Notwithstanding the inability of the Jewish community to obtain a satisfactory reponse from official quarters to their complaints about racist and anti-Jewish activities, on a day-to-day basis antisemitism remains a marginal problem. Moreover, top government officials, not least the president, continue to condemn unequivocally war-time Croatia's complicity in the Holocaust.

However, the Jewish community remains concerned about the government's ongoing nationalist course, which involves the gradual rehabilitation of the war-time Nazi puppet regime, the Independent State of Croatia, its leadership and, to some degree, the pro-fascist Ustasa movement, although this process has no anti-Jewish component.

Demographic data

Total population: 4.7 million

Jewish population: 3,000 (mainly in Zagreb)

Religion: the vast majority of the population are Roman Catholic; other major faiths are Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Islam

Political data

Political system: constitutional parliamentary democracy with a powerful presidency

Government: President Franjo Tudjman (re-elected in June 1997 for a second five-year term) serves as head of state and commander of the armed forces; his party, the Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica (HDZ, Croatian Democratic Union), holds the majority of seats in both houses of parliament and has ruled since independence in 1991

Economic data

GDP: 6.5 per cent (January-December 1997); 9.9 per cent (January-June 1998)

Inflation September 1997-September 1998: 5.8 per cent (3.6 per cent at the end of 1997)

Unemployment December 1997: 16.5 per cent (government figure)

There is no significant tradition of grassroots antisemitism in the former Yugoslav federation. In the 1930s and, during the Second World War, antisemitism, especially of the racial variety, remained a Nazi 'import' that never became deeply rooted in the country. Under the pro-Nazi Ustasa regime in the Independent State of Croatia many thousands of Serbs, Jews and Roma perished in concentration camps.

In his book 'Wanderings of Historical Truth', published in the late 1980s, President Tudjman claimed, inter alia, that figures for the number of Jews who had died in the Holocaust had been exaggerated. He later apologized to western Jewish organizations for these remarks.

The government of President Tudjman continues to support the rehabilitation of the war-time pro-Nazi Independent State of Croatia and its leadership. Thus, for example, anti-fascist monuments around the country are being demolished and the names of the fascist murderers wiped clean. At the end of 1997 the Croatian parliament changed its name to 'Parliament of the Croatian State', a name that was used only during the existence of the Independent State of Croatia.

On 4 October 1998, during a visit to Croatia, the Pope beatified Zagreb's Second World War archbishop, Alojzije Stepinac. Archbishop Stepinac is revered by Croatians as an anti-Communist martyr but reviled by others as a fascist collaborator. The beatification took place despite protests from the Serbian government and a demand by the Simon Wiesenthal Center that it be postponed 'until after the completion of an exhaustive study of Stepinac's war-time record'. Croatian Jewish groups dissociated themselves from the protest.

War crimes

In April 1998 Dinko Sakic, seventy-six, a former commander at Jasenovac concentration camp, was found to be living in Argentina (see also Argentina). Sakic allegedly oversaw the murder of more than 500,000 people, including 20,000 of Croatia's pre-war Jewish population of 25,000. On 17 June 1998, following an extradition request by Croatia, Sakic was extradited by Argentina. On 2 November 1998 Dinko Sakic's wife, Nada Sakic (née Luburic), was also extradited for alleged war crimes committed at the Stara Gradiska concentration camp (see Argentina).

On 2 July 1998 Zagreb county court president Miroslav Sumanovic expressed serious concern over a statement by Efraim Zuroff, the Israel representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. On the previous day Zuroff is reported to have said that, if the Croatian court were to find Sakic not guilty, it would mean that 'the Croatian state was a farce as well as the Croatian judiciary, and the whole world will know about it'.

Constitutionally, Croatian Serbs and other minority groups enjoy the same protection as other self-identified ethnic and religious groups. In practice, Serbs suffer severe discrimination in such areas as the administration of justice, employment, housing and freedom of movement.

Religion (as a reflection of ethnicity) is frequently used to identify non-Croats and as another way of singling them out for discriminatory practices. The Muslim community suffers from discrimination and Croatian Muslims and Bosnian refugees report widespread discrimination in many areas such as citizenship and employment rights.

The close identification of religion with ethnicity results in religious institutions being targets of violence. An Orthodox priest who in January 1997 attempted to re-consecrate the Serbian Orthodox Church in Knin was threatened by a mob of ethnic Croats. In August 1997 another Orthodox priest was attacked by an ethnic Croat mob in the town of Drnis as he attempted to celebrate mass in the Orthodox church there; several uniformed police officers who were present did nothing to restrain the crowd.

The Hrvatski Oslobodilacki Pokret (HOP, Croatian Liberation Movement) remains active on the fringe of Croatian politics. The party, originally founded in Argentina in 1956 by Ante Pavelic (see also Argentina), leader of the war-time Ustasa movement and the Nazi puppet Independent State of Croatia, was in 1993 registered in Croatia and unsuccessfully took part in parliamentary elections in 1995.

According to the Zagreb Jewish community (report dated March 1998), two Catholic churches (in Zagreb and Split) continue to be used to propagate Pavelic's ideology and his Ustasa movement. 'It has become common practice to hold services for Pavelic when followers of his political ideas get together.'

In May 1997 newspapers carried reports stating that in Karlovac, a town near Zagreb, unknown perpetrators had desecrated Jewish graveyards and defaced gravestones with Ustasa and Nazi symbols.

In the autumn of 1997 daubings of swastikas were found on a plate commemorating the Zagreb synagogue which was destroyed in 1942.

In a March 1998 report, the Zagreb Jewish community said it had protested publicly and voiced complaints to the Croatian government and parliament regarding racist and antisemitic incidents, but without positive results.

The most controversial issue in Croatia in 1997 was the publication of a Croatian translation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The publication was particularly damaging in so far as the preface contained no warning about the book's historical inaccuracy and antisemitic contents. Owing to considerable publicity in the media, according to the Zagreb Jewish community, the book remained on the bestseller lists for several months

In 1997 the newspaper Narod, edited by the Catholic priest Ante Bakovic, published a number of articles depicting Jews as conspirators who control international industry, media and banking.

In July 1997 Mladen Schwartz, an individual of Jewish origin and an ultra-nationalist agitator, promoted his book 'Protocols, Jews and Adolf Hitler' in Zagreb's main square. In the book Schwartz poses such questions as 'Why should the Croatian state be in the service of Judeo-lobbyists?' Police apparently did not intervene.

Ljubica Stefan, who has been awarded with the Righteousness among Nations medal by the Jerusalem-based Holocaust research institute Yad Vashem, has been a regular contributor to the pro-Tudjman daily newspaper Vjesnik.

In August 1997 relations between the state of Israel and Croatia were established. At the ceremony Croatian authorities apologized on behalf of the people of Croatia for crimes committed during the Second World War.

On 19 April 1998, on the occasion of the fifty-third anniversary of the escape of inmates from the Jasenovac concentration camp, a commemorative meeting was held at the Kameni cvijet monument in Jasenovac. Among those who took part were Slobodan Lang, President Tudjman's adviser on humanitarian issues; General Janko Bobetko, chairman of the parliamentary war veterans' committee, who laid a wreath also on behalf of the Croatian state assembly; Ivan Fumic, chairman of the Croatian federation of anti-fascist fighters; and Ognjen Kraus, chairman of the Zagreb Jewish community.

On 22 April 1998 President Tudjman received the credentials of the first Israeli ambassador to Croatia, Natan Meron. In his speech Tudjman said, among other things: 'During the Second World War, within the quisling regime in Croatia, Holocaust crimes were also committed against members of the Jewish people. The Croatian public then, during the Second World War, and today, including the Croatian government and me personally, have condemned the crimes that the Ustasa committed not only against Jews but also against democratic Croats and even against the members of other nations in the Independent State of Croatia.'

On 11 May 1998 the Croatian deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Mate Granic, apologized at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Institute for the persecution that led to the deaths of Croatian Jews in the Holocaust: '[Modern] democratic Croatia in the strongest possible terms condemns fascism, racial hatred, xenophobia and antisemitism. I testify to the deepest regret and condemnation of the persecution, suffering and the tragedy of the Jews on Croatian territory under the Ustasa regime.'

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Institute for Jewish Policy Research and American Jewish Committee

© JPR 1999