nazi extermination! After all, all are aware of indisputable research findings by Dr. Esther Gitman (Rescue and Survival of Jews in the Independent State of Croatia, 1941-1945) and yet failed to mention even that in response to Vulin’s profound insults to the truth!
What chance has the truth got without its champions; without its champions whose voices are heard far and wide? None!
What truly offends every decent human being is that Vulin comes from Serbia to condemn the Nazi-led exterminations in WWII Croatia and neither says or suggests even a tiny squeak about Nazi-led exterminations in Serbia under prime minister Milan Nedic and the Chetnik butcher Draza Mihailovic, executed after WWII for collaboration with the Nazis and rehabilitated by today’s Serbia – Vulin’s Serbia!
Vulin’s WWII Serbia was the second country in Europe, after Estonia, to be declared “Judenfrei” (Jew Free) as it exterminated 94% of its Jews by mid-1942. It collaborated with the Nazis with open arms and, sadly, there was not a single politician in Croatia last week that took the time to remind the world of this fact – loudly and decisively rejecting Vulin and his hateful speech at Jadovno.
The places for Vulin’s condemnation are on Serbia’s sites of the WWII concentration camps Sajmiste, Banjica, Topovske Supe … not on Croatia’s sites! I have had enough of Serbia’s leaders pointing fingers at WWII camps in Croatia in order to hide those in Serbia! I am so desperately disappointed at Croatia’s leaders for failing to protect the whole truth of WWII and failing to show Vulin the way back to Serbia and Serbia’s perished Jews and Romany people at the hands of Serbia’s WWII thugs.
Vulin as almost all Serbs I have come across, met or read about, are very eager and willing to talk about the Holocaust in Croatia, because the dominant narrative there is that Serbs perished with Jews! But if you ask them about Serbia, it is a remnant of how things were seen in the communist Yugoslavia era, in which there was no recognition of the Holocaust in Serbia! Also – no recognition of extermination of Romany people even if they did perish alongside the Jews in WWII Serbia. And if one stumbled upon some recognition of the Holocaust in Serbia then that Holocaust was somebody other than Serb’s fault! Well the occupying Nazi did not and could not achieve the extermination of Jews in Serbia without crucial collaboration from the Serbs and Serbia’s government.
Vulin’s hateful speech at Jadovno, Croatia, Sunday June 21, is another notch that clearly demonstrates the fact that when sponsoring Holocaust memory Serbia actually has other ideas in mind rather than promoting human and minority issues. In Serbia the Holocaust memory is utilised and tailored in such a way that while in theory it preaches human and minority rights, in practice, it not only actually promotes nationalism and Serbian victimhood “but also disguises the discourse on the role of Serbia in the wars of the 1990’s…This role of victim turns out to be a comfortable one for shutting down any political spaces where open public discussions on the role of Serbia in the wars of the 1990’s would be possible: if I am a victim I cannot be responsible for anything, and no one can argue with me because it would be showing a lack of respect for a victim. It is actually a powerful position and it is used to escape any responsibility for the crimes in the wars of 1990’s,” (History and Politics in the Western Balkans, Srdjan M. Jovanovic and Vjeran Stancetic, 2013) and it is used to escape any responsibility for WWII and any other wars in which Serbs butchered mercilessly. The latest example of obscene use of tailored Serbian victimhood is in Serbia’s announcement that Serbia and Serbian Republic in Bosnia and Herzegovina (created on genocide such as Srebrenica, on ethnic cleansing) will jointly be commemorating August 5th as the Remembrance Day of Serbian Victims and Deported! Remember, August 5th is the day that Croatia celebrates victory the 1990’s Serb aggression and occupation!
Serbia says it wants to join the European Union. That process will surely require more work in resolving regional tensions that originate especially from WWII, post-WWII and during the 1990’s wars of Serb aggression since communist Yugoslavia crumbled. Hopefully the process will bring pressure on Serbia to confront the fate of many thousands of Serbian Jews. Serbia is a signatory to the non-binding 2009 Terezin declaration, Holocaust Era Asset Conference , committing to return property to the families of Holocaust victims and to ensure mass graves are identified and protected. Even if the implementation has been stalled – it will come, it will, it must. Perhaps the lack of due reaction from Croatian leadership to Vulin’s insults against Blessed Aloysius Stepinac and victims of communist crimes has something to do with the fact that Croatian leadership, like Serbia’s is filled with former communists who have divided the most valuable assets belonging to exterminated or exiled Jews among themselves after WWII! Hopefully, the process of reaching EU membership will also bring pressure on Serbia to own up to the atrocities it perpetrated in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina during 1990’s.
Serbia lags alarmingly behind several of its neighbours in recognising the crimes committed against Jews on its soil. Neighbouring Hungary, Croatia and Macedonia each have museums dedicated to the Holocaust. A small museum in Serbia, founded in the 1960s, looks at the general history of Jews in Yugoslavia. Serbia has mastered the art suppressing its ugly truth and the art of air brushing certain historical episodes while burnishing others to its undeserved benefit and it seems Croatia’s leadership is letting Serbia’s envoys blacken it’s brilliant son – the Blessed Aloysius Stepinac – on its own soil. It seems Croatia’s leaders of today are going along with Serbia’s efforts to suppress its own WWII ugly history! How painfully disappointing! The huge elephant in the room – the Croatian enemy that Serbia still is – exists; stop pretending it does not! Croatian people deserve better words and deeds from their leaders than what they experienced around the Vulin insults at Jadovno last Sunday 21st June. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)