Present-day Croatian memory politics are a sort of continuation of Tudjman’s ideas.
The memory politics Croatia tries to promote downplay somewhat the anti-fascist struggle but still cherish it enough to symbolically stay on the winning side of WWII.
Anti-fascism is seen as a value, but one nevertheless tainted by post-WWII crimes.
Fascists are bad, but communists are not better.
The annual Bleiburg commemoration of the Partisan killing of Croatian Nazi collaboration troops and civilians in 1945 enjoys state support – even though it hurts relations with Croatia’s neighbours – while Jasenovac is ignored.
The Ustasha are ‘bad guys,’ but they ‘fought for the Croatian cause’ and receive state-sponsored burials.
Croatia marks the Day of the Anti-fascist Struggle, while also giving money to NGOs that promote the lies of the Ustasha and Tudjman that Jasenovac was a communist camp where Jews were saved before 1945.
The anti-fascist legacy is often neglected and marginalised while its monuments fall into decay. At the same time, dubious anti-communist figures are being celebrated, such as Croat émigré Miro Baresic, who killed the Yugoslav ambassador in Stockholm in 1971.
Croatia is building a memorial for all victims of WWII – which would include the Ustasha – while simultaneously the city authorities in the capital, Zagreb, want to build a monument to victims of the Holocaust that obscures the Ustasha role in the extermination of Europe’s Jews. The list of transgressions goes on.
Just like Tudjman, Croatian memory politics are out of touch with reality.
At times, Tudjman could be very practical and successful in navigating the diplomatic waters in search of his ultimate prize – an independent Croatia.
And he made it. Indeed, just as he always wanted, Tudjman is remembered by many as a Croatian George Washington, a leader who created a state, and as a wartime leader like Tito, who put Yugoslavia on the map and whose bust Tudjman kept in his office.
But for more critical observers, that is where his legacy ends. In most of his other endeavours, Tudjman was unsuccessful. The same goes for his delusional plans for all-Croat reconciliation.
People are not children to be forcefully reconciled. Only dictators, like Franco, think like this when they forge plans to conquer their enemies ideologically.
While he tried to imitate Franco, Tudjman forgot that he had to obey the minimal democratic standards required of European statesmen at the end of the 20th century.
Tudjman’s ideas did not help anyone, neither the victims of the Ustasha or the Partisans. The only thing Tudjman did was tarnish Croatia’s image for decades to come. And the sooner Croatian leaders realise this, the better for everyone.
Sven Milekic is a PhD candidate at Maynooth University, funded by the Irish Research Council under the Government of Ireland Postgraduate Programme.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.
This article was written as part of the regional program “Western Balkans: Understanding and Preventing Anti-Western Influence,” implemented by the International Republican Institute in Sarajevo.
The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of IRI.