Members of Croatia's Serb, Jewish, and Roma ethnic minority associations and the largest anti-fascist group SABA took part in a joint remembrance ceremony at the site of the World War II concentration camp of Jasenovac on Friday, eschewing the main state-sponsored event for the fourth year in a row.
The annual Jasenovac remembrance ceremony has become a politically charged affair in recent years, with groups representing anti-fascists and the Jewish, Roma, and Serb ethnic minorities eschewing the annual state-sponsored event to mark the April anniversary of the 1945 attempted escape of prisoners from the camp.
Around 80,000 Jews, Serbs, Roma, and anti-fascist Croats are thought to have been killed in the camp, run by Croatian fascist regime during World War II.
Since 2016 associations representing groups persecuted at Jasenovac have been organising remembrance ceremonies at Jasenovac outside of the official state-backed protocol, usually several days before the official ceremony, which is this year scheduled to be held on April 14.
Their refusal to join government officials at Jasenovac came in protest against what they say is the government's tacit approval of the use of World War II-era fascist slogans in public by some Croatian right wing groups, as well as the increasing revisionism of crimes committed by the wartime fascist Ustasha regime.
'We only ask for Croatian laws to be respected as much as Austria's'
On Friday, the leader of the alliance of Jewish communities in Croatia, Ognjen Kraus, compared the ceremony to the one in the Austria's border town of Bleiburg, which commemorates soldiers and civilians loyal to the Ustashe regime killed in the closing days of World War II.
"If you had invested the same amount of effort into talking to us that you did into the Bleiburg commemoration, we would have just one (unified) remembrance ceremony here. All we ask is for you to respect Croatia's own laws the same way you intend to respect Austria's," Kraus said, addressing the government.
Over the years, the Bleiburg comemmoration, which involves an open-air mass held by Croatian Catholic priests, and which is in part funded by the Croatian Parliament, became one of the main events in the calendar of Croatia's right-wing and far-right groups, some of which regularly displayed World War II insignia and slogans at the event.
Austrian government recently imposed a ban Ustasha symbols in Austria, and the local diocese refused to issue a permit for the Catholic mass to be held at the site this year. The latter decision was criticised by Croatia's government officials, who insist that the Bleiburg ceremony is all about honouring the pro-regime civilians killed in the aftermath of World War II.
''No space for revisionism in Europe of today'
The ceremony on Friday in Jasenovac was also attended by Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, as well as diplomats from embassies of Australia, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, the UK, and others.
"Some politicians in Croatia downplay the responsibility of the perpetrators of crimes, they glorify them, or even flat out deny crimes of the past. The history of Jasenovac indicates very clearly why that is a dangerous route to take. There should be no space for historical revisionism in the Europe of today," Mijatovic said at the ceremony according to state news agency Hina.
Kraus said that Croatia's Foreign Ministry had tried contacting embassies accredited to Croatia to preventing foreign embassadors from attending the Friday ceremony. The ministry has not replied to N1 television's request for comment by the time of writing.
"Attacks on constitutional and democratic values by the extreme right - the historically defeated forces in Croatia - have become too strong over the past few years and have spread too far in the political and public space," leader of the main Serb group, the Serb National Council (SNV) and MP, Milorad Pupovac, said, as quoted by Hina.