Croatia has bigger problems than minister’s Nazi hat

Croatia’s government pledged sweeping financial changes, but has so far only delivered pitched ideological debate. Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic has especially been thrust into the spotlight.

The past always catches up with Croatia. The Balkan nation’s latest great ideological debate has to do with a hat. The problem was not the headgear itself, otherwise black and simple, but the shiny U sewn onto it. The letter is a symbol of the Ustasha regime, which allied with Nazi Germany during World War II to commit heinous crimes against Serbs, Jews and Roma.

The controversial cap in question appeared in an old black-and-white photo on the head of a young Zlatko Hasanbegovic, now Croatia’s culture minister. The picture had originally been published in the 1990s by the right-wing magazine Independent State of Croatia. In several articles for the magazine, Hasanbegovic paid tribute to members of the Ustasha, calling them heroes and martyrs.

The picture was republished in the weekly newspaper Novosti, whose editor is on the National Council for the Serb minority in Croatia. High-ranking officials in the government, led by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), have already accused the council of insulting the nation. However, Croatia’s center-left has always seen Hasanbegovic as a Nazi sympathizer. Intellectuals see his appointment as culture minister as proof that Croatia’s new right-wing government wants to settle the score with anyone who is less nationalist than the ruling politicians.

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(Photo of Hasanbegovic: