interview by Zoran DASKALOVIC
GOLDSTEIN: I am not surprised by Kristo’s so-called review; I am only surprised by the boldness of his insults and slanders. However, I am even more surprised by the support of Mr Pintaric and especially professor Rebic for such views. Professor Rebic said that he hadn’t read the book but that the Goldsteins have no reason to be upset by Kristo’s review. Rebic’s statement is stupid and frivolous, definitely not worthy of a professor of the Zagreb University. It shows his arrogance.
Why are they doing all this?
Because they want to make sure the past is interpreted only in the way they find acceptable. Our historiography is fairly small and neglected, numerous topics still haven’t been researched; during the past decades there were numerous manipulations of history, suppression of information, propaganda, and today, in a liberal-democratic society, we should see the end of such practices. Judging by the reactions of the mentioned three individuals, they oppose such developments. However, that is one aspect of attacks on our book. The other aspect is much more dangerous. Namely, if they agree with Kristo’s remark that “Holocaust in Zagreb” is a book with a surprising title, does that mean that they agree that there was no Holocaust in Zagreb? Does that mean that they would prefer if our English language edition, that we are currently working on, were named, for example, “Winter Vacation in Jasenovac” or “Summer Vacation in Gospic”?
Which parts of your book, in your opinion, provoked the worst insults and slander, and refusal to engage in a meaningful discussion regarding your findings?
Instead of defaming, insulting and slandering, I would prefer if the mentioned gentlemen, discussed with us the following points: in the letter to Pavelic [leader of Croatian fascists, Ustashe] dated July 21, 1941, about twenty days after 2,500 Jews had been deported from Zagreb to Gospic and nearby camps, archbishop Stepinac asserts: “I’ve heard from different sides claims of sporadic inhumane treatment of non-Arians in the process of deportation to collection camps as well as in those camps; moreover, that even children, elderly, and sick persons are not exempt from such treatment”. Consequently, he proposes “some individual actions with the goal of mitigated treatment: a) that the sending to the camps be done is such manner that deportees be allowed to collect their most necessary belongings, and sort out their obligations with respect to their families and employers; b) that deportation not be done in overcrowded, locked cattle cars, especially over long distances; c) that camp inmates be given sufficient food; d) that sick persons be given medical care; e) that camp inmates be permitted deliveries of most necessary food from relatives and be permitted to send and receive letters from their family”. I’d like to hear from Kristo, Reic and others how was it possible to organize “humane” deportations? Namely, those days everyone, including persons much less educated and much less informed than Stepinac, had to understand what was going to happen with the deportees, as at that time many Jews had been executed as hostages based on decisions of court martial, while the press was full of articles, such as this one, published in Ustasha, under headline “The Final Showdown”: “Ustashe Croatia wants… a showdown with thieving Jewry… we know them well… those Jews… we know their lairs, we know their shelters, we know their business, we know their hoards… We know and we shall exterminate them… Let no one display concern, let no one cry over their fate, let no one ask what and how… Ustashe know what they are doing, how they are doing it and why, and the Croatian people, above all ordinary Croats, will in the near future will clearly and accurately understand why this was done.”
What are your conclusions about Stepinac’s role based on the documents?
Stepinac is not a war criminal, but some of his statements and actions indicate that his behavior was controversial, so that he also is a controversial individual. For example, in the letter to minister Andrija Artukovic, written in late May, 1941, archbishop asks him “to order that Jewish and other similar laws (measures against Serbs) are implemented in such a manner that every persons dignity be respected”. I would be glad if Kristo, Rebic, and others explained how Stepinac imagined to reconcile discriminatory laws against whole nations and respect for “personal dignity”? Or was that, after all, an irreconcilable contradiction, irreconcilable from the point of view of logic, ethics, legal theory, and practical implementation?
However, is it possible to explain Stepinac’s controversial role with the conditions in which he acted and inability to significantly influence the Ustashe regime and its crimes? Or, are these ideas also an expression of his own views?
Stepinac is not only controversial because of his attitude with respect to Jews. For example, for a very long time he worked hard on finding at least some good aspects of the Ustashe authorities. Consequently, he found them in the fact that Ustashe had banned “pornography” and cursing in public, that they had banned abortion and made it punishable by death. Even when court martial sentenced midwives who performed abortions to death, and public announcements of carried out executions were plastered all over the walls in Zagreb, Stepinac did not raise his voice. Furthermore, when on March 27, 1941, mass demonstrations broke out in Belgrade and other cities against accession of Yugoslavia to the Triple Alliance, and pro-British officers carried out a coup, archbishop Stepinac was outraged. In the diary that was published almost fifty years later, he wrote: “All in all, Croats and Serbs are two totally different worlds… that will never come together except for a divine intervention. The schism (i.e. Eastern Orthodox Christianity) is the worst damnation in Europe, almost worse than the Protestant Christianity. They are immoral, unprincipled, unjust, dishonest liars.” Because of these and other similar controversies, we direly need a through study about Stepinac, and this society and the Church, because the Church, by uncritically celebrating Stepinac and, as we can now see, mercilessly attacking anyone who rejects their views, is actually asking for the prophecy from the saying “those who are unable to face the past, do not deserve a better future”.
Why is that the case?
The Catholic Church in Croatia is demonstrating its inability to act in a democratic environment, its inability to correctly and timely react to challenges and issues it faces daily. This was not always the case, as in the 70’s the Church had a positive role, when in the conditions of national apathy it was the only guardian of the Croat nationalism and alternative Croat memory. With the dissolution of the Communist morality and the revolutionary system in general, the Church in Croatia initiated aggiornamento, or the post-council adaptation to the needs of the era. Even in the nineties, when it had a privileged position, the Catholic Church, above cardinal Kuharic, knew how to distance itself from the regime in many situations, especially regarding the regime’s policy of deconstruction of Bosnia-Hercegovina. But, what about aggiornamento and critical attitude the political right today? It cannot be denied that today the Church legitimizes a very retrograde political concept, that it does not know how to face its own past, and even its present. Stepinac is not the only controversial issue in connection with the Catholic Church!
What other controversies are there?
The Church does not want to face reality not because it is strong and arrogant, but because it feels weak and therefore insecure. The church has a constant shortage of priests, it feels that it is slowly losing the debate regarding the legality and constitutionality of the treaty with the Vatican. Finally, even the Church is dissatisfied with religious instruction in public schools, because it has not achieved the desired goal, but it nevertheless keeps insisting on fundamentalist solutions. It does not matter what is written in the [state-mandated] plan and program, what is written in text books. What matters is the results of religious instruction in public schools. Religious instruction boils down to dogma and indoctrination that will, once they reach adulthood, repel many kids, especially those with urban background, from the Church. Many view religious instruction as a sort of “theory and practice of self-management socialism” [mandatory indoctrination subject during Communism].
Just consider how pupils of higher grades in primary school experience the Church. For example, in primary school Dragutin Domjanic in Gajnice, on the outskirts of Zagreb, where one would expect more sympathy for the church than in the center of the city, sociologist Vesna Klisknic conducted a poll in which pupils responded about the person they would most likely approach seeking advice or assistance in dealing with personal problems. They could chose more than one offered choice (friend, parent, teacher, doctor, priest, etc.), but only 19 out of 469, or only 4 percent said that they would approach a priest for help in dealing with personal problems. At the same time, more than 90 percent of them attend Catholic religious instruction!
If such approach is backfiring, how come the Church hasn’t tried to come up with alternative approaches?
The liberal faction of the Catholic Church in Croatia consists of only several individuals. Unfortunately, the Church, as a whole, is unprepared for democratic dialog. That is an anachronism in modern Europe. By opting for the rightist political options, the Catholic Church in Croatia has taken the position unparalleled by that of the Catholic Church in any other European country. The [Catholic] Church in Poland recently attempted to influence more directly the local political situation, but ultimately failed. The Catholic Church in Ireland, without doubt the most Catholic country there is, has a while ago realized that it offers only one of possible worldviews in the “market”, that it is only one of the churches in that market and that it will lose its faithful unless it adapts to the modern mores. On the other hand, the [Catholic] Church in Croatia behaves as if it were still irreplaceable. It keeps insisting on the obsolete concept. Although verbally they oppose such practice, most Catholic officials actually believe that every ethnic Croat is a Catholic and that Catholicism, whether we agree or not, because of the number of Catholic Christians in Croatia, is de facto a state religion. It makes sense that the democratic public is resisting that, and the closer Croatia gets to Europe, the less support that religious concept will have. The Church must be aware of that and everything it is doing now is a huge own goal.
Given Catholic Church’s support for Tudman’s regime, could it be any different?
Archbishop Bozanic spoke at one time about the sin of structures and at that time that was a positive statement. But that was supposed to be only the beginning of a more critical attitude of the Church with respect to the political practice and ideology. And that did not happen. The Catholic Church in Croatia sees Tudman as the founder of the Croat state and forgives him everything bad that his authorities did, such as things that directly contravene Christian ethics, for example crime in privatization, war crimes, planed ethnic cleansing, authoritarian rule etc. Until it assumes a critical position with respect to these facts that still burden the Croat society, the Church will not have the legitimacy of a democratic factor. And although it is up to the Church what position it will take, and although we from the outside cannot influence that, it is nevertheless sad and worrisome that with its activities the Church supports and nurtures undemocratic and anti-democratic tendencies in the society and that, consciously or unconsciously it is trying with all its power to slam shut the door that leads this state to Europe.