Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic said on Thursday that he was against any form of totalitarianism, stressing that crimes committed by the Nazi-style Ustasha regime in Croatia during the Second World War were "the biggest moral lapse" of the Croatian people in their history.
"I have never been an apologist for any criminal regimes. In my public statements and works I have always made it clear that Ustasha crimes not only carry the burden of defeat but also represent the biggest moral lapse in the history of the Croatian people, whose shadow and evil spirit still stand over the Croatian people. I am against any form of totalitarianism," Hasanbegovic told a press conference after a Cabinet meeting.
"Using totally peripheral statements I made as a student more than 20 years ago and taking them out of context is nothing but political manipulation," the minister said, declining to take questions from the press.
The press conference was prompted by a photograph in the latest issue of the Novosti weekly which purportedly showed Hasanbegovic wearing an Ustasha-style cap in 1996. The newspaper said that he had contributed articles to Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska (Independent State of Croatia) magazine, the mouthpiece of the far-right Croatian Liberation Movement, in which he portrayed Ustashas as heroes and martyrs.
Hasanbegovic dismissed the Novosti article as an insinuation, provocation and yet another in a series of imputations aimed at discrediting him.
Hasanbegovic said that he was a member of a party and government that "embraced the tenets of democratic anti-fascism, anti-communism and anti-totalitarianism and are committed to democratic values and the parliamentary system of government."
"I think that my ministerial term should be judged by my work and not by selective manipulation of the facts from the recent past. My conscience is clear," the minister said.