Subject: ANTIFA INFO-BULLETIN, Number 114

From: Tom Burghardt <>

Date: April 14, 1997

On Thursday, the final day of campaigning before local elections on Sunday, supporters of Croatia's Party of Rights used the chant as a rallying cry. But the shouts of the black-shirted young men -- and the indifferent reactions of passers-by -- illustrated a broader aspect of this country's self-image.

President Franjo Tudjman and his Croatian Democratic Union party rose to popularity and power on the strength of its appeals to Croatians' national pride. Now, six years after the war that won Croatia its independence from Yugoslavia, Tudjman's party continues to cast the World War II fascist regime as patriots and precursors of the modern Croatian state.

The Party of Rights took only 7 percent of the vote in the last election, but it is the closest ally of Tudjman, who is reported to be suffering from cancer and who has actively participated in the campaign.

Perhaps no other country has failed as openly as Croatia to come to terms with its fascist legacy. While the French celebrate a resistance movement that was often dwarfed by the widespread collaboration with the Vichy regime, and while the Austrians often act as if the war never happened, the Croats have rehabilitated the Croatian fascist collaborators, known as the Ustashe.

The Ustashe was led by Ante Pavelic, the wartime dictator whose picture was plastered on walls in Split in preparation for the rally.

Ustashe veterans receive larger pensions than old Partisan fighters, who waged a savage fight against the German and Croatian fascist armies. Former Ustashe soldiers are invited to state celebrations, like the annual army day, while Partisan fighters are ignored. And state authorities have stood by as pro- Ustashe groups have dismantled or destroyed 2,964 of 4,073 monuments to those who died in the resistance struggle, according to veteran Partisan groups.

The identification with the quisling regime does not stop there. The Croatian currency is the kuna, the same instituted by the fascists. And the red and white checkerboard on the flag, taken from medieval Croatian emblems, previously adorned the Ustashe uniform.

The president recently proposed bringing Pavelic's remains from Spain, where he died in exile in 1959, for burial in Croatia, a move rejected by Pavelic's family. And Vinko Nikolic, an 85-year-old former high-ranking Ustashe official who fled into exile after the war, was appointed by the president to the Croatian Parliament.

The transformation is all the more noticeable because of widespread participation by many Croats in the Partisan guerrilla movement led by Josip Broz Tito, himself a Croat.

The Partisans, who included among their ranks a young Franjo Tudjman, committed what today is viewed as an unforgivable sin. They built a united, communist Yugoslavia.

And while the Ustashe state may have been a Nazi puppet, it had as its stated aim the establishment of an independent Croatia, although it was forced by the Axis to turn over large parts of Croatia, including much of the Dalmatian coast, to the Italians.

In the current campaign, Tudjman sought to reconcile the country's wartime divisions by arguing that the fascist and anti- fascist Croatians performed equally valuable service for their country.

A general who became a historian after leaving the Yugoslav army, Tudjman is among the leaders of a revisionist school of history that has sought to counterbalance the communists' relentlessly dark view of the fascist years.

But many Croats, especially those who had relatives killed by the fascists, smolder with indignation over the glorification of a regime that slaughtered opponents with a ferocity that often shocked its Italian and German allies.

The climate has become so charged that those who oppose the rehabilitation of the Ustashe do not dare raise their voices.

And there have been several attacks carried out against members of the Social Democratic Party, the old communist party, currently fielding candidates for the municipal elections. Many of the black-uniformed bodyguards at the rally fought against the Serbs as members of the Croatian Liberation Forces, a brutal right-wing paramilitary unit formed by the party.

The Ustashe supporters also have a powerful ally in the Catholic Church in Croatia. The church, led during the war by Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac, was a prominent backer of the Ustashe regime. It forcibly converted tens of thousands of Orthodox Serbs and did not denounce the government's roundup and slaughter of Jews and Serbs.

During the war, Jews and Orthodox Serbs were subject to racial laws. The Serbs had to wear blue armbands with the letter "P" for "Pravoslav" -- Orthodox -- before being deported to death camps like Jasenovac.

After the war, many priests, rather than condemn the brutality of the fascist regime, went on to set up an underground network known as "the rat line" to smuggle former Ustashe leaders, including Pavelic, to countries like Argentina.

The [Roman Catholic] church, persecuted by the communists, has now re-emerged as one of the most powerful institutions in the country, in large part because religion is the only tangible difference separating Serbs, Muslims and Croats. Several priests have enthusiastically joined the rehabilitation campaign, portraying Pavelic as a pious leader who championed Christian values.

"Ante Pavelic was a good Catholic," said Father Luka Prcela, who has held a memorial mass for the former dictator in Split for the last four years. "He went to mass daily in his own chapel. Many of the crimes alleged to have been committed by his government never happened. These stories were lies spread by the communists. He fought for a free, Catholic Croatia. We have this state today because of him."


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