Competitive Victimhood – Injustice For Victims Of Communist Crimes


All good people owe it to the victims of communism to learn what happened to them and pursue justice for them. It has often been said, and I agree, that until Croatia’s left and those operationally associated with communism in former Yugoslavia acknowledge how evil communism had been we will continue to live in a morally confused world, unable to move forward into freedom and democracy.

Lord help you if you ever dare to utter the truth that Communism in Europe exterminated more people than Nazism! You should know better! You should know that you live in a politically shaped dystopian world, which beats fear into the bones at any such thought – for the Holocaust must be maintained as the largest politically motivated mass murder of all times! If you are courageous enough to use suppressed historical facts and, using these, argue differently, then you are labelled with negative connotations as being a historical revisionist. You are stigmatised without mercy, rhyme or reason.

The apparent need to compete over victimhood is perhaps one of the greatest inhibitors of reconciliation processes, and removing it can crucially contribute to an enduring peace.

In the context of genocidal pursuits, I and all fair-minded people are not interested in the question of who was worse, but I and all fair-minded people are interested in justice for all victims, whether they be those of the Holocaust or those of communist purges and crimes.

I don’t want nor intend to contribute to the growing phenomenon of competitive victimhood, which has undoubtedly developed by the elevation of one group of victims and the belittling and the dehumanising of the other, and in which various persecuted or formerly persecuted groups scramble for public pity and financial compensation while other groups are made to suffer continued injustice and erosion of their human dignity. But it seems to me that to compare and contrast the two main types of 20th century totalitarian regimes (Nazism and Communism), and to discuss them as evidence of similar evil tendencies in human nature, is not only legitimate, but banal: Hannah Arendt did it way back in the 1950s. Arendt coined the phrase “banality of evil”, which has ramifications for both totalitarianism as a project and the pathways of resistance. The very fact that it doesn’t seem banal to everyone-that to talk about Hitler and Stalin (Tito in Yugoslavia’s case) together can still raise hackles and cause offence-is indicative of precisely the phenomenon tackling competitive victimhood.

While the word “genocide” may, to some, be inappropriate to apply to all of the multitudes of communist mass murders, communism and Nazism can be said to have shared at least one essential trait: both kinds of regime legitimated themselves by using the rhetoric of dehumanisation, and by establishing categories of enemies who were persecuted and destroyed on a mass scale. Most people of the “West” may have grown up not knowing that communist regimes had committed horrible crimes on a grand scale and it is time those communist crimes are treated everywhere for the evil they were. Most people across former Yugoslavia, including Croatia, have until 1990’s grown up not knowing about the horrible crimes committed by the communists.

And hence, I turn to an article written and published ( this past week by Menachem Z. Rosensaft, General Counsel of the World Jewish Congress, in which he twists the truth of the Jasenovac remembrance plaque for Croatian HOS (Croatian Defence Forces) defenders killed in the area in action of defending Croatia from 1990’s Serb aggression and includes the twist into his misguided and utterly politically coloured claim that “Croatia Is Brazenly Attempting to Rewrite its Holocaust Crimes Out of History”. It seems to me that the only purpose of this article is to add fuel to the existing concocted fire that stigmatises modern Croatia as a place that broke away from communism (at overwhelming human and material costs) not because of the unbearable communist system criminal oppression but because of some trumped-up nostalgia for WWII Ustashi system.

Memorial plaque to 11 HOS
defenders killed in Jasenovac in 1991

In late 2016,” writes Rosensaft, “far-right political figures and veterans of the 1990-era Croatian Defense Forces put up a plaque in the Croatian municipality of Jasenovac that featured the ‘Za dom spremni’ (For Home Ready) slogan. The ostensible reason for putting up the plaque was to commemorate 11 fighters of the Croatian military who died during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Croatian journalist Vojislav Macoko placed the controversy squarely in historical and moral perspective. Setting the plaque in the town of Jasenovac was ‘unacceptable’ for a number of reasons, he said. ‘The first is that it is unacceptable to erect a monument with such a greeting because it’s the Ustasha salute. This is public glorification of domestic Nazism. The other reason is because it is, of course, Jasenovac’.”

Sorry Rosensaft, but there is nothing ostensible about raising a plaque marking the location area where the Croatian defenders died in 1991 and placing on the plaque the image of the legally valid insignia under which the killed soldiers fought to defend Croatia from the brutal Serb aggression. The patriotic salute “For Home Ready” has its roots in centuries old history of the Croatian people, not in WWII.

It is significant to note that Rosensaft chose not to quote any of the Croatian journalists whose statements regarding the plaque aligned with this truth; he chose the one that suited his political agenda that appears to undermine Croatia’s 1990’s fight against communism and the current attempts by many to reveal and prosecute communist crimes to the full. What seems disturbing is the likelihood that Rosensaft may uphold the right of the WWII Jasenovac victims to have memorial plaques in the locations they perished in but denies the same right to the victims of Serb and communist Yugoslavia onslaught against Croatia in 1990’s!

A brief detour is necessary here to address the campaign in many formerly communist Eastern and central European countries to place Nazism and Communism on the same moral plane, or even to depict Stalinism and the various post-Stalinist strains of communism as worse—more evil, if you will—than Nazism,” writes Rosensaft. “Without in any way minimizing the oppression and suffering endured by large parts of the populations under Communist regimes, it is beyond question that no post-WWII Communist regime anywhere in Europe committed or attempted to commit genocide. To be sure, there were large-scale political imprisonments, far-reaching deprivations of civil and human rights, and politically motivated killings.”

Oh calamity! To Rosensaft, in excess of 64 million communist crime body count in Europe (source R.J. Rummel) including 1.1 million in communist Yugoslavia is a mere “politically motivated killing”, not genocide. No, probably not just genocide – but definitely democide; “the murder of any person or people by their government, including genocide, politicide and mass murder” (R.J. Rummel).

However,” Rosensaft continues, “as Yehuda Bauer stated eloquently in response to a 2009 resolution of the European Parliament determining Aug. 23, the anniversary of the signing of the 1939 Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact, as a date to commemorate the victims of both regimes, ‘to compare this with the murder of many millions of Europeans by the Nazi regime, and especially with the state-planned genocide of the Jews (Holocaust) in the context of Nazi crimes generally … is a distortion of history.’ The comparison is especially invidious, as Bauer made clear, because ‘a certain number’ of those persecuted by the Communists ‘had, in fact, been Nazi collaborators.’

This was certainly the case in Croatia, where the post-war Tito regime engaged in large-scale killing of members of the Ustasha, but this was in revenge and retaliation for the crimes—and they were crimes—committed by the Ustasha during their reign. Such politically motivated excesses, however heinous, cannot be compared, let alone equated, with the genocides that the Ustasha had unleashed on Serbs, Jews, and Roma…

Rosensaft omits to write about the innocent civilians and citizens mass murdered by the Tito’s communist regime and Serbian Chetniks during and after WWII. He omits to tell the public that Jasenovac camp remained opened for some years after WWII where, it is claimed, multitudes of politically undesirable Croats perished under communist regime and those body counts thrown into the WWII body count. Let’s trust in the possible wisdom and will of humanity that this part of the dark history will come to light as research takes the path of good will towards victims.

Rosensaft in his article appears to justify mass murder committed against Croats under political guises of communist revenge and retaliation, giving an outrageous bias to his article in terms of both humanity and justice. To him, it would seem, revenge and retaliation are acceptable but only for the communists to use! No need to think too hard why all this may be so.

Rosensaft goes on to write about the historical recordings of the Holocaust victims in Croatia by Ivo and Slavko Goldstein without telling the readers that Goldsteins were writing history as part of and under the protection and licence of the communist Yugoslavia machinery. The machinery that from the start set out to stigmatise Croats, the WWII independence from Yugoslavia politics, as the only people within the territory of former Yugoslavia to had engaged in persecution and murder of Jews, despite the fact that Serbia was one of the first European countries to declare itself “Jew-free” by having exterminated 94% of Serbian Jews by mid-1942! He omits to mention the unbearable Serb-led oppression against Croats that lasted for decades within the post-WWI concoction known as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

In a 2011 New York Times interview, talking about genocide, the same Rosensaft stated that “There are always political elements to these cases. There are always ambiguities.” And in 2017, in the article referred to in this article, he has the gall to justify and colour as acceptable the communist political motivations for mass murders but not those of the other side of the political spectrum of WWII Croatia!

Since WWII politics form a large part of Rosensaft’s reflection upon the tragedy that the Holocaust was for humanity his article would hold much more credibility had his analysis of current day Croatian efforts to expose and deal with communist crimes also included the WWII and post-WWII communist politics. We should feel continuing revulsion at the crimes of both communism and Nazism, but Rosensaft seems to have occupied a seat in the victimhood competition wagon where victims of the Holocaust are to be regarded as somehow more deserving of human compassion than those of communism. To me, a wrongful death resulting from walking into a gas chamber is no worse than the one resulting from being bludgeoned and pushed alive into a pit. The historical fact is that communism spread further and lasted longer than Nazism and, in that, it produced more victims. Surely, even Rosensaft needs to acknowledge that fact without painting the plights in Croatia to pay tribute and deliver justice to the victims of communist crimes as some twisted historical revisionism! Ina Vukic

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