ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Croatian anti-fascists and Serb minority groups on Saturday held a commemoration ceremony at the site of a notorious World War II death camp, boycotting the official event over alleged government inaction in curbing the surge of neo-Nazi sentiment in the Balkan country.
The ceremony was held a day before the Croatian government marks the attempted escape in 1945 of 1,073 prisoners from the Jasenovac camp when hundreds were killed.
Hundreds of people lined up in a memorial gathering by the site monument, and ambassadors from the United States and several other countries attended the event, Croatian state TV said. Croatia's Jewish groups plan to hold a separate ceremony on Monday.
Tens of thousands of Jews, Serbs and Gypsies died in death camps run by Croatia's pro-Nazi puppet state in World War II. Croatia's Jews, Serbs and anti-fascists have been angered by the authorities' failure to remove a plaque bearing a WWII Croatian pro-Nazi salute from the town of Jasenovac.
A survivor, Slavko Milanovic, told the state TV that Croatia's inability to come to terms with its past was "reopening the old wounds so they cannot heal."
The "For the homeland — Ready!" battle salute was used by World War II Croatian fascist troops of the pro-Nazi puppet regime established during the war. The salute was inscribed on the plaque in Jasenovac honoring Croatian fighters killed in the 1990s.
Several Croatian war veterans stood guard by the plaque on Saturday, chanting the pro-Nazi salute. A number of other pro-fascist incidents have been reported recently in the European Union's newest nation.
At the former death camp site, Serb minority leader Milorad Pupovac warned that the policies which led to the Jasenovac killings must be clearly condemned.
"This site obliges us to call on the government and everyone else to turn toward mutual respect and repent," he said.