Public displays of World War II-era Ustasha symbols, downplaying of the Holocaust, and problems with the return of seized Jewish-owned property are the main criticisms of Croatia in the US State Department's International Religious Freedom Report for 2017 released on Wednesday.
The report is compiled by the State Department every year based on information collected from government officials, NGOs, church officials, academic community, and journalists.
In the section referring to Croatia, a series of cases of public displays of Ustasha-related symbols and Holocaust denial that happened in 2017 is listed, including the controversial memorial plaque dedicated to veterans of the 1991-95 war containing the Ustasha-era slogan near the Jasenovac World War II memorial, the gathering of radical far-right members in Zagreb, and a concert by the singer Marko Perkovic Thompson in the town of Slunj.
“Jewish community leaders continued to report concerns about Holocaust denial, distancing, and minimisation and the use by some of Ustasha symbols and slogans. Some Jewish community leaders said there were incidents of significant historical revisionism and downplaying of the country’s role in the Holocaust, and expressed dissatisfaction with how the government responded to cases of anti-Semitism, such as the placement of the controversial plaque at Jasenovac,” the report said.
Also mentioned are attacks against ethnic Serbs in Croatia, and cases of vandalism targeting Orthodox churches that the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Irinej, had warned about. He said that during his visit to Jasenovac in 2016 he witnessed pro-Ustasha graffiti on the walls of the memorial site, the report said.
A large part of the report is dedicated to the official state-sponsored commemoration at the site of the World War II-era Ustasha-run concentration camp at Jasenovac, which has been boycotted two years in a row by members of the Jewish and Serb communitie, as well as anti-fascist groups.
“Senior government officials attended an annual commemoration of victims of the World War II (WWII)-era Jasenovac death camp, which Jewish and Serb (largely Orthodox) leaders boycotted to protest placement near the camp of a private plaque bearing a salute of the fascist Ustasha organization and the lack of government action to remove the plaque,” the report said.
Although government officials later condemned the plaque and had it moved elsewhere, a special council was formed to decide on the legality of the use of the salute.
The report also mentioned members of the non-parliamentary far-right party A-HSP who marched through Zagreb carrying a flag sporting an Ustasha-related coat of arms and their party flag with the controversial salute.
Another case reported was the concert in Slunj in August 2017 given by the popular singer Marko Perkovic Thompson who led pro-Ustashe chanting and was formally reported by the state attorney office, although the court later dismissed charges against him.
The State Department also warned that the government did not do enough for Jews whose property has been seized during World War II.
“The US embassy continued to encourage the government to restitute property seized during and after WWII, particularly from the Jewish community during the Holocaust, and advocated amendments to existing legislation that would allow for restitution and compensation claims with a revised deadline for new applications,” the report said.
Croatia's current law does not allow Croatian citizens whose property has been seized in the Holocaust to seek restitution or damages, because the law does not apply to the 1941-45 period. The law also does not allow people who are not Croatian citizens to file new requests for restitution, as the deadline to do so expired in 2003 and has not been renewed.