Serbia warns EU about resurgence of far right in Croatia

Relations between the two soured by disputes over conflict from collapse of Yugoslavia

Serbia’s prime minister  Aleksandar Vucic has complained to the European Union about Croatia’s alleged glorification of far-right figures and fanning of anti-Serb feeling. Photograph: Marko Djurica/Reuters

Serbia’s prime minister Aleksandar Vucic has complained to the European Union about Croatia’s alleged glorification of far-right figures and fanning of anti-Serb feeling. Photograph: Marko Djurica/Reuters

 

Serbia has complained to the European Union about Croatia’s alleged glorification of far-right figures and fanning of anti-Serb feeling, which Belgrade claims threatens peace and stability in the Balkans.

The spat has triggered an angry diplomatic exchange between Serbia and Croatia, which waged war in the 1990s and are both now run by governments with strongly nationalist streaks.

Relations between the neighbours are increasingly soured by disputes over the conflict that accompanied the collapse of Yugoslavia, and by attempts from both sides to rehabilitate controversial figures from the second World War.

Ten days ago, a Zagreb court quashed a communist-era conviction of Alojzije Stepinac – an archbishop and cardinal who led Croatia’s Catholic Church during the second World War – for collaborating with the Nazis and their local fascist allies.

The court ruled that Stepinac’s 1946 trial sought to “morally discredit him and the Catholic Church” and that the verdict “grossly violates basic principles of criminal law both then and now.

Saint

Many people in staunchly Catholic Croatia revere Stepinac, who died in 1960, as a symbol of the country’s fight for independence and for his resistance to communist rule. The Vatican beatified Stepinac in 1997, but Belgrade has denounced efforts to make him a saint.

Critics accuse him of supporting Croatia’s wartime ultra-nationalist Ustashe movement, which butchered tens of thousands of Jews, Serbs, Roma and political opponents when it ran the country as a Nazi puppet state from 1941 to 1945.

“Stepinac was the vicar of the Ustashe movement. He blessed crimes and the Ustashe state,” said Serbian foreign minister Ivica Dacic.

Belgrade’s anger was compounded days after the Stepinac ruling, when Croatia’s supreme court quashed the 2010 conviction of far-right ex-deputy Branimir Glavas over the abduction, torture and murder of Serb civilians in 1991.

“The message of this shameful act is that unpunished crimes against Serbs are normal and allowed,” said Mr Dacic, claiming that it “reflected Croatia’s clear politics”.

Last weekend, a statue was unveiled in a town on Croatia’s Adriatic coast to Miro Baresic, an ultra-nationalist militant who was sentenced to life in prison in Sweden in 1971 for the murder of the Yugoslav ambassador to Stockholm.

Baresic and accomplices were freed after Croatian radicals hijacked a Scandinavian Airlines plane in 1972, and he fled to Paraguay before being caught and sent back to Sweden.

‘Terrorists’

He returned to his homeland in 1991, and was killed fighting in Croatia’s war for independence from what was then a rump Yugoslavia run by Serb nationalist leader Slobodan Milosevic.

Serbia’s prime minister Aleksandar Vucic – a one-time Milosevic ally – said he had written to top EU officials about “monuments being erected in an EU country to prominent convicted terrorists [and] the rehabilitation and overturning of convictions of criminals from the second World War and recent wars.”

“We expect a reaction from the EU. How is it possible that the terrorist Baresic, who was convicted by a democratic Swedish court, has turned into a hero?” Mr Vucic added. “What is happening seriously affects peace and stability in the region.”