NEW YORK TIMES
ON MY MIND
April 15, 1997
Back From the Grave
By A.M. ROSENTHAL
In World War II, Hitler had no executioners more willing, no ally more passionate, than the Fascists of Croatia. They are returning, 50 years later, from what should have been their eternal grave, the defeat of Nazi Germany.
The Western allies who dug that grave with the bodies of their servicemen have the power to stop them, but do not.
Croatian Fascists, known as the Ustashe, fought alongside German troops against Serbs, Muslims and Croats trying desperately, and vainly, to block the Nazi conquest of Yugoslavia. In 1941 Hitler rewarded Croatian Fascists by carving out a Croatian state and letting them run it. They did not let him down.
The Ustashe slaughtered Serbs, Jews and non-Fascist Croats -- and with such glee and such cruelty that their name became a terror and stench throughout Europe.
Croatia disappeared with Hitler's annihilation in 1945. A half-century later the West created a new Croatia, by recognizing the secession from Yugoslavia of Croatian nationalists, led by one Franjo Tudjman.
Not all were Fascists, by any means, but now the Ustashe is running in elections, brutalizing its enemies -- Croat, Serb or Jew. Mr. Tudjman is giving them what they need most -- presence, and the rewriting of history.
Two documents are a short course on the Ustashe. To honor the murdered and protect the future, read them.
From pages 323-328 of the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (Macmillan):
"More than a half million Serbs were killed, a quarter million expelled, 200,000 forced to convert to the Catholicism of the Croatian Fascists.
"Thousands were hurled from mountain tops, others were beaten to death, entire villages were burned down, women raped, people sent on death marches in the middle of winter, still others starved to death."
Jews? Ante Pavelic, the Ustashe leader, announced that the Jews would be "liquidated within a very short time." They were, most of the 40,000.
But some chosen as victims did survive. Study the picture of the children after the camps were freed. They wear only bones and tightened skin. Serbs? Jews?
The second document is a fine piece of journalism from Croatia by the New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges (April 12) about the rebirth of Fascism there -- the bullying, the sieg-ing and heil-ing in Croatian, the whole nastiness.
Most important is the increasing work of Mr. Tudjman -- a longtime Holocaust denier -- to recast the Fascists as patriots and founders of the new Croatia.
This man likes to talk about how he himself fought German soldiers. Now a major political, military and financial beneficiary of the West, he permits pictures of Fascists dead and alive to be plastered around the country. He gives special status and pensions to Ustashe veterans.
He tried to get the body of the killer-chief Pavelic returned from Spain, where he had fled, and buried with honor in Zagreb -- like reburying Himmler under the linden.
The family objected. So he brought back another Ustashe killer, this one alive, and made him a member of Parliament.
Western recognition of Mr. Tudjman's Croatia was pushed hardest by Germany despite warnings from Bosnian Muslims that the timing could set off war among themselves,Serbs and Croats.
Franjo Tudjman is now ours. The West cannot evade responsibility for the rebirth of Fascism in Croatia. Peter Galbraith, U.S. Ambassador to Croatia, told me he had denounced Croatian ethnic cleansing of Serbs last year, and considered the glorification of the Ustashe an insult to Croats who fought Nazis, and to American veterans of World War II.
Mr. Tudjman and his Fascist protégés brush off ambassadorial protest with insult. Would he brush off the Presidents of the U.S. and France, the British Prime Minister -- or the Chancellor of Germany -- if they took action to stop Croatian Fascism? Such as denouncing the Tudjman buildup of the Ustashe, then reducing Western representation to sub-ambassadorial and slashing economic help to Croatia -- the whole list?
That won't change the Ustashe or improve Mr. Tudjman's sickness of body and character. But it could force him to end Fascist rehabilitation work.
Or has the West become so sick itself that it will permit Croatian Fascism to live on beyond the grave?