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The Ustaša - Croatian Revolutionary Movement (Serbo-Croatian, Serbian, ), members known collectively as Ustaše, but sometimes anglicised as Ustashe, Ustashas or Ustashi) was a Croatian anti-Yugoslavmarker separatist movement. The ideology of the movement was blend of fascism, nazism, Croatian ultranationalism, and Roman Catholic Clericalist Fundamentalism. The Ustaše functioned as a terrorist organization before World War II. In April 1941, they were appointed to rule a part of Axis-occupied Yugoslaviamarker as the Independent State of Croatiamarker, a puppet state of Nazi Germany. The Ustaše assisted the German occupation forces in Yugoslavia in fighting an increasingly unsuccessful campaign against the resistance forces, the Yugoslav Partisans, who were recognized in 1943 as the military of the Allied Yugoslav state. As German forces withdrew from Yugoslavia in 1945, the Ustaše were defeated, expelled, and eventually destroyed by the Yugoslav forces (the Partisans).

When it was founded in 1929, the Ustaše was a nationalist organization that sought to create an independent Croatian state. When the Ustaše came to power in the Independent State of Croatiamarker, a state established by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany during World War II, its military wing became the Ustaše Army (Ustaška Vojnica).

Their name derives from the verb ustati which means "to rise" or "to stand-up," hence ustaša would mean an insurgent, or a rebel. This name did not have fascist connotations during their early years in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia as the term "ustat" was itself used in Herzegovina to denote the insurgents from the Herzegovinian rebellion of 1875. "Pučki-Ustaša" was a military rank in the Imperial Croatian Home Guard (1868 -1918). The full original name of the organization appeared in April 1931 as the Ustaša - Hrvatska revolucionarna organizacija or UHRO (Ustaša - Croatian revolutionary organization), though in 1933 it was renamed the Ustaša - Hrvatski revolucionarni pokret (Ustaša - Croatian revolutionary movement) which it kept until the Second World War.


Before World War II

In October 1928, after the assassination of leading Croatian politician Stjepan Radić, Croatian Peasant Party President in the Yugoslav Assembly by radical Montenegrin politician Puniša Račić, a youth group named the Croat Youth Movement was founded by Branimir Jelić at the University of Zagrebmarker . A year later, Ante Pavelić was invited by the 21-year-old Jelić into the organization as a junior member . A related movement, the Domobranski Pokret, which had been the name of the legal Croatian army in Austro-Hungary, began publication of Hrvatski Domobran, a newspaper dedicated to Croatian national matters. The organization around the Domobran tried to engage with and radicalize moderate Croats, using Radić’s murder to stir up emotions in the country . By 1929, however, two divergent political streams had formed within Croatia: some supported the Pavelić view that only violence could secure Croatia's national interests; however, the Croatian Peasant Party, led then by Vladko Maček, successor to Stjepan Radić, had much greater support among Croatians .

Various members of the Croatian Party of Rights contributed to the writing of the Domobran, until around Christmas 1928 when the newspaper was banned by the authorities of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenesmarker . In January 1929, the King banned all national parties , and the radical wing of the Party of Rights was exiled, among them Ante Pavelić, Gustav Perčec and Branimir Jelić . This group was later joined by several other Croatian exiles . In 1931, Albert Einstein and Heinrich Mann drew international attention to the murders of Radić and a Croatian college professor Milan Šufflay, in which they accused the King of complicity in a published protest. The appeal was addressed to the Paris-based Ligue des droits de l'homme (Human Rights League) and made the front page of the New York Times on May 6, 1931.

On 20 April 1929, Pavelić and others co-signed a declaration in Sofiamarker, Bulgariamarker together with members of the Macedonia National Committee, asserting that they would pursue "their legal activities for the establishment of human and national rights, political freedom and complete independence for both Croatia and Macedonia" . Due to this, the Court for the Preservation of the State in Belgrademarker sentenced Pavelić and Perčec to death on 17 July 1929 . The exiles started organizing support for their cause among the Croatian diaspora in Europe, North and South America. In January 1932, they named their revolutionary organization "Ustaša". In November 1932, ten Ustaše led by Andrija Artuković, supported by four local sympathisers, attacked a gendarme outpost at Brušani in the Likamarker/Velebitmarker area. The attack failed with the loss of one assailant killed . The incident has sometimes been termed "the Lika Uprising."

Perčec was assassinated by Pavelić in 1933 . Due to their previous links with the Macedonian nationalists, the Ustaše were accused of conspiring in the murder Yugoslav king Alexander in 1934, and Eugen Dido Kvaternik was charged with planning the successful assassination committed by members of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization . The extent of Ustaše involvement in the assassination remains unknown; it is known only that it was committed by a Macedonian named Vlada Georgiev who was not a member of the Ustaše, although the Ustaše provided assistance . Soon after the assassination, all organizations related to the Ustaše as well as the Hrvatski Domobran, which continued as a civil organization, were banned throughout Europe . Pavelić and Kvaternik were detained in Italy from October 1934 until the end of March 1936 . After March 1937, when Italy and Yugoslavia signed a pact of friendship, many Ustaše in Italy were extradited to Yugoslavia.

However, not only did these events fail to destroy the Ustaša organization, but it even attracted sympathizers among the Croatian youth, especially among university students . In February 1939, two of these returnees, Mile Budak and Ivan Oršanić, became editors of the newly published magazine Hrvatski narod ("The Croatian nation"), which supported the Ustaše ideas of Croatian independence.

World War II

The Axis Powers invaded Yugoslavia on 6 April 1941. Vladko Maček, the leader of the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) which was the most influential party in Croatia at the time, rejected German offers to lead the new government. On April 10 the most senior home-based Ustaša, Slavko Kvaternik, took control of the police in Zagreb and in a radio broadcast that day proclaimed the formation of the Independent State of Croatiamarker (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, NDH). The name of the state was an attempt to capitalise on the Croat struggle for independence. Maček issued a statement that day, calling on all Croatians to co-operate with the new authorities.

Meanwhile Pavelić and several hundred Ustaše left their camps in Italy for Zagreb, where Pavelić set up his government on 17 April. He accorded himself the title of "Poglavnik", - a Croatian approximation to "Führer" and translating to something like "Headman" in English. The territory over which he nominally ruled, i.e. the "Independent State of Croatia", comprised the historical territories of Croatia (including Syrmiamarker, which had been part of the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia until 1918) and Bosnia-Herzegovinamarker (without the Sandžak, which had been part of Bosnia-Herzegovina until 1908) except parts of the Dalmatian coast and islands which were ceded to the Italians. De facto control over this territory varied for the majority of the war, as the Partisans grew more successful, while the Germans and Italians increasingly exercised direct control over areas of interest. Many Croatians, including Kvaternik and other "home Ustaše" were dismayed to discover that Pavelić had agreed to cede parts of Croatia to Italy in exchange for financial and other support provided to the Ustaše by Mussolini. It was the first sign of what was to become a serious rift between Pavelić and Kvaternik later in the war. The Germans and the Italians split the NDH into two zones of influence, one in the southwest controlled by the Italians and the other in the northeast controlled by the Germans.

On 27 April 1941, a newly formed unit of the Ustaše army killed members of the largely Serbian community of Gudovac, near Bjelovarmarker. Eventually all who opposed and/or threatened the Ustaše were outlawed . The HSS was banned on 11 June 1941 , in an attempt by the Ustaše to take their place as the primary representative of the Croatian peasantry. Vladko Maček was sent to Jasenovac concentration campmarker, but later released to serve a house arrest sentence due to his popularity among the people. Maček was later again called upon by foreigners to take a stand and oppose the Pavelić government, but refused . In early 1941, Jews and Serbs were ordered to leave certain areas of Zagreb

Pavelić first met with Adolf Hitler on 6 June 1941. Mile Budak, then a minister in Pavelić's government, publicly proclaimed the violent racial policy of the state on 22 July 1941 . Vjekoslav "Maks" Luburić, one of the chiefs of the secret police, started building concentration camps in the summer of the same year. Ustaše activities in villages across the Dinaric Alps led to the Italians and the Germans expressing disquiet. As early as July 10, 1941, Wehrmacht General Edmund Glaise von Horstenau reported the following to the German High Command, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW):

A Gestapomarker report to Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler, dated February 17, 1942, stated that:

Italian troops in the field had competing territorial claims with their Ustaše allies and had cooperated from the start with Chetnik units operating in the southern areas that they controlled . Hitler tried to insist that Mussolini should have his forces work with the Ustaše, but senior Italian commanders such as General Mario Roatta ignored such orders .
By the end of 1942, the news about events at Jasenovac and elsewhere had also spread among the Croatian population. Writers Vladimir Nazor and Ivan Goran Kovačić escaped from Ustaše-held territory to join the Partisans, and were followed by others .

The regular army of the NDH, the Home Guard , was composed of enlisted men who did not participate in Ustaše activities. Pavelić had claimed that over 30,000 people had joined the party during this time, although the more neutral reports concluded that their number was less than half of that .

In 1943, the Germans suffered major losses on the Eastern Front and the Italians signed an armistice with the Allies, leaving behind significant armaments that the Partisans used against the occupiers and the Ustaše. Fighting continued for a short while after the formal surrender of German Army Group E on 9 May 1945, as Axis forces and many refugees attempted to escape to Austria. The Battle of Poljana, between a mixed German and Ustaše column and a Partisan force, was the last battle of World War II on European soil. Many of those fleeing were handed over to the Yugoslavs on the Austrian border, to be subsequently either executed or sent on a "death march" back into the country, an episode known as the Bleiburg massacre. Pavelić, however, with the help of associates among the Franciscans, managed to escape and hide in Austria and Rome, later fleeing to Argentinamarker.

After the war

After World War II, the remaining Ustaše went underground or fled to countries such as Canada, Australia, Germany and South America, with the assistance of Roman Catholic churches and their grassroots supporters Some of them persisted in their crusade against Yugoslavia.

With the defeat of the Independent State of Croatia, the movement ceased to exist. Infighting over the failure to establish a Croatian state also fragmented the surviving Ustaše. Ante Pavelić formed the Croatian Liberation Movement which drew several of the former state's leaders. Vjekoslav Vrančić founded a reformed Croatian Liberation Movement, and was its leader. Vjekoslav Luburić formed the Croatian National Resistance. Blagoje Jovović, a Montenegrin Serb Chetnik shot Ante Pavelić near Buenos Airesmarker, on April 9, 1957, inflicting injuries from which he later died.


The Ustaše aimed at an ethnically "pure" Croatia, and saw the Serbs that lived in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina as the their biggest obstacle. Thus, Ustaše ministers Mile Budak, Mirko Puk, and Milovan Žanić declared in May 1941 that the goal of the new Ustaše policy was an ethnically clean Croatia. They also publicly announced the strategy to achieve their goal:

  1. One third of the Serbs (in the Independent State of Croatia) were to be forcibly converted to Catholicism.
  2. One third of the Serbs were to be expelled (ethnically cleansed).
  3. One third of the Serbs were to be killed.

The Ustaše persecuted the Serbs who were mostly Orthodox Christians yet they were tolerant toward the Bosnian Muslims because of the prevailing belief that Bosniaks were actually ethnic Croats that converted to Islam under Ottoman Turkish rule. Muslim Bosnians who were sympathetic to the Ustaša cause joined in the Nazi and Ustaše forces as part of Waffen-SS divisions 13th SS Mountain Division Handschar in Bosniamarker (led by Amin al-Husayni) and 23rd SS Grenadier Division Kama advised by Edmund Glaise von Horstenau (the representative of the German military in Croatia) and led by Colonel Ivan Markulj, who was later replaced by Colonel Viktor Pavicic. Lt-Col. Marko Mesic commanded the artillery section. The state even converted a former museum in Zagreb for use as a mosque. The Ustaše were against industrialization and democracy. The basic principles of the movement were laid out by Pavelić in his 1929 pamphlet "Principles of the Ustaše Movement".

A problem with the Nazi ideology was that the Croats are Slavs and were considered inferior to Aryans by Nazi standards. Ustaša ideology thus created a theory about a pseudo-Gothic origin of the Croats in order to raise their standing on the Aryan ladder.

Racial persecution

Ustaše militia execute prisoners near the Jasenovac concentration camp
The Ustaše enacted race laws patterned after those of the Third Reich, which were aimed against Jews and Roma and Serbs, who were collectively declared enemies of the Croatian people . Serbs, Jews, Roma and Croatian anti-fascists, including Communist Croats and dissident Croat Byzantine Catholic priests , were interned in concentration camps, the largest of which was the Jasenovac complexmarker, where many were killed by Ustaše militia. The exact number of victims is not known. The number of murdered Jews is fairly reliable: around 32,000 Jews were killed during World War II on NDH territory. Gypsies (Yugoslav Roma) numbered around 40,000 fewer after the war. Of the number of Serbs who died, estimates tend to vary between 300,000 and 700,000 .
The history textbooks in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslaviamarker cited 700,000 as the total number of victims at Jasenovac. This was promulgated from a 1946 calculation of the demographic loss of population (the difference between the actual number of people after the war and the number that would have been, had the pre-war growth trend continued). After that, it was used by Edvard Kardelj and Moša Pijade in the Yugoslav war reparations claim sent to Germanymarker. According to the Simon Wiesenthal Centermarker (citing the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust), "Ustasa terrorists killed 500,000 Serbs, expelled 250,000 and forced 250,000 to convert to Catholicism. They murdered thousands of Jews and Gypsies." The United States Holocaust Memorial Museummarker says:
Due to differing views and lack of documentation, estimates for the number of Serbian victims in Croatia range widely, from 25,000 to more than one million. The estimated number of Serbs killed in Jasenovac ranges from 25,000 to 700,000. The most reliable figures place the number of Serbs killed by the Ustaša between 330,000 and 390,000, with 45,000 to 52,000 Serbs murdered in Jasenovac.
The Jasenovacmarker Memorial Area, currently headed by Slavko Goldstein, keeps a list of 59,188 names of Jasenovac victims that was gathered by government officials in Belgrade in 1964. Because the gathering process was imperfect, they estimated that the list contains between 60 and 75 percent of the total victims, putting the number of killed in that complex at about 80,000 - 100,000. The previous head of the Memorial Area Simo Brdar estimated at least 365,000 dead at Jasenovac. The analyses of the statisticians Vladimir Žerjavić and Bogoljub Kočović were similar to those of the Memorial Area. In all of Yugoslavia, the estimated number of Serb deaths was 487,000 according to Kočović, and 530,000 according to Žerjavić, out of a total of 1,014,000 or 1,027,000 deaths (resp.). Žerjavić further stated that there were 197,000 Serb civilians killed in NDH (78,000 as prisoners in Jasenovac and elsewhere) as well as 125,000 Serb combatants.

The Belgrademarker Museum of Holocaust compiled a list of over 77,000 names of Jasenovac victims. It was previously headed by Milan Bulajić (a controversial nationalist), who supported the claim of a total of 700,000 victims. The current administration of the Museum has further expanded the list to include a bit over 80,000 names. During the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, Alexander Arnon (secretary of the Jewish Community in Zagreb) testified about the treatment of Jews in Yugoslavia during the war.Alexander Arnon's testimony included the following:

During World War II, various Germanmarker military commanders gave different figures for the number of Serbs, Jews and others killed on the territory of the Independent State of Croatia. They circulated figures of 400,000 Serbs (Alexander Lehr); 350,000 Serbs (Lothar Rendulic); between 300,000 (Edmund Glaise von Horstenau); more than "3/4 of a million Serbs" (Hermann Neubacher) in 1943; 600-700,000 until March 1944 (Ernst Fick); 700,000 (Massenbach). Out of around 39,000 Jews that lived on the territory that became the Independent State of Croatia, only around 20% survived the war.

Concentration camps

The first group of camps was formed in the spring of 1941. These included:

These six camps were closed by October 1942. The Jasenovac complex was built between August 1941 and February 1942. The first two camps, Krapje and Bročica, were closed in November 1941. The three newer camps continued to function until the end of the war:

There were also other camps in:

Numbers of prisoners:
  • from 80,000-100,000 around 300,000-350,000 up to 700,000 in Jasenovac
  • around 35,000 in Gospić
  • around 8,500 in Pag
  • around 3,000 in Đakovo
  • 1,018 in Jastrebarsko
  • around 1,000 in Lepoglava.


The Ustaše U
The U with cross
The symbol of the Ustaše is a wide capital letter "U" which is pronounced serif. This symbol can easily be spraypainted. A slight variation of it includes a small plus inserted at the top, symbolizing a cross. In on-line communication it is sometimes written as =U=. As with fascists in other countries, the Ustasha merely superimposed their political symbols (mainly the letter "U") on already existent national symbols. Their hat insignia was the shield of Coat of Arms of Croatia surrounded or embossed with the U.

The flag of the Independent State of Croatiamarker was a red-white-blue horizontal tricolor with the shield of the Coat of Arms or Croatia in the middle and the U in the upper left. Its currency was the kuna. The checkered Coat of Arms of the old NDH starts with a white field in the corner, and that of today's Croatiamarker starts with a red field in the corner. Some possible explanations are that the white field symbolizes the Croatian nationality, as opposed to the red field which symbolizes the Croatian state; or that the white field is used on the so-called war flag.

The Ustaše greeting was "Za dom - spremni!":

Salute: Za dom! For home(land)!
Reply: Spremni! (We are) ready!

This greeting was used instead of the Nazi greeting Sieg - Heil by the Ustaše. While the greeting is invented in the 19th century by Croatian ban Josip Jelačić, today it is nominally associated with Ustasha sympathisers by Serbs or non-Ustasha conservatives associated with the Croatian Party of Rights.However some Croats see it as a patriotic salute because it was used long before the Ustase regime and it means that you are defending your country, your home.In Internet communication, it is sometimes abbreviated as ZDS.

Connections with the Catholic Church

The Ustaše policies against Eastern Orthodoxy are incorrectly associated with "Uniatism" in some Eastern Orthodox circles. This term has not been used by the Roman Catholic Church except for Vatican condemnation of the idea in 1990. The Ustaše represented an extreme example of "Uniatism" rather based on nationalism than on religion. They supported violent aggression or force in order to convert Serbo-Croatian speaking Serbian Orthodox believers.

The Ustaše held the position that Eastern Orthodoxy, as a symbol of Serbian nationalism, was their greatest foe. The Ustaše never recognized the existence of a Serb people on the territories of Croatia or Bosnia they recognized only "Croats of the Eastern faith." They also called Bosnian Muslims "Croats of the Islamic faith," but they had a stronger ethnic dislike of Serbs.

Some former priests, mostly Franciscans, particularly in, but not limited to, Herzegovina and Bosnia, took part in the atrocities themselves. Miroslav Filipović was a Franciscan friar (from the Petrićevac monastery) who allegedly joined the Ustaša army on 7 February 1942 in a brutal massacre of 2730 Serbs of the nearby villages, including 500 children. He was allegedly subsequently dismissed from his order and defrocked, though when he was hanged for his war crimes, he wore his Franciscan robes. Filipović became Chief Guard of Jasenovac concentration campmarker where he was nicknamed "Fra Sotona", and he was given this nickname by Croats themselves.

For the duration of the war, the Vatican kept up full diplomatic relations with the Ustaša state (granting Pavelić an audience), with its papal nuncio in the capital Zagrebmarker. The nuncio was briefed on the efforts of religious conversions to Roman Catholicism. After the Second World War was over, the Ustaše who had managed to escape from Yugoslav territory (including Pavelić) were smuggled to South America. It is widely alleged that this was done through rat lines which were operated by members of the organization who were Catholic priests and who had previously secured positions at the Vatican. Members of the Illyrian College of San Girolamo in Rome were reputedly involved in this: friars Krunoslav Draganović, Petranović, and Dominik Mandić.

The Ustaše regime had sent large amounts of gold that it had plundered from Serbian and Jewish property owners during World War II into Swiss banks. Of a total of 350 million Swiss Francs , about 150 million was seized by British troopsmarker; however, the remaining 200 million (ca. 47 million dollars) reached the Vatican. Allegations exist that it's still being kept in the Vatican Bankmarker. This was reported by the American intelligence agency SSU in October 1946. This issue is the theme of a recent class action suit against the Vatican Bank and others.

Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagrebmarker during the Second World War, was accused of supporting the Ustaše, and of exonerating those in the clergy who collaborated with the Ustaše and were hence complicit in forced conversions. On the other hand, he himself helped Jewish, Serb and Roma/Sinti victims of the Ustaša terror at the same time. Once, while celebrating mass in Zagreb's cathedral, he reportedly said:
katolička crkva ne priznaje podjele na gospodujuće i robujuće rase. Svaki narod, svaka rasa i svaka religija ima jednako pravo dignuti ruke prema nebu i reći oče naš, koji jesi na nebesima.... Neka se srame oni, koji su dušu čovječju, hram Božji, pretvorili u spilju razbojničku!(Croatian) - The Catholic Church does not recognize divisions into "master" and "slave" races. Every nation, every race and every religion has an equal right to lift their hands to Heaven and pray: "Our Father who art in heaven..." May those be ashamed who have made the human soul, which is God's temple, into a cave of thieves.
However, Archbishop Stepinac also said this on 28 March 1941, noting Yugoslavia's early attempts to unite Croatians and Serbs: "All in all, Croats and Serbs are of two worlds, northpole and southpole, never will they be able to get together unless by a miracle of God. The schism (Eastern Orthodoxy) is the greatest curse in Europe, almost greater than Protestantism. Here there is no moral, no principles, no truth, no justice, no honesty."

In 1998 , Stepinac was beatified by Pope John Paul II. On 22 June 2003, John Paul II visited Banja Lukamarker. During the visit he held a mass at the aforementioned Petrićevac monastery. This caused public uproar due to the connection of the Petrićevac monastery with the crimes of former friar Filipović. At the same location the pope also proclaimed the beatification of the Catholic layman Ivan Merz (1896-1928) who was the founder of the "Association of Croatian Eagles" in 1923, which many Serb nationalists and communists view as the precursor to the Ustaše .

Roman Catholic apologists defend the Pope's actions by claiming that the convent at Petricevac was one of the places that went up in flames causing the death of 80-year-old Friar Alojzije Atlija. Further, that the war had produced "a total exodus of the Catholic population from this region"; that the few who remained were "predominantly elderly"; and that the church in Bosnia then risked "total extinction" due to the war. Therefore, supporters state that the focus on the anti-Croatian tragedy presently occurring is more important than focusing on one of 60 years ago.

Modern usage of term "Ustaša"

After World War II Ustaše movement has split and there is no political or paramilitary movement that claims its legacy as their "successor". The term "ustaše" is today used as (derogatory) term for Croatian nationalists. The term "ustaše" is sometimes used among Serbs to describe Serbophobia or generally to defame political opponents. When Slobodan Milošević was at the end of his rule, the protesters called him "Ustaša".». Bosniaks today also use term "ustaše" to defame Croats., despite the fact that there were Bosnians among the Ustaše troops.(see Crna Legija).Bosniaks also used term "ustaški jezik" ("ustaše language) to describe Croatian language purism.

See also



  • Aarons, Mark and Loftus, John: Unholy Trinity: How the Vatican's Nazi Networks Betrayed Western Intelligence to the Soviets. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992. 372 pages. ISBN 0312071116
  • Hermann Neubacher: Sonderauftrag Suedost 1940-1945, Bericht eines fliegendes Diplomaten, 2. durchgesehene Auflage, Goettingen 1956
  • Ladislaus Hory and Martin Broszat: Der Kroatische Ustascha-Staat, 1941-1945 Stuttgart, 1964
  • Srdja Trifkovic: Ustaša: Croatian Separatism and European Politics 1929-1945 Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies, London 1998.
  • Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Israel Gutman editor-in-chief, Vol. 4, Ustase entry. Macmillan 1990

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