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Croatia should apologize for World War II genocide before joining the EU

Croatian fascists murdered hundreds of thousands of victims as part of a campaign against Serbs and Jews.

By James Bissett / April 2, 2010


Croatia is nearing the finish line of a multiyear race to join the European Union. Its accession has been pushed along by traditional ally Germany, and by the United States, which has encouraged the EU’s southwest expansion to include all of the Balkans and even Turkey.

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Croatia has complied with most of the formal entry requirements and is expected to join in 2012.

However, there is another – moral – requirement Croatia should have to meet for its own sake before being admitted.

It should fully and publicly acknowledge its role in World War II as a loyal ally of the Nazi cause, and its ardent participation in genocide against its Serbian, Jewish, and Gypsy (Roma) populations. The scattered, vague, and half-hearted denials masking as apologies that Croatia has used to improve its image in recent years don’t count. The country should come to grips with its genocidal role in the same way Germany has come to grips with its Nazi past.

Just this week, the Serbian parliament apologized for its role in the infamous Srebrenica massacre of 1995 that killed some 7,000 Bosnian Muslims. Such an apology was considered unthinkable even a few years ago, yet the pressures of joining the EU helped nudge that nation to account for this war crime.

It’s time Croatia did the same. Croatia has more than its share of apologies to make for crimes it committed during the Balkans conflict of the 1990s, but it can start with the massive killings it unleashed during World War II.

Although estimates vary, between 300,000 and 700,000 victims were murdered by Croatian fascists during the war.

When Hitler’s forces invaded Yugoslavia in the spring of 1941, Croatian right-wing extremists, under the leadership of Ante Pavelic and his fascist “Ustashi” movement, were given control of Croatia. Pavelic aligned the country enthusiastically to the Nazi cause and immediately launched a horrific onslaught against the Serbian minority. The official policy was popularly expressed as: Kill one-third of the Serbs, convert another third to Roman Catholicism, and expel the remaining third from Croatia.

The Roman Catholic Church insists it condemned the atrocities, but the record suggests a mix of official responses, ranging from weak condemnations to tacit support. While the killing was under way, the Croatian archbishop, Aloysius Stepanic, blessed the new regime and Pavelic was granted an audience with Pope Pius XII. A number of Franciscan monks participated in the killing. After the war ended, the Vatican helped Ustashi criminals evade capture and flee to South America.