Esther Gitman’s Book “Alojzije Stepinac: Pillar of Human Rights” Now at Yad Vashem

Dr Esther Gitman (R), President of Israel Reuven Rivlin (C)
President of Republic of Croatia Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (C-back turned) at Beit HaNassi July 29, 2019
Photo: Private collection

The gift given by President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic on July 29, 2019 at Yad Vashem Centre in Jerusalem to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has gone almost unnoticed in both Croatia and Israel media! True, it rarely happens that the media writes about gifts that the heads of state exchange, but it’s also true that a great deal of attention and effort always stand behind every such gift. On these occasions, gifts are always given as a sign of respect and a reflection of the relationship between the gift-giving state and the state whose president receives the gift, and the gift often becomes more than the mere formality of the act of gift exchange – it also becomes a reminder of what is of particular importance within the alliance between two countries, between the giver and the recipient of the gift.

Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (Second from L) Reuven Rivlin (C) Esther Gitman (R) at Beit HaNassi July 29 2019
PHOTO: Private Collection

The President of the Republic of Croatia presented in Yad Vashem to the President of Israel a book by the author Dr. Esther Gitman “Alojzije Stepinac: Pillar of Human Rights”! Not only did the President of the Republic of Croatia, in February 2019, decorate Dr. Esther Gitman with the “Order of Prince Branimir with a Necklace” for the special merits deserved through researching, documenting and promoting the truth about 20th-century Croatian history, as well as for deepening of understanding between the Croatian and Jewish people, in July, she gifted Dr. Gitman’s book to the President of Israel which evidences the indisputable truth about the work and efforts of Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac in rescuing Jews in World War II. Bearing in mind that in June 2019, at the University of Split, Dr. Esther Gitman was awarded an Honorary Doctorate for her historical research and writings about Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, then the gift that President Grabar Kitarovic presented to President Rivlin comes as a bright link in the circle of strengthened presentation to the world the goodness which, despite various propagandistic attempts denying the goodness of Alojzije Stepinac, still existed and is a fact, and therefore indisputable.

Dr Esther Gitman and her book:
“Alojzije Stepinac: Pillar of Human Rights”

It is to be hoped that this book by Dr. Esther Gitman on the rescue of Jews in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina during World War II by its very presence in Yad Vashem through President Rivlin will usher in rays of illumination of the truth there where it brings great value for both the Croatian and the Jewish people. For, many years have passed in which the alleged truth about Blessed Aloysius Stepinac was not based on facts but on a fabricated and politically coloured spectrum of dark colours and untruths.

In the evening of July 29, 2019, an official dinner was held in Beit HaNassi, the residence of Reuven Rivlin, President of Israel, specifically to welcome Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, President of the Republic of Croatia. Usually, such events are often briefly mentioned in daily news, but this festive dinner in Jerusalem carries something special and precious, not only that the Croatian and Israeli flags were flying in front of Beit HaNassi, but also some very special guests were inside the presidential residence – Dr. Esther Gitman with her husband Dr. Israel Gitman.

Dr Esther Gitman had dinner with the President of the Republic of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, and the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin.

A week before the visit of the Croatian President to Israel, the Croatian Embassy in Israel informed Dr. Esther Gitman of the President’s arrival and announced that she would be contacted by the office of Israeli President Rivlin. She was invited by President Rivlin to that official and festive dinner as a Croatian guest and her husband Israel as an Israeli guest.

Before her arrival at the dinner, Dr. Gitman photographed the streets around the presidential residence, which were decorated with Croatian and Israeli flags, imagining how much her Croatian friends would like to see the pictures. The cocktails lasted for an hour and dinner for two hours. Dr Gitman was told that Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, on the occasion of her official visit to Yad Vashem earlier that day, had gifted to President Rivlin her book “Alojzije Stepinac: The Pillar of Human Rights”. That would have been the main reason for her being invited to the presidential dinner at the Israeli President’s residence. The work of Blessed Aloysius Stepinac is indeed great in the history of the whole world, because in the terrible times of World War II, only a few people throughout Europe committed themselves so much to fighting against injustice, against human suffering and human rights violations.

Beit HaNassi, Jerusalem, July 29, 2019
Photo: Private collection

According to Dr. Gitman, the President of Israel, Rivlin, welcomed President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic at the festive dinner, emphasising their warm relations and intentions for cooperation. The Croatian president also thanked the Israeli president for emphasising their plans for future co-operation.

What was really humorous,” Dr. Gitman told me, “was when the presidents stopped while walking out of the hall where the dinner was taking place and talked to the guests, and I introduced my husband, Israel, and he with a smile on my face quickly managed to tell President Grabar Kitarovic ‘you have a beautiful country and I gave that country my most precious possession – my wife’. The Israeli president who stood by my husband Israel’s side at the time said to my husband that the president highly respects his wife.”

I hope somebody from Yad Vashem reads my book or at least part of it! Croatia was trashed for so many years by Serbia, Croats were portrayed as murderers as anti-Semites that killed not only Jews but also Serbs, Roma and other dissidents. The Israelis are unaware that throughout the war the Serbs had armies. The Chetniks, the Milan Nedic’s army so favoured by Hitler that they received closed trucks to kill in them 50 Jews at the time! The ignorance is embracing, the information was concealed for 70 years, few only know that Belgrade was the first city in Europe free of Jews. And that 90 percent of the Jews perished there. Sorry, but for this ignorance I must blame the Croatian historians who for the past 25 years failed to tell the world what had transpired! Yes, many Ustashe were murderers, they committed heinous crimes, but there were good people who helped. Yes, even this criminal Ustashe regime saved Jewish Physicians and instituted against the Nazi will concepts such as Aryan Rights and Honorary Aryans. Just to save those whom the regime needed and respected. Stepinac rescued those in mixed marriages, orphans, 58 elderly and prevented a major catastrophe when they prevented Bastianini Giuseppe, the governor of the Italian zones, to ship back to the Ustashe all the Jews who managed to escape!” Dr. Gitman said answering my question about what President of the Republic of Croatia gifting her book to the President of Israel in Yad Vashem personally means to her.

This article of yours is not a place for all these details, but we must spread the truth and not only about Stepinac but the Croatian people and Stepinac in his sermons aimed at instilling in them the duty of saving human lives,” Dr. Gitman commented at the end of our talk. Ina Vukic

 

Croatia: Majority (Croat) Rights Vs. Minority (Serb) Rights

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, President of Croatia (L)
Ivan Penava, Mayor of Vukovar (R)
Photo: uredpredsjednice.hr

When the Constitutional Court of Croatia (of any country) evidently and blatantly misses the beat of its own country’s heart (and reason for existence – in the case of Croatia that reason is victory over brutal Serb aggression in the Homeland War) then one could justly pose the question of whether the nation should permit such undermining of its defining morality and character that are the beacons for justice and, if you like, full democracy. When minority rights are taken out of the context of national suffering and the need to pursue justice for the victims of brutal aggression, one inevitably ends up with major problems and discontent; and blatant unfairness at the basic human level. And so, while on the one hand Croatia battles a political crisis with overtures of restructure of its government, Serb minority rights claims are in a hot seat that requires determination and resolve to end Serb provocation in Croatia once and for all.

For most lawyers, constitutional courts’ success in protecting democracy should be measured by their jurisprudential record – their performance according to legal professional standards of appropriate decision-making. On this view of things, courts are essentially reactive institutions. The only power they have to influence the quality of democracy is to interpret democratic rights in the cases they happen to be asked to decide. For many political scientists, this legalistic measure is inadequate. What needs to be assessed is the actual impact of a court’s decisions on the overall quality of democracy, i.e. life in the country that cannot ignore the priority of essential needs of its people, or majority. On this account, constitutional courts have much greater agency than lawyers give them credit for. They should be seen as political institutions with the capacity to adjust their decisions according to their likely effects. Especially in developing democracies such as Croatia, which still has a long way to go towards delivering justice for victims of Serb aggression of early 1990’s. But given that most judges still sitting in that court in Croatia are remnants of the Yugoslav communist minds the political pull or effects of Constitutional Court judgments have so far mostly gone towards Yugo-nostalgia rather than independent Croatia. If it were the latter Croatia would not, almost 30 years after the Homeland War still be gasping and pleading for justice and human fairness towards the enormous number of victims of Serb aggression.

Ivan Penava, the Mayor of Vukovar, has Friday 19 July 2019 accused sections of Croatian society of turning their heads away from the Homeland War and its victims.

I hear in the statements these days: He does not respect the Constitution, we are modern, we are liberal and we insist that the Constitution be respected. Gentlemen, for 28 years you have not respected that same Constitution and now you have the cheek to come to a city that was destroyed and bombarded with 6.5 million grenades … You hold such attitudes and you come to Vukovar to ask the Mayor if he will respect the Constitution. Yes he will; this has never been an issue. The Mayor will be the first to respect it. However, I ask you where your humanness and cheek are, when you give yourself the right to come here and ask such a question,” Ivan Penava told reporters accusing parts of the Croatian society of having turned their heads away from the Homeland War, from the raped, the missing, the killed and raped and do not see problems with which the people of Vukovar are faced.

“We are not talking about Peter and Mark here. We are talking about thousands of those killed and imprisoned, of hundreds that were raped and again of thousands of displaced people, of those whose rights were denied them. For many of these it’s unfortunately too late for any kind of justice,” concluded Ivan Penava.

This Penava reaction comes post Croatian Constitutional Court decision of 2 July 2019, which determined that Vukovar City councillors from the Serb ethnic minority should have the same conditions as councillors of Croatian ethnicity. I.e., among other things that Council meeting minutes, agendas etc. should be made available in the Serbian Cyrillic script.

According to HINA News Agency report Mayor Ivan Penava said Friday that for the town authorities it was not at all disputable whether or not he would respect the decision of the Constitutional Court, which concluded that the rights of the Serb national minority in Vukovar had to be improved, and he also said that no law was self-contained purpose but must be in the service of the people.

In August 2015, Vukovar changed its town statute to say that the collective rights of the Serb minority [re street signs, government building signs etc.) in the area of the town of Vukovar are to be ensured when the conditions are met.

Under this change, councillors in Vukovar of Serb extraction could get documents issued in the Serbian Cyrillic language/script, but only if they made specific written requests for that.

The Vukovar council voted for the changes in November 2013, proclaiming Vukovar a “city of special significance” exempt from Croatian minority rights legislation because of what it suffered when it was besieged and destroyed by Serbian forces in 1991.

The move came after months of protests sparked by the official introduction of bilingualism, as envisaged by Croatian law in places where a minority makes up more than 30 per cent of the population, as Vukovar’s Serb community does. It must be remembered though that this percentage has been disputed on the fact that no credible census was had to establish it and that the percentage claimed could well have been falsely boosted by Serbs who are registered as living in Vukovar but in fact reside in Serbia.

However, Croatia’s Committee on Human and National Minority Rights complained about the statute changes and requested an evaluation of their constitutionality.

2 July 2019 Constitutional Court decision overturned some of the Vukovar Town Council statue changes, decreeing that Serbs – whether councillors or members of the public – must be able to get official documents in their own language and script.

Miroslav Separovic, President of the Constitutional Court said that Vukovar Town Council will have to extend the level of the rights of the Serbian ethnic minority and that the court will not tolerate any delays because nothing has been done so far.

While the President of the Republic of Croatia cannot comment on the decision of the Constitutional Court Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic did, however, on Friday 19 July, point to Article 8 of the Constitutional Law on the Rights of National Minorities, which states that these rights must be interpreted and applied with the aim of respecting the minorities and the Croat people, developing understanding, solidarity, tolerance and dialogue among them. Grabar Kitarovic holds that under such circumstances, when the fundamental human rights are neglected, the necessary prerequisites for the expansion of special rights that have to become a democratic standard in Croatia have not been procured and she agreed that it is bad to delay them. However, she called for the same criteria to be applied to proceedings against war crimes suspects and that the declaration by appropriate authorities regarding those cannot be delayed, either. Such an attitude is a good prerequisite for regulated relations based on the trust of the majority people and members of the Serbian national minority, especially in the wounded Vukovar.

The Republic of Croatia must pay particular attention to Vukovar, and it is also a duty of the top state authorities to demand the resolution to the injustice felt by the population of Vukovar. It is inconceivable that nobody has been made responsible for the massacre at Borovo Selo and that no one solved the question of 30,000 concentration camp detainees, the missing … How will we justify this from the constitutional as well as from the moral aspect?

Because of this, the position of Ivan Penava, the Mayor of Vukovar, may not be called as disrespectful of the Constitutional Court’s decision, but an invitation, which I personally support, to finally close the issues of the past and thus provide a sincere opportunity for the future. I do not want any separation or conflict between Croats and Serbs, but I call for patience and consideration, which implies accepting the fact that Vukovar is still treating its wounds. I hold that the obligation of state institutions is to make more effort as soon as possible and find the best solutions that will not cause tension and distrust among people, but rather the opposite,” said President Grabar-Kitarović.

Indeed, even at the merely basic level of human fairness one cannot condone the pressure (from Constitutional Court) to implement promulgation of minority rights when that same court has done nothing to pressure the minority (Serb) to act of the rights of the majority (Croats). By saying this I am aware that while deliberating its decision on Serb minority rights in Vukovar the Constitutional Court was well appraised of the majority rights that stand behind the initial limitation, suspension or ban of the Cyrillic script in Vukovar! Ina Vukic

Croatia: Mentality Change Equals Croatian National State

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, President of the Republic of Croatia

26 April 2019 (last leg of Grabar-Kitarovic Presidential mandate):

Addressing a special session of Karlovac County Assembly on County Day on Friday, Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic said that the most significant measure at the moment needs to be “reforming our mentality,” in order to make the Croatians think and work faster, more resolutely and in a better organised manner. She acknowledged with praise Prime Minister the Andrej Plenkovic’s cabinet for reducing taxes and administration levies, however, she claimed that the “most significant reform we need to implement is to reform our mentality,” so that at all levels, we can think and work more resolutely, faster and in a more organised manner.

1 July 2015 (first leg of Grabar-Kitarovic presidential mandate):

“The key for solutions and for coming out from this economic crisis is in increase of jobs but also in change of mentality, strengthening of accountability and political courage,” said Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic at the inaugural meeting of her presidential committee for economic affairs in Croatia, “that is what I want to see in Croatia – economic growth, opening of new jobs, increase of employment, creation of new values and new products, export, fiscal discipline and productivity in public administration. We need to change in order to come out of this situation we are in. Solutions exist, it’s just that we must have enough political courage and accountability in order to implement them.”

The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia in the last point within the Historic Foundations section says the following:

“At the historic turning-point marked by the rejection of the communist system and changes in the international order in Europe, the Croatian nation reaffirmed, in the first democratic elections (1990), by its freely expressed will, its millennial statehood and its resolution to establish the Republic of Croatia as a sovereign state.”

About the need for mentality change

Bravo President Grabar-Kitarovic for reiterating the need to change mentality in Croatia but it’s a clear as a sunny day that Croatia’s government and presidential forces have not rejected the communist system (mentality), rejection of which is fortified in the country’s Constitution. With a heavy dose of bitterness I can understand why, after the Homeland War ended and all Croatian Serb-occupied territory liberated (1998), communist presidents Stjepan Mesic and Ivo Josipovic never bothered to even accentuate to the people of Croatia that a change in mentality was needed in order for Croatia to move ahead; in order to rid it of communist mentality. I say communist mentality even if Grabar-Kitarovic did not define it as such because neither she nor anyone else needs to spell this one out.

And now we have the case of four years wasted since the President had stated the obvious – that Croatia needs a change in mentality – also! President Grabar-Kitarovic is still, after four years, telling Croatian people they need a mentality change or reform. I guess when one doesn’t really seem to care about what one says, just as long as it sounds good for political grandstanding, one is not likely to roll ones sleeves up and do something about it. Her repeated expressions of need to change mentality are evidently mechanical – a parroting exercise.

It is a fact that former communist countries have since 1989 (since the fall of Berlin Wall) been going through a painful metamorphosis on a confusing path toward acceptance of the individual responsibilities freedom brings and of acceptance of democratic values. Croatia is no different except for the fact that nothing has been officially done to drive a mentality change. Individual politicians and academics have been constantly addressing the problem of enormous barriers to progress that communist mindset or mentality represent in Croatia. So it’s not as if Grabar-Kitarovic would have been without allies were she truly mindful enough of tackling mentality change.

It is time for change – now!

The debilitating impact of the communist moral and psychological legacy on the socioeconomic transition into democracy means that even after three decades (almost) of formal independence as a sovereign state, Croatia is still struggling to find its way forward. The fact that former highly positioned communist operatives still hold the fort of key socio-economic and political structures has been and is a source of painful discontent and disappointment; a source of apathy that continues to see dismally low voter turnout at elections and a source of staggering brain drain from the country. It is a source, I believe, that drives the much present call for togetherness and unity of all Croatian patriotic political parties these days of election campaigns for the European Parliament. The sad part is that only very, very few of those calling for such unity mention the need to affirm a Croatian national state; a state of Croatian people (with minorities respected). This line of action would among other benefits, return to the forefront the intentions and plights within the massive and united movement all those years ago of late nineteen eighties and early nineties when almost 94% of voters in Croatia voted at a referendum to rid themselves of communist Yugoslavia.

The communist Yugoslavia regime succeeded in penetrating very deeply into many people’s minds and influenced their way of working, doing business and the sphere of public administration. Corruption, bribery, political pressure, nepotism, theft of public property, reliance on borrowed money to pay wages…all were the hallmarks of the communist mindset and mentality. These echoes of the communist Yugoslavia period are still alarmingly evident in Croatia and while the task of getting rid of them, or mellowing them down to insignificance or non-intrusive level, appears difficult, it is definitely not a Sisyphean one! We have seen that in other former communist countries of Europe, where communist regime’s practices were and are taken head on.

The Croatian governments’ inability to coordinate efforts and prioritise challenges of transitioning from communism resulted in failure to implement judicial and pragmatic economic reforms had further exacerbated many social problems. This political chaos supported wild privatisation, so that the major state-owned companies passed into the hands of well-connected apparatchiks, who continued turning the gaps in institutional and legislative control to their own advantage from the start. The wave of privatisations in the 1990s turned post-Yugoslavia Croatia into a society largely run by new-tycoons, where newly emerged elite with enormous wealth and often decisive control over public policy transformed their economic power into political influence to preserve their dominance; to preserve communist mentality. The roots of nepotism and corruption that existed in communist Yugoslavia are alive and kicking in Croatia.

Promotion of Croatian national identity was considered practically a criminal act in communist Yugoslavia, and Croats living abroad who identified themselves as Croats were hunted down one way or another. All the Yugoslav republics were subject to domination by communist bureaucrats, who were sent far and wide to preserve the Josip Broz Tito’s dictatorship even to remote outskirts of the Western World where Croatian nationals who rejected communism had settled, where the communist Secret Police UDBa assassinated scores. Party control became brutal after WWII, and hundreds of thousands Croatians murdered in communist purges. The fear factor contributed vastly and intentionally to the development of unique national behaviour, which in turn influenced ideology and the operations of various organisations and social institutions. Massive corruption, deeply rooted in the public consciousness, has interfered with post-Yugoslavia economic and political systems in Croatia. Without a change in mentality, the very corruption fuelled by political elites, including those holding the judiciary, will be the bullet that will destroy the Croatian peoples’ dream (a human right) for self-determination.

The theory of behavioural economics suggests that national self-awareness is an important pre-requisite for economic decision-making. Western principles, when forcefully applied to the dominant communist (anti-capitalist) mentality, look like expensive make-up on the wrinkled face of reality. Socio-cultural factors that determine successful transformation (from communist mentality) include individualism vs. collectivism and power distance. The former is self-explanatory as to any healthy thriving of economic development; competition and individual responsibility are at the forefront of thriving economies. In societies with a large power distance, professionals are not consulted but are instructed by the power centres; Croatia still suffers much from this communist regime’s ailment because of which some “elites” think they know everything but will still pretend to seek professional advice.

Today, calling oneself a Croatian patriot (usually meaning the one who was and is against communism) or uttering the age-long greeting “For Home Ready” (Za Dom Spremni) exposes one to being branded as fascist or neo-Nazi, and criminally prosecuted or fined for that greeting! Today, wearing or displaying the communist Yugoslavia red five-pointed star, or Yugoslav flag, does not brand one as anything, nor is it punishable by law! Communism and communist mentality is alive and kicking in Croatia.

Yes, Madam President, political courage is needed and you and most of Croatia’s government cabinet members do not have it! And, courage cannot be learned!

All Croatia needs now is for those who have demonstrated political courage by loudly and continuously advocating for changes from the communist mindset to get voted into government. All Croatians need now is to assert their national right that was asserted through the bloody and brutal Homeland War of Serb aggression; to assert their Croatian national state and measure the extent and values of State sovereignty through it. After all, it was the Croatian people by vast majority who voted to secede from communist Yugoslavia, who fought and lost thousands of lives for it and they have earned the right to finish the task of decommunisation. After all, rejection of communisim is embedded in the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia.

Decommunisation is the only agent that will bring the mentality change President Grabar-Kitarovic is talking about, albeit unconvincingly as to her determination and courage to implement the processes and socio-political structures needed for it. Ina Vukic

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