20 May 16 balkaninsight.com
Croatian Culture Minister Visits Controversial 1990s Memorial
Sven Milekic

Culture minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic visited a memorial to a 1990s unit named after a WWII Nazi-allied commander, saying it was only controversial to people who don’t respect war veterans.

Culture minister Hasanbegovic visited the memorial dedicated to a 1990s Croatian Defence Forces paramilitary unit named after WWII Nazi-allied Ustasa commander Rafael Boban in Split on Thursday.

After he laid a wreath at the memorial, Hasanbegovic said that it is only controversial to those who don’t respect the sacrifice made by the Croatia’s 1990s war veterans.

“I was especially eager to take a bow in front of the monument, which is still not accepted by those who don’t respect the sacrifices made by the defenders,” he said.

“I will always say that the Homeland War [Croatia’s 1990s war] and the defenders’ sacrifices are the only true thing on which the Croatian state rests,” he added.

He also said that Croatian Defence Forces fighters distinguished themselves with “their chivalry, bravery, national fanaticism and honour”, making them and all Croatian war veterans “permanent role models for our kids”.

Hasanbegovic has been criticised for controversial articles he wrote in the past praising fascist Croatian fighters and for his highly contested opinion on WWII history.

Hasanbegovic also spoke about his visit on Saturday to a memorial in Bleiburg in southern Austria, where Croatian Nazi-aligned forces were captured by the Yugoslav Partisans in May 1945. Many of them were executed while they were being taken back to Yugoslavia.

He said the killings were a reminder of “the foundations of the Yugoslav Communist dictatorship and a state that derived from a crime”.

He added that in April, he also visited Jasenovac, a WWII concentration camp run by fascist Ustasa forces in central Croatia where over 83,000 people died, because he wants to pay respect to all victims from the “unfortunate World War II and post-war period”, irrespective of which army or regime killed them.

“This is the only way to genuine reconciliation,” he said.

The Croatian Defence Forces’ Knight Rafael Boban unit marked its 25th anniversary in April by chanting a fascist slogan and calling for it to be legalised.

The Knight Rafael Boban unit uses the chant ‘Za dom spremni’ (‘Ready for the Homeland’), the slogan of the WWII Nazi-aligned puppet regime, the Independent State of Croatia, claiming it is an old Croatian slogan.

The unit has been accused by several activists and members of the public in Split of being responsible for violent illegal evictions in the city during the war.

Partly motivated by the unit’s recent anniversary celebration, Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s Israel and Eastern Europe office and the organisation’s chief Nazi-hunter, warned in April that “neo-fascist Croatian revisionists” have been trying to change the image of the Independent State of Croatia and its Ustasa units.

The Croatian Defence Forces were created as the armed wing of the right-wing Croatian Party of Rights in 1991, and were integrated into the Croatian army the following year.