Croatian Foreign Minister In Israel Proposes Restitution Foundation

Jeruzalem, 30.5.2016. Croatian Foreign Minister Miro Kovac at the Israel Council on Foreign Relations Photo HINA/ MVEP/ ua

Jerusalem, 30.5.2016.
Croatian Foreign Minister
Miro Kovac at the
Israel Council on Foreign Relations
Photo HINA/ MVEP/ ua

 

During his visit to Israel this week Croatia’s foreign minister Miro Kovac delivered a speech on Monday 30 May 2016 before the Israel Council on Foreign Relations (ICFR) in Jerusalem where he proposed the establishment of a joint Croatian, US, and Israeli foundation that would contain a fund to deal with restitution issues. The Jerusalem-based Israel Council on Foreign Relations is devoted to the study and debate of foreign policy, with special emphasis on Israeli and Jewish concerns. The ICFR functions under the auspices of the World Jewish Congress.

 

Matters of restitution to victims of the Holocaust in Europe go back many years and beside several matters also deal with the return of Jewish property confiscated by the Nazi or pro-Nazi regimes in Europe or compensating the Jewish community for the losses.

 

Croatia’s property restitution laws of the early 1990’s, covering property nationalised during the communist era, were amended in July 2002 to allow non-Croatian citizens to file claims in certain cases. Earlier U.S. – Yugoslav agreements compensated claims pertaining to property expropriated between1939-1948. The process ended in the 1960’s.

 

Given that Yugoslav communists not only did not return to the Jews the property taken during WWII by the Ustashi regime but as they came to power in 1945 they took even more, it is quite unfair and unnerving that the Jewish community still like to mainly refer to the restitution as restitution of property taken during the Holocaust years when if fact the property was taken away all over again by the communists after May 1945 whose head office was in Belgrade, Serbia. Such practices were greedily echoed in other post-WWII European communist countries. Communists, especially high-ranking ones distributed the best and most valuable property to themselves and their families – with eternal right to tenancy for no or for absurdly low rents. Many Serbs were recipients of these properties in Croatia after WWII as they worked for the Party, for the Yugoslav Army everywhere including Croatia and one cannot but wonder whether the persistent blaming of Croatia’s WWII Ustashi regime for for the confiscation of Jewish property has anything to do with continued cover-up of Serbia’s role in the Holocaust that occurred in WWII Serbia.

 

 

To demonstrate my point, when it was announced in late 2014 that Croatia will give a government-owned 6-storey downtown Zagreb building and surrounding land as restitution for a building once owned by local Jewish burial society which was expropriated during World War II and nationalised by the Communist government after WWII Daniel Mariaschin from the World Jewish Restitution Organisation (and B’nai B’rith International) stated: “This is a long-awaited, but important first step in addressing the legacy of the Holocaust in Croatia and in ensuring that the Jewish community can continue to revitalise itself in a democratic Croatia.” Actually if Mariaschin were at the time intent on fairness and facts he would also have mentioned the fat that while the communists boasted of freeing Croatia from fascism they did absolutely nothing in freeing the confiscated property for its rightful owners but instead stole it from them, for a second time.

 

 

Restitution to all victims is an important matter for humanity and it needs to be kept in check but also it is most important to keep to the historical facts. In the case of former communist countries of Europe where property was confiscated during WWII and then the confiscation adopted by the communist regime post-WWII through nationalisation, the communist regime has an equal, or perhaps greater, responsibility to answer for such wrongs done to the Jewish community or any other community of the time.

 

And this point is where Minister Kovac shone so well in my eyes – all Croatian presidents (previous and current) who visited Israel did not do much towards justice in this matter as did Kovac. At the Israel Council on Foreign Relations (ICFR), Kovac was asked by the well-known Israeli politician and diplomat, Colette Avital, who chairs the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors, about compensation for private and community property seized from Jews. Kovac said the property had been confiscated first by the Ustashe and then by the Communists and then suggested the creation of a foundation – to be jointly administered by Croatia, the United States and Israel – to work in consultation with Croatia’s Ministry of Public Administration and Ministry of Justice to resolve the issue of property restitution.

In Jerisalem 30 May 2016 Croatia's foreign minister with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Photo: HINA/ MVEP/ ua

In Jerusalem 30 May 2016
Croatia’s foreign minister
with Israel’s Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu
Photo: HINA/ MVEP/ ua

When Croatia’s Minister Kovac was asked in Israel about controversial recent statements made by Croatian Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic regarding his country’s wartime past, Kovac said: “As minister of culture, he has never said anything which is not compatible with the Croatian constitution or European values. I strongly reject the notion that Croatia is a country, which is seeing rising fascism. But we must speak out loudly against any statement of extremism.”

Upon his meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem Croatian Foreign Minister Miro Kovac discussed economic projects, notably in irrigation, and cooperation against cyber terrorism. Minister Kovac said that Croatia has a sensibility for Israel as a country, which had to liberate itself and win its independence and stability and understands Israel’s care for security very well. There is sympathy between the two peoples and “it’s up to us to give this relationship more substance,” Kovac said.
Croatia is a success story,” Kovac said, giving a brief account of Croatia’s transition from communism to Western democracy, the military aggression on it during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, and the country’s accession to the European Union in mid-2013.
We simply cannot accept the idea in the foreign press of growing extremism in Eastern Europe,” Kovac said, “but we must be cautious and responsible.” He stressed that fascism, Nazism and communism were clearly rejected in the preamble to the Croatian constitution.

 

Bravo Minister Kovac on several fronts here. The problem is that he might have said this to quite a few purposefully deaf individuals in the audience there in Jerusalem, intent on defending or justifying unspeakable communist crimes no matter what! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Continued Mistreatment of Croats in Serbia Stalls Serbia’s EU Membership Negotiations

Croatian Member of EU Parliament Marijana Petir

Croatian Member of EU Parliament
Marijana Petir

 

If anyone wants to go and see how minorities are mistreated, abused and persecuted in the 21st Century’s so-called freedom and democracy go to Serbia and check out the abominable treatment of the Croatian minority in the Vojvodina part of Serbia.

 

This May marks 25 years from the time of widespread and brutal persecution of Vojvodina Croats from their homes under the attack of the criminal Great Serbian policy from Slobodan Milosevic and the current Serbian government, in its desire to become an EU member state is doing nothing much to correct its wrongs of the past. In the 1990’s Serbs did not only attack Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to ethnically cleanse large areas of these sovereign countries but they also went about ethnically cleansing parts of Serbia (Vojvodina); targeting Croatian minority there. (Of course elements of such a criminal pattern would be also seen in the Kosovo, then a province of Serbia, and its Muslim population.)

When compared to 1990, there is only half of Croats still living in Vojvodina, Serbia. They are being discriminated against and their rights as a national minority – repressed. They have had no parliamentary representation in Serbia’s Parliament like Serbs living in Croatia have during the past two decades. The broadcasting of the radio and TV in Croatian language has been shut down; Serbia’s government also does not finance books and education in the Croatian language. Croats are often the targets of thievery, murder and physical attacks for which the assailants are rarely found. Catholic priests are also attacked and Catholic churches defiled. Reports Cro Portal.

Croatian member of the European Parliament Marijana Petir alerted the European Commission about this on several occasions in recent times. She asked the EC to protect the Croatian minority in Vojvodina.
The national authorities in Serbia are preventing Croats in Vojvodina from exercising their rights to language, culture and education in their mother tongue. All of the actions taken by the Serbian authorities in Vojvodina are aimed at favouring the Bunjevci — a group of Croats who do not wish to declare themselves Croats, but only Bunjevci — in order to assimilate them. Croats are prevented from exercising the rights that are guaranteed to them by the law and by international agreements.
The Croatian National Council in Serbia and the Croatian Government are therefore obliged to spend their own resources on printing textbooks. Meanwhile, the Serbian Government refuses to reimburse them for the costs of doing this and does not allow them to use public spaces for their cultural events. It is also attempting to squeeze out the Croatian language and replace it with the Bunjevac language.
Given that Croats are citizens of the European Union, how will the Commission ensure that the rights of Croats in Vojvodina to language, culture and education in their mother tongue are exercised?” Petir asked the EU Parliament in late 2015.

 

Johannes Hahn, Member of the EC in charge of Regional Policy

Johannes Hahn, Member of the EC in charge of Regional Policy

Johannes Hahn, EC Commissioner Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, replied that respect of fundamental rights and the protection of minorities are the key conditions for Serbia within the negotiation process and are dealt with in Chapter 23. He further explained that Serbia was completing its action plan regarding the protection of minorities and the EC expects from Serbia to take up the recommendations entailed in the EC Advisory board’s directions. Those recommendations, he said, are directed at education, use of language, access to media and religious practices in the languages spoken by minorities. He concluded that Serbia, in practice, is bound to respect fundamental rights, including the right on property protection … As to the latter part of Hahn’s reply, the return of property to the Croatian clubs and organisations (in Vojvodina) Mr Krunoslav Djakovic (President of Centre for Culture ‘Srijem” and Croatian House organisatuon) emphasised that “Croats are not asking for anything that would contradict the law, but are asking from Serbia’s government to give them, as an ethnic minority, that which they have legal right to. If they don’t want to do that, that is breach of human rights”.

 

Recently Petir said that she will not stop in her endeavours and that Serbia must ensure all the rights defined by the international agreements because if that does not happen, they will not be able to continue their European path. Petir also wants Croatia to start taking more care about Croats outside their country, and also the Croats in Vojvodina, so that their interests are protected and that they can have their right for a Croatian citizenship.

 

Miro Kovac Croatia's Foreign Minister

Miro Kovac
Croatia’s Foreign Minister

Last week, albeit reluctantly, following complaints by the Croatian government, the European Council had once again postponed the opening of negotiations with Serbia in its desired accession to EU membership. The postponement has to do with two crucial chapters of the EU legislation, Chapter 23 (judiciary and fundamental rights) and Chapter 24 (justice freedom and security). Croatia did not and does not accept or endorse the European Commission opinion that Serbia is ready to proceed to EU membership negotiations stage; all 28 countries, members of the EU must agree in order for any new membership negotiations to proceed.

 

Croatia’s concerns are threefold: the lack of Serbian cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY); the mistreatment of the Croatian minority in Serbia (Vojvodina); and the universal jurisdiction of Serbian courts over war crimes committed in other parts of the former Yugoslavia.
It would seem that the EC sent a blind or a pro-Serbia bent person to Serbia during 2015 on task of investigating matters on progress made by Serbia with view to its path in becoming an EU member state. In its Progress Report (2015) EC writes:
2.4. Human rights and the protection of minorities – Overall situation – The legislation and institutions needed to uphold international human rights law are in place. Legislation to protect minorities and cultural rights is also broadly in place. However, sustained efforts are needed to ensure effective and consistent implementation across the country. Shortcomings particularly affect the following areas:
• Conditions for the full exercise of freedom of expression are still not in place. Full implementation of the new media laws needs to be ensured.
• Promotion and protection of the rights of the most vulnerable and discriminated groups, including the LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, and persons with HIV/AIDS has yet to be fully ensured. Hate-motivated offences need to be properly investigated, prosecuted and sanctioned.
• Efforts to improve the difficult living conditions of Roma and to combat discrimination need to be strengthened. Government coordination and leadership of Roma integration policy needs to be further improved…”

Zilch on the widespread mistreatment of Croat minority in Vojvodina! One must, therefore, be very skeptical of the truthful representation of the situation in Serbia regarding ethnic minorities within the EC. Croatia has the absolute right to require same standards from Serbia as the EC required of Croatia during the prolonged and painful period of negotiations as prospective member of the EU. Furthermore, let’s hope that Croatia will persist in its requirements for Serbia to meet EU standards and turn away from nasty media and nasty politicians who try and belittle Croatia’s attempts at demanding acceptable standards from Serbia. As long as abuse or mistreatment of rights of ethnic minorities exist in Serbia, Croatia must remain a watchdog for the EC.

To reiterate Croatian foreign minister Miro Kovac words on 15 April 2016 HRT news “Croatia is neither a superpower nor a poodle. Croatia is a member state of the European Union. If we are admitting someone in our family we have to monitor the accession process and co-decide about it. If Serbia wants to be a part of the EU, it will have to adapt to its standards…” Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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