Ongoing attempts to deny or distort past crimes in Croatia, BiH’s Republika Srpska (RS) entity and elsewhere show not only "moral ideological bankruptcy of genocide deniers" but are also a reminder of "resilience and revival of political extremism that has created fertile ground for genocide", said general counsel and associate executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress, Menachem Z. Rosensaft.
Rosensaft was a keynote speaker virtual symposium ‘The Parallels between Genocide Denial in the Balkans and Holocaust’ organised by the Harriman Institute of Columbia University.
“We witness a resurgence of neonazism, not just in the Balkans, but also in different parts of Europe and elsewhere”, he warned, explaining that “one of the root ingredients of anti-democratic fascism is, to put it mildly, ‘nationalism on steroids.”
“I want to emphasise that there is nothing wrong with taking pride in one’s country or with making the interests of one’s country and its population a top priority. The problem begins when nationalism becomes a weapon against “the other”. And “the other” can be any racial, ethnic, religious, political or intellectual minority. Or for that matter, any group defined by a particular characteristic, including gender or sexual orientation, that the self-proclaimed majority chooses to target as its enemy,” he said.
Rosensaft warned that “vestiges of nazism and fascism, which by definition are the vestiges of antisemitism, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia and all sorts of related hatred, remain very much part of the contemporary political spectrum.”
He said that “the brazen attempt by ultra-nationalist elements in Croatia to rehabilitate the Ustasha” is accompanied by the “distortion and outright denial of the crimes committed by the Ustasha”.
Rosensaft noted that this is also the case regarding “the denial of the Srebrenica genocide by equally extremist ethnonational individuals and groups in Republika Srpska and Serbia”.
“I believe that these two phenomena have similar roots that are in fact linked. And they are indicative of a broader threat to democracy generally”, he said.
Rosensaft noted that in 2016, Croatian film director Jakov Sedlar produced a documentary that presented the WWII camp Jasenovac as “a benign labour camp whose number of victims was greatly exaggerated.”
He also spoke about a controversial article by Croatian journalist Milan Ivkosic from 2018, which said that “there was fun” at the concentration camp.
“Equally troubling is the widespread use of the Ustasha slogan ‘Za dom spremni’ (For homeland – ready), as a euphemism for racist or xenophobic slurs,” he said of the WWII salute.
“Let’s be clear: Za dom spremni is exactly the same as the Nazi salute Heil Hitler and Sieg Heil. These salutes accompany the persecution, oppression and murders of the victims of the Nazis and Ustasha. And as such, they must forever be identified with these genocidal crimes”, he stressed.
Rosensaft then spoke about denial of the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide.
“Once again, as with the Ustasha and Jasenovac, the facts are well established, despite ongoing efforts to distort or even outright deny them. Only while there is at least an element of subtlety in the Croatian campaign to rehabilitate the Ustasha, the denial of the Srebrenica Genocide has become a matter of not just nationalism, but national policy”, he said.
“Let’s step back for a moment and imagine the international outrage if murals of Adolf Hitler were to be prominently displayed throughout Germany, or if a Berlin student dormitory were to be named after Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the systematic annihilation of six million Jews during the Holocaust”, Rosensaft said.
“Imagine further the across the board condemnation of any German government delusional enough to claim as a matter of policy that the holocaust was not a genocide and that the Jews brought the mass slaughter upon themselves,” he added.
This is, according to him, exactly the scenario playing out regarding the Srebrenica genocide.
“Facts are quite clear, during the brutally fought 1992-1995 Bosnian war, the para-military forces of the Bosnian Serb breakaway proto-state known as Republika Srpska, with the support of the neighbouring Serbian government, engaged in a savage campaign to expel non-Serbs from the predominantly ethnic Serb part of Bosnia,” he said, explaining that, over the course of several days beginning on July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serb troops commanded by general Ratko Mladic murdered approximately 8,000 Bosniak men and boys.
“Rather than acknowledging responsibility for the carnage, however, ultranationalist RS politicians and their acolytes have in the past 26 years denied that what took place constituted genocide, and instead are shamelessly fabricating an alternate and false scenario,” Rosensaft said, noting that BiH Presidency member and leader of the ruling party in the RS, Milorad Dodik, has called the Srebrenica genocide “a fabricated myth” while RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic suggested it was retaliation for war crimes against Serbs.
The murals dedicated to Ratko Mladic, as well as the fact that a student dormitory was named after Bosnian Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic, is “the functional equivalent of turning Adolf Eichmann into a folk hero”, he declared.
“The grim reality is that Jasenovac and Srebrenica were among the 20th century’s most notorious manifestations of genocide. And both were perpetrated in adherence to indigenous extremist ethnonationalism ideologies,” he said.
“The ongoing brazen attempt to deny or distort these gruesome atrocities that we are witnessing in Croatia, Republika Srpska and elsewhere, do not only showcase the moral ideological bankruptcy of genocide deniers. Far more ominously, they are a reminder of the resilience and the resurgence of political extremism that provided fertile ground for genocide in the first place,” Rosensaft warned.