Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Right are Rising

Novelist Danilo Kis wrote that nationalism is a form of "paranoia" that goes hand in hand with losing one's sense of individuality and reality. This paranoia is based on the idea that one's own nation is something pure and innocent, and that anyone criticizing the nation must be a despicable enemy. 

Last Saturday, some 10,000 people gathered in the Austrian town of Bleiburg to commemorate the deaths of 45,000 Ustasha soldiers. The Croatian fascist organization collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II. In May 1945, Ustasha fighters fled from Yugoslavia into British-occupied territory. They were handed over to Josep Broz Tito's partisans and killed. At the recent gathering to mourn their deaths, Hitler salutes, Swastika tattoos and fascist Ustasha symbols were ubiquitous. As were attendees proclaiming "Za dom Spremni" ("Ready for the homeland") — Croatia's equivalent to Nazi Germany's "Sieg Heil." The gathering was organized by the Croatian Bishops' Conference, and tolerated by Austria's Roman Catholic Diocese of Gurk. High-ranking Croatian politicians came to the event, which was officially declared a religious gathering.

The Council of Europe has expressed concern that the Ustasha gathering shows that fascim is becoming normal again in Croatia. A report by the Council's European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) says the Ustasha regime is increasingly being "glorified," which feeds into this creeping normalization of neo-fascism.  Croatia's ruling party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), has railed against minorities and stirred up anti-Serbian and anti-Roma sentiments in particular. It has incited hatred of the exact same ethnic groups that were once persecuted in the Independent State of Croatia, a World War II puppet state created by Hitler.  Croatia's Jewish community has for years boycotted the national commemorative event to mark the liberation of Jasenovac death camp because they reject honoring the deceased alongside politicians who think favorably of the Ustasha regime, which persecuted Jews.

Could you imagine German Chancellor Angela Merkel traveling to Argentina and speaking before the small German minority there, telling them it was a good thing Germans fled there after World War II? And that she welcomes mass murderers like Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele having fled there? But Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic did just that. On her visit to Argentina, she applauded compatriots who had managed to flee Tito's partisans and come to the Latin American country. But she failed to mention that said compatriots were concentration camp commanders, mass murderers and Nazi collaborators. Right-wing Croatians glorify the Ustasha regime because to publicly accept that it killed hundreds of thousands of civilians would tarnish their national pride. It also helps explain why attendees at the Austrian commemorative event perceived themselves as victims, when in fact they were glorying a fascist regime.

This is a worrying trend that also becoming apparent in other Eastern European countries. Many nations are highlighting what they endured under Soviet occupation and during communist times, casting themselves as victims. At the same time, many are down-playing, denying or even celebrating compatriots who collaborated with Nazi Germany. Every year on March 16, thousands of people gather in Riga for the "Latvian Legion Day" to honour Latvians who served in the Waffen-SS. Last year, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban praised Nazi collaborator Miklos Horthy as an "exceptional statesman," despite Horthy being partly responsible for the deportation of 600,000 Jews to German death camps. And in Serbia, there are moves to exonerate Milan Nedic, who also collaborated with Nazi Germany.

The CofE report found that some politicians used inflammatory speech to fuel conflicts between different sections of the population, and this did not only apply to extreme parties, but the "entire political spectrum," especially ahead of elections. The hate speech was often directed against Roma and refugees — particularly Muslims. in December 2013, the leader of the far-right Croatian Party of Rights sent a message with "blatantly hateful expressions" to the director of the memorial site to the World War II concentration camp in Jasenovac, where the majority of victims were Serbs. The message ended with the Ustasha regime salute "Za dom — spremni" ("Ready for the homeland"), a greeting that is just as forbidden in Croatia as the Hitler salute is in Germany.  A presenter on the popular TV station Z1 TV warned viewers not to walk near the Serbian Orthodox church in the capital Zagreb because their children could become "victims of butchers" there.

No comments: