Croatia: Transition from Communism Must Accommodate Prosecution of Communist Crimes

“If some groups of victims are considered less worthy, it means that the racist ideology still lives on,” said Rosetta Katz, a Holocaust survivor in Parliament of Germany on Friday 27 January 2023, International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day, which marked the first time, after many years of lobbying, German parliament has focused in annual Holocaust memorial commemorations on people persecuted and killed for their LGBTQ or gender identity by the National Socialism regime.

It’s a pity that such great words are not understood or accepted to apply globally to victims of communism as well.  In view of the terrifying list of crimes committed in the name of promoting geopolitical supremacy by all warring sides during World War II and after it, every condemnation of crimes committed in the name of the theory of class struggle and the principle of the dictatorship of the proletariat seems justified. It would appear to be equally justified to put the perpetrators of communist crimes on trial before the international community, as it was the case with the terrible crimes of National Socialism, i.e., Holocaust.

But once one says that and means it, respecting all victims of crimes, the wretched and derogatory label of Historical Revisionism is slapped onto one to intimidate and bully those engaging in research efforts to bring out the facts of history and equal respect all victims of all totalitarian regimes. One class of victims, hence, in the eyes of the world, becomes worthier than the other. For lasting peace and prosperity in the world the crimes in the name of communism should be assessed as crimes against humanity in the same way Nazi crimes were assessed by the Nuremberg Tribunal. Legal provisions should be introduced that would enable courts of law to judge and sentence perpetrators of Communist crimes and to compensate victims of Communism. But victims of communism largely remain anonymous, faceless, without personal photographs, just piles of skulls and rotting bones in pits, mass graves or piled up into walls of remembrance.

History is undeniably part of an individual and collective awareness and creates identity. It serves to affirm one’s own norms and values, to legitimise rule and claims to leadership, and to develop perspectives for the future. But when that history such as Croatia’s World War II one has been written and kept on life support by the communists with evident help of political aims among the Allies who won the War and when that history has been proven over and over again that it contains significant fabrications in order to justify the communist Yugoslavia enormous crimes against its political opponents then it is our obligation to pursue research and revision of that unjust written history.

“Croatia has to face the culture of remembering that is different from what we would like. We are Europeans now. We have integrated firmly into Europe, which is wonderful news, but mentally we have not entered it. You with the Ustashiade simply cannot go further than Brezice (a small town in Slovenia near the Croatian border). That doesn’t work in Europe. Liberal Europe does not accept Croatia like this,” concluded historian and former communist Yugoslavia fan Ivo Goldstein concluded in his address for the Croatian media the day leading up to the Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day 2023.

Evidently, whether of Jewish heritage, like Goldstein, or not, former communists and those who follow in their mental footsteps today in Croatia fail miserably to acknowledge and accept with open arms the liberal Europe they boast of belonging to. It’s a double standard nobody should tolerate. The Liberal Europe Goldstein refers to had ever since 2009 condemned by parliamentary declaration both the Communist and the Fascist regimes (to which the WWII Ustashe regime is arguably erroneously allocated) because of the totalitarian cloth they wrapped themselves in. For comparison’s sake the communist Yugoslavia murdered or exterminated many more innocent people than what the Ustashe regime did. But, it seems, to people like Goldstein, the term Holocaust holds much more weight for human condemnation and repugnance than what communist crimes do. This is, of course, a catastrophe for humanity as it classifies victims not by their suffering but by their ethnicity, religion, or political leanings. And so, in the case of WWII and post-WWII Croatia, victims of communist purges and exterminations appear insignificant to people like Goldstein, but victims of the Holocaust are significant.

The crux of the matter is that the Ustashe regime fought for independence of Croatia from any Yugoslav conglomerate and the communists fought for a third Yugoslavia (the first two being kingdoms of Yugoslavia ruled by the Serbian oppressive and dictatorial Monarchy). And Yugoslav communists or their indoctrinated descendants evidently loathe the fact that Croats fought for self-determination and independence during WWII. Hence, a clear reason why they keep spinning the lie that they freed or liberated Croatia in 1945! Liberated from whom? Its own people who wanted independence and fought for that in the most difficult of circumstances in the history of the 20th century? In fact, they forced the Croatian people who wanted independence back to a Yugoslavia that took revenge against the Croatian patriots and murdered so many that Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito has been placed on the list of “Top” 15 mass murderers of political opponents of the 20th Century.

Furthermore, it is evident that the more the facts of WWII Croatian history are uncovered and the more these facts show that the history of WWII Croatia written by the communists of Yugoslavia and their allies (including in relation to the numbers of Jews and others perished under the blanket of the Holocaust) who won the War was alarmingly falsified and fabricated, obviously for political dominance reasons and for social engineering communist Yugoslavia practiced, the more we experience people like Goldstein regurgitating the worn-out and intentionally intimidating term of the so-called historical revisionism. Historical revisionism should have positive connotations because it seeks to either prove as correct the historical records published so far or to disprove them as blatant politically motivated lies. Perhaps Goldstein and those like him in these matters harbour a sense of dread and fear that “their” history books will end up in trash bins or in bon fires across the world!?

There must be a politically “strong” reason why Ivo Goldstein, when he was the Ambassador of Croatia to France 2012-2017, kept a portrait of former communist Yugoslavia President Josip Broz Tito on his Embassy office walls.

Did this practice mean that Goldstein did not and does not accept the independence of Croatia from communist Yugoslavia for which terrible price in Croatian blood was paid amidst Yugoslav Army and Serb aggression in early 1990’s? While there were complaints to the Croatian government about this photo of Tito on Croatia’s Embassy walls from Croats living in France the best the communist bent government of Croatia could reply was that there was no law in Croatia forbidding the hanging of pictures on the wall! The eradication of succinct lines of communist mindset and practice in official Croatia has a long way to go yet.

The opening of State Archives after Croatia seceded from communist Yugoslavia in 1991 is indeed bearing fruits that have the potential of exonerating to a great extent the WWII Independent State of Croatia of many crimes and victim numbers that have been peddled to the world against it for over seventy years!  The more the credible research into facts and archival documents of WWII Croatia reveals a completely different truth, the actual truth, to the one peddled for decades, Goldstein and those like him seem to waffle on increasingly about anti-Semitism in Croatia, as well as accusations of relativising Ustasha crimes through historical revisionism, i.e., through archival research! These kinds of public outbursts are akin to attempts to intimidate and suppress the factual truth from coming out.

Leading contemporary historians and researches into WWII Croatia, including factual victim numbers and rescue of the Jews, have been several and it is worthwhile mentioning some in this article whose work has attracted much public interest even if the Croatian government  remains largely and unfairly uninterested in such facts of history that have been denied for decades : Esther Gitman, Roman Leljak, Blanka Matkovic, Stipo Pilic, and Igor Vukic,  

“Ustasheism and historical revisionism have been coming at us from all sides for the past eight years,” Goldstein said in his public statement last week, failing miserably to reveal the indisputable outcomes of historical research that has been conducted in the past decade that more and more place his historical writings under severely unsafe historical records which cannot be trusted by those pursuing justice for all victims of state war and post-war crimes. It would appear apparent that he has personal interests in speaking against research or revision of written history and Ustashe regime of WWII Croatia. He has announced a new book he is writing on Historical Revisionism, and one must wonder how much of historical and general tripe, concoctions of biased personal views and biased content that book will have? If one is to judge from his past pro-communist agenda authoring works then Croatians, in readiness, need to keep their fingers pressed against the toilet flush button.  No historian on Croatia, on the need to revise historical records through factual research, who fails to condemn the communist regime after 94% of voters condemned it in 1991 Croatian referendum, who fails the victims of communist crimes while tagging the victims of Ustashe crimes with precious worth, is worth the embrace by the public as a truth-bearer or authority on history. Such a book Goldstein is announcing seems nothing more to me, and I believe to multitudes, than an opportunistic gimmick to “earn a buck” and a promotion as worthwhile and “to them glorious” the murderous communist regime of Yugoslavia, which European Union has included in its condemnations many years ago as criminal.

The constant distortion of history by keeping the fabricated historical facts alive, by devaluing historical research through labelling it as historical revisionism with relativisation does nothing for the fact that the radical left (especially communists and former communists still holding a candle for communism) just like the radical right also must come to terms with its own history in Croatia and elsewhere. Without such confrontation no lasting peace or absolute respect of human rights can be achieved.

What to remember and how to remember is, in Croatia as in many countries, a very topical and urgent question that keeps both historians and politicians occupied. It does not only concern schoolbooks and history teaching, but also the use of public space to represent history whether in the form of monuments, museums, mainstream media or otherwise. Often decisions of this kind lead to fierce political debates and they are certainly not limited to aesthetic values of monuments of past regimes, even the criminal ones. And the truth or revealing it without condemnation suffers. The politics of the past keeps haunting Croatia and without the removal of World War II touted communist contribution for an independent Croatia from the historical narrative preamble to the Constitution the hundreds of thousands of victims of communist crimes have no chance for deserved and due justice.  Ina Vukic

Croatia: You Can Run But You Cannot Hide From Depravity Of Communist Crimes

“Here rest 294 victims of World War II and/or Post World War II period. Gracani” Photo:HINA

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic’s glaring absence from the burial ceremony of earthly remains of 294 communist crimes victims, recently dug out of mass graves at Gracani on the outskirts of Zagreb, on Friday 23rd August 2019  has thrown a national spotlight on the token, unconvincing and reluctant compassion afforded the victims of communist crimes by official Croatia. According to records kept by parshioner, the late Miroslav Haramija, 738 Croats were murdered by Partisans in 1945 in Gracani area and excavations of mass graves are set to continue.  23 August is European Day of Remembrance of Victims of Totalitarian Regimes and this year central events towards that remembrance were a Mass at St Michael’s church and funeral rites and burial for the 294 victims of communist crimes, of Partisans. The services at Gracani were led by Msgr. Zlatko Koren in conjunction with Don Marko Med, the parish priest, Fr. Marin Matančić, and other priests.

Mons. Koren emphasised that in this place of commemoration, 294 victims of World War II and the post-war period proclaim victory: “The victory of good over evil. Victory over sin. Victory over death.”

Gracani, Zagreb 23 August 2019 – burial of remains of 294 victims of communist crimes recently dug out of mass graves. PHOTO: HINA

It would indeed be a complete victory of good over evil had the entire Croatian leadership bowed their heads at the burial place of the remains of these 294 victims. It would indeed be a complete victory of good over evil had Croatia’s leaders announced a plan for fitting monuments for victims of communist crimes to be erected across Croatia, just like the existing monument to the victims of fascism/Nazism/Ustashas at Jasenovac. Certainly, there were countless more victims of communist Partisans than there were victims of Ustashas. Concrete evidence of this exists in the uncovered mass graves that add up so far to 1,700 across Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (1000 in Croatia alone!). Much is yet to be done for the good to truly triumph over evil when it comes to the history of Croatians, particularly the 20th Century one. That body of work to be done still pertains to the condemnation of communist crimes and to building of monuments to victims in mass graves rather than marking the mass grave sites with mere crosses and humble plaques! Communist crimes were devastatingly huge in Croatia and this fact must not be marked by small remembrances but giant monuments to the suffering, visible by naked eye from the stars above.

Gracani, Zagreb 23 August 2019 – burial of remains of 294 victims of communist crimes recently dug out of mass graves. PHOTO: HINA

“Among the victims there are 63 minors. At least 112 people were killed with a bullet to the head. These bones today, after 74 long years, are finding their peace,” said Croatan Veterans Minister Tomo Medved said at Gracani on Friday 23 August 2019. Stating the obvious would not be my choice of words on this very important occasion for justice.

“Today’s event, like many other events in many other places, confirms not only a totalitarian but also a criminal character of the communist system. We must talk about this, because, like how we condemned the Ustasha regime, just as loudly and clearly we must talk not only about the totalitarian but also the criminal character of communism,” said Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković. To the point, but talk is cheap and Jandrokovic knows it! It blows over with the wind in seconds and all remains as usual – no official declaration of condemnation, no laws passed in parliament to reflect this, no banning of communist regime’s insignia and symbols. No banning of Josip Broz Tito’s birthday celebrations. No banning of Day of Antifascists!

Gracani, Zagreb 23 August 2019 – burial of remains of 294 victims of communist crimes recently dug out of mass graves. PHOTO: HINA

“While in the democratic world Fascism, Nazism and similar regimes were morally and politically condemned, their victims places of death and their graves marked, and numerous guilty people convicted, Communism in Croatia, without a proper and complete condemnation, smuggled its way into democracy. Therefore, at this place, I clearly condemn totalitarian regimes, both the Communist and the Ustasha and I clearly condemn Greater Serbian totalitarianism, and its aggression against Croatia,” said President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović at Gracani on Friday. Same as Jandrokovic, really. Grabar Kitarovic failed to spell out how “proper and complete condemnation” of communist regime should be achieved. The President of Croatia has a duty to give practical direction and undertakings for a complete condemnation of communist crimes she refers to. Words are cheap!

To add insult on the injury, the actual wooden cross that marks the burial place of the 294 victims of communist crimes at Gracani says absolutely nothing about who their murderers were! The writing on the cross says: “Here rest 294 victims of World War II and/or Post World War II period. Gracani”.

Absolutely heartbreaking and demoralising!

Their murderers were the communists so say it loud and say it again and again and again, until the truth sinks into every memory and every human heart.

Gracani, Zagreb 23 August 2019 – burial of remains of 294 victims of communist crimes recently dug out of mass graves. PHOTO: HINA

 

In addition to the commemoration and the burial of the remains at Gracani last Friday, the actual locations of mass executions were presented to the public for the first time; with shocking, disturbing photographs of the innocent victims! If this wasn’t enough for the Croatian leaders mentioned above to give to the public a real sense of determination that communist crimes will be utterly and completely condemned, I don’t know what will be. Milan Bandic, the Mayor of Zagreb, was present there also. While he generally boasts of beautifying Zagreb with lots of grand fountains and statues, he did not announce any fountain or statue or monument to be built in condemnation of communist crimes. His past is in a communist family, as is for most at the top echelons of Croatian current leadership, including the president’s.

The politicians in Croatia who walk on eggshells when it comes to condemning communist crimes, spread cheap and empty words in acknowledging the victims of communist crimes, ensuring that the burial places of the victims don’t name their murderers, create an atmosphere where such crimes are further pushed into insignificance as such atmosphere encourages unjustifiable justification of communist crimes –  can run (in such ways) but they cannot hide. When faced with the enormity of communist crimes in Croatia, with the overwhelming number of mass graves – nothing these politicians in power can mitigate or lighten the horrendous weight of those crimes.

Gracani, Zagreb 23 August 2019 – burial of remains of 294 victims of communist crimes recently dug out of mass graves. PHOTO: HINA

Croatia is abound with victims of communist crimes – almost every second family with its descendants has a horror story of its own to tell, where loved ones had been murdered, imprisoned for speaking against communism, simply being related to an anti-communist,  forced to flee and emigrate to avoid persecution or personal properties confiscated and given to communists; the communists even chased those who emigrated  across the world, assassinating dozens and blackening the names of all, maliciously, evilly, labelling them as extremists and terrorists. A large portion of the victims of communist crimes were not conscious enemies of the communist regime. They were punished according to their belonging, as “socially dangerous elements”. These were mostly family members of people who have been branded opponents of the regime because they sang no praises to Tito and his communists; women, children and elderly persons. Victims of communism have to be remembered as innocent victims of regimes founded on communist ideology and also as people who stood up to regimes of terror in the name of democracy, the rule of law, and independent statehood, or for other motives.

And those who committed these heinous crimes and atrocities have not faced justice nor have the stolen properties been restored to original owners. There is no real remorse nor condemnation for these acts of communist depravity within the corridors of power. The words spoken at occasions such as the one in Gracani on Friday are cheap and frankly, without real demonstrations of legislative work (such as banning communist symbols, removing from the Constitution the claimed credit given to antifascism as part of the foundation of today’s independent Croatia) that would cement condemnation of communist crimes these words are insulting.

Gracani, Zagreb 23 August 2019 – burial of remains of 294 victims of communist crimes recently dug out of mass graves. PHOTO: HINA

Denial of the Holocaust has been criminalised and listed as hate speech etc., almost worldwide. Are then victims of communist crimes less worthy of such dignity because they were not Jewish! All victims are equally victims and the time has come when denial of communist crimes must be criminalised.

The resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism passed in the European Parliament in April of 2009 recommended declaring 23 August the day of remembrance for victims of communism and Nazism and this has been done in many European countries and in North America. The remembrance of the victims of the Nazi regime, first and foremost victims of the Holocaust, and of the victims of communist regimes on one and the same day has been called an attempt to deprive the Holocaust genocide of its historical uniqueness. Eastern European countries are accused of attempting to hide the collaboration of their own peoples with the national socialists at that time behind the remembrance of victims of communism. Politicising tends to always confuse and bias issues but in 21st century we should be free to say that a victim of the Holocaust is in no way more unique than a victim of communist regimes. Each are a side of the same coin – the coin of power usurpation by brutal force and disregard for human life.  It is time to rip out of the ground the monuments raised during the times of former Yugoslavia to honour the WWII communist Partisans and raise instead, monuments to victims of communist crimes! Ina Vukic

 

 

 

Croatia: President Paid Respects To Victims Of WWII Jasenovac Camp And Prime Minister Did Not!

 

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic At Jasenovac memorial centre 22 April 2015 - 70 Anniversary of liberation of this WWII camp where thousands lost their innocent lives

Croatian President
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
At Jasenovac memorial centre
22 April 2015 – 70 Anniversary
of liberation of this WWII camp where thousands
lost their innocent lives

The past week has marked the 70th anniversary of liberation of WWII concentration camps throughout Europe. In Croatia, on 22 April 1945 some 600 prisoners at the Jasenovac camp revolted and broke out; most were killed in this break out. 22nd April is the official Remembrance Day for the victims of Jasenovac camp.
On that morning in 2015, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic went to Jasenovac memorial site – on her own, alone, somber – bowing in deep respect to the victims who perished there during WWII.

 

Croatia's President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic bows to the victims at Jasenovac

Croatia’s President
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
bows to the victims at Jasenovac

At this moment, 70 years ago today, began the break out of the Jasenovac camp. I bow to the victims and express deep respect to the people who were tortured and killed here. Those were people who had first and last names, who had families and homes, their identity, their wishes and hopes, their dreams, everything that makes a person unique.

As President of the Republic of Croatia and as a human being I unreservedly condemn the crimes of torture and killings that were perpetrated in this place. The ideology that caused these crimes is condemned both morally and legally. Those politics were the will of the regime that tied itself to the Nazi-Fascist Axis and it dishonourably used the legitimate wish of the Croatian people for its own state.

This is a platform of warning in our time too, to resolutely keep the legacy of freedom, democracy, human rights and acknowledgement of diversity. The Republic of Croatia is rightfully proud of its achievements in the protection of human and minority rights. In order to preserve and advance this high level of freedom, it is especially necessary to educate the young to correctly understand democracy and educate them for true humanism and a society in whose centre will always be man in his uniqueness”, President Grabar-Kitarovic wrote, in the Book Of Impressions at the Jasenovac Memorial Centre.

Croatia's President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic writing in the Book of Impressions at Jasenovac, 22 April 2015

Croatia’s President
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
writing in the Book of Impressions
at Jasenovac, 22 April 2015

President Grabar-Kitarovic did not attend on Sunday 26 April 2015 the ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the break-out of inmates from the Ustasha-run Jasenovac, organised by the government, but did send her envoy, Branko Lustig – a survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, who delivered a speech at Jasenovac.
Sunday’s ceremony was attended by surviving former inmates, top Croatian officials, several foreign ambassadors in Croatia, and many other delegations who paid tribute to 83,000 victims of this WW2 camp, says on the Croatian government website (retrieved 29 April 2015).
President Grabar-Kitarovic’s absence from the commemoration on Sunday had given rise to quite a bit of polemicizing and criticising in the Croatian media, almost all of whom failed to pick up on the true meaning and the righteousness of her visit to Jasenovac on Wednesday before.
Just as well Grabar-Kitarovic did not attend the commemoration of 70th anniversary of liberation of Jasenovac last Sunday for it was a disgrace! It was a platform for “Tito’s communist fraternity” that did not focus on the victims who perished there as much as it did on revitalising the personality cult of Josip Broz Tito, the communist regime camouflaged under the term of antifascism. It’s not by accident that in his speech Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said: “For me, there was only one Croatian army in WWII and they were Croatian Partisans and Partisans of Croatia.”

 

Croatia's Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic at Jasenovac, 26 April 2015

Croatia’s Prime Minister
Zoran Milanovic at
Jasenovac, 26 April 2015

 

 

The fact is that Croatian Partisans were members of Yugoslav Army; there was no Croatian Partisan Army. Tito led the Yugoslav Army whose aim was to retain Yugoslavia as a communist federation of states, as opposed to the Kingdom that had crashed as WWII started.
What disappoints and saddens enormously is that Prime Minister Milanovic’s speech at Jasenovac on Sunday did not contain a single word of condolence or sadness for the victims who perished there. He chose to focus on politics! E
How utterly depraved!
There was a march of silence at Auschwitz on Monday 27 January 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of liberation of this Nazi death camp that represents the largest extermination site in human history. In his speech at Auschwitz, after bowing and giving respect to the victims Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski drew a parallel between Nazi Germany and the USSR, recalling the massacre of Polish elites by Soviet forces, BBC reports.

It is our duty to remember for ourselves and for the future,” Komorowski said, concluding his opening speech to loud applause.
And remembering the victims is what Croatia’s President Grabar-Kitarovic did on Wednesday 22 April at Jasenovac. Were she to be present there on the Sunday 26 April, I would imagine she would have been tempted to draw a similar parallel, only, instead of USSR, in the case of Croatia it would be Tito’s communist Yugoslavia. The crimes of the latter have yet to be condemned and judged; their victims have yet to achieve justice and proper remembrance.

To President Grabar-Kitarovic it’s the victims that matter and she has demonstrated the courage to point the finger of condemnation and abhorrence at all totalitarian regimes responsible for murders and extermination of innocent people.
Speaking on Croatian TV news Tuesday 28 April she confirmed that she would go to the Bleiburg commemoration in mid-May but that she would not hold a speech.

I repeat, I think that execution sites must not be used to send political messages and politicking but exclusively as a place of commemoration of the victims and condemnation of all totalitarian regimes,” she said.

 

 

In May 1945, after the victory of Tito’s Partisans, thousands of unarmed soldiers of the WWII Independent State of Croatia and civilians, with women and children and the aged, had walked on foot the great distance, and often rugged terrain on the way to Bleiburg Austria, in order to seek refugee status in the West. Communism was not what they subscribed to. However, they were returned and handed over by British forces to the Yugoslav Communist authorities and hundreds of thousands were killed during death marches on their way back to Yugoslavia, while some were killed by the Partisans without trial in the Bleiburg field. They too, just like the victims of Jasenovac, of Auschwitz of all death camps, deserve remembrance and respect for they were targeted by communists not because of their ethnicity or religion but because of their political beliefs and plight for independence and democracy.
Equalisation of the Nazi/Fascist Holocaust crimes with Communist crimes is and may be and is undoubtedly seen by many scholars, politicians and ordinary people as the greatest threat to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and that it serves to exculpate populations complicit in the extermination of their Jewish (and other) minorities during WWII. But remembering the crimes of Holocaust must not and should not obstruct or deny the remembering of the crimes of communism and in paying fit tribute to its victims. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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