The Jewish and Croatian communities of Australia are, according to a report in today’s Australian Jewish News, angry and outraged that Communications Minister Helen Coonan, Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and NSW Upper House MP David Clarke attended a commemoration of Croatia’s inglorious independence on 10 April:

The Howard Government has been embarrassed by the appearance of a cabinet minister at a Croatian independence function linked to a murderous neo-Nazi regime.

Jewish groups are outraged at Communications Minister Helen Coonan’s attendance at the Sydney commemoration earlier this month, which marked Croatia’s independence following the fascist Ustase regime’s rise to power during World War II.

Invest in the journalism that makes a difference.

EOFY Sale. A year for just $99.

SAVE 50%

Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and NSW Upper House MP David Clarke were also guests at the April 10 event, held at the Croatian Club in Punchbowl.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (NSWJBD) CEO Vic Alhadeff described the celebration as “offensive” to Australians, while it is understood Croatian embassy officials are also angered at the involvement of a senior government minister.

The Jewish and Croat communities have every reason to be outraged when members of government are breaking bread with anti-Semitic extremists — and so should we all be. Coonan and Fierravanti-Wells’ attendance at an event celebrating one of the most evil moments in Yugoslav history can probably be put down to ignorance. Clarke has no excuse, having been involved with the Ustase since the ’70s, he is surely well aware of their violent tactics. Nor is this the first time he has celebrated the Nazi takeover of Croatia. In 2005, he feigned surprise at being connected to the Ustase … after he was caught out celebrating the exact same event at an Ustasi function). The Liberal Party needs to do to Clarke what it never managed to do to Urbancic — Clarke must be excommunicated from the party and assigned a Brian Burke-esque pariah status, even if the Christian right faction loses a few of its precious numbers.

Extremism has no place in 21st century Australian politics.

It’s an outrage the roots of which are 66 years in the making. On 10 April, 1941, the royal dictatorship of Croatia was overthrown and replaced by the brutal Nazi-aligned Independent State of Croatia, led by a group called the Ustase. The Ustase quickly got around to the business of murdering hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Romani, anti-fascists and pretty much anyone that didn’t approve of wholesale murder. Hundreds of thousands of people were also forcibly deported or forcibly converted to Catholicism as the Ustase played their role in the wider Holocaust.

Following the conclusion of World War II a number of these active collaborators resettled in Australia — authorities turning a blind eye to those with murky Nazi pasts as their attentions turned towards fighting the Communist threat — and formed groups dedicated to the reformation of Independent Croatia, through terrorist activity, with the tacit support of the conservative end of Australian politics. In 1963, after the Yugoslav Government formally complained about Australian Ustase captured waging a guerilla war in Yugoslavia, Robert Menzies responded by praising the Ustase insurgents. A few years later, as Ustase laid waste to the Yugoslav consulate in Sydney, Billy McMahon (who would soon become prime minister and ‘just happened to be there’) described the Ustase as “a good bunch” with “a good cause”.

Throughout the 60s and 70s, the Ustase continued an unchecked campaign of terror (assaults, bombings, murders etc) against the local Yugoslav community which only ceased when several bystanders were injured by a bomb in Sydney and public outcry forced Australian intelligence operations to recognise that a violent terrorist network was operating in Australia. But why were the Ustase allowed to operate with free rein for so long? It surely had nothing to do with the fact that a member of the Ustase, Nazi propagandist Ljenko “Little Goebbels” Urbancic, was a senior powerbroker within the Liberal Party. Urbancic remained an influential member of the far-right faction of the Liberals until his death in 2006, alongside his protege … David Clarke. Which brings us to today.

(Those interested in the history of the Ustase in Australia should check out Sanctuary: Nazi Fugitives in Australia by Mark Aarons and Radical Melbourne 2 by Jeff & Jill Sparrow)

Save this EOFY while you make a difference

Australia has spoken. We want more from the people in power and deserve a media that keeps them on their toes. And thank you, because it’s been made abundantly clear that at Crikey we’re on the right track.

We’ve pushed our journalism as far as we could go. And that’s only been possible with reader support. Thank you. And if you haven’t yet subscribed, this is your time to join tens of thousands of Crikey members to take the plunge.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
SAVE 50%