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The myths persist: Yugoslavia’s leader Josip Broz Tito in 1960 (© Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)


Progressive opinion affects to take symbols lightly. Thus public acceptance of blasphemous plays and obscene exhibitions, the burning of a national flag, and insults to heads of state are all supposed to be evidence of intellectual liberation. Particularly in former Communist countries, where symbolism has altered in ways that disorientate the new as well as the old Left, the cry quickly goes up that any concern for symbols is an “obsession” or a “distraction”.

In Eastern and Central Europe, though, the Left’s indifference to symbols is an affectation. The modern leftist turns in a flash into a snarling neo-Communist — lacking only a Party membership card and Kalashnikov to revert to the older variety — when his own myths are challenged. Moreover, his assumed indifference to tradition quickly becomes intolerance of “extremism”, if any unwholesome, or ambiguous, symbol emerges from shadows on the Right.

On Friday September 1, Zagreb City Council voted to change the name of one of the most prominent squares from “Marshal Tito Square” to the “Square of the Republic of Croatia”. The decision was greeted by some solemn shaking of heads in the Western media, where it was depicted as an assertion of reactionary nationalism. Credibility was lent to this by the fact that the campaign to change the name was spearheaded by Dr Zlatko Hasanbegović, the former Croatian culture minister, who fell foul, when in office, of agitation from George Soros-backed NGOs, whose tax-financed budgets he was minded to cut. Hasanbegović is a nationalist historian with a taste for controversy and what, for politicians in Croatia, is an unnerving willingness to argue intellectual positions. He is not, however, a fascist, anti-Semite, or racist (he is a Muslim, and so has received his fair share of Islamophobic abuse). In any case, the majority for the change was provided by the conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and the centre-left party grouping attached to Zagreb’s mayor, Milan Bandić.

The square’s name change was historically significant. It clearly symbolised a break with the country’s past. But it became involved with another dispute about symbols, which has, despite the sound and fury, no historical significance at all. Near the Jasenovac concentration camp, where a large number of Serbs, Jews and political opponents of the quisling Independent State of Croatia (NDH) were killed by the Ustasha authorities, a private memorial was raised a year ago to members of the HOS (Croatian Defence Forces — a rightist paramilitary force) who died fighting in the war for Croatian independence in the early 1990s. On the memorial was inscribed the Ustasha salute “Za Dom Spremni” (“Ready for the Homeland”). The salute was apparently used by many HOS fighters — though who knows with what understanding of its true significance? The memorial plaque has since been moved a few miles away. What to do generally about totalitarian symbols — including the Communist five-pointed Red Star (“Petokraka”) positioned near the sites of mass graves of Communist Party victims — is now the thankless task of a government-appointed commission. Meanwhile, a well-funded, internationally-supported “antifascist” movement currently seeks to link cases of real or imagined nostalgia for the Ustasha regime — which collapsed 70 years ago — with the movement to cleanse Croatia of the remains of the Communist regime — which have a disconcerting degree of life in them still.

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Giordano Bruno
November 7th, 2017
8:11 PM
Fascism is like globalism - neo-imperial corporatism or ecclesiastical despotism, essence-based evil based on greed and power, and as such any method for their removal is justified. Tito is quite successful in removing that weed. After all, he succeeded in establishing a rather humane and successful multi-ethnic and multi-religious secular society, progressively and intellectually advanced, which set an excellent model of society that should be everywhere, despite the efforts of the West to prevent further creation and maintenance of a similar, out of West covert imperialist dogma. In the end, it was like in the old sentence "all evil comes from the West (also before from Vatican)", as they spoke to us, and it came in the sense of an instrumentalized parliamentary democracy in which hiding the old hydras: the corporation and the church. I hope that it will appeal to some new civil revolutions, which I hope will completely eradicate their sick paradigm of authority and Orwellian vision of "democracy".

Miroslav
November 7th, 2017
11:11 AM
What is this fatuous babble? People didn't protest the renaming of the Marshal Tito square because of the sanctity of Tito's figure, but because the renaming process was blatantly violated. This was publicly acknowledged by the city Mayor Bandić, who stated that the votes cast in his favor at the recent local elections can be taken as a "sign of the times" that makes consultations with the local residents required by law unnecessary. At the time Bandić considered organizing a referendum on the issue, Hasanbegović and his sidekick Bruna Esih wrote that the referendum would "insult the Croatian people and the democratic spirit of its capital." Such are the democratic and legal standards of the people who pose as the guardians of democracy against the imagined communists. That said, there is absolutely no doubt that Bandić would have sided with the center-left or the devil incarnate if the alliance promised him a majority in the City Council. As far as Yugoslavia under Tito is concerned, the existence of Goli Otok certainly wasn't the defining feature of the Yugoslav society in the way that was the case with death camps in Jadovno and Jasenovac or grisly excursions of Ustasha butchers in Eastern Herzegovina during the Independent Croatian State. Furthermore, the uprising against the Ustasha started before June 22, 1941, because the Serbian population in the Independent Croatian State didn't need the Communist Party to tell them that their throats will be cut unless they fight for their lives. For the vast majority of the partisans who fought fascism in Yugoslavia, siding with the communist party was in no way a product of their leftist leanings, and the author should know this. Finally, the center-right "founding" party (Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ) of the modern Croatian state has been the dominant political force in the country ever since its independence. The only time it lost parliamentary elections was when it shot itself in the foot by a weapon from its lurid arsenal of cronyism, one-man party rule, graft and lurid nationalist ideology. If the left is to blame for anything, it's for not being able to make a sufficiently vivid distinction between itself and the conservative hypocrites nested in the HDZ. Seeing snarling neo-communists in Croatia is a frightening ailment that calls for a doctor's appointment. To conclude, connecting the protests against the renaming of the Marshal Tito square with Goli Otok should disqualify you from serious journalism.

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