Zagreb, October 1999, the Croatian presidential palace. In an attempt to eradicate his country's leprous image, Franjo Tudjman called a rare press conference at which he intended to present "a different Croatia" - democratic and pluralistic. Everything was carefully prepared. The marble floor tiles gleamed, the lawns were a manicured bright green and even the weather cooperated. Two things were not taken into account: the questions from the journalists and the character of Tudjman, "the father of the Croatian nation."
"You were quoted in the past as saying, 'Thank God, my wife is neither a Serb nor a Jew,'" I addressed him. "Moreover, in the English version of your book you corrected passages casting doubt on the extent of the Holocaust, but not in the versions of the book in other languages."
The president particularly astounded those present in his answer regarding the number of victims at the Jasenovac concentration camp. He said that at the camp, which became known as "the Auschwitz of the Balkans" and was administered by the Ustase (the puppet government established by the Nazis in Croatia from 1941 to 1945 ), "only" 40,000 people died.
These remarks aroused a tremendous uproar. According to most historians the number of dead Tudjman cited is less than half the actual number of dead at the camp. Some have cited 850,000, a quarter of them Jews. The nationalist president's revisionist answer led to the cancellation of a visit by him to Israel, which would have been historic.
A lot of water has flowed through the Sava River since then. About two months after that press conference cancer overpowered Tudjman. Stjepan Mesic, his successor during the past decade, has brought Croatia forward into a new era, aspiring to normalcy and openness. Hence, in the near future Croatia will become the 28th member of the European Union.
Even so, today too the struggle over Croatia's memory has not been decided. The nostalgia for the quisling state has faded but it has not disappeared, acknowledges Mesic in a phone conversation. In Zagreb and Split large public masses have been celebrated recently in memory of Ante Pavelic, the leader of the Ustase. Streets in a number of cities still bear the names of collaborators and memorials dedicated to Partisans and victims of Fascism are destroyed. In 2010 the current president of Croatia Ivo Josipovic was the first president to visit Bleiburg in Austria where, at the end of the war, masses of Ustase people were executed.
Historical revisionism has attained even more disturbing proportions in other parts of the post-Communist world. Hundreds of people marched recently in Ukraine in memory of the nationalist Stepan Bandera, who collaborated with the Nazis; in Estonia it was published that the Defense Ministry initiated recognition of a local unit that was subordinate to the Waffen SS and most noteworthy of all has been Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis: He attacked eight members of parliament from his country who on the 70th anniversary of the Wansee conference signed a European declaration of the uniqueness of the Holocaust. "Pathetic," said the minister's spokeswoman. "It is impossible to find differences between Hitler and Stalin, apart from the size of their mustaches. Hitler's was smaller."
With this Lithuania has joined the promoters of the concept of "double genocide." These - and they are multiplying - want to recognize Nazism and Stalinism as a joint European heritage and to hold a memorial day for victims of both the totalitarian regimes.
Croatian President Josipovic is now visiting Israel. He sees it as a role model. His country's entry into the EU will strengthen the pro-Israel camp in Europe. Israel should greet him warmly. But it should also take the opportunity of his visit to express an uncompromising position against the "double genocide" thesis, which is nothing but a relativization of the Holocaust and an attempt to launder the opponents of the Soviets and their crimes.
Josipovic's decision to lay a wreath at Bleiburg was done in the name of national reconciliation. Before that he visited Jasenovac. A visit versus a visit. A perfect balance. He condemned the crimes of fascism and knelt in memory of the victims of Communism. He has tried to draw a line in the past in order to build the future.
However, blurring between hangmen and their victims will not lead to real reconciliation. Stalinism, with all its terrible crimes, did not develop a racial theory and did not engage in the systematic slaughter of peoples. The balancing is a sin against history, which will not forgive cheapeners and distorters of the Holocaust.