The director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Efraim Zuroff, has strongly condemned the chanting of the Ustasha salute "For the homeland ready" at a recent friendly football match between the national teams of Croatia and Israel in Osijek, criticising Croatian authorities for failing to react to "the disgusting anti-Semitic behavior" as well as the Israeli ambassador for failing to protest over the incident.
"The ignorance of the delegation which accompanied the national team and the players can perhaps be understood, but in theory our ambassador in Zagreb should be well acquainted with the problem of such fascist manifestations, and should have found a way to protest. Even more upsetting is the fact that both Croatian Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic and Education and Sports Minister Predrag Sustar chose to remain silent and stayed in their seats," Zuroff said in his article in The Jerusalem Post.
"Given the fact that these chants were clearly heard by all those in the stadium, their failure to respond is an indication of tolerance for such outrageous, insulting and clearly anti-Semitic behavior," he stressed.
"Imagine the following scenario: The Israeli national football (soccer) team is invited to Germany for a friendly match. The game is attended by the German prime minister and education and sports minister, as well as the resident Israeli ambassador. Everything starts out as planned, the national anthems are played and more than 11,000 spectators take their seats to cheer on the home team. After about 10 minutes, however, all of a sudden thousands of the fans start loudly chanting “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Wir Deutschen! Nazis! Nazis!," says Zuroff, explaining that "For the homeland ready" is the Ustasha equivalent of the Nazi salute.
He notes that the only response from the prime minister's office was a short press release condemning the use of symbols and slogans of totalitarian regimes, without mentioning the match and the specifics of the event.
The only locals to protest were Croatian human rights activists and the local Jewish community, he says, adding that as far as he is aware, there were no protests from Israeli officials, neither from the embassy nor from the Israeli football federation.
Zuroff recalls that this was not the first such incident at a football match in Croatia and that FIFA has fined Croatia for the same chants at a football match against Norway, as well as that a swastika was carved into the playing field at a football match in Split.
"These incidents, however, are only the tip of the iceberg of a much wider and dangerous phenomenon, whereby fascist slogans have become acceptable parlance in Croatia, and are considered to be expressions of patriotism," says Zuroff, who condemned the incident in Osijek the day after it happened, in a statement published on the website of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.