Ladies and gentlemen,
Surviving concentration camp inmates and members of the families of the victims of Ustasha terror,
Liberation movement veterans,
Once again we are meeting here, on the site of the horrible crime which permits no oblivion. We are meeting to honour the innocent victims of the Jasenovac slaughterhouse, in order to remember who were the executioners, and who were the victims - and why. But we have also met to send a message, not only to the survivors, not only to those who experienced the world war in which the crime of genocide and the Holocaust were committed, but also to the present generation.
Let me add: particularly to the present generation!
Spring is the season in which commemorations are held throughout Europe on the sites of the former concentration camps, on which occasion the liberators meet the people they freed more than sixty years ago. The number of both is decreasing ever more due to the inexorable march of time. But that is why it is essential to keep the memory alive, not to let the memory die with them. If we were to allow that, we would agree to forgetting something that must never be forgotten.
If we became reconciled to that, we would give a free hand to those who are trying, ever more aggressively, to impose their lies about history instead of the historical truth, who are trying to erase the facts and replace them with falsehoods.
We must not and will not permit that.
Not because of others, but for our own sake. Not because anyone would request that we should do so, but because we know that we must do it. One cannot live on lies and in lies, because the future cannot be built on them.
Jasenovac was one of the most horrible sites of execution set up by fascism in occupied Europe. I am using the words ‘occupied Europe’ deliberately because during the Second World War there was no freedom here, no Croatian state.
And that is the truth. Just as it is true that the people sent to Jasenovac and executed there were no enemies of the state but people who had been deprived of human status by what was just called the Croatian state - only because they were different.
Different in terms of ethnic background, race, religion or world view. There were Serbs, Roma, Jews or members of other ethnic communities, and even Croats - but communists and antifascists. That was their sin, and that is why they were condemned to suffering and death. That is the truth, and nothing else! Sadly, we have to repeat that so many years after fascism and Nazism, and their national variants, were defeated. But we must do it!
We also know - that is another point to be made again - that thousands of monuments to victims of fascism and antifascists have been demolished over the past period of less than twenty years. That was the result of the concessions made to the revisionists of history, and the consequence of the dangerous flirting with Ustasha ideologies. In spite of all facts, these ideologies were set on the pedestal of Croatianhood as a cohesion factor at a time when the just proclaimed independent Croatian state based on antifascism - as stated in the Croatian Constitution - was fighting for survival.
The singing of songs glorifying notorious butchers and war criminals started at the time, and we still have not got rid of them. And we do not hear them only from drunken groups in low-down inns. The rewriting of history started then, not only in textbooks, and we have not yet returned fully to the truth, either in the education of young generations or in the media. Endeavours to resist truth are still consistent and organized. Reference to family members who were Ustasha, and even passing in silence over one’s father if he happened to be a partisan, started at that time and the phenomenon is still present.
And all that is the truth, however unpleasant and shameful it may be.
If the slogan ‘Death to the Serbs’ can appear in the middle of Zagreb on the sixty-sixth anniversary of the proclamation of the so-called Independent State of Croatia - even a single one - then something is wrong with this society. If the media still not infrequently palm off to the public the thesis that the Ustasha Poglavnik was a patriot who, well, strayed a little off course, while the leader of the National Liberation Movement is summarily condemned as a war criminal - one of the major ones in history at that!- then something is wrong in this society.
If anywhere, in Croatia or worldwide, one can get away with displaying pictures of the head of a regime guilty for crimes committed in this country, if symbols of that regime can be displayed without punishment, and if any of these things are related to the Croatian state - and our society, including those who should be its moral support, remains silent - then something is definitely wrong.
Because that is an attack against Croatia and against everything that is genuinely Croatian!
And that calls for a response - clear, decisive and intransigent!
And that is why I am here again today!
I know that the things I have mentioned are single incidents. I also know that they do not reflect the mood of the vast majority of the Croatian people and of the citizens of the Republic of Croatia. But the very fact that such incidents can happen at all is a bell signalling alarm. Because that has nothing to do with democracy or with anybody’s right to one’s own opinion. The practice in countries with an established democracy, let me just mention Germany - precisely Germany - is the best case in point.
Today Croatia is on the threshold of united Europe. Nobody has the right to jeopardize our integration in that millennial venture which is changing the life of the present generation and will change the lives of the generations to come.
Nobody - either in Croatia or in the Croatian diaspora.
And yet, speaking objectively, it is being jeopardized by everybody who closes his or her eyes before the truth about the nature of fascism and of the Ustasha ideologies, everybody wishing to twist the outcome of the Second World War by turning victors into losers and the vanquished into victors, by condemning the victims as criminals and extolling the criminals as victims.
Let me add another point, something that I have reiterated on many occasions - but some people persistently refuse to listen to my words. I am not talking to them, but I am talking to young people so that they can understand what and how it happened: it is true that there were also crimes committed by antifascists, during and after the war. But fascism and the Ustasha ideologies were crimes throughout - from the idea to its implementation. Antifascism was pure as an idea, and the crimes committed on that side cast a shadow on the unblemished cheek of the struggle for freedom.
Let me add yet another frequently mentioned point: as a collective entity the Croatian people is not guilty of anything. Individuals and organized groups are the guilty ones. Collective guilt does not exist, ever or anywhere, nor should it exist. The individualization of guilt is an essential component of the struggle for truth, and of the struggle for truth about Jasenovac. That is the truth to be promoted by the Museum, opened last year. I can only look forward to its having many visitors, and hope that they will leave this site with a clear knowledge of who committed the crime, who were the victims and what were the underlying reasons.
The question reads Who killed whom in Jasenovac, and why?, and every adult inhabitant of Croatia should know the answer to it. I have been coming here over the past years in order to help in wording a clear answer to that question. That is why I have come again today, and I shall continue to come over the next years.
May the memory of all the victims of fascism and of all those who sacrificed their lives in the antifascist struggle live forever!