Jasenovac (Croatia) (AFP) – Jews mourned victims of Croatia’s most notorious World War II death camp on Friday, boycotting next week’s official commemorations as they accuse authorities of failing to respond to a revival of pro-Nazi ideology.
Jewish association chief Ognjen Kraus said the unprecedented snubbing of the annual ceremony at Jasenovac, due next Friday, comes as authorities turn a blind eye to moves from right-wing Croatians to downplay the crimes of the Nazi-era Ustasha regime.
“This is an avalanche that has been rolling for more than a year,” Kraus told reporters, as around 300 people gathered to lay wreaths and pray at the site known as “Croatia’s Auschwitz”, near the Bosnian border.
Activists and intellectuals have expressed alarm at a surge in nationalist support since Croatia’s new centre-right government took over in January.
They are calling for the resignation of Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic, whom they accuse of sympathising with the Ustasha regime in the past.
In January, ultra-nationalists shouted pro-Nazi slogans as thousands of people, including deputy parliamentary speaker Ivan Tepes, staged a protest in the capital.
Similar slogans were also chanted during a friendly football match between Israel and Croatia in March which was attended by top officials including Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic.
Although the Ustasha ran Croatia as a Nazi puppet state, their sympathisers see them as the country’s founding fathers.
Oreskovic and President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic both voiced regret over the boycott and this week explicitly condemned the Ustasha’s crimes for the first time, during a visit by Nicholas Dean, US State Department special envoy for Holocaust issues.
The total number of people killed at Jasenovac — mostly Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascist Croatians — remains disputed, varying from tens of thousands to 700,000, according to Serbian figures.
Ethnic Serbs and anti-fascists are also boycotting next week’s official ceremony at the site of the camp, which was dismantled in April 1945. The site is now home to a museum and a memorial.
Some 75 percent of around 40,000 Croatian Jews were killed by the Ustasha, and Jews now make up less then one percent of Croatia’s population of 4.2 million.