Flags Symbolizing Hatred
Now that I am researching Ante Pavelić for a history class assignment, I finally investigated a question I’ve had for a long time- what does the Croatian flag mean and how is it connected with the country’s fascist government from World War II? When it comes to history of the former Yugoslavia, it is truly impossible not to let biases affect research. Until now, I never thought about how much living in Serbia and making friends with Serbs affect my views on certain issues. I heard a comment from a Serbian friend that the checkerboard pattern on the Croatian flag symbolizes fascism and lazily, I never doubted it.
It’s not really my goal here to give a history of nationalism in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, or the history of Yugoslavia from 1929 onward, so please excuse me as I leave out plenty of details. Most importantly, I want to stress that during World War II, the Independent State of Croatia was a Nazi puppet state led by Ante Pavelić and his Ustasha regime. Pavelić greatly admired Benito Mussolini, and used ethnic-cleansing tactics like Hitler to eliminate non-Croats. With 26 concentration camps, the Ustasha party especially targeted Serbs, but also killed Gypsies and Jews. In Jasenovac (the largest camp) alone, up to 200,000 Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and political prisoners were killed, resulting in a mini holocaust, specifically Balkan, that most people do not even know took place.
The checkerboard pattern on the Croatian flag was in fact used during the fascist era, but the shield actually dates back several centuries. Croats claim the checkerboard shield is one of the oldest symbols in Europe. Whether or not this is true, it certainly dates back long before Croats were exterminating Serbs in Jasenovac. However, when Yugoslavia broke apart in the 1990s and nationalism raged from all sides, the Croatian flag was used militantly and conjured up its World War II meaning for Serbs once again. On the opposite side, as Serbs destroyed villages and raped women in Bosnia and Croatia, they wrote their own historic shield and slogan all over the place- Само слога Србина спасава/Samo sloga Srbina spasava (meaning’Only Unity Saves the Serbs’). I saw the C C C C slogan written all over the region when I traveled this summer. This slogan means “Greater Serbia,” Milosevic and utter destruction for Bosnians and Croats.
Without attempting any groundbreaking conclusion, I ponder the symbols found today in the former-Yugoslavia, and how they perpetuate memories of a bloody past for all parties involved. A small part of me respects pride for national history, but mostly I am saddened by the messages the flags imply. These symbols and flags may mean the beginning of a nation for one country, but for a neighbor- they hurtfully mean genocide and destruction. Visual symbols make a huge impact on people. Idealistically, I wish Croatia and Serbia would change their flags for a new era…to find new symbols for a peaceful future. Realistically, I know that the countries of the former Yugoslavia prefer to live in the past.
Look here to see the evolution of Croatia’s flag throughout history. Notice the use of the checkerboard pattern in 1848-1852, and 1860-1918.