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Cablegate: Fascism Falls Out of Fashion in Croatia

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS ZAGREB 000179

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV HR
SUBJECT: FASCISM FALLS OUT OF FASHION IN CROATIA

Sensitive but Unclassified -- Please Treat Accordingly

Summary
-------

1. (SBU) Until relatively recently, expressions of extreme
nationalism were considered acceptable in Croatia's political
and social dialogue. That seems to be changing. Croatians
have gotten the message that extreme nationalism is
incompatible with their ambitions of accession to
Euro-Atlantic institutions. In stark contrast to election
results in Serbia, held about the same time, only a few of
Croatia's most extreme nationalists won seats in the new
parliament. The jingoist balladeer Marko Perkovic "Thompson"
has been ostracized for hate speech which would have been
acceptable to many in Croatia less than two years ago. PM
Sanader's HDZ courted and won the support of the ethnic Serb
party in parliament, which would have been unthinkable under
former President Tudjman. Sanader has also made a clear
gesture acknowledging culpability of Croatia's WWII-era
fascist regime in the Holocaust. It is certain that extreme
nationalist sentiment is still a factor in Croatia, but the
general recognition that it is nothing to be proud of is a
step forward. End Summary.

2. (SBU) When the Tudjman-era HDZ was ejected from power in
January 2000, most voters cited corruption and financial
mismanagement, not a rejection of extreme nationalism, as
their motivation for change. Ironically, the event that
served to bring most Croatians to the realization that
expressions of extremism were damaging to their interests was
a surge of nationalist fervor brought on by the ICTY
indictment of retired General Janko Bobetko in the Autumn of
2002.

Croatia Chooses Europe, Not Nationalism
---------------------------------------

3. (SBU) The Racan government dithered for months about
whether it dared to serve the ICTY indictment on the aged,
ailing General Bobetko whom the right had dubbed a "hero" of
Croatia's war of independence. Throughout the "crisis" --
which PM Racan claimed brought Croatia close to real civil
unrest -- the international community maintained a firm line:
either cooperate with ICTY or abandon aspirations of
integration with NATO and the EU. Bobetko died before he
could be transferred to The Hague, but the stalemate dragged
on long enough for the wave of emotional response to pass and
for most Croatians to decide that they were ready to
sacrifice one of their symbols for a future in Europe.

Cleaning out the HDZ
--------------------

4. (SBU) The HDZ, long the standard-bearer of Croatian
nationalism, was during the Bobetko "crisis" completing its
own transformation, although some skeptics still believe this
transformation is largely superficial. Ivo Sanader first
defeated Tudjman henchman Ivic Pasalic in a bruising battle
for the party presidency and then began a systematic purge of
Pasalic's supporters. Together with Miroslav Tudjman, the
son and spitting image of his father, Pasalic founded a new
political party to be a home for nationalist HDZ members
disaffected by Sanader's more centrist political message.

The "Thompson" Phenomenon
-------------------------

5. (SBU) While Pasalic expected some of his support to come
from HDZ hardliners, he also counted on an apparent
resurgence of extreme nationalism among younger Croatians for
new strength. The popular singer Marko Perkovic -- known as
"Thompson" (after the submachine gun) to his fans -- was
packing in huge crowds in the Summer and Fall of 2002 to hear
jingoist ballads laced with references paying homage to
Croatia's WWII-era fascist state, known as the "Ustashe."
Tens of thousands of Croatians too young to have served in
the "Homeland War" brazenly displayed "Ustashe" symbols and
shouted anti-Serb slogans at a series of "Thompson" concerts.


Nationalism Fails at Croatian Polls
-----------------------------------

6. (SBU) In the Spring of 2003, when political parties began
positioning themselves for elections later that year, Sanader
strategically staked out the center-right, declaring that, if
elected, an HDZ government would be committed to Croatia's
integration into Europe, even at the cost of cooperating with
ICTY. When elections came around on November 23, voters
responded. Poll results show that some of the HDZ
nationalists drifted away to the hardline Croatian Party of
Right (HSP), but Pasalic's anti-Europe, anti-ICTY message got

nowhere; his party won not a single seat while Sanader's HDZ
won nearly half the seats in the new Sabor. The HSP won a
total of eight seats, a good result for the HSP as a party,
but a sound defeat for extreme nationalism in Croatia.
Croatian political columnists were quick to point out how
this result contrasted with recent parliamentary elections in
Serbia.

Sanader's HDZ In Coalition With Serbs
-------------------------------------

7. (SBU) Sanader stunned Europeans skeptical of his centrist
vocation when he inked a deal with the new parliament's
ethnic Serb party, the SDSS. In exchange for their three
votes, the SDSS got a pledge to speed the processes of
refugee return and restitution of property expropriated from
Serbs displaced during the war. While the new government has
yet to produce results on the difficult issue of refugee
returns, Sanader's effort to reach out to Serbs has made even
his most skeptical critics sit up and take notice.

8. (SBU) "Thompson" has fared even worse than Pasalic. A
free speech NGO recently posted a transcript from a live
version of one of Thompson's ballads. In the plain light of
day, Thompson's vile hate speech has turned the stomachs of
most Croatians. Croatia's PEN Center has long been a critic
of Thompson, but on January 24, even the Croatian Bishops'
Council -- which from time to time still disputes the extent
of the Holocaust in Croatia -- sharply criticized his "hate
speech and glorification of crimes." President Mesic, who
continues to bear the standard for Croatians who oppose
extremism, condemned Thompson's lyrics as "shameful" and
wondered how people who support fascist ideals could still
exist in Croatia. The recent arrest of a Zagreb street
vendor of parephernalia bearing "Ustashe" symbols shows how
much things have changed.

Sanader Gesture at Holocaust Commemoration
------------------------------------------

9. (SBU) In preparation for Croatia's January 27
commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Sanader made an
appearance and an appropriate statement -- together with
President Mesic -- at an exhibit of photographs which paid
homage to victims of the Holocaust. While this was a
continuation of former PM Racan's recognition of Croatian
culpability in the Holocaust, it marked another departure
from the practice of Tudjman's HDZ.

10. (SBU) Extreme nationalism is still present in Croatia,
but its blatant expression is no longer acceptable in public.
All of Croatia's responsible political leaders recognize
that extreme nationalism is incompatible with Croatia's bid
for NATO and EU membership. It seems to us that Croatia's
voters -- whether they voted for the HDZ or its political
opponents -- made a conscious choice to move forward, even if
it means sacrificing some of its nationalist icons -- such as
ICTY indictee Ante Gotovina.
FRANK


NNNN

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