CROATIA: MYTH AND REALITY
C. Michael McAdams

MYTH: "THE FASCIST FINDERS"

Myth: The Republic of Croatia changed street names to honor war criminals and fascists. Croatian streets were awash in Nazi and Fascist symbols. The Croatian government attempted to destroy Holocaust records. Virtually everything in Croatia was connected to fascism.

Reality: Like every country emerging from communism, Croatia has thrown off Marxist symbols and place names and replaced them with symbols representing Croatia's history and culture. There are no fascist symbols on Croatia's streets. No attempt was made to destroy Holocaust records. Fascism was not glorified in Croatia.

Looking for fascism in Croatia - A Journalistic Pastime

For years the leftists of the world warned of the resurgence of fascism, but only after the fall of the Berlin wall did that threat become a reality. In the mid-1990s, neo-Nazis were running rampant in every part of Germany, especially in the formerly communist east. The Italian Parliament had a number of born- again Fascists and six served in the government. A member of the Mussolini family was again a serious political power to be reckoned with and the Fascist Italian Social Movement - Movement Sociale Italiano was growing throughout the country. In April 1996 elections the right-wing "Tricolor Flame" movement took twenty-three seats in the Italian Senate and thirty-four in the Chamber of Deputies.

French President Francois Mitterrand revealed that he was an ardent supporter of the pro-Nazi Vichy regime during World War II led by Marshal Pétain, who was still honored by many in France. In 1994 and 1995 elections, right wing candidates gained throughout Western Europe, especially in Belgium and Austria. A right wing candidate who praised the work ethic of Nazi Germany, won twentythree per cent of the vote in Austria.

With such activity in Germany, Austria, and Italy, where Fascism was born and flourished, it perhaps seemed odd that so many in the Western press were in a feeding frenzy looking for fascism in tiny Croatia. It seemed especially odd given the fact that Croatia's president and many of his supporters fought against the fascists during World War II. The reason for unrelenting fascist finding in Croatia could be found in the Serbian propaganda of the previous fifty years.

At the end of World War II, the Serbian Cetniks who had by-and-large collaborated with the German and Italian forces, went over to the Partizans en masse, effectively taking control of the army and government by 1945. The legends initiated by the royal Yugoslav government in 1942 grew under the communists in the post-War period. With every monument, every street name, every book, and every film, the heroic role of the "Serbian" Partizans was extolled, the hated role of the Croatian Ustase decried, and the role of the Cetniks ignored.

Based upon the limited information accessible from tbe Serbian capital of Belgrade, most Western writers and historians, and even some Croatians, took up the myths and spread them throughout the world. Outside communist Yugoslavia in much of the West, the very word "Croatian" came to become associated with Nazis, evil, and terrorism. In 1974, an American journalist wrote: "Those who call themselves "Croatians" are all Yugoslavs who collaborated with the Nazis." In Croatia, displaying the ancient Croatian coat of arms without the obligatory red star above it, or the very singing of the national anthem, written in the 1830s, became serious crimes punishable by imprisonment. The notorious prison on Goli Otak (the Naked Island) came to be known as the "singers" prison."

Fascist Symbols

When Croatia regained its independence in 1991, it removed the hated red star from its coat-of arms and replaced it on its flag with the traditional chessboard shield used for centuries, the Western press went wild with indignation. One columnist described the streets of Zagreb as being awash in "the Fascist coat-of arms and other trinkets." But in fact, the Fascist coat of arms, the Fasces, was nowhere to be found in Croatia. It was, however, the symbol of the United States Senate. Those who called the ancient twenty-five field chessboard a fascist symbol, were seemingly unaware that it had been used by the previous Serbian regimes, both royal and communist. It apparently became fascist only when the red star was removed.

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Edición electrónica de Studia Croatica, 1998