It’s been claimed that Winston Churchill said the Balkans ‘produce more history than they can consume’. This summer, arguments between Serbia and Croatia over their history flared up again. Serbia accused Croatia of rehabilitating the fascist Ustaše regime of 1941-4, which killed hundreds of thousands of Jews, Roma and Serbs. All the nationalist governments of the Balkans have distorted or manipulated historical facts to justify or bolster their own authority. All try to reformulate national histories to gloss over or play down the memory of the antifascist struggle that was the foundation of Yugoslavia (1945-91). A quarter of a century after the collapse of the socialist federal republic, this is getting out of control again.
In July the court of appeal in Zagreb annulled the 1946 verdict that found Cardinal Alojzije Viktor Stepinac (1898-1960) guilty of collaboration with the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, NDH), established by the Ustaše in 1941 under the protection of Nazi Germany. Stepinac, named archbishop of Zagreb in 1937, is a controversial figure. In office throughout the war, he backed the regime, though his supporters point out that he condemned its racial policies in some of his sermons, and claim that his trial was held at the instigation of the Communists to curb the Catholic Church’s influence. Imprisoned in Lepoglava, then under house arrest in his native village of Krašić, near Zagreb, where he died, he was elevated to cardinal in 1952 by Pope Pius XII and beatified in 1998 by John-Paul II. The Vatican has put his canonisation on hold so as not to compromise its dialogue with the Orthodox Churches, a priority for Pope Francis.