Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Croatia Entry In Council of Europe: Sham

As last month drew to a close, the Council of Europe took a decision that I fear does not do justice to its generally well-earned reputation as a promoter of human rights and democracy around the continent. The council announced that it intended to admit Croatia as its newest member.

The argument put forward to support this decision was a familiar one. It was recently used in the case of Russia, and a couple of years ago it had been used in defense of Romania. Essentially, the argument states that no matter what reservations the council may have about the quality of a country's democratic institutions and human rights record, it is better to have the country inside as a member than outside, where less influence can be brought to bear on its behavior.

It is an argument with some merits. But I wish the council had been paying a little more attention to what was going on in Croatia during the very week it made its announcement. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman gave an interview to the Zagreb newspaper Vecernji List in which he stated he wanted to arrange the return to Croatia of the remains of Ante Pavelic, the country's fascist leader in World War II.

Pavelic, the leader of the far-right nationalist Ustashe movement, was a murderous fanatic whose career represents the most shameful episode in Croatian history. His Nazi-supported puppet state, the so-called Independent State of Croatia, or NDH, was in power from 1941 to 1945 and spent much of that time in a systematic campaign to eliminate the Serb population of Croatia and Bosnia (which had been annexed to Croatia).

The official aim of the NDH was to kill one-third of Serbs, exile one-third and convert the remaining one-third to Catholicism. Needless to say, Jews, Gypsies and Croatian opponents of the regime were also targeted for slaughter.

After the German collapse, Pavelic would certainly have been executed as a war criminal -- as was Father Jozef Tiso, the leader of the Nazi-backed Slovak puppet state -- had he not succeeded in going underground in Austria and Italy and then emigrating to Argentina.

Ultimately, Pavelic settled in Franco's Spain, where he died in 1959. Far from having achieved "positive things" for Croatia, he actually made it difficult for advocates of an independent Croatian state to set out their case without being accused of having sympathies with right-wing extremism.

Tudjman's refusal to put a clear distance between modern Croatia and the Croatia of the NDH years is disturbing and damaging to Croatia's own sense of national identity. Only two years ago he renamed the Croatian currency the kuna -- the term used under the NDH.

Recently, he suggested replacing a monument at Jasenovac, the NDH's most horrific extermination camp where tens of thousands of Serbs and Jews were put to death, with a combined memorial to all "victims of fascism and communism." All this would do is to obscure the historical record and distort the significance of the grim events at Jasenovac.

It is probably too much to expect Tudjman, at his advanced age, to undergo a change of heart. But the Council of Europe could do better. Its credibility depends on upholding certain standards, and uphold them it must.