For most people outside the Balkans, the name, Dinko Šakić, the location of Jasenovac, and the group named Ustaša will have little meaning. For Croatians though, these names keep coming back time and again to replay on a national and international level.
In explaining the importance of this, it's best to start with the Ustaša. This was the name of the ultra-nationalist, fascist group that seized control of Croatia during WWII and acted as a puppet government for the Nazi regime with Ante Pavelić as head of state. They had the distinction of proving that they were not only just as brutal as their Nazi counterparts, but actually even more so.
Ustaša Flag image from Wikipedia
Such an example was the creation of the Jasenovac Concentration Camp which the Croatian regime used to imprison, torture, and kill Jews, Serbs, Roma, Partisans (Croatians fighting against the Ustaša regime), and just about anyone else that they found to be an enemy. It is difficult to ascertain the exact number of prisoners killed at this Croatian version of Auschwitz, but the official and generally accepted figure is approximately 70,000-85,000 people with other estimates in the past putting the number as high as 500,000 (higher figures have been discredited as being inflated). The commander of the camp was a man named Dinko Šakić, who managed to flee Europe to hide in Argentina once the Ustaša regime fell in 1945.
Marko of the blog Greater Surbiton summed up the legacy of the Ustaša:
The history of the Ustasha movement, in other words, was utterly shameful – not only from the moral, but from the patriotic Croatian perspective. Nevertheless, ever since the Communist regime in Croatia fell in 1990, there have been those Croats who have sought to perpetuate the disgrace by their loud statements upholding the legacy of the former Ustasha regime.
In 1998, Šakić was found in Argentina and shortly after extradited to Croatia to stand trial for his term as commander of the Jasenovac prison. He was sentenced to 20 years in jail, which it turns out he would only serve half of as he just recently died on July 20, 2008. His death was a minor event given that he was 86, but his funeral has caused a great deal of controversy in Croatia and with Jewish people at large whom he directed the extermination of at Jasenovac.
His funeral called for him to be buried in his Ustaša uniform. When taken out of this Croatian context and transposed on another setting, many people would find this ludicrous as was pointed out by Matthew on the Serbian news portal B92:
Could you imagine such a funeral for the commander of Auschwitz?
As if that wasn't enough, as stated by Marko of Greater Surbiton:
…at his funeral the presiding clergyman, Vjekoslav Lasic, said that the ‘court that convicted Dinko Sakic convicted Croatia and the Croatian nation'; that the ‘NDH is the foundation of the modern Croatian homeland’, and that ‘every honourable Croat should be proud of Sakic’s name’.
Bear in mind that this is not an opinion shared by every Croatian, but these words carried far with their meaning. On both a national and international scope, those who were effected by the killings of Šakić's command of Jasenovac were outraged by these events as was relayed by LimbicNutrition Weblog:
Vice-President of the Jewish Community Jasminka Domas claimed “the disgraceful events that occurred at the funeral of Dinko Šakić in Zagreb insult the memory of all the victims of the Ustasha regime, and besmirch the Republic of Croatia's good name.”
Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem Efraim Zuroff has written to Croatian President Stjepan Mesić to express his anger at the way Šakić’s funeral was organized and at the priest’s speech.
Ari Rusila of BalkanPerspective also commented on the issue by quoting what Shmuel Meirom, the Israeli ambassador to Croatia said of the funeral:
“I'm convinced that the majority of the Croatian people are shocked by the way the funeral of the Jasenovac commander and murderer, dressed in an Ustasha uniform, was conducted,” ambassador Meirom said in a written statement to the state news agency Hina. “At the same time, I strongly condemn the inappropriate words of the priest who served at the funeral and said that Sakic was a model for all Croats” Meirom said.
And indeed Zoran Oštrić of Zelena Lista (The Green List) [Croatian] is one of those Croatians who is against the honoring of such a man as Šakić and laments how the popular culture of Croatia is holding him to be a Croat worthy of respect:
It is unfortunate, that when Croatia convicted him ten years ago that whether from the urging of their grandfathers or on their own that his name [Šakić] was chanted at soccer matches by many of the youth.
Why do these people become cultural icons despite the hard facts that they have murdered countless people? The simple answer to this is that it is much easier to forget about such figures in history as opposed to actually coming to terms with the actions that they did at the bequest of the government at the time. One sentence on Ljevica (the Left Hand) [Croatian], an otherwise very left blog states:
They convicted him because he was a person with the pistol who killed forty detainees and ordered the hanging of 22 prisoners of war, but now this is not important.
While an admission of the crimes that he committed, it has been seen that those who were directly affected by the killings ordered by Šakić do not agree that just because he is now dead that what he did no longer matters.