May 19. 2024. 1:10

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Zagreb may soon rename streets dedicated to Nazi-backed Ustasha regime


Local authorities in Zagreb are proposing to rename four streets currently named after high-ranking officials linked to the Nazi-backed Ustasha regime in another move away from the historical revisionism prominent in the 1990s.

The proposal to rename the streets came from the Pescenica district in Zagreb and was unanimously approved by its councillors, meaning the city’s committee for street names must now give the greenlight, after which it must be voted on by City Councillors.

The four wartime officials include a businessman known for financing and supplying the military of the quisling Independent State of Croatia (NDH) run by the Ustasha in 1941-45, two publishers instrumental in disseminating the regime’s propaganda, and an archbishop who published odes praising the party and its leader, Ante Pavelic.

The regime’s most infamous wartime atrocity is the Jasenovac concentration camp in central Croatia, today the site of a yearly remembrance event held in memory of more than 80,000 identified people who perished there during NDH rule.

The initiative, also supported by some local historians, is part of an ongoing battle pitching human rights organisations against far-right groups promoting historical revisionism which commonly downplays the war crimes and human rights abuses from the NDH era and even portrays figures from the period as patriots and heroes.

‘Disgrace of the 1990s’

The streets received their current names in the early 1990s when a wave of fervent nationalism during the 1991-95 war of independence swept the country.

“One needs to remember the disgrace of the 1990s when anti-fascism gave way to a sort of anti-anti-fascism, morphed into openly glorifying fascists, and eventually led to the renaming of placenames after people who had important political, military, and intellectual roles during the NDH period,” Professor Hrvoje Klasic from the University of Zagreb told EURACTIV.

“This was because, at the time, any Croatian nationalism from bygone eras was interpreted as inherently more positive than any sort of internationalism – and especially the Yugoslav idea,” Klasic added, referring to the notion of the unity of South Slavs promoted by the communist authorities as the core principle of Yugoslavia before its dissolution in the wars of the 1990s.

According to Klasic, the names of the regime’s best-known figures, such as Mile Budak – an Ustasha official tasked with signing racial laws during the war – have already been replaced in most towns over the past couple of decades. But some streets named after less-known officials from the regime are still standing.

Though it is based on requests from the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and a human rights NGO, Documenta, which sent a joint demand last year to some of the country’s 20 local authorities, Zagreb’s districts pushing for the street name changes may also be a result of a shift in local politics.

Although many smaller towns are still run by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic’s conservative HDZ party (EPP), known to court right-wing parts of the political spectrum, since 2021 the capital Zagreb has been governed by a small green-leftist progressive party Mozemo! (“We Can!”), which replaced the two-decade-long administration of the late conservative populist Mayor Milan Bandic.

Prime Minister Plenkovic himself – often seen as the leader of the moderate wing of his party – has rejected any attempt to link modern Croatia, a member of the EU and NATO, with the Ustasha regime.

“I certainly hope that this move indicates a broader trend. Of course, these changes can happen more easily wherever HDZ, or some even more right-wing parties, are not in power. But Zagreb has made a good start doing this, and I can only hope that others will follow,” Klasic told EURACTIV.

Nikola Zdunic, the head of the Pescenica council, told Jutarnji List that “there are people of all ethnicities and religions living in this neighbourhood, and we feel that diversity is our asset… This is no place for any symbols and street names associated with regimes and ideologies which promote hatred and violence.”

(David Spaic-Kovacic | EURACTIV.hr)