Ready for Memory Wars: The Case of the HOS Memorial Plaque in Croatia

Ready for Memory Wars: The Case of the HOS Memorial Plaque in Croatia

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This paper focuses on Croatia and the use of hate speech and controversial symbols for the maintenance of symbolic boundaries, the reinforcement of a one-sided version of the past, and the mobilization of voters. The presence and use of the Ustaša salutation, “Ready for the Homeland” (Za dom spremni – ZDS) is a consistent example of those tendencies. In recent years, the salutation has become increasingly intertwined with the legacies of World War Two and the 1990s Croatian War of Independence, while simultaneously reflecting the rise of nationalism and radical-right parties and movements in Croatia as well as abroad. The paper presents insights into the ways ZDS is used to reify national identity, while centering around some of the main actors perpetuating this dynamic, such as politicians and war veterans. Accordingly, it focuses primarily on the case of the memorial plaque erected in 2016 by former members of the Croatian Defence Forces paramilitary unit, which included the ZDS salutation. At one point threatening to topple the government, the case demonstrates how the salute is used to maintain the dominant narrative of the Homeland War.

The first section presents an overview of the use and presence of the ZDS salutation in contemporary Croatia, namely, following Croatia’s accession to the European Union in July 2013. The second section considers the role played by Croatia’s Homeland War veterans in Croatia’s politics and society and is followed by a section about the Croatian Defence Forces (Hrvatske obrambene snage, HOS), a paramilitary unit that was active during theHomeland War. The case of the HOS memorial plaque which triggered a strong local and international backlash in 2016 and 2017 on account of the fact it contained the inscription of the ZDS salutation, is discussed in the following part of the report. The penultimate section introduces the Dialogue Document as a response to the HOS plaque, while the final part considers the intertwinement of the salutation with the enshrined Homeland War narrative.

The paper “Ready for Memory Wars: The Case of the HOS Memorial Plaque in Croatia” was written as a part of a Memory Activism Programme by the Humanitarian Law Center. The goal of the programme is to promote a critical culture of memory regarding the wars of the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia. The author of the work is Katarina Damčević, PhD, a lecturer at the University of Tartu in Estonia and a member of the editorial board of the Southeastern Europe journal.

During a three-month scholarship, the author analyzed the use of the slogan “Za dom spremni” (Ready for the Homeland) in the public sphere by politicians and war veterans in Croatia. The paper is a result of this analysis. Additionally, in March 2023, the author organized a public discussion titled “Symbols, Conflicts, and Identities” in March 2023.

The paper “Ready for Memory Wars: The Case of the HOS Memorial Plaque in Croatia” is available here.