Croatian Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic said in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde that he did not feel sorry for the Ustasha regime and that criticisms against him were a result of post-communism in Croatia.
Hasanbegovic told the French daily that he regretted that the Croat people did not win the right to self-determination after World War II and that Croats found themselves against their will in Yugoslavia's undemocratic, Bolshevik system, but that he did not feel sorry for the Ustasha regime that was responsible for numerous crimes.
The minister denied having worn an Ustasha cap in a photo of him that was circulated in the Croatian media in the past few months.
"It was not an Ustasha cap. I think the photo was taken in 1993 in Split where as a 20-year-old student I met by accident members of a Croatian army volunteer unit and had a photo of me taken wearing a part of their uniform," Hasanbegovic said, adding that the cap he wore in the photo belonged to a man who was killed in Bosnia and Herzegovina two years later.
He distanced himself from the Ustasha insignia displayed at a recent commemoration of the Bleiburg massacre, dismissing claims that he attended the Bleiburg commemorations with more dedication than he attended commemorations of the victims of the Ustasha-run Jasenovac concentration camp.
"There is a significant difference between Bleiburg and Jasenovac. It was forbidden to commemorate the crimes committed at Bleiburg for 50 years, while the manipulation of the crimes committed at Jasenovac and the exaggerating of the number of victims was one of the constituent elements of the Yugoslav communist regime and its ideology," said Hasanbegovic, adding that the boycott of the last Jasenovac commemoration by some associations was politically motivated.
The interviewer also wanted to know if Hasanbegovic considered as problematic demands for his resignation and criticism by cultural circles, to which he said that he was faced with a state of 'cultural war'.
"In our post-communist society there are still divisions regarding the interpretation of the past, notably the Yugoslav past, but in my case the rules of civilised debate have been broken and what is under way is hysteria, a campaign of defamation coming from the pseudo-left that continues to work on the cultural and social hegemony, not taking into account the fall of communism," said Hasanbegovic.
Answering the interviewer's question, he said that the number of 70 journalists who had to leave their positions at Croatian Radio and Television (HRT) was exaggerated and that HRT director-general Goran Radman was replaced in line with the same procedure in line with which the political majority had appointed him four years ago.
He also commented on the issue of abortion, describing it as an unfortunate occurrence, but warned against "a sectarian approach" to the problem.
"Religious communities should educate their members to avoid abortion, but no legal ban has ever managed to eradicate abortion," he said.
The Croatian minister has been a topic in the French media in recent days. His interview to Le Monde is a sort of answer to an open letter the French paper Liberation published on Tuesday as part of a petition launched by European intellectuals demanding Hasanbegovic's replacement.
In the letter, signed by a number of intellectuals such as Italian Marxist theoretician Antonio Negri, Bosnian Oscar winning director Danis Tanovic, Berkeley professor Judith Butler, conservative French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, and Italian Nobel winner for literature Dario Fo, Hasanbegovic is described as a historical revisionist and sympathiser of the Ustasha regime, and Croatia as a country which, because of that, does not abide by the fundamental values of the European Union.
Radio France International reported about Hasanbegovic, too, in an article published on Wednesday under the title "Croatia: Minister of culture, a symbol that's becoming embarrassing".