The Council of Europe (CoE) has expressed alarm over the rise of right-wing extremism and neo-fascism in Croatia in a new report published on Tuesday.
The increase has been reinforced by the “glorification” of ideologies from World War II — especially of Croatia’s fascist Ustasha regime, which fought alongside Nazi Germany, according to the report by the CoE’s Anti-Racism Commission.
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The report’s publication comes three days after the annual memorial mass in Bleiburg, in the Austrian province of Carinthia, to remember the tens of thousands of Ustasha militia members, regime sympathizers and civilians who were killed by Communist forces at the end of World War II.
Politicians using hate speech
The report found that some politicians used inflammatory speech to fuel conflicts between different sections of the population, and this did not only apply to extreme parties, but the “entire political spectrum,” especially ahead of elections.
The hate speech was often directed against Roma and refugees — particularly Muslims.
According to the report, more than 20 years after the end of the Balkan war, the Serbian minority in Croatia continues to be the target of racially motivated attacks and Serbian houses and institutions are often marked with Nazi and Ustasha symbols.
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The report notes that in December 2013, the leader of the far-right Croatian Party of Rights sent a message with “blatantly hateful expressions” to the director of the memorial site to the World War II concentration camp in Jasenovac, where the majority of victims were Serbs.
The message ended with the Ustasha regime salute “Za dom — spremni” (“Ready for the homeland”), a greeting that is just as forbidden in Croatia as the Hitler salute is in Germany. Is it still often seen at the meetings of right-wing extremists and neo-fascists and at certain music events.
Battle of Hürtgen Forest
US forces fought a decisive battle against the German Wehrmacht in Hürtigen Forest near Aachen, marking an important Allied victory on German soil. Lasting from October 1944 to February 1945, it would also be remembered as the longest battle fought in Germany. Hürtigen Forest is now part of the “Liberation Route Europe,” a remembrance trail along the advance of the Western Allied forces.
Bridge at Remagen
Surprised it was still standing, US forces captured the railway bridge at Remagen, south of Cologne, on March 7, 1945. Thousands of US soldiers were able to cross the Rhine for the first time in what became known as the “miracle of Remagen.” German bombing runs eventually led to the bridge’s collapse 10 days after it was captured. Today there is a peace museum in the remains of the bridge towers.
Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
While the US forces transported their fallen soldiers back to America, the British soldiers who died found their final resting place in 15 cemeteries in Germany. The biggest of these is the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Reichswald, close to the Dutch border. Amongst the 7,654 dead there are some 4,000 pilots and crews of fighter planes, of whom many were Canadian.
Seelow Heights Memorial
In the east, the Soviet Red Army launched the last big offensive on April 16, 1945. The Battle of the Seelow Heights began at dawn with bombardments to aid the push towards Berlin. Some 900,000 Soviet soldiers faced 90,000 Wehrmacht soldiers. The largest World War II battle on German soil – as well as the thousands of dead that resulted from it – are commemorated by the memorial there today.
Elbe Day in Torgau
Soviet and US forces meet for the first time on German soil in Torgau on the Elbe River on April 25, 1945. The event effectively closed the gap between Eastern and Western fronts. The war’s end moved within reach and the soldiers’ handshake in Torgau became an iconic image. The meeting of Allied troops is remembered in the Saxon town every year on Elbe Day.
German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst
German armed forces signed the unconditional surrender in the night of May 8-9, 1945, in the officers’ mess in Berlin-Karlhorst. Today the original Act of Surrender, which was written in English, German and Russian, is the main feature in the museum’s surrender room. Another permanent exhibition focuses on the Nazi war of annihilation against the Soviet Union, which began in 1941.
Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park
The sheer size of the memorial in Treptower Park is impressive. The memorial, including the military cemetery, covers an area of some 100,000 square meters. It was built after the Second World War to commemorate the Red Army soldiers who fell in the Battle of Berlin. A pair of stylized Soviet flags made of red granite serves as the portal to the memorial.
Potsdam conference in Cecilienhof Palace
After Nazi Germany’s surrender, the heads of government from the three main Allied forces met at Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam in the summer of 1945. Joseph Stalin, Harry S. Truman and Winston Churchill led the delegations at what became known as the Potsdam Conference, called to establish post-war order in Europe. It ultimately decided on the division of Germany into four occupation zones.
Berlin was also divided into four sectors. The district Zehlendorf became the American sector. Here the former US Army cinema “Outpost” has been turned into part of the Allied Museum. It documents the political history and the military commitments of the Western Allies in Berlin – detailing the occupation of West Berlin in 1945, the airlift to the city and the withdrawal of US troops in 1994.
Schönhausen Palace in Berlin
This Prussian Baroque palace was the location of the so-called Round Table talks in 1990 among both Germanys and the powers that occupied Germany at the end of the war: the USA, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. The four powers renounced all rights they held in Germany, paving the way for German Unification. Several plaques commemorate that this is where World War II finally ended.
Racism in the media
According to the report, there are also dozens of photos circulating on social networks, such as Facebook, showing Croats wearing Ustasha uniforms.
Some media outlets also participate in the hate speech. The report highlighted a case in which a presenter on the popular TV station Z1 TV warned viewers not to walk near the Serbian Orthodox church in the capital Zagreb because their children could become “victims of butchers” there.
Mass to mourn Ustasha militia
The exact number of people killed is controversial, but some 40,000 fugitive soldiers who had fought with Nazi Germany were handed over to the Communist Tito units in Bleiburg with their family members by the British occupying forces. Thousands were killed on the spot or on the way back to Yugoslavia.
Although the memorial mass is an annual event, the gatherings have increasingly developed into a meeting of right-wing extremists. About 10,000 people participated in this year’s memorial, including some Croatian government representatives.
In April, Austria’s chancellor said he was powerless to stop the commemoration of a 1945 massacre that has become a magnet for supporters of the Nazis’ Croatian allies and far-right sympathizers.
“The event taking place is an event organised by the [Croatian] Church,” Sebastian Kurz said ahead of the annual May 12 gathering in Bleiburg. “That means it is neither the decision of the federal government nor of the state premier [of Carinthia] and his administration whether this event takes place.”
“If there are breaches of [Austrian] law then of course the authorities will act in a very decisive manner,” Kurz said.
law/msh (AFP, dpa, KNA)