Croatia's Statehood Day Brings Controversial Coin And Memorial
May. 28, 1994
ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ On the surface, the changes aren't that dramatic: a new name for Croatia's currency and the opening of a new war memorial.
But the two events planned for Croatia's national day Monday have brought strong criticism of President Franjo Tudjman, who is accused of defiling a medieval monument and reviving the currency - and memory - of Croatia's fascist past.
Both projects reflect Tudjman's desire to forge a national identity separate from that of the former Yugoslav federation that Croatia abandoned in 1991, touching off a six-month war with the rival Serbs.
But historians object to making a treasured medieval building a war memorial and state residence, while the opposition and many ordinary Croats say introducing the kuna currency is a mistake. The kuna was used by the Ustasha Nazi puppet state that the 72-year-old Tudjman, a historian-turned- politician, battled as a communist partisan in World War II. Its name is Croatian for marten, whose skins were bartered in Roman times. In Croatia's brief medieval kingdom, the kuna coin became a trading unit.
Tudjman said the choice of kuna showed Croatia's ''maturity and decisiveness.'' He branded attempts to link the currency only with the Ustashas an unjustified assault on his government.
But Zagreb publisher Slavko Goldstein, a prominent member of the Jewish community, said the move will tarnish Croatia's image abroad.
''Tudjman is obsessed with seeking something unattainable: a compromise between fascism and anti-fascism,'' Goldstein said.
''Croatia will now have to repeat over and over again it has nothing to do with the fascist state.''
He argued that the kuna also will complicate talks with Croatia's rebel Serbs, who have long seen in Tudjman the specter of the Ustasha state which massacred hundreds of thousands of Serbs.
In Zagreb, Tudjman has enraged some Croats with his decision to transform the wooded, hilly town of Medvedgrad partly into a war memorial and partly into a residence for foreign guests.
Tudjman will light an eternal flame Monday at the new Homeland Altar of the Monument of Croatian Freedom.
While strolling in Medvedgrad two years ago, Tudjman decided to make the medieval walled town into a memorial to thousands of Croats killed in the 1991 conflict. Historians and archaeologists, who had worked 15 years restoring the town, were outraged.
The plan appeared forgotten. Then 200 laborers on double shifts transformed the site this spring.
Both Zagreb and national institutes to protect national monuments gave the go-ahead, said Venceslav Loncaric, director of the Zagreb institute in charge of the project. He said studies supported the changeover.
But art historian-journalist Maja Razovic said the project violates laws on preserving green areas and historical monuments.
Vesna Kusin, a Zagreb art historian, said the work will destroy Medvedgrad's value as a cultural monument.
She said that after dozens of churches and other historic buildings were destroyed or damaged in the 1991 war, ''Croatia will now peacefully lose another major monument'' to what she called political intervention.
The site's stone tower will be restored with concrete, its interior will be rearranged for construction bearing the national flag, and the near-intact wine cellar will be demolished for a service elevator, experts say.
A monument recalling Croatia's checkerboard coat of arms will be erected and decorated with scenes from national history. The grounds will be tiled after a gas line is installed to feed the eternal flame.
Archaelogist Drago Miletic, who headed the restoration effort, resigned shortly after reconstruction was announced. He declined comment.
Local clergy erected Medvedgrad's walls in the 13th century against Tartar hordes. The burg passed to feudal lords before being deserted in the 16th century.
Experts estimate the transformation will cost at least $5 million.