Foreign policy and physical sites of memory: competing foreign policies at the Jasenovac memorial site


This article contributes to the growing scholarship on the relationship between political memory and foreign policy by analyzing how physical sites of traumatic memory serve as locations of foreign policy construction. Specifically, I explore how physical sites (such as concentration camps, killing sites, or memorials) serve to construct foreign policy through the enduring meaning they have as material reminders of collective trauma. I illustrate the argument with a case study of Jasenovac, the commemorative site of the largest concentration camp administered by the Independent State of Croatia during World War II. The Jasenovac site is a particularly useful case for my argument because it is a site of contested memory and conflicting national narratives. Most significantly, it is the site of production of three distinct foreign policies—of Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia’s Republika Srpska—which all use the Jasenovac site to pursue very different and mutually exclusive foreign policy claims.

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  1. 1.

    The Independent State of Croatia is most often referred to in the literature in its original name as Nezavisna Država Hrvatska (NDH). Between 1941 and 1945, NDH controlled most of what is today Croatia, significant parts of today’s Bosnia-Herzegovina, and some northwestern regions of what is today Serbia.

  2. 2.

    Ustasha were the Croatian fascist militia who ruled the NDH, an Axis ally, from 1941–1945.

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  4. 4.

    The following brief history of the Jasenovac camp builds on Subotić (2019).

  5. 5.

    These numbers are the confirmed identified victims by the Jasenovac Memorial Site, which is a database in progress. Since this number includes only identified victims, the actual death toll is likely higher, While the Jasenovac Memorial Site is a state institution, it has maintained its scholarly independence. Its database of victims is largely congruous with other scholarly estimates.

  6. 6.

    Jasenovac Memorial Site,

  7. 7.

    It was not just the Serb paramilitaries and the Croatian Army that displayed disregard for the historical significance of the site during the Croatian war. The UN peacekeeping mission, UNPROFOR, also stockpiled confiscated heavy ammunition in one of the complex buildings. Mataušić (2003).

  8. 8.

    The following description of the Jasenovac permanent exhibition builds on Subotić (2019).

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    Vjesnik, August 18, 2004.

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    Novi list, April 25, 2005.

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    The subsequent two paragraphs build on Subotić (2019).

  12. 12.

    The 1945 massacre is referred to as Bleiburg in Croatia because the commemorations occur annually at Bleiburg, Austria, even though the actual killing took place on different locations in what is today Austria and Slovenia.

  13. 13.

    See the Institute’s Web site, at

  14. 14.

    The description of the New York event builds on Subotić (2019).

  15. 15.

    Krestić was referring to Bosnia’s and Croatia’s unsuccessful lawsuits against Serbia for genocide in the wars of 1991–1995 in front of the International Court of Justice. Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, press release, January 26, 2017,

  16. 16.

    Communiqué of Jasenovac Committee of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, 2005,

  17. 17.

    While the Chetniks initially fought on the side of the Allies, by the fall of 1941 they have switched sides, and for the remainder of the war fought on the side of the Axis. For a much deeper treatment of Holocaust revisionism in Serbia that is beyond the scope of this article, see Byford (2013) and Subotić (2019).

  18. 18.

    Vučić was refering to two Croatian military operations in 1995 that ended the Croatian war and were followed by the almost complete exodus of Croatia’s Serb civilians from the country.

  19. 19.

    I thank an anonymous reviewer for raising these very important points.

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  21. 21.

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  23. 23.

    Donja Gradina Memorial, “A Forum of the Fighters of the Republic of Srpska,” 26 June 2018,

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I would like to thank  Lina Klymenko and Marco Siddi for inviting me to participate in this project, as well as journal editors and two anonymous reviewers for very helpful feedback on earlier version of this article.

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Subotic, J. Foreign policy and physical sites of memory: competing foreign policies at the Jasenovac memorial site. Int Polit 57, 1012–1029 (2020).

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  • Memory
  • Foreign policy
  • Collective trauma
  • Jasenovac
  • Serbia
  • Croatia
  • Republika Srpska