A letter written by Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović on Tuesday, January 30, was a message written in trouble and problems. In fact, it was the only option she still had. Simply, there were too many questions coming to Zagreb and remaining unanswered. First of all, it was no longer possible to create an impression that they did not exist.
The discussion about the Croatian concentration camp Jasenovac again spoke about the attitude of Croatian politics towards state doctrines on ethnic purity and the slaughter of everyone who is different, as a tool of the then politics. The Croatian president probably knew that the correct or at least apparently convincing answer to the great exhibition about the horrors of Jasenovac, organized and arranged by the Republic of Serbia in the headquarters of the United Nations in New York, simply does not exist. Also, that there is no answer to the most general question on why such an exhibition, in the same place, was not prepared by Croatia?
That is why the Croatian Foreign Ministry sent a diplomatic note to the Serbian embassy in Zagreb in the last January week. They protested against the statement of Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić, who accused Croatia of rehabilitating the Ustasha establishment. The Croatian note was addressed without respect to any diplomatic rules, and the Serbian response circumvented them as well.
Dačić simply replied. That they sent them the note by fax, and that he would personally send them by registered mail the names and surnames of twenty thousand children who were killed in Jasenovac and other camps. He added that he could not understand why he would have to apologize for organizing a memorial exhibition about “how they slaughtered us and killed us in an Ustasha-led concentration camp and where they killed in the most horrible ways and organized competitions in who would kill more Serbs, Jews and Roma.”
Of course, the president knows the answers, but at the same time she knows what kind of political consequences they would cause. Even the small issue of the removal of the memorial plaque with Ustasha greeting – za dom spremni (For home (land) – ready!)- which was set in front of the entrance to the Jasenovac memorial centre a few years ago, despite moving the plate to a new location, along the Pakrac – Novska road, remains an unresolved issue for the current Croatian government.
Attempts to change history and the quiet but persistent support they have in the ruling party are preventing the government of Andrej Plenković to condemn Ustasha greeting, and they are at the same time the answer on the question of the president’s incapability in relation to the Jasenovac issues.
Two years ago, I read the research, signed by Igor Vukić, Stipe Pilić, Vladimir Horvat and Blanka Matković, about Jasenovac camps. Their thesis was that essentially there were three camps, an alleged working camp between 1941 and 1945, which later changed to death camp at the time of communism, and after 1948 to prisons for the Inform bureau’s supporters.
No one dared to write such a radical lie so far, as the Croatian historian Slavko Goldstein wrote in one of the reviews. Moreover, the above research was a complete denial that the camp had existed during the Second World War. As proof of the claim, the authors cited the interesting testimony of Mladen Lorković from 1946. Lorković was one of the first signatories of the declaration of proclamation of the State of NDH and a request to Hitler’s Germany for recognition and protection. Later, he became firstly the minister of foreign affairs, and then of the internal affairs of the self-proclaimed state. Just before the end of the Second Great War, probably influenced and due to friendship with German General Edmund Glaise von Horstenau, who had taken care of German interests in Croatia, Lorković was the initiator of military coup and removal of Ante Pavelic. The German general wrote in his book, Memoirs of the NDH, that he had to completely distance himself from the consequences of the bloodthirsty politics of Ante Pavelić and his group of murderers, from the prominent holders of such bloody methods of governance. In 1944, Lorković attempted to connect with anti-fascist allies and embrace the other side, but he and his companions were too compromised for anyone to want to talk to them. Pavelić learned about the plan and imprisoned the rebels from his government, and in May 1945 ordered their assassination.
Now we can go back to that research published in 2015. The authors overlooked that their key witness, Lorković, was already dead at the time of testifying, for almost a year already.
When Plenković negotiated last summer and early autumn about the removal of the memorial plaque with an Ustasha greeting, one of his interlocutors was retired lieutenant Colonel Marko Skejo. I remembered him because of the television news that was shot and published in April 1995. At that time, he led some sort of memorial march of his soldiers through Split. For 1995, it was still a time of war, that would have not be completely unusual if Skejo had not driven in front of the marching group in the replica of Pavelić’s black Mercedes from 1940 and if the participants in the march had not cheered all the time a scandalous “that they are Ustashas, that they are fighting for the leader Pavelić, and that they are for the homeland ready (“za dom spremni”).” The same lieutenant colonel Skejo, who, along with other like-minded people, negotiated last year with the Croatian government, acting naive, explained that Croats always had their history written by others, who changed it and thus also produced a myth about Jasenovac, a death camp. Skye tried to prove that it was “an open-type hospital in which only proven Croatian enemies and the gravest patients died.” The result of the conversation was the relocation of the Ustasha greeting table in the immediate surroundings of the military camp.
After Dačić’s response to the Croatian protest note, the president, Grabar Kitarović, knew that the re-freezing of relations with Serbia would have a too strong international response. And that would be a new evidence of the disputes Croatia has with its neighbours. For this reason, she wrote a letter to Vučić.
On February 12 and 13 this year, the president and the president will meet again. The topics of the meeting were determined several years ago, during the talks between former Serbian President Boris Tadić and Croatian, Dr Ivo Josipović, and again in June 2016, when Grabar Kitarović and Vučić, then the Prime Minister, signed a special declaration on the regulation of the relations between the two countries. In both binding agreements, they envisaged the establishment of special negotiating groups to find solutions to open border issues between the two countries, killed and expelled during the last war, property restitution, the right to return and all subordinate issues that repeatedly shake up relations between the two countries. The death camp issue is one of them.
However, almost nothing happened. After the presidential meetings were closed, the most issues were forgotten. Therefore, not much is to be expected from the February official meeting in Zagreb. It will be enough if the presidents repeat that they want to regulate the relations of the two countries. The first step is done. Kolinda Grabar Kitarović wrote a letter and Vučić responded to it.
During his visit, the Serbian President will also bow down in memory of the victims of Jasenovac.