Croatian alt-right and problem with Near Eastern immigrants (part 4): A representative failure

Frano Čirko celebrating Francetić (left) and Praljak (right)

(← part 3) Frano Čirko started his political career in the Croatian Pure Party of Rights (HČSP), a far-right party whose fundamental ideology is the concept of "historical right," more precisely the irredentist project of establishing the Greater Croatia that would include all ethnic Croats living in the Balkans, and the struggle for this idea is emphasized on the official website of the party. Since the current boundaries are not tailored to their desires and the non-Croat groups in claimed territories are not supportive of such ideas, the fulfillment of this plan inevitably implies war, repression and ethnic cleansing, essentially a repetition of everything we've already seen in the Fascist Croatia (NDH) during the 1940s and in the Near Eastern entity Herzeg-Bosnia (HRHB) during the 1990s. The HČSP party has gained notoriety for its open glorification of the NDH and its leader Ante Pavelić, marches through the Croatian streets with black flags and fascist symbols, and Čirko took part in all such activities.

As the president of the HČSP's youth wing, Frano Čirko was commemorating Jure Francetić, one of the perpetrators of the NDH's genocidal campaign, calling him a "hero" and "knight." On several occasions he also praised the cowards at Bleiburg, the fleeing remains of the Ustasha NDH regime, mainly men in their best ages who left families behind and panicky sought to cross the Yugoslav-Austrian border. The Western Allies refused to allow them entrance and repatriated all to the Yugoslav authorities, after which many were convicted or even executed. In Čirko's twisted mind, the event was an "antifascist genocide against Croats," as described in his own words. He also attended the funeral of suicidal "knight" Zvonko Bušić, an organizer of the aircraft hijacking and terrorist bomb attack in New York. More recently, Čirko led the ceremony and erected an altar in honor of Slobodan Praljak, the HRHB general who committed theatrical suicide after The Hague Tribunal found him guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Praljak was also responsible for the destruction of the Old Bridge of Mostar, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the main symbol of the city and Herzegovina.

Certainly, Čirko will attempt to deny, diminish or justify all these crimes, claiming that all of the perpetrators had "noble" ideas in the form of a struggle for independence. The arguments used by the ISIL supporters are literally identical: the struggle for independence against repressive governments and "unbelievers," the quasi-state entity as a fulfillment of millennial aspirations, unfairly drawn boundaries, problematic "disloyal" minorities, the UNESCO-listed temples of Palmyra as legitimate military targets, etc. And of course, the whole world is wrong, only they are right. Methods of both sides remain the same: terrorism, ethnic cleansing, genocide and culturcide.

Rise of alt-right

Following several consecutively disappointing results in the elections, Frano Čirko left the HČSP party in 2016, realizing that they do not enjoy domestic popularity and international reputation. His abandonment coincides with the peak of European migrant crisis, the subject of heated debate in Croatia and Europe for many months, in which he recognized the potential for populism. At the beginning of 2017, Čirko and his far-right colleagues therefore established the Generacija obnove (lit. Generation of Renovation), a new nationalist party whose supposed purpose is to offer new, modern, future-orientated ideas. However, hasty ideological transformation faced one huge problem. The early Croatian nationalists took the ideas of ethnic identity, homogeneity and irredentism from Western Europeans, and during the nation-building process they had support from the Catholic Church, but now, since Western Europeans have politically evolved and rejected nationalist extremism, as well because the Pope does not support the anti-immigration policies, these Croatian new nationalists were left without traditional ideological and spiritual patrons. Unable to develop anything by their own, they were forced to find it somewhere else.

The quest for new political mentors and allies has resulted in a series of paradoxes. First of all, ideological patterns have been found in the United States where there is a well-established anti-immigrant discourse, and this American nativism is largely based on anti-Catholic stereotypes, once directed against Irish and Italians as well as today against Mexicans. They also adopted the white supremacy of the American alt-right movement, as is evident from their usage of iconography and vocabulary. Arguments against Islam have been found among pro-Israeli extremists with well-established Islamophobia, most notably Bat Ye'or, from whom they took the Eurabia conspiracy theory of demographic Islamization of Europe. It is truly astonishing to see proponents of the antisemitic Ustasha NDH regime, complicit in the genocide of Jews, sharing the malicious polemics of Jewish radicals from the Breitbart News, one of the most frequently cited source by their own web portal Sloboda.hr. By promoting Islamophobia, they are raising regional tensions between Croats and Bosniaks, as well as animosity towards Muslim Croats. Another absurdity in the regional context is the fact that the closest international ally of the Čirko's party is Jobbik, an irredentist Hungarian party that has territorial pretensions to the parts of northern Croatia. So much for endangering peace and coexistence in the Balkans.

Equally confusing are the basic tenets listed on the official website of the party, according to which Croatia is part of the Central European cultural circle and Western civilization, endangered by the globalization and migration processes that must be strongly resisted. They further advocate that European unity and stability can only be achieved through independent and sovereign nation-states, that Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina have the right to self-determination and the duty of Croatia is to protect their rights, and the alliance of countries between the Adriatic, Baltic and Black Seas is the only real geopolitical alternative for protecting common values and interests. These trajectories between Western and Eastern Europe, as well as between Central Europe and the Balkans, are of particular interest.

Long ago, the early Croatian nationalists had been building their identity and community on the imagined heritage of semi-mythological kings and common regional origins, while the new ones are trying to do the same on the imagined common continental heritage and origins. The Croatian alt-right nationalists, together with their Eastern European political allies, have suddenly become very proud of "their" German scientists, British industrialists, Italian artists and French philosophers, thus putting themselves on a "higher" level than non-Westerners and immigrants. At the same time, they are somehow less proud of (Western) European political, social and economic achievements. In fact, on their alternative media and social networking profiles, they are persistently trying to convince everyone that sort of religious and racial wars are taking place in these countries, making them fragile or failed states, all because of the influx of immigrants. They are not eager to explain why Germany, France and the UK, the most powerful European countries that have millions of non-European immigrants for decades, function flawlessly and have steady growth, even have lower murder rates than their alt-right monoethnic utopia Hungary.

There is no doubt that the Čirko's Herzegovinian village has a lower crime rate than both Western European and Hungarian metropolises, not because of its homogeneous ethno-religious structure, but because the undeveloped and unprosperous areas do not attract neither businessmen, nor scientists, nor immigrants, nor criminals. Only irredentists. The evidence of this is Croatia itself, since of the 600,000 migrants who went through Croatia from September 2015 until the spring of 2016, only 170 of them applied for asylum. The only serious issue the country faces is the emigration of its own citizens because at least 250 thousand Croats have moved abroad during the past five years, but fortunately Frano Čirko offers a revolutionary solution. He allied his party with the similar Eurosceptic and nationalist parties from post-socialist countries (Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary and Poland), those who also advocate political sovereignty and monetary independence, and together they developed a very socialist and very pro-European idea called "equal pay for equal work." This initiative is aiming to eliminate the economic and wage inequalities between the EU's Western and Eastern member states, and the only viable way of achieving it is that the former ones, allegedly failed states razed by religious-racial wars, give money to the latter, supposedly stable white countries. After all, we should bear in mind that according to their alt-right worldview, these Eastern European gopniks are the heirs of Western technological achievements, while Turks working for Siemens, Arabs for Ericsson, or Africans for Airbus, are not.

As the principle of European unity applies only in special cases, i.e. asking for financial benefits, the same goes for the principle of sovereignty in the case of other European countries. On the official website of the Generation of Renovation party, they explicitly stated that they are opposed to the civic state, integrity, and to the European path of Bosnia and Herzegovina, thus making things crystal clear. Add to this advocating the ethnic purity based on imagined immigration dangers, supremacy based on imagined heritage, desperately seeking an international help, alliance with foreigners with territorial aspirations in northern Croatia, why does the NDH regime rings a bell? Frano Čirko never distanced himself from his original ideology, he simply avoids talking about "historical" topics, keeping it deep within and waiting for "better" days. This is confirmed by his own words "the struggle for the irredentist idea undoubtedly makes sense, but not through the old form," as he explained in an interview shortly after leaving the HČSP party. The new form, an attempt to conceal and disguise the archaic ideology, is so clumsy and ridiculous that even the stereotypical Herzegovinian tobacco smuggler from popular jokes would do it better. And for this reason we can seriously say that Čirko is the one who abuses the right of freedom of speech for promoting extremism.

Particularly ridiculous is the Čirko's attempt to promote a myth about Sweden as the "rape capital of Europe," repeated on numerous occasions. Not only have such claims been debunked long ago by both official and expert reports, but the results of general elections have recently showed that only one out of seven Swedish women voted for the anti-immigrant party of the Swedish Democrats. This myth represents the most laughable paradox of the alt-right movement: for a long time their activists are nagging online that "their" women are being "raped" by immigrants, which would in the case of truth imply that they are, using their alt-right vocabulary, a bunch of cowardice cucks. Taking it more seriously, the perverse fantasy reveals two things about Čirko. First, he is deeply frustrated with multiethnic marriages because they do not fit in his ideas of ethnic purity, and second, he sees women as property, which is a reflection of the tribal mentality. For Croatian extreme nationalists, even mixed marriages between Croats and Serbs are conceived as a kind of "heresy" or "national betrayal," while marriages to non-European non-Catholics are something even worse. How Čirko personally plans to contribute the demographic renewal of Europe, as someone unmarried, single and visibly insecure, remains unclear.

A representative integration failure

To summarize everything above, if you are really looking for a second-generation Near Eastern living in the EU who is holding the archaic worldview, having a tribal mentality towards women, glorifying monstrous and murderous ideologies, suicidal terrorists, aircraft hijackers, war criminals, perpetrators of genocide and culturcide, endangering the coexistence of peoples in the Balkans, and trying to conceal his extremist ideas under the freedom of speech, a representative example would be Frano Čirko. Croat, Catholic, white, but still unintegrated.

Regarding the Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole, please do not take me too seriously. This is by no means an attack on tens of thousands of normal citizens, including my close friends, neighbors, colleagues and professors, who are Croats from BiH. If you have found the whole text or certain segments as an exaggeration, then my point has been proven, because that's precisely how Western Europeans see the alt-right pamphlets directed against their immigrant countrymen. And if you took it seriously and you believe there's a "problem" with Croats from BiH, then you have a problem and you're not any better than Frano Čirko.

As I said at the beginning of the first article, a similar polemic indeed does not exist anywhere else, not because of some cover-ups or political correctness, but because a tremendous amount of bigotry is needed for making such a bizarre xenophobic narrative and opening irrelevant debates. Using alt-right methodology, namely selective cases, exaggerations, epithets, stereotypes and prejudices, it is quite easy to construct something similar against numerous other ethnicities, even large religious groups. At the very end, I have to admit that there is one point on which I strongly agree with Čirko, specifically a strict policy of return and deportation. For unintegrated immigrants, the rocky hills of Rašeljke village provide a much more suitable environment.

See also:
Part 1: A single tiny group
Part 2: Pro-terrorist mindset?
Part 3: Unintegrated minority
Part 4: A representative failure

Robert Novak

Robert Novak is a social anthropologist and human rights defender with more than five years of experience in the Open Society Institute (OSF), an organization campaigning for human rights and reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia. His research interests include law and religion, human rights, comparative ethics, and international relations. Born in Osijek, he lives and works in Zagreb.