BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia protested strongly Monday against the unveiling of a statue in Croatia honoring an extreme nationalist independence fighter who assassinated a Yugoslav ambassador to Sweden in 1971.
The monument for Miro Baresic was unveiled in a seaside Croatian village on Sunday with two Croatian government ministers and numerous prominent public figures attending.
European Union-member Croatia has seen a surge of far-right sentiments, including admiration for the World War II Ustasha Nazi puppet regime that was responsible for the death of tens of thousands of Jews, Serbs and Gypsies in concentration camps.
Baresic, a declared pro-Ustasha who strived for Croatia's independence from Yugoslavia, shot Ambassador Vladimir Rolovic inside the Yugoslav embassy in Stockholm.
He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison by a Swedish court. But another group of Croatian far-right radicals hijacked a Scandinavian Airlines passenger plane in 1972, forcing his release.
He found refuge in Paraguay, but was eventually captured again and extradited to Sweden in 1980, where his life sentence was converted to 18 years. He returned to Croatia in 1991 where he was killed in fighting against Serb-led forces fighting against Croatia's independence.
In Serbia, Baresic was considered a terrorist, while Croatian nationalists revered him as a hero who devoted his whole life to Croatia's statehood.
"Miro Baresic is a great Croatian patriot whose devotion and sacrifice we have to respect," Croatian Veterans Minister Tomo Medved said during the life-size statue's unveiling in the village of Drage in central Dalmatia.
The Serbian foreign ministry demanded Monday that the statue be removed.
"The Ministry considers the erection of a monument to a convicted terrorist (sentenced) for the gruesome murder of the Yugoslav ambassador in Sweden Vladimir Rolovic, as an improper and uncivilized act unprecedented in modern Europe," the Serbian protest stated.
There was no immediate reaction from the Croatian government.
AP Writer Jovana Gec contributed.