Croatia: oppression of religious freedom stemmed from bigotry of Jewish filmmaker’s tantrum

Maribor school excursion flyer Photo: Mario Profaca

A producer on Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, Croatian born Branko Lustig, was boycotted in Croatia after telling Zadar primary school children (of Catholic faith who also have Religion as part of school education curriculum) – God doesn’t exist. A Minister in the current Croatian government, swiftly picked up on this boycott with subtle but oppressive and calculated denial of religious freedom that would ultimately benefit the cause of taking the focus away from Communist crimes (WWII and throughout the duration of Former Yugoslavia) and mass murders and ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Serbs against Croatian people between 1991 and August 1995.

On Wednesday 26 September, as part of “Modern Jewish Film Festival Zagreb”, Lustig appeared in the coastal city of Zadar to show to primary school children his film “The Last Flight of Petr Ginz” ( Petr Ginz was a Czechoslovak boy of partial Jewish background who was deported to the Terezín concentration camp during the Holocaust. He died at the age of sixteen when he was transferred to Auschwitz concentration camp and gassed).

Prior to showing the film, Lustig delivered a lecture to the seventh and eighth graders during which he said: “God does not exist for me, I do not believe in God. If God existed he would not have allowed the Holocaust to occur, the horrible torture and murders of Jews in Nazi camps, as in Auschwitz camp where I ended up at the age of 11. He wouldn’t have allowed the Srebrenica massacres during the recent war…

Lustig’s words shocked the school children, and their parents. After all, as Catholics, as Christians, they have been taught to accept God’s will without rebuke, without denying His existence, no matter how harsh His will may at times fall.

Then Lustig told these school children that the film blames the Christian church for the Wars of the Crusaders and that if schools don’t teach their pupils that there were in history Crusader Wars then these schools are very bad schools.

Lustig’s final message to Zadar’s school children that there mustn’t be hatred and divisions between them seems to have, justifiably, fallen on deaf ears or considered bigoted as on Thursday 27 September, in Knin (the town cleansed of Croatians during Serb aggression against Croatia in the early 1990’s), school children boycotted his appearance and the showing of the same film.

Well, Lustig threw a doozy of a tantrum regarding the boycotting of his film in Knin. He expressed profound disappointment and accused, seemingly without any evidence whatsoever, the Principal of Knin’s school of telling his pupils not to attend. Croatian media picked up swiftly; scandal of big proportions erupted as some paddled and wielded their evil tongues in the direction of WWII persecution of Jews by some parts of Croatian population. At the same time parents of school children in Knin were heard, and reported by the media, saying words to this effect: I don’t want my children hearing this blasphemy that occurred in Lustig’s lecture in Zadar.

Lustig, in his bitterness and wounded pride of an Oscar winner, went so far as saying “if in my country I cannot say what I think and feel then fuck democracy.”

To this I would normally say “Hoorah! Bravo, Lustig!” But I cannot; I must not because he does not in this case deserve it!

Lustig gives himself the right to preach and practice democracy and yet denies the same to the Christian children and families who refused to hear his offences against their God.

Also, politically wired undercurrents swelled in this whole affair and there were those who associated the Knin’s school children’s film boycott with the World War II Ustashi collaboration with Nazi Germany. Suggesting that roots of antisemitism are still crawling about Croatia in the form of President Ivo Josipovic’s metaphoric “Ustashi snake”.

The Croatian government did not lift a finger in the defense of religious freedom of their citizens in this whole affair. In fact, oppression and fear mongering became the order of the day, as journalist Mario Profaca writes on Dnevno.hr portal:

Caught at the very dawn of 2nd October 2012, in the net of Marija Gerbec Njavro’s Croatian Radio First Program, who bashed fear into their bones with her interview with Ivo Goldstein, Davor Gjenero and the minister for sciences, education and sport, Zeljko Jovanovic, especially as the Minister repeated his assessment that the Knin boycott of Branko Lustig’s film was a ‘second holocaust’, the parents of fourth grade High School children from Zagreb took their children to the bus terminal in silence …

 From there, buses took their children, at their own cost, to a compulsory ‘field lesson’ to Maribor where they will visit the Jewish Square and the synagogue. That excursion costs 205 Kunas per person, including health insurance for eventual ‘accidents within Croatia’, and they have insurance beyond Croatia’s borders if they’ve paid an extra 30 Kunas per person.

Parents’ response is totally understandable, given that a boycott of this excursion would be marked as absence from (field) school lessons, and in line with the already known opinion of minister for sciences, education and sport, Zeljko Jovanovic, for Jews this would be – a third Holocaust.”

The politically and anti-democratically calculated content of this school excursion to Maribor shocks even more when we realise that it does not include a visit to Tezno, a suburb of Maribor where a mass grave from Communist crimes is! The mass grave holds the remains of more than 15,000 Croatian innocent people and Home Guards who perished there in the post WWII Communist purges. In their multitudes mass graves of Communist crimes, across the territory of Former Yugoslavia, compared by population magnitude, put the Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime crimes to minor categories; and Tezno mass grave twice the size of Srebrenica 1995!

On his Facebook page Mario Profaca also comments on the Croatian Radio Program episode, referred to above, that “Ivo Goldstein was embittered by the Knin boycott of Lustig’s film who said that watching the film ‘would be an opportunity for the children to learn something about their own history, not only the one from 1941 to 1945 but also the one from 1991 to 1995’.

With that, ‘historian’ Ivo Goldstein has scandalously drawn an analogy between the WWII Holocaust of Jews with the Serbs in the so-called Serb Republic of Krajina during Croatia’s Homeland War.”

Giving a just dessert to the swept-and-mesmerised-by-left-winds journalists of Slobodna Dalmacija newspaper, who in their write-ups on Lustig’s “Godless” existence ask when one should reveal to Croatian children that God doesn’t exist, Dnevno.hr journalist Zvonimir Hodak skilfully extricates a sobering thought:

If it’s normal for Lustig to force his atheistic views upon children, why would it be abnormal for the Catholic majority in Croatia comprising of 85% of people to react to that”.

The fact that Goldstein thrust his twisted, anti-Croatian, pro-Communist finger into this twisted pie which accompanied Lustig’s film doesn’t surprise me at all. It just saddens me for the fact that it suggests justice for victims of Communist crimes is still far, far away. I know, everyone knows, that Goldstein justifies Communist crimes and sees them as acceptable ways of dealing with WWII woes and foes regardless of the fact that just like Jews, millions of innocent men, women and children were exterminated (by the Communists). Judging from his book “A History”, where Goldstein talks of Serb revenge upon Croatians and Muslims for Serbs perished in the Holocaust, it’s easy to see that his justification of mass murders committed by Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina during 1990’s could be viewed (without due condemnation?) as “Serbian revenge for the killings of Serb during WWII”. The fact that Serbs attacked and brutally murdered Croatians and Muslims during 1990’s because they did not want democratic regimes splitting Yugoslavia, the fact that they tried to murder in its bud the democracy that feeds him, means nothing to him.

Not OK. Not acceptable. Not Just. Not humane.

With all respect to Lustig’s film and its message, the humane world must see that Knin boycott of the film was, as journalist Miro Matesic from Dnevno.hr says, simply the exercise of choice that democracy guarantees, or should guarantee. No more, no less. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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