Croatia: Skinhead Menace
Attacks by skinheads on foreigners and allegedly unpatriotic Croats appear to be growing in intensity, reflecting increasing support among ordinary people for hardline nationalist politics.
Croatian skinheads beat up three Japanese students at the Tvornica nightclub, on November 17. This followed an assault on the Mocvara youth club on October 29, during the screening of a documentary about Milko Djurovski, a Serbian football star, who used to play for Belgrade football teams, Red Star and Partisan.
Significantly, there has been no condemnation of these incidents in the Croatian media. Writing in Vecernji List, commentator, Milan Jajcinovic, even suggested that the perpetrators were the real victims.
"It is possible that one of the attackers lost a father, friend or brother in the [1992-1995] aggression against Croatia by uniformed fans of Red Star," he said. "The organisers of Mocvara who screened a film about a former Red Star footballer could do with a little more sensitivity."
Most members of the public appeared to share this view, seeing the youth club - not the skinheads - as the problem.
Ljubica Petrovic told Vjesnik the youth club was home to drug addicts and people "prone to all kinds of stupidity". Katica Prglej agreed. "I don't support violence but the people at Mocvara deserve no better," she said. Vladimir Kramaric went much further. The club was "a whore house", he said. "No normal people go there".
Not surprisingly, victims of the attacks saw things very differently. "This was the terrorist act of an organised group," said Kruno Lokotar, who was hit by a bottle during the Mocvara attack, "and it should be treated as such". Another victim, Robert Perisic, complained that police took little action against the perpetrators and treated the incident as if it was no more serious than a parking offence.
The emergence of skinheads in Croatia is merely one sign of the growing support for extreme-right politics among some ordinary Croats.
Their arrival dates back to the decade-long rule of fomer president Franjo Tudjman, whose right-wing party, the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, institutionalised a climate of intolerance towards ethnic minorities, especially Serbs, which peaked during the conflict with the Yugoslav army.
Under Tudjman's regime, the insignia of the fascist Ustashe movement, which ruled Croatia during the Second World War, was partially rehabilitated and its rulers were praised.
Tudjman's legacy was a decade of xenophobia and nationalism, which has left its mark on a generation of young people who have inherited the regime's hostility towards Serbs, Muslims, black people, homosexuals, anti-fascists and everyone who was not in their view truly Croatian.
"Yugoslav music should not be heard in the middle of Zagreb," one skinhead told Vecernji List. "Showing a film about Milko Djurovski is even more absurd. People might as well watch films about Slobodan Milosevic."
The skinheads appeared on the streets of Croatia in the early 1990s and were soon held responsible for a string of attacks.
In 1996, a group of them beat up a black official from the American embassy. Two girls dressed in Punk clothing were abused the same year. Two more black men, one a Croat national and the other an attache at the Sudanese embassy, were targeted in 1998 and 1999 respectively. Sporadic attacks continued. A few months prior to the two most recent ones, a group of Iraqis and Bangladeshis and a number of Roma were beaten in the centre of Zagreb.
Not all these skinheads come from deprived backgrounds. Some are children of respected professionals, such as doctors and generals.
The perpetrators of many of the attacks have not been found. And police say they have no information on whether the skinhead movement enjoys widespread support amongst young people in Croatia.
Rijeka sociologist Nenad Fanuko says what attracts youngsters to the movement is a cult of violence. The attacks are "the outbursts of arrogant youths who are one day fixated on Roma, the next day on Serbs and maybe the day after on Vesna Pusic," he said, referring to the head of the left-wing Croatian People's Party.
Fanuko agreed with the victims of the Mocvara youth club assault that their assailants were politically-motivated and organised by the far-right. "The attack was political," he said. "It reflects the primitive and aggressive tone of right-wing opinion in this country."
Ivica Djikic is a journalist with weekly Feral Tribune from Split.