bosnia report
New Series No: 51-52 April - July 2006
Remembering Jasenovac
by Stipe Mesic

We have gathered here once again this year on the site of the former concentration camp of Jasenovac. We have come to commemorate the heroic break-out by camp inmates more than six decades ago. We have come to say and to show that we do not forget the horrors that occurred here. And finally we have come to affirm our determination that nothing similar should ever happen again - either here or anywhere else.

This last - that it should never happen again - in the world in which we live sometimes appears like a vain and even empty pledge. Because it has happened again. We too, in the area of the former Yugoslavia, in the wars that accompanied the break-up of the common state witnessed ethnic cleansing, war crimes and genocide. However, this must not discourage us. On the contrary, it must be an additional motive for us not to give up the struggle for a world based on equality, mutual tolerance, respect for difference - for a world of peace and security for all.

In order for us to be able to wage this struggle successfully, we must first create the conditions in which the truth about what happened, about everything that took place, will not be hidden. We must face up to the truth and constantly confront it - day in and day out. Not because we, our generation, are responsible for happened here sixty years ago, but so that those who might try to repeat this again do not succeed in their criminal intent.

Jasenovac was a site of genocide, of holocaust, and of war crimes.

In Jasenovac, in keeping with the policy conducted by the criminal Ustasha regime, Jews were killed because they were Jews, Serbs because they were Serbs, Roma because they were Roma. And for that reason alone.

Croats too were killed here, those who did not and would not agree with that policy. I wish to repeat today once more: Croats were killed not because they were enemies of the Croatian state, but because they opposed the criminal policy being conducted under the cover of the Croat name. The true representatives of the Croat people were not those who ordered and implemented the crimes, but those who fought against the crimes and the criminals. In those days the honour of the Croat name was saved by the anti-fascist fighters, and we must be eternally grateful to them for this.

I will also say this: on the anti-fascist side too there were individuals and groups who descended into crime. But crime was never the policy of the anti-fascist movement. By contrast, those who killed here in Jasenovac and in numerous other camps and execution places in the so-called Independent State of Croatia, those killers and criminals conducted a systematic and proclaimed policy. We must never lose the sight of this difference.

Our duty is to acquaint the younger generations with this. Our duty is to warn them of the vileness of fascist and Nazi ideas, and about the absolute unacceptability of the smallest trace of discrimination or segregation on a racial, national, confessional or any other such basis. If we are to build a civilized and democratic state, which is indeed our aim, then we must know that we shall never join the society of states attached to democracy and based on the standards inherent in modern civilization by flirting with Ustashism, Nazism or fascism. I repeat: never.

This is why we must do all we can to destroy any possible confusion regarding the character of the regime responsible for the horrors committed in Jasenovac. We must fight for the truth to be present in school textbooks, in scientific debate, but also here - the site of the crime. Jasenovac is not a museum, least of all an ordinary museum, so it is impossible to treat it as such. Jasenovac, I repeat, is a site of crime. Those who come here, and will continue to come here in the years ahead, must confront here in particular all the dreadfulness both of the policy that created Jasenovac and of Jasenovac itself.

Crime cannot be exhibited in a nice and pleasant fashion. But it must be exhibited. If people were killed solely because of their national, racial or confessional nature, then this must be clear to every visitor to Jasenovac. If holocaust and genocide and war crimes happened here, then this must be clear to every visitor. And if innocent, I repeat: innocent, people were killed in a truly pathological manner, if the criminals even enjoyed their orgies, then this must be clear to every visitor. Because that is the truth.

We are ashamed of this truth, but we do not hide it. The crimes of others - any crime and at any time - cannot diminish or cancel out the crimes committed on our side. The criminals and the victims have a nationality, crime does not. Every crime deserves condemnation and punishment, and every victim has the right to be remembered and honoured.

Here today we recall all those, known and unknown, who suffered and were killed here. We recall also those who sought to save themselves by effecting a break-out in the last days of the war. We honour them all. As president of the Republic, I honour them in the name of democratic Croatia, founded on anti-fascist values and traditions, in the name of a Croatia that know what its roots are and where its future lies.

Translation of a speech by Croatian president Stipe Mesić, at the commemoration on 30 April 2006 of a break-out by inmates at the notorious Jasenovac concentration camp in April 1945





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