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Cablegate: Goc Reopens Wwii Concentration Camp Museum


R 051150Z DEC 06





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary and Comment. On 27 November, Croatia's
top leaders commemorated the opening of the Jasenovac
Memorial Museum, an exhibition and education center on
the site of a former Ustasha-run death camp at which
tens of thousands died between 1941 and 1945. PM Ivo
Sanader, President Stjepan Mesic, and Speaker of
Parliament Vladimir Seks all spoke on the importance
of remembering the past crimes that were committed and
ensuring that such acts never happen again. Through a
USG museum exchange program, the U.S. Holocaust
Memorial Museum (USHMM) provided technical advice over
the past several years. Prior to the opening, some
members of the ethnic Serb community criticized the
exhibit for not adequately addressing specific
conditions at Jasenovac such as the preponderance of
Serb victims or fully communicating the horrors that
took place there. The Ministry of Culture plans to
amend some exhibits, and all agree that the museum is
an important testimony of the past and learning tool
for the future. Perhaps most notable is the clear
language used by Croatia's leaders: while the ruling
Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) of the 90s often
cozied up to its Ustasha past, Sanader and Seks
clearly condemned that time and those events.
Speaking at the opening, Seks said that the camp is an
"indelible stain of shame that has characterized the
Ustasha regime as a reign of evil and inhumanity."
Broadcast widely in the press, the memorial is a clear
step forward for Croatia in acknowledging its ugly
past. End Summary and Comment.

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Condemning Its Past

2. (U) For perhaps the first time, Sanader and Seks
both used the term "Ustasha" to refer to the Croatian
war-time fascist government, while acknowledging
unequivocally the crimes that were committed by
Croatians. Speaking eloquently and clearly, Sanader
called that dark chapter a "historically-failed and
mindless time." He continued, "The truth cannot be
hidden, it cannot be forgotten, it cannot be
traded...the truth cannot have two faces...No
political goal or any other goal can justify a crime."
The PM's language against the Ustasha is a stark
contrast to the revisionist history promulgated by HDZ
leaders in the early 90s, when President Franjo
Tudjman flirted with the Ustasha regime and introduced
school textbooks that rationalized the past. Mesic
underlined the distance from both the recent,
nationalistic past and with the country's WWII fascist
past: "Jasenovac leaves no room for doubt about how
present-day Croatia sees events from WWII. Here there
is no room for downplaying or diminishing the
atrocities, genocide, and Holocaust that were
committed in the Croatian name." In addition to the
PM, President, and Speaker, over 300 people attended
the opening, including the Ministers of Education and
Culture, local religious leaders, and ethnic Serb,
Jewish and Roma community leaders, and representatives
of the diplomatic community, including the U.S.
Ambassador. About two-dozen survivors also attended
the event, which was heavily covered in the national
and international press.

Establishing the Truth

3. (U) Jasenovac was the largest of almost 40 Ustasha-
run camps, in which Serbs, Jews, Roma, and Croatians
were killed. Men, women, and children were subjected
to horrific deaths. The camp has long been a source
of controversy between Croats and Serbs: Some Serbs
claim that there were 700,000 killed, while in the 90s
Tudjman reduced that estimate to 40,000. Now,
independent experts estimate that between 70,000 and
97,000 died at the camp. About 70,000 victims have
been identified, the majority of whom were ethnic
Serbs. Controversy still followed Jasenovac even up
to the opening: president of the GOC-appointed
Jasenovac Council Zorica Stipetic criticized the
exhibits for not sufficiently attributing the crimes
to a Croatian Ustasha regime against Serb victims,
rather than being part of a Nazi Holocaust. Nor did
the memorial communicate the unusual brutality that
took place, according to critics. Concerns were
largely addressed before the opening, and as Director
of the Memorial, Natasa Jovicic told us, it is a
living memorial that will be strengthened, amended,
and expanded. Both Mesic and ethnic Serb MP Milorad
Pupovac indicated that they saw the center as a work
in progress. USHMM reps who attended the opening
expressed satisfaction with the exhibits and
information provided.

Memorial and Educational Center on Site of Camp

4. (U) The memorial and museum are located about 1.5
hours from Zagreb on the river border with Bosnia, on
the site of the former concentration camp. In 2003,
the State Department funded the demining of more than
280,000 square meters along the river, which was also
the confrontation line during the more recent war in
the 90s. The names of the almost 70,000 known victims
hang on glass panels from the ceiling and exhibits
include photos, artifacts, and video-taped testimonies
of survivors. A multimedia information center and
education center helps teach visitors - many of whom
will be school children - about fascism, Nazism, the
Holocaust, and other intolerance against minorities.
With a grant through State Department's International
Partnership Among Museums, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial
Museum (USHMM) cooperated with Jasenovac organizers at
the Ministry of Culture. Over the past few years, the
USHMM assisted in cataloguing, processing and
conserving documents, and provided other technical
advice for the educational center. Ministry of
Education officials plan to organize a "traveling
exhibit" to bring Jasenovac into Croatia's classrooms.


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