Croatia: The End of Anti-Fascism

European Parliament

A European Parliament resolution has 19 September 2019 condemned Communism as equivalent to Nazism. To my view equating communism with Nazism is not enough; communism or its fantasy name of anti-fascism surpasses in the bulk of its crimes any other regime known to humanity. The moral superiority Anti-Fascists of Croatia (of Yugoslavia and all other former communist European states) have pinned to themselves undisturbed by the facts of history that sink such moral superiority to the depths of despair is set to fall and be banished. Remembering and acting upon the real past will ensure that.

“Remembering the victims of totalitarian regimes and recognising and raising awareness of the shared European legacy of crimes committed by communist, Nazi and other dictatorships is of vital importance for the unity of Europe and its people and for building European resilience to modern external threats,” is a strong point as to how the Resolution emphasises the importance of Europe’s historical memory for its future needs.

The parliament demands development of a “common culture of remembrance that rejects the crimes of fascist, Stalinist, and other totalitarian and authoritarian regimes of the past as a way of fostering resilience against modern threats to democracy, particularly among the younger generation.”

Some will undoubtedly say that legislating to establish an ‘official’ view of history, such as EU Parliament on 19 September 2019 with its resolution on “the importance of remembrance for the future of Europe” is not a good idea. However, when looking from the victims’ point of view this resolution has all the hallmarks of setting justice right for all. We are only too aware that history of Communist crimes during and post-WWII has enjoyed blanket coverups and unjustifiable justification while crimes committed by the Nazi regime were kept in European history as the only crimes that have been committed en masse against humanity.

In the mid‐2000s many believed that the Holocaust could become a common memory for Europe. This was opposed by many also, mostly Central and East European conservatives in former communist countries, politicians and intellectuals on the grounds that an exclusive emphasis on the Holocaust would not do justice to the victims of other totalitarian regimes (particularly the communist regimes). While very few of them questioned the uniqueness of the Holocaust openly by declaring Nazism and communism ‘equally criminal’ (Sandra Kalniete, quoted in Troebst s. [2010], ‘Halecki Revisited’; p. 60. Pakier, M. and Strath, B. [eds] A European Memory? New York:Berghahn Books), they did argue that paying too much attention to the victims of the Holocaust came at the expense of the victims of other totalitarian regimes, so the latter are effectively treated as second‐class victims. This communist crimes agenda was and is opposed mostly by the European (including Croatia) left whose proponents believe that it illegitimately relativises the Holocaust and falsifies history by equating communist regimes with Nazism. The main elements of the anti‐communist rhetorical repertoire had been developed before the European memory debate. In the 1990s many conservative politicians in post‐communist countries built their political profile on an uncompromising anti‐communist stance and on the objective of raising awareness about the crimes of communist regimes and their victims.

There was no other way to give justice for the forgotten and downtrodden victims of communist crimes. So, good for these politicians I say. One could go further and say that the former communist countries in Europe fought against communism in order to bring justice to all victims, regardless of which regime brought them about.

The European parliament’s resolution on ‘the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe’ is to replace previous political statements on human rights in relation to that conflict. The motion for the EUP Resolution was conceived as a spirited statement against all forms of political extremism. The text reaffirms “the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law” while calling on all EU institutions “to do their utmost to ensure that horrific totalitarian crimes against humanity are remembered” and “guarantee that such crimes will never be repeated.”

Given that resolutions confirming commitments to the condemnation of totalitarian regimes, like the 2009 one that saw  the establishment of the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism each 23 August, which has been in place for over a decade, one may well ask what does this new resolution really add to the continent’s political ingredients? For all its admirable sentiment, this latest resolution gives a firm footing to making history right even though there are those who will say that a deeply problematic form of historical revisionism lurks beneath the surface. If, however, one considers historical revisionism as a necessary process to reflect true facts not myths (the European history, Croatian history of the 20th century is riddled with myths and fabrication driven by the communists) then the only opponents to this EU resolution will be former communists and their allies. No doubt about it – they still want to hide behind their false mask of bringing freedom to the people.

It’s time the Croatian Constitution removes from its Historical Foundations any reference to anti-fascist contribution to the independence of Croatia! It had none! Anti-Fascists always fought for Yugoslavia! And a communist one at that!

“European integration has, from the start, been a response to the suffering inflicted by two world wars and by the Nazi tyranny that led to the Holocaust, and to the expansion of totalitarian and undemocratic communist regimes”, reads the text of the Resolution.

The resolution in its article M.3 is undeniably correct in its assertion that “Nazi and communist regimes carried out mass murders, genocide and deportations and caused a loss of life and freedom in the 20th century on a scale unseen in human history”. Treating the two as equal would not be my choice of approach, nor a reflection of factual history. That is, If the world measures the severity of crimes against humanity by the number of victims then Communist regimes murdered many millions more than the Nazi regime did and in that sense its place in condemnation needs to be lifted above the crimes of Nazi regime. And, I do not say this in defence of the Nazi regime – I say this in defence of victims of both the Nazi and communist regimes. Croatia alone is filled with mass graves of communist crimes, almost 2000 discovered so far! And when you look at the population living there during and after WWII these figures take on an unfathomably horrific proportion!

The EU Resolution “Expresses its deep respect for each victim of these totalitarian regimes and calls on all EU institutions and actors to do their utmost to ensure that horrific totalitarian crimes against humanity and systemic gross human rights violations are remembered and brought before courts of law, and to guarantee that such crimes will never be repeated; stresses the importance of keeping the memories of the past alive, because there can be no reconciliation without remembrance, and reiterates its united stand against all totalitarian rule from whatever ideological background.”

This article of the resolution is hopefully bound to embolden Croatian politicians and activists to make the necessary steps, pass laws and the like in order to finally usher in Lustration (decommunisation) – rid all corridors of power of former communist operatives and those publicly known to promote the Yugoslav communist regime that once was. Some will say there are no communists in Croatia but have no doubt: communist culture, communist mindset, communist nostalgia – exist! And this is what is holding Croatia back from progressing into a fully democratic, customer, taxpayer needs oriented nation.

Hence, practical policy and legislation in Croatia (as in the whole of Europe and beyond) are still hindered by the different treatment of the past. People across the world and particularly in the West still know very little about how much of Central Europe (Croatia included) and most of Eastern Europe fell under a different dictatorship after Hitler’s occupation was defeated that was no better. It has disrupted practical cooperation and remains a very serious obstacle on the road to more effective and closer cooperation in the EU. The resolution includes a proposal to add talking about the crimes of totalitarian regimes to the programs of all EU schools.

Here is hoping, and indeed a platform for the positive and superior portrayal of Croatia’s communists and partisans in school textbooks to be removed swiftly.

The matter of a European memory is far from being a merely symbolic issue with no political consequences. Imagining Europe and its past in different ways will lead to different and real political outcomes. What is at stake in answering these questions from the past is nothing less than the future direction of the EU, and closer to home – of Croatia. As visions for the future of the organisation are intimately connected to historical accounts of the continent’s past, determining the common European approach to the past is a highly influential decision for the EU’s future.

Banning the symbols of Nazism but not those of communism leads to unjustifiable double standards and feeds those double standards. Croatia surely knows that but the overwhelming power held by former communists or sympathisers of former communist Yugoslavia still chooses to ignore that.

There is one particularly noteworthy genre of writing among the many that developed in the 20th century in Europe. After World War II communism enslaved the people of much of Central Europe and most of East Europe. But the tragedy does not end there – communist regimes erased their true story from the overall history of the Continent. Europe had just rid itself of the plague of Nazism. It was quite understandable that after the bloodbath of the war, few people had the strength or resolve to face the bitter truth. They could not deal with the fact that behind the communist regimes, communists continued to commit genocide against the peoples of these countries.

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

For 50 years the history in Croatia (as in all former communist countries) was written without the participation of these victims of genocide. Not surprisingly, the victors of World War II have written a history that separates the good from the bad and the right from the wrong from their perspective. Not from the perspective of the truth! It is only since the collapse of the Berlin Wall that researchers have been able to access archived documents and the life stories of the victims. It is only after Croatia won its Homeland War in 1995 (1998 with peaceful reintegration of Serb and Yugoslav Army aggressor occupied areas) (the war for secession from communist Yugoslavia) that Croatia was able to research its own truth. These confirm the truth that the two totalitarian regimes – Nazism and Communism – were equally criminal, albeit communist crimes far surpass those of the crimes ascribed to the so-called Ustashe regime of the NDH/WWII Independent State of Croatia. Indeed, research such as Dr Esther Gitman’s (a Holocaust survivor herself) into the rescue and survival of Jews during NDH verifiably demonstrates that good deeds and good was widespread among Croats (non-communists) during those horrific times of war in Croatia.

We must never see the two ideologies as holding different positions on the scale of good and bad just because one of them was victorious over the other. That battle against Fascism cannot be seen as something, which for ever exonerates the sins of the communist regime that oppressed countless innocents in the name of communist ideology. I am firmly convinced that it is the duty of our generation to reverse this mistake. The losers in World War II must also write their story, because it deserves a firm place in the overall history of Europe and the world. Without this, the broader history will remain unilateral, incomplete and dishonest – and utterly unfair to the victims of communist crimes.

General Zeljko Glasnovic
Independent Member of Croatian Parliament
for Croats living abroad

The Croatians living outside of Croatia, the millions that fled the communist regime know this fact only too well. It is, therefore, a welcome move which the European Parliament made on 19 September. Perhaps, the strongest (but almost lone) voice in the Croatian Parliament – that of the independent member for Croatians in the diaspora and Bosnia and Herzegovina – retired General Zeljko Glasnovic, who has been a persistent and loud advocator for justice for victims of communist crimes and decommunisation of Croatia (and often laughed at within the parliament by the majority parliamentary members who draw their roots from the former communist pool because of the decommunisation platform content of his speeches) will now get to pursue his agenda surrounded by the silence of shame (or even fear from own guilt) on the faces of former communists and their staunch followers sitting there! Ina Vukic


Decommunisation – Crucible For Progress In Croatia/Lobbying In The Shadows Of Communism

Decommunisation as a concept enveloped in national legislative, educational, social and cultural platforms has gained vivid focus in our daily lives after the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent fall of communism in European countries. Decommunisation is a process of dismantling the legacies of the communist state establishments, culture, and psychology in the post-communist states. Croatia is one of those countries. Decommunisation is sometimes referred to as political cleansing and in that perspective Croatia falls alarmingly behind other post-communist European countries, member states of EU, such as Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia etc.

The discourse of the essential-for-democratic-progress decommunisation in a public plane of modern Croatian informational environment has an ambivalent and an irresolute impact on the construction of public opinion. The fact that Croatia’s mainstream media and governments since year 2000 have chosen not to make decommunisation a clear priority are to be blamed for this.

The steaming up of election campaigns toward the imminent European Parliament elections that are to occur on 26 May 2019 brings into focus the stark lack of attention being given to decommunisation in Croatia, once again! Election campaigning times are always the times that take us to what should occur within the framework of national priorities in order to better people’s lives. The messages coming out so far from Croatian politicians vying for candidature for EP have not articulated decommunisation as the specific and crucial process Croatia needed and needs to go through if it at all will end up a functional democracy in its own right. In essence, decommunising Croatia was the crucial ingredient for the fight for independence from communist Yugoslavia and yet Croatian politicians ending up in EP or wanting to end up in EP have consistently failed to package their election platforms into intents to decommunise the country. From a birds eye-view it’s almost like they are walking on egg-shells so as not to disturb the communist mindset and habits that still remain as the biggest barriers to progress; from nepotism to corruption the plethora for decommunisation remains gigantic, regardless of the fact that the Croatian legislature is increasingly adapting its laws to EU standards. It is the entrenched and alien to democracy behaviour of those that implement and administer the legislation that is not changing, and that is the stumbling block to real progress and decommunisation.

While there is a lot of talk about sovereignty as a political platform to be pursued in this political public space in Croatia ahead of EP elections, the concept of sovereignty has not been defined in terms of changes that Croatia needs to become a truly practicing democracy – and it should be! The group of Croatian politicians who have given themselves the tag of sovereignists, some of who have joined forces for the purposes of these elections, have recently defined the word “sovereignists” as working in Croatian national interests! This is as nebulous as one can get! It is a strong, attractive word to many, but fails to provide clarity of direction and, hence, whether purposefully or not, in order to gain public support, everything and anything done can be declared as sovereignistic and become “attractive”.

In these sovereignist political winds and groupings or political alliances sweeping across Croatia like some undefined but attention-grabbing slogan nevertheless, I have not yet heard the word decommunisation, or finishing the job started by the declaration of independence from communist Yugoslavia in 1991. And yet, finishing the job is exactly what a large section of voters, particularly those who cherish independence want to see happen. Whether some will be fooled into thinking that currently explained sovereignist politics equal decommunisation in Croatia is yet to be seen. From what we have seen so far – the equality between the two terms remains elusive.

Lobbying for decommunisation still remans in the shadows of mainstream politics and media fraught with communist regime heritage.

Public baptism of decommnisation has not yet occurred in Croatia.

Listening to politicians in Croatia who consider themselves to be sovereignists I have heard and read only specific things they want to achieve if elected but not a national plan that would accumulate various specific things into a decommunisation process and package. They say they are sovereignists because they protect Croatian national interests. Well, guess what? Every political movement and party whether in government or not say exactly the same thing. Protecting national interests – is a nebulous affair unless, one defines it, narrows it down to its core! Sovereingnists say that they will not blindly follow international directives they say come from Brussels or Washington but will consider the interests of the Croatian people, and that is what sovereignism means to them. They say they want to bring against the wall current Croatia’s prime minister and president…they say they will operate on a “political platform of sovereignty, patriotism and Christianity in Croatia”; they say that there is no alternative to unity. They say they are anti-antifascists but fail to spell out what that means in terms where and how Croatia as whole should be going when it comes to dealing with anti-fascists and their agenda, which is to retain the communist Yugoslavia mindset!

Sovereignism has thus become a political carrot, which mutates in shape and density when handled by different politicians. And that is a reality which breeds ambivalence and detracts focus from the real sovereignity that, when it comes to Croatia, should come with a tightly drawn map for decommunisation as its essential ingredient.

The reality is that the Croatian nation had in 1991 made an irreversible, conscious choice in favour of democracy. The conscious choice was made via an overwhelming 94% vote to secede fro communist Yugoslavia. Independence was declared and the onslaught of Serb aggression ensued – leaving Croatia victorious albeit devastated. What was to be a natural progression into fully functional democracy after the Homeland War ended in 1998, with the peaceful reintegration of Serb-occupied Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium into Croatia – did not occur. Decommunisation as a packaged national process did not occur to the degree or nature that it should have. Too many former communists took over the governing power from 2000, ensuring decommunisation does not happen.

While Croatia’s first president, Franjo Tudjman, is often criticised for not implementing lustration as part of decommunisation, it is to be taken into consideration that any such move was virtually impossible. The war years for independence evidently saw both a political and a logistical need to keep former communist operatives on side. Croatia and its people had to be defended from Serb aggression and that required political bravery as well as military one – that was the priority of the times.

Nevertheless, Tudjman did commence decommunisation in that a mass renaming of streets and squares, that went on for a number of years starting in 1990, did away with the “heroes” of communist Yugoslavia and raising the names of Croatian political leaders, historical political heroes, writers, artists, intellectuals, etc. Yet, its inconsistency is a constant reminder of the Croatia’s governments’ inability to implement its own directives and laws in a timely and systematic fashion. In the cities and towns you can still walk along the streets and parks and come across streets, statues, monuments to Josip Broz Tito and his partisans; the communist regime that murdered and purged hundreds of thousands of innocent Croats; forced hundreds of thousands of others to flee, to emigrate either due to political oppression or relative poverty.

Not only have some street, park and city names that related to the former communist regime survived the name changes, but Croatia has failed miserably to outlaw symbols from the communist regime such as the red star and yet it has outlawed symbols of the WWII Croatian fight for independence! Now, it is humanly impossible to deny the criminal nature of the Yugoslav communist regime 1945-1990/91or justify it in the media, to heroize the Communist Party leaders and to create positive images of such heroes. And yet that is exactly what is happening in Croatia! Even within the parliament itself, members of parliament of former communist party allegiance promote that totalitarian and criminal Yugoslav regime from which Croatia seceded through rivers of its own blood!

Croatia never had its decommunisation movement backed by a strategic plan for it that includes a package of laws and regulations geared for multi-level decommunisation and public accountability. Regretfully, it is still incumbent upon individual politicians and other public leading figures to keep alive that ideal of nation-wide decommunisation so many lives were lost for. Decommunisation in Croatia still lives as an ideal rather than an implemented process in public administration.

A characteristic feature of a discourse of decommunisation in the post-Homeland War period was the accentuation and emphasis in Croatia’s public space of freedom, which, of course, brought its political dividends. The communists or former communists soon picked up on this and they started using the concept of freedom as something the communists brought to Croatian people during WWII as applicable to today’s Croatia. Hence, ushering into public space the idea that it was the communists who liberated Croats (in WWII) and not Croats who wanted an independent Croatia during 1990’s!

A number of Croatian politicians (including General Zeljko Glasnovic, Independent MP for the Croatian diaspora) and public intellectuals appear to believe that the crucible of the continuing conflict between former communist regime loyalists and those striving towards developing an efficient democracy lies not in the EU but in a regimented decommunisation process in Croatia. They are right!

Many of Croatia’s citizens have, however, little first-hand experience of democracy and bureaucracy that comes with it. For many Croatians, living in the traditional “Yugoslav” (or post-Yugoslav?) manner, i.e. from month to month, the ideal Europe plays a similar role as nostalgia for the Yugoslav years – reflecting a far-off dream of financial stability and decent social welfare. Many have blanked out the fact that day to day living in Yugoslavia was fraught with enormous existential hardships. Clearly packaged and regimentally implemented decommunisation is the only answer to Croatia fulfilling its sovereignty to the fullest. Ina Vukic

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