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23 June 2015

Pro-White Surges in Croatia as EU Disappointment Spreads


It was one of the biggest nights in Croatia's sporting calendar: a European Championship soccer qualifying match with Italy. Seconds after kick-off in a game beamed around the world, a gigantic swastika materialized on the pitch under the shocked gaze of European soccer officials.

The swastika, sprayed by an unknown vandal with a chemical that became visible only when floodlights went on to start the game, has become the most potent symbol of a rise in ultra-nationalist sentiment that appears to be bleeding into the mainstream population in the European Union's newest member state.

But it's not the only one. In the mixed ethnic towns of eastern Croatia, road signs in the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet have been destroyed and Serbian Orthodox churches have been vandalized with a "U'' symbol representing the Nazi-linked World War II Ustasha regime. On weekends, Ustasha chants echo at sports venues and rock concerts.

At an event last month in southern Austria, Croatian ultranationalist Ivica Safaric proudly brandished the "U'' Ustasha symbol on a medallion around his neck. His companions in black shirts raised their right arms high in a Nazi salute, shouting out a dreaded battle call "For the homeland — Ready!" used by wartime Croatian fascist troops.

"I respect the Ustasha movement because it created the independent state of Croatia," said Safaric, who fought for Croatia's independence in the 1990s.

The gathering in Bleiburg was a memorial to tens of thousands of pro-Nazi soldiers, their families, children and civilians killed by communist guerrillas at the end of the war in 1945.


Commemorations for the Bleiburg massacre victims are held every year in May, but last month's gathering was by far the largest ever, with an estimated 40,000 people participating. It happened as much of Europe marked the 70th anniversary of liberation from the Nazis, and the pro-Nazi imagery at Bleiburg was met by muted response from Croatia's politicians.

Grabar-Kitarovic endorsed the Bleiburg commemorations and honored the victims just days ahead of the main event, but did not go there when the crowds gathered. She also paid an informal visit to the site of an Ustasha-run death camp in Jasenovac, but did not attend official commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the camp's liberation.

Minority Serbs, who fought against Croatia's independence during the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s, have been under increasing pressure by the nationalists. Croatian war veterans campaigning under the slogan "100 percent Croatia" — implying an ethnically pure state — have demanded that Serbs stop using the Cyrillic alphabet in Croatia, although their right to do so is guaranteed by the country's laws.

Alarmed by the surge, thousands of gay activists and their liberal supporters marched in Croatia's capital Zagreb last weekend under the slogan: "Louder and More Courageous: Antifascism Without Compromise."

"We chose the slogan because we don't like where Croatia is heading," said Marko Jurcic, one of the march organizers. "We don't want a 100 percent pure Croatia, we want a diverse Croatia."