Stories from Quick Reads and Croatia
In 1941, the Croatian radical right-wing Ustashi movement came to power and formed the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), led by Ante Pavelić. NDH followed fascist regimes in Europe by forming concentration camps, and killing and persecuting Serbs, Jews, and Romas, not to mention Croatian partisans and their families.
In August 1942, NDH built a camp in Sisak, Croatia, for both adults and children. The children's section of the concentration camp was dubbed the “Shelter for Children of Refugees“ and was the biggest of its kind in the Ustashi-run Independent State of Croatia. The so-called “shelter” was led by Dr. Antun Najžer, under the patronage of The Female Lineages of the Ustashi movement and Ustashi surveillance services. Today we have documents showing that Dr. Najžer and his team performed tests on the children held in the camp, starving to death some, and torturing in various ways others.
A monument in children section's camp graveyard says approximately 2,000 people are buried there, but there's never been an organized effort to exhume the bodies, so no one knows for sure. A recent article on the Croatian news site Portal Novosti describes the history of the camp, bearing the chilling headline “Sisak Also Had Its Mengele” (referring to the Auschwitz concentration camp's infamous physician).
The town of Sisak, subjected to another devastating conflict in the 1990s during the Croatian Independence War, holds an event annually at the graveyard on WWII Remembrance Day, laying wreaths on the memorial and inviting the camp's survivors to speak.
Dobrila Kukolj is one of the children who managed to survive the horrors of the concentration camp. Born in 1931 in Međeđa village, Bosnia-Herzegovina, she was placed in several children's camps during the war. Her life changed forever in 1941, when Ustashi forces attacked her village. In Portal Novosti's article, Kukolj says she best recalls the Sisak and Jasenovac concentration camps, both in Croatia, and describes what arriving at the camps was like:
Ulazak u logor bio je ravan klubu smrti u kojem su vladali bezakonje i ludilo, gdje se čuo samo vrisak, plač i jauk do neba. Prizor od kojeg mi se i danas ledi krv u žilama je bježanje ispred ustaša koji su hvatali djevojčice i nad njima se iživljavali. Tada sam nehotice stala na tek rođeno dijete na zemlji, a taj plač mi i danas zvoni u ušima. Mi preživjeli logoraši smo na izmaku snage, a naša svjedočanstva ne smiju pasti u zaborav i zato molim sadašnju i buduće generacije da se bore da se zlo koje je donio rat više nikada ne ponovi, kako kod nas, tako i u cijelom svijetu.
Entering the concentration camp was the same thing as entering a death club ruled only by lawlessness and madness, where you could hear only screams, crying and moaning, all the way to the sky. One sight that still freezes the blood in my veins is running from the Ustashes who were capturing little girls and then brutalizing them. That's when I accidentally stepped on a newborn lying on the ground. The cry it let out still rings in my ears. We who have survived the camps are at the end of our journeys, but our legacy shouldn't ever be forgotten and that's why I ask the generations who are here and who are yet to come to ensure that such evil brought by war never again returns—not in our country or any other.
Author, actor, educator, television and film director Timothy John Byford died in Belgrade on May 5, 2014, after a long illness. Born in Salisbury, England, Byford spent most of his life in Belgrade, where he moved in 1971 and later became a naturalized citizen of Serbia.
As news portal InSerbia reports:
He is best known for his children’s TV series: Neven (‘Marigold’), Babino unuče (‘Granny’s Boy’) and Poletarac (‘Fledgling’) (all for TV Belgrade) as well as Nedeljni zabavnik (‘Sunday Magazine’), ‘Musical Notebook’ and Tragom ptice Dodo (‘On the Trail of the Dodo’) (all for TV Sarajevo). ‘Fledgling’ won a Grand Prix at the Prix Jeunesse International Festival in Munich in 1980.
Byford marked the lives and childhoods of several generations in Serbia and other former Yugoslav states through his television shows and educational programs. His presence was also felt in everyday Belgrade life, where he once rallied to have Banjica Park protected because of its feathered wildlife, and the term “Byfordian accent” has for decades been a popular way of describing someone who speaks Serbian well but with a heavy English accent.
Byford was genuinely beloved by his vast audience and fellow Belgraders, which has been touchingly apparent on social networks since his passing. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and local media have been adorned with praise and gratitude to Byford and his contribution to culture and happy childhoods in Serbia and other former Yugoslav states. Enes Dinić from Serbia was among those who recounted Byford's wise words on Twitter:
"Život je avantura, ako ga živite hrabro." R.I.P. Timothy John Byford
— Enes Dinić (@eniko_neno3) May 5, 2014
"Life is an adventure, if you live it courageously." R.I.P. Timothy John Byford
— Enes Dinić (@eniko_neno3) May 5, 2014
These signs were placed on the Hall of Sports in Zagreb by Croatian activists just days before Thompson, a Croatian rock band, held their concert there on Saturday, November 16. The band bears its name after the nickname of their lead singer, Marko Perković, received during service in the military during the Croatian War of Independence in the 1990s. The nickname derives from the Thompson submachine gun, also known as the “Tommy gun”.
The band and Perković are known for righ-wing nationalist attitudes, often included in their song lyrics and public statements. In 2003, Perković was banned from playing in the Netherlands under accusations of neo-nazi activities and has often been criticized by minority groups in Croatia and other countries.
In this latest instance of criticism, activist posted “Thompson is not Croatia” in Serbian Cyrillic script, referring to recent issues regarding decisions to place bilingual street signs and signs on government buildings in the Croatian city of Vukovar. The signs, in both Croatian Latin script and Serbian Cyrillic were taken down, destroyed several times by protesters, then replaced in Vukovar, until a decision was finally to take them down permanently and not allow bilingual signs. The debate of whether or not bilingual signs will be used in Vukovar is on-going.
The band's concert was held in the Croatian capital on Saturday, peacefully and without any incidents.
Former Croatian President Stjepan Mesic, who was in this office as Croatia's second President from 2000 to 2010, recently gave an interview for Serbian weekly NIN, in which he claims to have found maps of a divided Bosnia in the presidential safe of Franjo Tudjman. BalkanInside.com quotes a portion of that interview:
“Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman had been communicating with each other during the war 1991-1995. They wanted to divide Bosnia. Tudjman even thought that the greatest world powers want to divide Bosnia as well“, said Mesic.
POINT, the international conference on political accountability and new technologies in Sarajevo, has used its skills to aid in relief of the ongoing disaster affecting three Balkan countries – Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia. BosniaFloods.org, the first tool developed by the participants, specifically targets Bosnia, because the situation in this country was made particularly abysmal because its government structure hindered disaster coordination.
In Bosnia, the floods and landslides directly affect over 1.36 million people, about 1/4 of the population, and lack of information in English inhibits people abroad who would like to help. The multinational team congregates and translates bits of information currently spread around the web. It addresses their credibility, mindful that in Serbia and possibly elsewhere there were attempts to swindle prospective donors via false bank accounts. Money is probably the easiest kind of aid to send. The people affected also need food, clothes and medical aid that can be delivered from other European countries, as well as volunteers who could coordinate such efforts within their countries.
“European institutions should safeguard the right to free, independent and pluralistic information”. The quote, from the Media Initiative website, summarizes the main idea behind a pan-European campaign that aims at urging the European Commission to draft a Directive to protect Media Pluralism and Press Freedom.
The Media Initiative is running a European Citizens’ Initiative - a tool of participatory democracy “which allows civil society coalitions to collect online and offline one million signatures in at least 7 EU member states to present directly to the European Commission a proposal forming the base of an EU Directive, initiating a legislative process”. The petition is available in 15 languages and can be signed online:
Protecting media pluralism through partial harmonization of national rules on media ownership and transparency, conflicts of interest with political office and independence of media supervisory bodies.
A short video presents the campaign:
In November 2013, Croatia and Greece joined the growing list of national football teams that FIFA has fined for racist behavior of their fans or team members. In Maqy of 2013, FIFA began implementing stricter sanctions aganist racismand discrimination. FIFA President Sepp Blatter stated recentky that this global governing organization must introduce harsher punishments to battle these issues, adding that FIFA was now even willing to “eliminate teams from a competition or deduct points” to that effect. Al Jazeera reports more details regarding the fines issued to the Croatian and Greek national football associations:
FIFA fined the Croatia Football Federation 35,000 Swiss francs ($38,000) for incidents during its 2-1 loss against Belgium in Zagreb on October 11.
“Croatian supporters made far-right salutes which were used during World War II by the fascist Ustase movement,” fan monitoring group Fare reported to FIFA.
FIFA fined the Greek federation 30,000 Swiss francs ($32,500) following reports of far-right banners displayed when Greece beat Slovakia 1-0 in Athens on October 11.
Some members of the Croatian parliament, all of different opposition parties, have voiced their concern in past days regarding safety issues that Croatia Airlines has had in recent weeks and, in particular, the unusual media attention these incidents have received. Croatia Airlines is currently being prepared for a long-awaited privatization process, but has had two emergency landings in just one week's time in September, as well as other minor safety issues. These kinds of safety issues are fairly standard cases in commercial aviation and often go unnoticed by media and the public. Some representatives in Croatia's parliament are calling the unusual media focus on these recent Croatia Airlines cases “an orchestrated attack” by the regime on the national airline, an attempt to lower the airlines value and price for a planned buyer in the privatization process. Balkans.com reports:
Members of both the HDSSB and Labour Party also suggested foul play is at hand and criticised the government for appointing party members as part of Croatia Airlines’ management team. Later this month the first of two tender rounds for the privatisation of the Croatian national carrier is expected to take place. The first, where potential buyers will express their interest, and the second, expected in February 2014, where specific takeover offers will be made. Recently, the Croatian Minister for Sea, Transport and Infrastructure said, “The price offered by a potential partner will not be paramount, rather, the focus will be on the quality of the strategic partner which could generate more traffic for Croatian airports”.
This month, Rob Martineau, Tom Stancliffe, and Guy Hacking are running 1,000 miles from Odessa to Dubrovnik, via Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Croatia, as part of the Run For Love 1000 campaign, whose aim is to raise funds for Love146, a UK charity that “gives care and hope to trafficked children, and to raise awareness of the scale of human trafficking across Europe.” Follow their run on the RFL1000 website, on Facebook, and on Twitter; support the runners by donating here (215 donations have been made so far, with nearly £12,500 raised).