26 MAR 18
How Croatian Wikipedia Made a Concentration Camp Disappear
Unlike Wikipedia in other languages, the Croatian version refers to the WWII Jasenovac concentration camp as a “collection camp” - as well as playing down fascist crimes and ignoring right-wingers’ controversies.
Sven Milekic | BIRN | Zagreb
With its nationalist sentiments, factual mistakes, lack of academic references and omitted facts about World War II history, Croatian Wikipedia is not a reliable source, analysts have told BIRN.
Articles that refer to the Croatian WWII fascist Ustasa movement and its crimes are criticised as particularly unreliable, ideologically loaded and imprecise, thus downplaying the crimes.
The clearest example is the Ustasa’s biggest concentration camp, Jasenovac, which in the title of the Croatian Wikipedia article is referred to as “Jasenovac Collection Camp” - a term which does not have such negative connotations as ‘concentration camp’.
According to the Jasenovac Memorial Site, the Ustasa killed over 83,000 Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascists in the camp between 1941 and 1945.
The camp was used as a concentration camp as well as a labour camp – in terms of labour being used to physically debilitate inmates, causing their deaths – and a death camp, as many detainees were executed at various sites in the camp system immediately or soon after their arrival.
The Croatian far right often refers to Jasenovac as a “collection”, “labour” or “punishment” camp.
Wikimedia entries in other languages – English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian – refer to Jasenovac as a concentration or extermination camp in their titles.
But on Croatian Wikipedia, even the biggest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz, is referred to in the title of the entry as the “Auschwitz Collection Camp”.
Hrvoje Klasic, a historian at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Studies in Zagreb, told BIRN that “there is a large difference” between English-language and Croatian Wikipedia.
He explained how sometimes he tells his students to look something up on English-language Wikipedia if the article has plenty of academic and scientific references.
“However, I would never give Croatian Wikipedia to my students if they want to learn something about the Croatian history. I myself saw that a number of articles and topics are done in a completely revisionist manner, with highly emphasised nationalist and, I would dare to say, pro-Ustasa sentiment,” Klasic said, arguing that entries on World War II, socialist Yugoslavia and Croatia’s 1990s war.
While the article on the Jasenovac camp in English has 187 reference notes, along with 37 references to books and two to academic articles, the Croatian version has 57 reference notes - with a large number coming from right-wing media and private blogs - and only three books.
Klasic said that although Jasenovac was in part a labour camp, referring to it as that alone is misleading.
“It’s completely the same as if I wrote a book on the Third Reich and simply stated that during its time, employment and industrial production went up, saying that citizens’ living standard improved. That is all correct if you exclude all that happened to all the others who weren’t seen as part of the German nation,” he said.
He also argued that by referring to Jasenovac as simply a collection and labour camp is to use “the same language” as Ustasa propaganda, which did not publicly mention killings in the camp. All this downplays the crimes committed there, Klasic said.
BIRN asked Croatian Wikipedia’s administrators for a comment, but received no reply.
In the talk section of the entry on Jasenovac, where readers can put questions to the administrators, they were asked about the use of the term “collection camp” back in 2012.
An administrator using the alias SpeedyGonsales replied that the camp was officially called Jasenovac Collection Camp by the Ustasa and that the description ‘concentration camp’ was just a “colloquialism”.
“Without a valid explanation, I do not see a reason for doing factual and linguistic violence to the article for the benefit of a colloquialism. Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia, let’s respect the principles of an encyclopaedia,” SpeedyGonsales said.
Wikipedia in English labels Jasenovac as a "concentration camp", while German puts "KZ", an acronym for Konzentrationslager (concentration camp). Photo: Wikipedia screenshot.
Goran Hutinec, a historian at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Studies in Zagreb said the problem lies in the fact that the official name for Jasenovac “does not truly describe the function of the camp”.
“It looks as someone isn’t aware that the term used back then [collection camp] may not have same meaning now. I mean, it partly had that function— but clearly not only that function,” Hutinec told BIRN.
He said that Jasenovac was used for the temporary internment of political prisoners – like Croatian politician Vlatko Macek, who spent five months in Jasenovac before being released – as well as a place for the execution of people “who didn’t even enter the camp upon arrival, but were quickly transported to nearby killing sites”.
Hutinec argued that even Auschwitz had “ten different purposes for which it was used” – as a death camp and a labour camp, amongst other purposes. He added that the same could be said about Jasenovac and other WWII-era camps run by the Ustasa.
He further argued that the Croatian Wikipedia has “many shortcomings, factual mistakes and ideologically loaded language” compare to the English and German versions.
The Jasenovac entry on Croatian Wikipedia has yet more disputed sections.
Almost 40 per cent of the entry on Jasenovac is given over to allegations that the name-by-name list of the victims of the camp – compiled by Jasenovac Memorial Site – is false.
It highlight allegations that with the number of people killed has been manipulated, and also talks about a post-WWII Communist-run camp at the same site, although there is no valid historical proof that it ever existed.
In these passages, Croatian Wikipedia mostly focuses on a highly controversial Zagreb-based NGO called the Society for Research of the Threefold Jasenovac Camp. The NGO mostly involves people who are not professional historians, who estimate the death toll as low as 1,500 – significantly lower than any other historians.
In the entry on Jasenovac, Croatian Wikipedia gives Igor Vukic, the Society’s secretary, a professional journalist, the same credit as professional historians.
Spanish Wikipedia refers to Jasenovac as a "concentration camp", while French labels it an "extermination camp". Photo: Wikipedia screenshot.
The English version mentions disputes about camp’s death toll, offering figures which have been offered by many historians, demographers and others, but it does not state that the current numbers have manipulated, nor does it mentions the alleged post-war Communist camp which is claimed by the Society to have existed.
Instead, the English version gives a lot of space to describing the living conditions in the camp, the mass murders committed there, and how many people coming to Jasenovac were “scheduled for systematic extermination”.
In describing the conditions, crimes and killings at the camp, Croatian Wikipedia gives one quote from a former inmate and one additional sentence.
The distinct difference that Croatian Wikipedia displays when covering the Ustasa past can be seen in entries on the movement’s leader, Ante Pavelic.
“Ante Pavelic— was a Croatian fascist general and military dictator who founded and headed the fascist ultranationalist organisation known as the Ustase in 1929 and governed the Independent State of Croatia a fascist Nazi puppet state built out of Yugoslavia by the authorities of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy,” the first sentence of the article in English reads.
It mentions large-scale crimes against Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascists in the second sentence.
Croatian Wikipedia describes Pavelic as “a Croatian politician, lawyer, leader and founder of the Ustasa regime and poglavnik [head] of the Independent State of Croatia”.
The English version gives several times more space to the crimes of Pavelic’s regime and its dictatorial nature.
Also related to the topic of the Ustasa, in its article on the Croatian film director Jakov Sedlar, Croatian Wikipedia leaves out all the controversies surrounding his documentary on the camp, ‘Jasenovac - The Truth’.
The film, which premiered in Zagreb in April 2016, has been strongly criticised for appearing to downplay the crimes committed at the camp.
While the Croatian Wikipedia entry does not mention the issue at all, the English version has an entire section headlined ‘Controversies’, as well as a whole separate article on the film, mentioning all the alleged evidence that Sedlar used which was disputed.
Croatian Wikipedia also does not scrutinise some other controversial public figures.
In its entry on former Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic, Croatian Wikipedia completely leaves out weekly newspaper Novosti’s discovery that he wrote an article for a pro-fascist bulletin called the Independent State of Croatia in 1996, in which he described the Ustasa as “heroes and martyrs”. The English-language Wikipedia mentions it, and offers links.
Public figures on the left are put under much more scrutiny by the Croatian Wikipedia.
In the entry on ‘Left Extremism in Croatia’, veteran peace activist Vesna Terselic, Croatian Serb leader Milorad Pupovac and some anti-fascist organisations are named as proponents of extremism who block attempts to deal with Communist-era crimes.
Sometimes certain contributors on the Croatian Wikipedia have gone too far and the administrators – who approve all the articles – have had to step in and make changes.
When Predrag Lucic, a journalist, editor, writer, and one of the founders of the legendary anti-establishment magazine Feral Tribune died in January, the initial Croatian Wikipedia entry offered a somewhat insulting description of his achievements.
“By mocking people with different political positions, he has achieved tremendous success among Yugonostalgics, admirers of communism and opponents of independent Croatia. There is not a single serious journalistic piece [by Lucic] that a cultural critic would give a passing grade,” it read.
Who owns Croatian Wikipedia?
The Wikimedia Foundation Inc, a US-based non-profit charitable NGO, is the owner of the Croatian version of Wikipedia.
However, the Wikimedia Foundation is not the founder of the Croatian version, nor does it accept that it is responsible for the accuracy of its articles. It insists that it does not have any power over Croatian-language Wikipedia entries.
All the administrators and associates on Croatian Wikipedia are volunteers.