My editor at the Baltimore Sun tells me that the secretary, who has been there for ages, has never in all her years in the newspaper business, witnessed the storm that my article last week elicited. In case you missed it, the piece was titled “When Will World Confront the Undead of Croatia?” and it called attention to the fact that not only has Croatia not sufficiently acknowledged its zealous Nazi past of WW2, but the past followed it into the 1990s — and the criminals of that decade are widely celebrated by Croatians even today.

Apparently, this was the first piece of mainstream American journalism that didn’t place the blame for the 1990s Balkan wars squarely on Serb shoulders. For unlike the Serbs — who are accustomed to being vilified in the press on a daily basis for 15 years now — the hundreds of Croats, Croat defenders and Serbophobes I heard from were breathless in their fury and disbelief.

I will make an effort to post some of their letters, including letters in support of the article. But I will start by posting a letter, with my comments, that The Sun published on Saturday, written by Josip Babic, press attaché for Croatia’s embassy to the United States:

It is important to get the facts straight. Croatia has never justified, nor does it purport to justify, the crimes of the Nazi puppet regime that ruled parts of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina during World War II.

It is a favorite Croatian ploy to refer to the Ustasha regime as a “puppet state” of Nazi Germany, when in fact it was a member of the Axis powers. As one comment on FreeRepublic.com asks, “[T]ell us how many ethnic Croats were imprisoned by the Germans during WWII. You ever hear of any? Can you name any? Do you have any photos of Germans hanging Croats like there are photos of Germans hanging and shooting Serb civilians, including women?” Croatians were only too happy to finally get an independent state (this is corroborated even by my detractors, whose letters I will be quoting) and fight as a member of the Axis powers.

More from Mr. Babic:

And if the author had observed more closely and been more judicious, she would have noted that Croatia has, over the past 15 years of its independence, undertaken numerous initiatives to confront and overcome the dark aspects of its past.

This has been done mainly through education programs in schools and universities but also in public information campaigns.

Official textbooks in Croatia have always espoused Croatia’s contributions to the anti-fascist alliance during World War II, including those by leading Croats such as former Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito, while not shying away from addressing the less comfortable details of Croatia’s past or, more precisely, that of the non-legitimate, quisling regime installed by the Nazis during World War II.

In other words, “We teach the children about what the Germans made us do.”

In recognition of these long-standing efforts, Croatia was, in November 2005, invited to become a full member of the Task Force on International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research.

That says very little, considering that, in an even bigger perversion, when the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. opened an exhibit in 1994 titled “Faces of Sorrow — Agony in the Former Yugoslavia,” one invited guest was Croatia’s then president Franjo Tudjman, who as late as 1996 was trying to get Croatian Nazi soldiers reburied next to their victims; who sought to diminish the crimes committed at the Jasenovac camp; and who had written the none too Jewish-friendly book Wastelands: Historical Truth. A September, 1994 AP description of the exhibit: “Except for a handful of victims identified as Bosnian Serbs, nearly all exhibited pictures show wounded, emaciated or dead Moslems and Croats.” Back to the attache’s letter:

Moreover, in stark contrast to what the author suggested with regard to Croatia’s attitude on the former World War II internment camp at Jasenovac, Croatia’s president, prime minister and parliament speaker took part in the November 2006 opening of the permanent exhibition of the National Museum and Education Center at the Jasenovac Memorial Park to pay further tribute to its victims and foster education on the Holocaust.

On that occasion, Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader stated that “not to forget the truth about our past and to draw a lesson from it is the only guarantor of our peace of mind and our peaceful future.”

Ah, thank you. Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s coordinator of Nazi war crimes research, called the museum “a big diappointment,” adding that “it lacks materials or explanations about the development of the Ustasha ideology before the war — hatred against Serbs and anti-Semitism, which helped the spread of genocidal policy.” From his recent op-ed in the JTA:

Despite the ostensible glitter of the high-power ceremony, and the modernistic design of the museum replete with the latest audio-visual gadgets, the new Croatian exhibition borders on total failure from a historical and an educational point of view. Completely absent, for example, is the general context. There is nothing on World War II or the Holocaust and, even worse, there is no explanation of Ustasha ideology. Thus the museum has no answer for the most obvious and pressing questions that every thinking visitor will ask: Why and how did the crimes committed in this terrible place happen? Without explaining the origins of the Ustasha’s genocidal policies, none of the artifacts and testimonies make much sense.

Also disturbing is the absence of any identification of the individuals responsible for the crimes described. Can you imagine a museum on the site of a camp nicknamed the “Auschwitz of the Balkans” without a single photograph of any of its commandants or even a list of major perpetrators? The issue of personal responsibility is ostensibly covered by repeated references to “the Ustasha,” but if not a single Ustasha personally connected to the crimes at Jasenovac is named and not a single photograph of any of the camp commanders is exhibited, then the image is created as if no individual Croatians are actually guilty.

In this regard, I was amazed that none of the speakers mentioned what is undoubtedly democratic Croatia’s greatest achievement in facing its Ustasha past — the prosecution and conviction of Jasenovac commander Dinko Šaki, whom it extradited from Argentina in 1998 and who is still serving his jail sentence in Lepoglava Prison. Could it be that the punishment of such a criminal whose fanatic Croatian patriotism led him to the Ustasha and his responsibility for the murder of several thousand inmates is so unpopular, even in today’s Croatia, that he was not mentioned in the politicians’ speeches, nor does he appear anywhere in the historical exhibition?

Across the river in Republika Srpska, none of these failures is surprising. The hostility toward the Croatians and the mistrust of their handling and interpretation of the historical events of World War II are legendary. They also partially explain the intensity of the ethnic hostility that fueled the Balkan wars of the ’90s, which only deepened the scars and traumas of World War II. In that respect, the murder in Jasenovac of approximately 10,000 Jews, according to the new Croatian museum, or of 33,000 Jews, according to the old Serbian memorial, was actually only a sideshow to the mass murder of Serbs by the Ustasha.

This glitzy farce was put together in cooperation with the National Holocaust Museum in D.C. Please note also that the attache has just called the notorious Jasenovac death camp — by all historical accounts the worst and most sadistic camp of the Holocaust — an “internment camp.” Go back and look. He really did.

Back to the letter:

It should also be noted that Croatia is the only country in the region that has cooperated, and continues to fully cooperate, with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

Croatia has extradited or mediated in the extradition of 35 Croatian citizens or ethnic Croatians from Bosnia and Herzegovina to the ICTY, and has fulfilled all other requests (720 in all) put to it by the tribunal.

Croatia’s judiciary has also processed numerous war crimes cases on its own, including several high-level cases involving senior military commanders and a parliamentary deputy, as well as cases transferred to Croatia by the ICTY.

Croatian citizens, regardless of ethnicity, are being held accountable for war crimes and other violations of the rules of war, much as those in any other democratic country subjected to a protracted conflict on its territory would be.

Thanks again. Note this 2004 admonition from Human Rights Watch:

To the authorities in Croatia:

War crimes prosecutions need to be brought without regard to ethnicity.

Croatia should enhance efforts to investigate and prosecute incidents in which ethnic Croats were responsible for crimes against ethnic Serbs.

Charging standards and sentencing practice should be the same for all defendants, regardless of their ethnic origin. Croatian prosecutors should cease the practice of indicting Serbs for war crimes on the basis of minor offences, where Croats alleged to have committed the same acts are not charged.

Croatia should not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity in hiring judges. Returnee Serbian judges should not be discriminated against and should have an opportunity for employment in Croatian courts.

In cases of group indictments, prosecutors for the special war crimes chambers should specify the role of each individual in the commission of the crime and not merely ground the charges on, e.g., membership in a specific military unit to which alleged perpetrators belonged.

Then there was this 2006 Amnesty report of prosecutions in the Balkans. Zagreb, we have a problem:

CROATIA: Domestic prosecutions

Trials for war crimes and crimes against humanity continued or started before local courts, often in absentia. In some cases these trials did not meet internationally recognized standards of fairness. In general, ethnic bias continued to affect the investigation and prosecution by the Croatian judiciary of wartime human rights violations. There continued to be widespread impunity for crimes allegedly committed by members of the Croatian Army and police forces.

Details are here. And just for fun, see the Amnesty reports for 2003, 2004 and 2005.

End of Mr. Babic’s letter:

Croatia and its government recognize that it is in our best interest, and the region’s best interest, that all countries of Southeast Europe work toward the common goal of membership in the European Union and NATO, and in so doing, create a better and brighter future for all our citizens based on our shared values and commitments. Croatia is dedicated to building this common future.

It is wrong and misleading to focus on three or four individual acts and use them to incriminate a country and its entire population, as Ms. Gorin did.

Good God. Did he really say “three or four individual acts”? A fitting press attache for Croatia indeed!