Healing wounds, the Jewish and Croatian community come together

Ben Schneiders and Simone Fox Koob
SMH/The Age
June 25, 2023

They were some of the ugliest scenes observed in Australian sport for years.

Three Sydney United fans were charged for making Nazi salutes at October’s Australia Cup soccer final, while nearby another fan flew the Ustasha flag – the emblem of the murderous World War II regime of the Nazi-puppet state of Croatia.

The salutes at the match led to condemnation including that of commentator and former Socceroo and Craig Foster, who described it as “the most abhorrent thing that we’ve seen at a football match for a very long time”.

Last week, there was an important step in making amends.

Representatives of the Jewish community and Sydney United – a storied football club created by Croatian migrants in 1958 – met on Monday at the Sydney Jewish Museum.

Their meeting came days after a recent investigation by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, which uncovered how major sporting and cultural clubs in Australia’s large Croatian community openly celebrate fascist anniversaries while displaying emblems, flags and maps of the Ustasha regime.

In response to those stories, Croatia’s ambassador to Australia, Betty Pavelich, said there was no place for the “glorification of totalitarian regimes, extremism or intolerance”.

The investigation has since been translated and reproduced or referenced in at least 10 news sites in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia.

After last week’s meeting, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Darren Bark said he had been impressed with Sydney United’s determination to tackle the issue of racism within the club’s supporter base.

“We’ve been working very closely with Sydney United behind the scenes to ensure a better culture among the fans,” he said.

Bark said the meeting with the club’s coach and a board member was part of an ongoing process. “I see the club’s participation sending a very clear message that racist behaviour of any kind is not tolerated.”

Sydney United head coach Miro Vlastelica described the visit to the Jewish Museum as a “humbling experience” and “very educational” about the struggles of the Jewish people and others during the war. “One that makes me feel grateful for what we have today – peace, friendship and multiculturalism that this great country has given us,” he said.

“It also touched home, as it reminded me of the struggles that my family and community were also subject to during and after the war, and having lost family members in horrible circumstances at the hands of dictators.”

Sydney United has some active far-right supporters who have regularly displayed Ustasha or Nazi symbols over many years. A statement by the club issued after the Australia Cup final warned it would not welcome fans that were not respectful: “Their views will never be tolerated.”

But that position created a backlash from some, and the Sydney United Supporters (SUS) group said on Facebook: “On behalf of SUS we don’t apologise to anyone. ZDS (za dom spremni).” The chant at the end of the message was the same as that used by the far-right Ustase movement in the 1930s and 1940s.

Football Australia fined Sydney United $15,000 in November for the fan behaviour and hit the club with a series of suspended sanctions. Part of making amends was compulsory education and training with Jewish and First Nations groups.

Bark said the salutes were “vile symbols” with “no place in modern Australia”. “They are not only an affront to the Jewish community but to all Australians,” he said.

He said displaying a Nazi symbol was not only “abhorrent but is illegal as well”.

Three men were charged under NSW laws for making the salutes and have said they will plead not guilty. In NSW, laws against Nazi symbols are the broadest in Australia, allowing discretion to the courts to define what a Nazi symbol is. Laws in Victoria – and proposed federal laws – are narrower, proscribing a limited number of Nazi symbols.

While Sydney United is taking steps to tackle racism, there has been no public response from the Melbourne Knights Football Club to an April 10 incident, when six men were filmed doing stiff-armed salutes as they sang a song extolling the Ustasha.

Melbourne Knights president Pave Jusup declined to comment.

In the days before The Age and Sydney Morning Herald investigation was published, Jusup removed two of his social media accounts on which he is pictured posing in front of an Ustasha flag. But he has since restored the accounts with that image.

The Ustasha’s legacy includes laws persecuting Serbs, Jews and Roma, stripping them of their rights and establishing concentration camps, including one for children. The ethnic cleansing, done with the agreement of Nazi Germany, is considered by scholars to constitute genocide.

Football Australia has refused to comment directly on the incident at the Knights, citing the fact that the salutes did not occur at a football match or function.

“For this reason, we aren’t able to pass comment,” a spokesperson said.

Football Victoria has not responded to requests for comment.

‘Well and truly time’ to make symbols of hate a crime

14 June 2023

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has introduced a bill to ban the display of two Nazi symbols. Photo: Joel Carrett/AAP

Maeve Bannister
June 14, 2023

Australians are being sent a clear message that there is no excuse for displays of hate, as a proposal to ban Nazi and Islamic State symbols enters federal parliament.

If passed, the criminal code would be amended to prohibit hate symbols and will see people who display the insignia face the prospect of prison time.

The law would apply to the Nazi hakenkreuz, the Nazi double sig rune, and the Islamic State flag.

Selling, renting or leasing memorabilia containing the symbols will also be made an offence and banned in retail and online stores.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus introduced the proposal to parliament on Wednesday.

He said the two Nazi symbols, known as the Schutzstaffel insignia, represented the Third Reich and conjured fear in many Australians whose families suffered the horrors of the Holocaust during World War II.

The symbols are also used to promote hatred against other marginalised groups, including LGBTQI Australians.

Similarly, the attorney-general said the Islamic State flag represented the “abhorrent actions” of the terrorist organisation.

Despite no longer controlling territory in Iraq and Syria, Mr Dreyfus said Islamic State remained an active terrorist group that regularly attacked security forces and civilians.

“Extremist insignia are an effective propaganda tool because they are easy to remember and understand,” he told parliament.

“They also transcend language and cultural divides.

“The Albanese government is taking a significant step towards sending a message that Australia is united against displays of hate.”

Mr Dreyfus said a section of the reforms making public display of the symbols an offence was designed to stamp out harassment and vilification of communities targeted by Nazi, neo-Nazi and Islamic State supporters.

But the legislation would not affect the use of the swastika for people observing Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

The attorney-general said a ban on displaying the Islamic State flag would signify an important distinction between a terrorist group and the deeply respected Islamic faith.

Displaying the symbols for journalistic, educational or artistic purposes would be exempt from the ban.

“These offences have been carefully considered and crafted so as not to capture legitimate uses of these symbols,” Mr Dreyfus said.

“For example, public display for the purposes of education is permitted so the horrors of the Second World War are not forgotten and can continue to be taught as a lesson for future generations.”

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Darren Bark said Nazi symbols had no place in Australia.

“NSW has strong laws banning these disgusting symbols, including those posted online and on social media,” he told AAP.

“It is well and truly time the rest of our country followed NSW’s lead.”