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Ustase

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The Ustaše (often spelled Ustashe in English; singular Ustaša or Ustasha) was a Croatian far-right organisation put in charge of the Independent State of Croatia by the Axis Powers in 1941. They pursued nazi/fascist policies and were subsequently expelled by the communist Yugoslav partisans and the Red Army in 1945.

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The Ustashe flag of Croatia, 1941-1945

At the time of their founding in 1929, the Ustaše were nationalist political organisations that committed terrorist acts. When they came to power in WWII, they also had military formations (Ustasha Army/Ustaka Vojnica) that later numbered some 76,000 strong at their peak in 1944.

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Contents

History

In October 1928, after the assassination of Stjepan Radić, a radical youth group named Hrvatski Domobran started publishing an eponymous newspaper dedicated to the Croatian national matters. Various members of the Croatian Party of Rights contributed to the writing, until around Christmas 1928 when the newspaper was banned by the authorities of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In January 1929, the King banned all national parties, and radical wing of the Party of Rights was exiled, among them Ante Pavelić, Gustav Perčec, Branimir Jelić. This group was later joined by several other Croatian exiles.

On April 20, 1929, Pavelić and others co-signed a declaration in Sofia together with the members of the Macedonian National Committee, asserting that they would pursue "their legal activities for the establishment of human and national rights, political freedom and complete independence of both Croatia and Macedonia". Because of this, the Court for the Preservation of the State in Belgrade sentence Pavelić and Perčec to death on July 17, 1929.

The exiles never returned to Yugoslavia, and instead started organizing support for their cause among the Croatian diaspora in Europe, South America and North America. They attained support mostly in Belgium, Argentina, and Pennsylvania. In January 1932, they named their revolutionary organization "Ustaša". In 1932 some Ustaša members led by Andrija Artuković also attempted to stage an uprising in the Lika/Velebit area, but failed, and retreated for northern Italy where they formed a training camp near Brescia.

The origin of their name is in the noun "ustaš" which means "insurgent". Their name didn't have fascist connotations during their early years in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia as it was used throughout Hercegovina to denote (Serb Orthodox) insurgents from the 1875 Hercegovinian rebellion. Later, the name would acquire its pejorative connotation, particularly among the Hercegovinian Serbs who would be hardest hit by the atrocities.

Perčec was later assassinated by Pavelić in 1933. Due to their previous links with the Macedonian nationalists, the Ustaše were accused in conspiring to murder the Yugoslav king Alexander in 1934, and Eugen Kvaternik was charged with planning the successful assassination committed by members of the IMRO.

Soon after the assassination, all organizations related to the Ustaše as well as the Hrvatski Domobran, which continued as a civil organization, were banned throughout Europe. Pavelić and Kvaternik were detained in Italy between October 1934 until the end of March 1936. After March 1937, when Italy and Yugoslavia signed a pact of friendship, most of the Ustaše members were extradited to Yugoslavia.

However, this did not destroy their organization, it only made them gain more sympathy among the Croatian youth, esp. among the university students. In February 1939, two of these returnees, Mile Budak and Ivan Oršanić, became editors of the newly published magazine Hrvatski narod ("The Croatian people"), which supported the Ustaša ideas of Croatian independence.

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The Axis invaded Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941. Vladko Maček, the leader of the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) which was the most influential party in Croatia at the time, rejected offers by the Nazi Germany to lead the new government. Ustaše took the opportunity and with the help of the foreign armies installed their regime on April 14th 1941. A group of several hundred of them infiltrated from Italy, their commander Slavko Kvaternik took control of the police in Zagreb and proclaimed the formation of the "Independent State of Croatia" (Croatian Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, acronym "NDH"). The name of the rogue state was an obvious and successful attempt at capitalizing on the Croat people's desire for independence, which had been unfulfilled since 1102.

Vladko Maček called on people to obey and cooperate with the new government the same day. Ante Pavelić arrived on April 20th to become the head of government, poglavnik (fhrer), of the state that would soon encompass most of today's Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and parts of Serbia (Srem and Sandžak regions). Because the Ustaše did not have a capable army or administration necessary to control the territory, the Germans and the Italians split up the NDH into two zones of influence, one in the southwest controlled by the Italians and the other in the northeast controlled by the Germans.

The atrocities against non-Croats started on April 27, 1941 when a newly formed unit of Ustaša army massacred the largely Serbian thorp of Gudovac (near Bjelovar).

Eventually all who opposed and/or threatened the Ustaše were outlawed. The HSS was banned on June 11, 1941 in an attempt of the Ustaše to take their place as the primary representative of the Croatian peasantry. Vladko Maček was sent to Jasenovac concentration camp, but later released to serve a house arrest sentence due to his popularity among the people. Maček was later again called upon by the foreigners to take a stand and counteract the Pavelić government, but refused.

Pavelić first met with Adolf Hitler on June 6, 1941. Mile Budak, then minister in Pavelić's government, publicly proclaimed the violent racial policy of the state on July 22, 1941. Vjekoslav "Maks" Luburić, one of the chiefs of secret police organizations, started building concentration camps in the summer of the same year.

As early as June, 1941, rebels started to organize in response to Ustaša atrocities. There were two factions among them: the Partisans, who were guerillas composed of all nations with a common cause to fight the fascists and were mostly led by communists, and Chetniks who were Serb royalist rebels that opposed the Ustašas.

The first Partisan armed unit was formed on June 22nd in Brezovica near Sisak, and the Partisans first engaged in combat on June 27th in Srb in Lika. The first Chetnik armed unit in Croatia was formed on June 28 (also St. Vitus' Day, an Eastern Orthodox holiday).

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The Ustaša gangs ravaged villages across the Dinaric Alps to the extent that the Italians and the Germans started expressing their horror. By 1942, general Edmund Glaise von Horstenau had written several reports to his Wehrmacht commanders in which he expressed his dismay at the extent of the Ustaša atrocities, which actually preceded the Final Solution. These were corroborated by those of field marshal Wilhelm List.

The Italians also became disinclined to cooperate with the Ustaše and would soon come to cooperate with the Chetniks in the southern areas that they controlled. Although Hitler insisted that Mussolini should have his forces work with the Ustaše, the Italian general Mario Roatta, among others in the field, ignored those orders.

The regular army of the NDH, the Home Guard (Domobrani), was composed of enlisted men who were barely combat-ready and did not participate in the atrocities. The members of the Ustaša party were part of the paramilitary units that committed the crimes. Pavelić had claimed that over 30,000 people had joined the party during this time, although the more neutral reports concluded that their number was less than half of that.

The Home Guard served more as a supply depot for the resistance movement: many units would surrender or defect so that the Partisans and the Chetniks would obtain weaponry and other supplies. The Chetniks under the command of pop Momčilo Đujić grew in power and regularly retaliated against the Ustaše detachments in Bosnia. The Partizans under Josip Broz Tito also made many inroads and had started to control sizeable patches of superficially NDH territory by 1943.

In 1943, the Germans suffered major losses on the Eastern Front and the Italians started massively defecting, leaving behind even more armament the rebels used against the Ustaše. The Partizans soon became the main rebel force in all of Yugoslavia, having started accepting both Domobran and Četnik defects, and getting help from the western Allies in the form of airdrops.

The power of the Chetniks eventually faded due to two things: their retaliations against the Ustaša had transformed into massacres of their own (such as that in Foča against Bosnian Muslims), and the fact that they lost support from the Allies. One large group of Chetniks was led by Đujić to Italy, and another group led by Draža Mihailović moved to Serbia, only to be caught and executed by the partizans.

Eventually the Red Army and partisans liberated Yugoslavia and the Ustaše were utterly defeated as well. They continued fighting even a bit after the German surrender on May 9th, 1945, but were soon overpowered. A large column of Ustaša and some Domobran soldiers, as well as many civilians, tried to flee for Austria and Italy later in the same month, but was handed over back to the partizans on the Austrian border and subsequently either executed or sent at a "death march" back into the country, the so-called Bleiburg massacre. Pavelić managed to escape, hid in Austria and Rome for a while with the help of his associates among the Franciscans, and then fled to Argentina.

After World War II, the remaining Ustaše went underground or fled to foreign countries. Some of them persisted in their crusade against Yugoslavia: Ustaše were implicated in over two dozen terrorist acts following the post-war period. They were generally unsuccessful due to lack of domestic support and actions of the Yugoslav intelligence agencies (i.e. UDBA/KOS), whose agents, notably, shot Ante Pavelić in Buenos Aires, inflicting injuries that would later prove to be fatal.

Victims

The Ustaše tried to exterminate Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, and basically all others that opposed them, including some Communist Croats. Once they came to power during World War II, they founded several concentration camps, the most notorious of which was the Jasenovac complex.

Exact numbers of victims are not known, only estimates exist, however it is certain that hundreds of thousands of innocent people were rounded up and killed in concentration camps and outside of them. The number of murdered Jews is fairly reliable: around 32,000 Jews were killed during WWII on NDH territory. Yugoslav Roma (Gypsies) numbered around 40,000 less after the war. The numbers of murdered Serbs are much larger, but also tend to vary a lot.

The history textbooks in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had included 700,000 as the number of victims of Ustaše at Jasenovac. This was promulgated from a 1946 calculation of the demographic loss of population (the difference between the actual number of people after the war and the number that would have been, had the pre-war growth trend continued). After that, it was used by Edvard Kardelj and Moše Pijade in the Yugoslav war reparations claim sent to Germany.

According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center (based on Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, by Israel Gutman):

"Ustasa terrorists killed 500,000 Serbs, expelled 250,000 and forced 250,000 to convert to Catholicism. They murdered thousands of Jews and Gypsies." [1] (http://motlc.wiesenthal.com/pages/t081/t08100.html)

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum says:

"Due to differing views and lack of documentation, estimates for the number of Serbian victims in Croatia range widely, from 25,000 to more than one million. The estimated number of Serbs killed in Jasenovac ranges from 25,000 to 700,000. The most reliable figures place the number of Serbs killed by the Ustaša between 330,000 and 390,000, with 45,000 to 52,000 Serbs murdered in Jasenovac." [2] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/Holocaust/Jasenovac.html)

The Jasenovac Memorial Area, currently headed by Slavko Goldstein, keeps a list of 59,188 names of Jasenovac victims that was gathered by government officials in Belgrade in 1964. Because the gathering process was imperfect, they estimated that the list contains between 60 and 75 percent of the total victims, putting the number of killed in that complex at about 80,000 - 100,000. The previous head of the Memorial Area Simo Brdar estimated at least 365,000 dead at Jasenovac.

The analyses of the statisticians Vladimir Žerjavić and Bogoljub Kočović were similar to those of the Memorial Area. In all of Yugoslavia, the estimated number of Serb deaths was 487,000 according to Kočović, and 530,000 according to Žerjavić, out of a total of 1,014,000 or 1,027,000 deaths (resp.). Žerjavić further stated that there were 197,000 Serb civilians killed in NDH (78,000 as prisoners in Jasenovac and elsewhere) as well as 125,000 Serb combatants.

The Belgrade Museum of Holocaust compiled a list of over 77,000 names of Jasenovac victims. It was previously headed by Milan Bulajić, who supported the claim of a total of 700,000 victims. The current administration of the Museum has further expanded the list to include a bit over 80,000 names.

During WWII, various German military commanders gave different figures for the number of Serbs, Jews and others killed on the territory of the Independent State of Croatia. They circulated figures of 400,000 Serbs (Alexander Lehr); 350,000 Serbs (Lothar Rendulic); between 300,000 (Edmund Glaise von Horstenau); more than "3/4 of million of Serbs" (Hermann Neubacher) in 1943; 600-700,000 until March 1944 (Ernst Fick ); 700,000 (Massenbach).

Out of around 39,000 Jews that lived on the territory that became the Independent State of Croatia, only around 20% survived the war. The total number of Serbs in Croatia decreased by around 93,000 after the war.

Ustaše with the head of a Serb Orthodox priestDrakulići, Feb 7, 1942
Ustaše with the head of a Serb Orthodox priest
Drakulići, Feb 7, 1942

Concentration camps

Ideology

The Ustaše embraced the Nazi ideology of the time. They aimed at an ethnically "pure" Croatia, and saw the Serbs that lived in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina as the their biggest obstacle. Thus, Ustaše ministers Mile Budak, Mirko Puk and Milovan Žanić declared in May 1941 that the goal of the Ustaše was:

  1. One third of the Serbs in the Independent State of Croatia (ISC) to be catholicized
  2. One third of the Serbs to be expelled out of ISC
  3. One third of the Serbs in the ISC to be liquidated

A small problem with the Nazi ideology was that the Croats are Slavs and thus themselves "inferior" by Nazi standards. The Ustaša ideologues thus created a theory about a pseudo-Gothic origin of the Croats in order to raise their standing on the Aryan ladder.

Jews and Serbs who were family members of Ustaše leadership were granted titles of "honorary Aryans". It is known that Ustaše of lesser rank proved their loyalty by killing their Serb wives and children.

Ustaše held that Bosnian Muslims are Muslim Croats. Unlike Orthodox Serbs, Muslims were not persecuted by them and some joined in the Nazi and Ustaše forces as part of Waffen-SS divisions SS Handschar in Muslim Bosnia (led by Amin al-Husayni) and SS Kama adviced by Edmund Glaise von Horstenau (the representative of the German military in Croatia) and led by Colonel Ivan Markulj, who was later replaced by Colonel Viktor Pavicic. Lt-Col. Marko Mesic commanded the artillery section. The state even transferred a former museum in Zagreb to be used as a mosque.

On other subjects, Ustaše were against industrialization and democracy.

The basic principles of the movement were laid out by Pavelić in his 1929 pamphlet "Principles of the Ustase Movement".

Symbols

The symbol of Ustaše is a wide capital letter U with pronounced serif. This symbol can easily be spraypainted. A slight variation of it includes a small plus inserted at the top, symbolizing a cross.

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The U

Their hat insignia was the shield of Croatian coat of arms surrounded or embossed with the U.

The flag of the Independent State of Croatia was a red-blue-white horizontal tricolor with the shield of the Croatian coat of arms in the middle and the U in the upper left. Its money was the kuna.

The Ustaše greeting was "Za dom - Spremni":

Salute: Za dom! For home(land)!
Reply: Spremni! (We are) ready!

This greeting is used instead of the Nazi greeting Sieg - Heil. In on-line communication, it is often abbreviated as ZDS.

While the greeting appears to be invented in the 19th century by Croatian ban Josip Jelačić, today it is generally associated only with the Ustashas.

Connections with the Catholic Church

Main article: Involvement of Croatian Catholic clergy with the Ustasa regime

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Crucifix with weaponry

The Ustaša policies against the Eastern Orthodoxy were related to the policy of the Roman Catholic Church known as "Uniatism", which consisted of Catholicizing as many Orthodox believers as possible, by means of re-baptism or by entering into Union. In the 20th century, when most south Slavs became united in Yugoslavia, Pope Benedict XV supported the creation of separate states for the Croats and the Slovenes who were Catholic, as opposed to the Serbs who were Orthodox.

Ustaše held the Eastern Orthodoxy as their greatest foe. In fact, they never once recognized the existence of a Serb people on the territories of Croatia or Bosnia — they only recognized "Croats of the Eastern faith". Catholic priests among the Ustaše were carrying out forced conversions of Serbs to Catholicism throughout Croatia.

Some former priests, mostly Franciscans, particularly in, but not limited to, Herzegovina and Bosnia, took part in the atrocities themselves. Miroslav Filipović, a former Franciscan friar who was dismissed from his order and defrocked, became a member of the Ustaše. He used the Petrićevac monastery as a base for the Ustaše, and on February 6, 1942, led the Ustaše in a brutal massacre of 2730 Serbs of the nearby villages, including 500 children. The same Filipović later became Chief Guard of Jasenovac concentration camp where he was nicknamed "Fra Sotona". Filipović is often falsely identified as a Catholic priest in good standing affiliated with the Ustaše.

At the same time the Muslims were not looked upon at all negatively, even though they weren't Christians at all.

Forced conversion of Serbs in Slavonian village Mikleu by Fra.Vlaho Margetić (Margeretić), 1942
Enlarge
Forced conversion of Serbs in Slavonian village Mikleu by Fra.Vlaho Margetić (Margeretić), 1942

For the whole duration of the war, the Vatican kept up full diplomatic relations with the Ustaša state, with its papal nuncio in the capital Zagreb. The nuncio was briefed on the efforts of religious conversions to Catholicism, without recognizing the fact these conversions were often forced and part of the pogrom.

After the Second World War was over, the Ustaše who had managed to escape from Yugoslav territory (including Pavelić) were smuggled to South America through rat lines operated by members of the organization who were Catholic priests and had previously secured positions at the Vatican. This operation was directed by friars Krunoslav Draganović, Petranović and Dominik Mandić of the Illyrian College of San Girolamo in Rome which to this very day marks April 10th, the birthday of the Ustaša state.

It is also claimed that the Ustaša regime had kept 350 million Swiss Francs in gold which it had plundered from Serbian and Jewish property owners during WW II. About 150 million was seized by British troops, however the remaining 200 million reached the Vatican and is allegedly still being kept in the Vatican Bank. The issue is the theme of a class action lawsuit in a California court of law, which first declined the case claiming a lack of jurisdiction, but as of 2005 the plaintiffs appeal was honored. (See external links.)

Church and state: leaders of church and the state together, in the Croatian Nazi puppet state
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Church and state: leaders of church and the state together, in the Croatian Nazi puppet state

Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb during the Second World War, was accused of supporting the Ustaše, and exonerating those in the clergy that collaborated with the Ustaše of complicity in forced conversions. On the other hand, he himself reportedly helped victims of the Ustaša terror at the same time. The cardinal was criminally prosecuted and convicted after the war by the new Communist authorities of Yugoslavia. In 1998, Stepinac was posthumously beatified by Pope John Paul II.

On June 22, 2003, John Paul II visited Banja Luka. During the visit he held a mass at the aforementioned Petrićevac monastery, which was in the meantime destroyed by the Bosnian Serbs in 1995. This caused public uproar due to the connection of the Petrićevac monastery with the crimes of friar Filipović-Majstorović. The pope also proclaimed the beatification of the Catholic priest Ivan Merz there, the founder of the "Association of Croatian Eagles", later associated with the Hitlerjugend.

Neo-Ustašism

In the 1990s, modern independent Croatia was formed and Croats and Serbs again waged war. There was no official connection between the Ustaše ideology and the new government that made the country independent of Yugoslavia. President Tuđman had controversial views on the topic, claiming that the Ustaša state was indeed an expression of the Croat state tradition, which may be considered true to a limited extent in view of Croatia's long historical struggle for independance. However, Croatia's puppet-state status in WW2 ironicaly negates that claim.

Some Ustaša emigrants freely returned to Croatia. Some factions wished to restore the Ustaše ideology and iconography, and even though they weren't successful, they were never banned by the government. During the Yugoslav wars, these committed war crimes against the Serb population on several occasions.

The term neo-Ustaše itself is an external designation; those in question referred to themselves simply as Ustaše, as in the 1940s.

The right-wing parties often attracted votes by promoting extreme nationalism. A singer by the name of Mišo Kovač, who rose to prominence as an evergreen singer of the 1970s once sported an exact replica of an Ustaša uniform during a concert. Pop/folk singer Marko Perković-Thompson has made a career for himself by singing patriotic tunes, but this has sometimes resulted in singing borderline fascist lyrics praising WWII criminals, and he is not afraid to display his Ustaša sentiment. Supported by right-wing politicians, his concerts attracted support from tens of thousands of people based on this sentiment.

The exodus of Serbs from Croatia following the 1995 offensive Storm in the Krajina was greeted and in part perpetrated by the neo-Ustaše as if the plan from 1941 was finally being fully implemented.

The neo-Ustaše, however, didn't and don't have grass roots support among the Croatian people. The right-most parties, like the Croatian Party of Rights, are most commonly associated with Ustašism and they have the support of a few percent of the population.

Dinko Šakić, one of the commanders of the Jasenovac concentration camp, was tried in 1999 and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Croatia has been cooperating with the ICTY in the legal prosecution of all war criminals. The government is also making an effort to return all refugees to their homes.

In 2004, in a telephone straw poll conducted during the "Nedjeljom u dva" talk show at Croatian Radiotelevision, more than 17,000 calls, or 58% of callers, expressed positive attitude towards Ustashas and the ISC.

Bibliography

  • Aarons, Mark and Loftus, John: "Unholy Trinity: How the Vatican's Nazi Networks Betrayed Western Intelligence to the Soviets". New York: St.Martin's Press, 1992. 372 pages.
  • Paris, Edmond: "Genocide in Satellite Croatia 1941- 1945". (First print: 1961, Second: 1962), The American Institute for Balkan Affairs, 1990.
  • Manhattan, Avro: "The Vatican's Holocaust". Ozark Books, 1986.

External links

Ustase sites

  • Crna Legija (http://www.crnalegija.com/) (in Croatian)

Outside views

Croatian views

Serbian views

On connections with the Catholic church

Trial of Dinko Šakić

fr:Oustachis hr:Ustaše nl:Ustasa-Beweging pl:Ustasze pt:Ustase sr:Усташе

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