AIM: start

SUN, 18 NOV 2001 23:54:37 GMT

Mesicís Apology to Jews

AIM Zagreb, November 5, 2001

After ten years of deep distrust and grave suspiciousness, diplomatic relations between Israel and Croatia have finally been established. The Croatian President Stipe Mesic apologized for crimes committed against Jews in Pavelicís Independent State of Croatia (NDH) in simple terms laden with meaning spoken before Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Adding that NDH had been neither "Croat nor independent", Mesic has symbolically enacted Chancellor Brandtís deed of kneeling down before the Jewish victims of the Warsaw ghetto.

Neither did Chancellor Brandt apologize in the name of Nazi Germany - indeed, as an active anti-fascist he did not recognize it - but he believed that the protagonists of the new, democratic Germany should apologize for German crimes against the Jews if they were to show the world that theirs is a state genuinely new and democratic. Much in the same manner, President Mesic too underlined that present-day Croatia which disclaims continuity with Pavelicís state is different from Croatia as it was in 1941 - 1945, but nevertheless prepared to confront the dark sides of its past.

Thus another, in the international community probably best known chapter of Tudjmanism having to do with the explicit anti-Semitic views expressed in late Franjo Tudjmanís book "Wastelands - Historical Truth", was brought to a symbolic close. The anti-Semitism permeating the book is most obvious in parts where, citing dubious sources, the author argues that the Jews themselves took part in the apparatus of repression operating in the Jasenovac concentration camp. Perhaps even more explicit are the extensive quotes of anti-Semitic sentiment and views drawn from centuries of European historic thought. Tudjman employs them to prove that Jewish "universality" is unnatural (as, if to a slightly lesser degree, are liberalism, Christianity and communism) and thus understandably excommunicated and persecuted throughout history.

Interestingly enough, this did not attract the attention of the Jewish community, perhaps because the clash between various universal creeds has gained a legitimacy of a sorts. Whatever the case, the full wrath of the reaction was directed at the chapters of Tudjmanís book dealing with Jasenovac. Because of these particular chapters and rightfully so, for a full decade Israel treated Croatia as an unnatural growth on the anti-fascist body of Europe, adamantly refusing to have anything to do with it.

Following Tudjmanís crossing out of the controversial sections in "Wastelands" - only in the English edition, while the Croat original remained intact - it seemed things had settled down to a certain extent. There were even rumors of a possible Tudjman visit to Israel which never materialized; instead, at the time, the ever-so-polite-and-well-mannered Croat Foreign Minister Mate Granic got to set foot on Israeli soil and, similarly to Mesic recently, deliver an apology under the vaults of Yad Vashem for all the Jewish victims in Croatia. That was about all that could be done at the time.

The misgivings and distrust ran so high for such a long time that their impact is felt to this very day, obliging Mesic to hear out what a Knesset MP, a former citizen of ex-Yugoslavia, had to tell him: mainly that he opposed the very thought of Mesic ever setting foot on Israeli soil; but, on hearing Mesicís apology, the man said, he held no more grudges against the Croatian president.

The renowned director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, conducted himself in much the same manner welcoming Mesicís visit but - according to the Croat press - insisting that the president deliver "an unambiguous and direct apology" (which was granted him in a way) and ask for "indulgence" (which did not happen). Nevertheless, the atmosphere surrounding Mesicís visit differed significantly from the one prevailing when Granic was there, because in the meantime the overall situation had changed. Changed to such a degree that at some point the visit itself came under question, but for reasons quite different from those for calling off Tudjmanís visit. As it turned out, Mesic was advised by Prime Minister Racan to postpone the whole deal (this was not done publicly, the fact made known only after the publishing of newspaper reports citing undisclosed sources). The alleged reason behind the advice given apparently being the tainted reputation of the current rightist government of Ariel Sharon and the Israeli Prime Minister himself, hardly to be exempt from the wider context of the ongoing resurrection of terrorism and counterterrorism around the world. It cannot be said that the argument is not well founded, considering that PM Sharonís militaristic policy characterized by a number of crimes against Palestinians gone scot-free so far has set off or, at the least, played a significant role in setting in motion the current spiral of violence. That should go to say that the violence the world is presently experiencing may be stopped only if all those around the world genuinely interested in putting an end to it, agreed to isolate the Israeli state from the international community until this goal is achieved.

President Mesic disregarded the advice to postpone his visit, probably judging and perhaps rightfully so, that it would not be wise - especially in view of the circumstances burdening the relations of the two countries - for Croatia to assume the role of a moral authority delivering highbrow moral lectures to Israel. Whatever reservations he might have previously held concerning his hosts, Mesic skillfully incorporated them into the plea for establishing a Palestinian state voiced before the Knesset. In doing so, he assured the necessary diplomatic balance, so desperately needed for the success of his diplomatic feat in Israel. In power-lobbies close to the President, it was claimed that the Croat head of state went out of his way to insure a meeting with the Palestinian leader Jaser Arafat. But, as President Mesic took care not to omit mentioning, at the time of his visit to Israel, Arafat was elsewhere in Europe, the next chance of his meeting the Palestinian leader being the upcoming session of the UN General Assembly.

If there is anything to be objected concerning Mesicís visit to Israel, the criticism could result only from the viewpoint of present relations in the international community, not the historic and symbolic aspects of the visit which cannot be questioned. In this respect, one can hardly disregard a dilemma: was Mesic's trip to Isreal a journey to the Canossa of unredeemed Croat sins or, perhaps, one made to a close ally of USA, turning his plea for a Palestinian state into a mere lip-service to USA requests addressed to Israel since the attacks on New York and Washington? If not, one cannot but ask himself if the Jews are the only ones Croats need to apologize to.

In criticism heard in Croatia following the visit there was no mention of any such thing. Thus, there is a strong impression that the objections voiced were a result of the good old "internal political reasons" embodied - surgically precise and painfully exact - in the front page of Feral Tribune carrying the portraits of Pavelic and Tudjman subtitled with a "joint statement" of the two chieftains: "No apology from us!"... Apparently, Racan escaped their fate because, after the signing of the treaty in Luxembourg securing Croatiaís membership in the EU, the Prime Minister publicly backed Mesic's visit - after which even the Croat state network ceased boycotting the event, giving it appropriate coverage from there on.

This merely reinforced the impression that Prime Minister Racan, if only briefly, did in fact flirt with the Croat Right which - as stated by Ante Djapic - judged the visit as premature and adventurous (by the way, prominent figures of the Croat Democratic Union refrained from any comment).Thus, it seems as if President Mesic has once more outsmarted the "genius of tactics" Racan as far as the troublesome terrain of international diplomacy is concerned.