Ivica Dacic (L) and Aleksandar Vucic.jpg
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic (L) and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic (R) during a Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on Serbia meeting in Brussels, Belgium, 18 July 2016.
Photograph: EPA/LAURENT DUBRULE

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Saturday Serbia wanted good relations with Croatia and that it would always be on the side of anti-fascism, but that the annulment of the verdict against Alojzije Stepinac spoke more about Croatia than it did about Serbia.

"The Serbian people will never support fascism and they will know how to protect their country and people from  fascism. And what others will do, that is their business and this decision speaks more about them than about Serbians," Vucic told the press.

He underscored he would refrain from harsh words, adding however that he was hurt by reactions and comments in Serbia which relativise the annulment of the verdict.

In Vucic's opinion, Stepinac was "one of the key ideologists of the worst Nazi-style government on European soil."

He said he "admires people" who find justifications for the verdict annulment and who think that this is a good message.

Underscoring that Serbia must build best possible relations with Croatia and that it would do everything stated in the declaration which he signed with the Croatian president on June 20, Vucic said that members of the Croat ethnic minority must feel good in Serbia. He reiterated he did not want to use harsh words when commenting on Stepinac's quashed verdict, adding however that he was embarrassed to see how people, even those in Serbia, were ignorant about the history.

The quashed ruling against Stepinac was one of the main topics in the Belgrade-based press and electronic media on Saturday and the dominant opinion is that the Zagreb County Court decision created prerequisites for the rehabilitation of the Nazi-style Independent State of Croatia (NDH) and the Ustasha regime.

"They opened the door to the rehabilitation of (NDH leader Ante) Pavelic and the NDH" read the headline of the Vecernje Novosti daily which cited Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic as saying that Croatia wanted to cover up Ustasha pits". The daily also cited Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic as saying he expected a reaction from Europe, otherwise Hitler or Mussolini could also be rehabilitated.

The judgement against Zagreb Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac,  who was sentenced in 1946 by the Communist regime to 16 years in prison and forced labour and was stripped of his political and civil rights for five years, was on Friday annulled by the Zagreb County Court that established that the guilty verdict had grossly violated the then and the current principles of the criminal law.

Cardinal Stepinac (1898-1960) was the leading person of the Catholic Church in Croatia during World War Two. After the war, Communist authorities charged him with collaborating with the Ustasha regime of the Independent State of Croatia (1941-1945), although he publicly denounced the crimes of the pro-Nazi regime and actively helped provide sanctuary for those persecuted. Subsequently, Stepinac spent five years in prison and nine years under house arrest until he died.

In October 1946 the then Supreme Court found him guilty of all charges in his indictment.

In February 1992, the Croatian parliament adopted a declaration condemning the court decision and the process that led to it. The declaration states that the true reason of Stepinac's imprisonment was his pointing out many communist crimes and especially refusing to form a Croatian Catholic Church in schism with the Pope.

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