Croatia’s Ombudsperson Lora Vidovic said that Ustasha symbols have become increasingly visible in the country, while the crimes that the Nazi-allied movement committed during World War II are being downplayed by politicians and media.
“Throughout Croatia, the [stylised letter] U [which stands] for Ustasha, the greeting ‘Za dom spremni’ [‘Ready for the Home(land)’), a slogan used by the Ustasha movement] and its acronym ‘ZDS’, and swastikas can be seen,” Vidovic said in a written statement.
The symbols are also used on websites and social networks, as well as printed on T-shirts, she said.
“In the last few years, books have been printed, articles and interviews have been written and published, forums have been held, documentaries and broadcasting television shows have been recorded that deny or downplay the criminal character of the [Ustasha-led] Independent State of Croatia,” she added.
Vidovic expressed concern that such views have appeared in the official gazette of the Catholic Church, and have also entered the mainstream media, including the public broadcaster, as well as being disseminated by nationalist outlets.
She noted that authorities often did not react to such incidents, and that the European Parliament last month urged EU member states to take measures to condemn and suppress all forms of denial of the Holocaust, including the trivialisation and minimisation of the crimes of Nazis and their associates.
The European Parliament’s resolution also expressed concern about the rise of right-wing extremism and neo-fascism in Croatia.
Article 325 of the Croatian criminal code says that people who “call for hatred or violence to be directed against groups… because of their racial, religious, national or ethnic affiliation” can be punished with a three-year prison sentence, while organisers of groups that spread hate can face up to six years in prison.
Article 325 also says that people who “publicly approve of, deny or significantly belittle criminal acts of genocide, acts of aggression, crimes against humanity or war crimes” can face up to three years in prison.
However, hardly anyone who chants ‘Za dom spremni’ or displays Ustasa insignia is prosecuted according to Article 325. Instead they are usually charged under misdemeanour legislation and fined.