Croatia accuses Serbia of propaganda over Holocaust memorial exhibit

BELGRADE/ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatia accused Serbia on Friday of falsifying history for propaganda purposes with its Holocaust exhibit at the United Nations in New York on a World War Two extermination camp run by Croatia’s then fascist regime.

Serbia and Croatia are the two biggest republics to emerge from Yugoslavia, which collapsed in 1991. They have sought to improve ties since a 1991-1995 war but relations remain sour.

The exhibit was prepared without the participation of Croatia’s Jasenovac Memorial Centre, said Croatia’s Foreign Minister Marija Pejcinovic Buric.

“We express deep respect for all the victims of the Ustasha regime and in the strongest possible terms we condemn all its crimes and particularly crimes committed in the Jasenovac camp,” a foreign ministry statement said.

“Because of the respect for the victims, we consider it utterly unacceptable to use the suffering in Jasenovac for propaganda purposes or the goals of daily politics,” it said.

The exhibition was set up to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27 and is sponsored by Serbia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, said Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic.

“Jasenovac is perhaps the foremost example in Europe of the bestiality of killing ... even Nazis were horrified,” Serbia’s Tanjug news agency quoted Dacic as saying.

The exhibition, called Jasenovac - The Right Not to Forget, “represents a modest contribution to ... global efforts of the UN in order to prevent the onset of the revision and rehabilitation of neo-Nazi and neo-fascist ideologies,” he said.

The United Nations said organizers were responsible for the content of the exhibition and staging it at headquarters did not imply the U.N. acceptance of those contents.

The Jasenovac camp was operated from 1941 until 1945 by the Independent State of Croatia, a puppet state ruled by the Ustasha regime and allied to the Nazis. Serbs, Jews, Roma and Croats who opposed the regime were imprisoned and killed there.

Some Croatian historians say between 80,000 and 100,000 people died at Jasenovac. Some Serb historians say the number is around 600,000. Other historians have given both higher and lower figures.

Starting in 1941, the Ustasha regime sought to purge Croatia of Serbs who are predominantly Orthodox Christian, Jews, Roma and anyone who opposed their rule including supporters of Josip Broz Tito’s communist partisans, who eventually took power.

The Nazi Holocaust featured industrialized killing and gas chambers. Prisoners in Ustasha camps were frequently stabbed or bludgeoned to death and there were competitions between guards to see who could kill the most people.

Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg