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Sep 4 Croatia, Fascism, Catholics & Orthodox

Today in 1941, the abbot of the Sisatovac monastery in Croatia, Rafailo Momcilovic would die, he had been kidnapped by the Ustaše on 25 August and tortured by the Croatian military until he died today at Požega In the East of the country. His burial site has yet to be found. The Serbian Orthodox Church venerates him as a martyr and saint. He was famous as a writer of icons with the iconostasis of Ružica Church in Belgrade painted by him. There is also an art colony in Vojvodina in Northern Serbia named after him


His death was part of the systematic persecution of Serbs during World War II by the fascist Ustaše regime which ran a puppet state for the Nazi’s between 1941 and 1945. Occurring alongside the Holocaust there was a genocide of Roma and Serbs, with the Ustaše combining Nazi racial policies with the ultimate goal of creating an ethnically pure Greater Croatia. This ethic cleansing had been imagined a century before by some Croatian nationalists and intellectuals who had established theories about Serbs as an inferior race. The anti-Croat policies of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav government in the 1920s and 1930s fuelled the rise of the Ustaše, an ultranationalist organization, which was financially and ideologically supported by Benito Mussolini. The mutual loathing between the Serbs and Croats in the Balkans was ancient as some historians contend that the Serbs and Croats were related tribes of Persian origin who migrated as warriors to the Balkan peninsula, where they were assimilated by South Slavs already settled there by the fifth century.

Following the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, a German puppet state known as the Independent State of Croatia was established, comprising most of modern-day Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as parts of modern-day Serbia and Slovenia. The regime systematically murdered approximately 200,000 to 500,000 Serbs and 300,000 were expelled. As the Iron Curtain fell over Europe after the war some officials and concentration camp commandants were tried and convicted of war crimes by the communist authorities but others escaped, including the supreme leader Ante Pavelić, to Latin America. The genocide was not properly examined in the aftermath of the war, because the post-war Yugoslav government did not encourage investigation out of concern that ethnic tensions would destabilize the new communist regime.

The Ustaše saw religion and nationality as being closely linked; with Roman Catholicism and Islam recognized as Croatian national religions, Eastern Orthodoxy was deemed inherently incompatible with the Croatian state project. On 3 May 1941, a law was passed on religious conversions, pressuring Serbs to convert to Catholicism and thereby adopt Croat identity. The term "Serbian Orthodox" was banned in mid-May as being incompatible with state order, with the term "Greek-Eastern faith" was used in its place. By the end of September 1941, about half of the Serbian Orthodox clergy, 335 priests, had been expelled. Ustaše propaganda legitimized the persecution as being partially based on the historic Catholic–Orthodox struggle for domination in Europe, and they closed or destroyed most of the Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries. Pavelić, the leader of the Ustaše founded the Croatian Orthodox Church with the aim of pacifying the Serbs. There is some evidence that the status of Sarajevo Serbs improved after they joined the Croatian Orthodox Church in significant numbers. Through both forcible and voluntary conversions between 1941 and 1945, 244,000 Serbs were converted to Catholicism.

Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac served as Archbishop of Zagreb during World War II and he made clear statements against the Ustaše regime. On 14 May 1941, Stepinac received word of an Ustaše massacre of Serb villagers at Glina. On the same day, he wrote to Pavelić saying I consider it my bishop's responsibility to raise my voice and to say that this is not permitted according to Catholic teaching, which is why I ask that you undertake the most urgent measures on the entire territory of the Independent State of Croatia, so that not a single Serb is killed unless it is shown that he committed a crime warranting death. Otherwise, we will not be able to count on the blessing of heaven, without which we must perish.

But after the war he was tried by the communist Yugoslav government after the war and convicted of treason and collaboration with the Ustaše regime. The trial was depicted in the West as a typical communist "show trial" His courage against the Ustaše state earned him great admiration among anti-Ustaše Croats in his flock along with many others. The Germans considered him Pro-Western and “friend of the Jews” leading to hostility from German and Italian forces. He would die in 1960, still under confinement and in 1998, Pope John Paul II declared him a martyr and beatified him before 500,000 Croatians in Marija Bistrica near Zagreb.

However, his record during World War II, conviction, and subsequent beatification remain disputed. Pope Francis invited Serbian prelates to participate in canonization investigations, but in 2017 a joint commission was only able to agree that "In the case of Cardinal Stepinac, the interpretations that were predominantly given by Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs remain divergent". Stella Alexander, author of The Triple Myth, a sympathetic biography of Stepinac, writes about him that Two things stand out. He feared Communism above all (especially above fascism); and he found it hard to grasp that anything beyond the boundaries of Croatia, always excepting the Holy See, was quite real. ... He lived in the midst of apocalyptic events, bearing responsibilities which he had not sought. ... In the end one is left feeling that he was not quite great enough for his role. Given his limitations he behaved very well, certainly much better than most of his own people, and he grew in spiritual stature during the course of his long ordeal


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