Croatia sparks bitter row at Holocaust event

Rupert Cornwell@IndyVoices
Thursday 22 April 1993 23:02

IT WAS supposed to be America's homage to Jewry's past agonies. But a bitter row over the presence of President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and a searing appeal from the Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel turned yesterday's dedication of the Holocaust Museum here into a symbolic rebuke to the world's failure to end the present agony of Bosnia.

Even before proceedings in the heart of the US capital had begun, recrimination was in the air. A dozen heads of state and government from nations scarred by Nazi atrocities were there - but pointedly no invitation had been extended to Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, perpetrator of today's 'ethnic cleansing' in the heart of Europe.

Mr Tudjman, however, was in their number. And Croatia's ancestral foes struck back, as Serbian Americans took an advertisement in the Washington Post to claim that attempts by Mr Tudjman to minimise the Holocaust and the wartime crimes of his people made him 'the spiritual heir of Adolf Hitler'. His attendance at the ceremony 'mocked the museum and those who died in the Holocaust'.

Even before that, Jewish leaders too were in uproar at his presence on the podium of honour alongside Israel's President, Chaim Herzog. 'Who asked Tudjman?' asked Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal. Mr Wiesel had been even more vitriolic: the invitation to the Croatian leader was a disgrace. 'Were it not for the solemnity of the occasion . . . I would speak out in outrage at the dedication ceremony.' Officially, Israel has held its tongue. But the Jewish state's refusal to recognise Croatia as long as Mr Tudjman is president is evidence enough of its feelings.

In the event, Mr Wiesel did pass over the Tudjman presence in silence, but Bosnia he did not. For a while in his address, Mr Wiesel, the founding chairman of the museum, simply reminded the 10,000 present of the obscenities of half a century ago. Then he turned to President Bill Clinton - and Auschwitz gave way to Srebrenica.

'Mr President, I can't but tell you something. I have been to the former Yugoslavia. We must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country. People are fighting each other, killing each other. Something, anything, must be done.'

The applause was spontaneous and thunderous.

Set alongside the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, of course, the carnage wrought in Bosnia and other parts of former Yugoslavia is still small. But Mr Wiesel's impassioned plea somehow overshadowed everything else that was said. After what had gone before, the final address by Mr Clinton, living emblem of that new post-war generation, was inevitably unremarkable. But Bosnia meant that the words 'Never Again' could not decently pass his lips.

He pointed out that ex-Yugoslavia proved that even after the destruction of Nazism and the collapse of Communism, 'all in this new world is not good.' But whether he will heed Mr Wiesel's pleading to do 'something, anything' for the Bosnians, he gave no clue.

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