Blažeković as a young man
23 September 1915|
Bihać, Condominium of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Austria-Hungary)
|Died||12 January 1947
Zagreb, Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia
|Allegiance||Independent State of Croatia (1941–1945)|
Zdenko Blažeković (23 September 1915 – 12 January 1947) was a Croatian fascist politician, soldier, athlete and writer who acted as the student commissar of the Ustaše University Centre (USS), commander of the male Ustaše Youth, and commissioner for the State Leadership for Physical Education and Sport in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) during World War II. Born in the town of Bihać, he finished high school in Osijek before applying to join a technical college in Zagreb with the intention of becoming a builder. He was a member of various Croatian cultural and athletic organizations during his youth, playing the position of goalkeeper for the football clubs Hajduk Osijek and HAŠK Građanski.
Briefly a member of the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), Blažeković was imprisoned several times by Yugoslav authorities because of his involvement with various Croatian youth organizations and was often involved in clashes with Communist students. Joining the Ustaše in 1939, he was named to the newly formed Ustaše supervisory committee by politician Slavko Kvaternik following the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia and the establishment of the NDH in April 1941. That month he became the leader of the Ustaše University Centre and Ustaše Youth, charged with organizing student bodies at the University of Zagreb and promoting the Ustaše's policy of preventing all non-Croats from attending universities in the country.
In 1942, he was involved in the formation of the 13th Ustaše Assault Corps and by 1943 had attained a seat in the Croatian Parliament. That year, he joined Ante Pavelić's personal bodyguard, being promoted to the rank of Major. He held the position of head of the Ustaše University Centre and Ustaše Youth until January 1945, when he was appointed commissioner for Physical Education and Sport. He fled Zagreb in May and ended up in a refugee camp in Salzburg, Austria. In August, he was arrested by American forces and extradited to Yugoslavia on 12 February 1946. He was tried in Zagreb on 12 January 1947, sentenced to death, and executed the same day.
Early life and family
Zdenko Blažeković was born on 23 September 1915 in the town of Bihać, the son of politician Emilijan "Milan" Blažeković. He finished high school in Osijek and later applied to join a technical college in Zagreb with the intention of becoming a builder. In 1935, he became a member of the "Croatian Academic Society August Šenoa" (Croatian: Hrvatsko akademsko društvo August Šenoa, HADAŠ) and by 1936 he was its vice-president. A versatile athlete, he played as a goalkeeper for the football clubs Hajduk in Osijek and HAŠK Građanski in Zagreb. He also played tennis and was one of the founders of the rowing club Drava in Osijek. For a short period of time, Blažeković was a member of the Croatian Peasant Party (Croatian: Hrvatska seljačka stranka, HSS). After leaving the party, he became involved in various Croatian youth organizations and was imprisoned several times in Zagreb and Osijek as a result. During this time, he was also involved in numerous violent confrontations with Communist students.
After attending a public celebration of Croatian politician Vladko Maček's birthday on 20 June 1935, Blažeković was imprisoned by Yugoslav authorities and tortured for twelve days in a prison on the island of Korčula. He was subsequently taken to Dubrovnik and charged with conspiring against the Yugoslav state, but wasn't convicted. In 1939, he joined the Ustaše, a Croatian fascist organization fighting for Croatian independence from the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. During this period, he came into contact with the fascist leader Slavko Kvaternik. From late 1940 to early 1941, Blažeković was pursued by Yugoslav authorities because of his association with the Ustaše and hid in Zagreb to avoid capture.
World War II
Invasion of Yugoslavia
On 6 April 1941, Axis forces invaded Yugoslavia. Poorly equipped and poorly trained, the Royal Yugoslav Army was quickly defeated. The country was then dismembered and the extreme Croat nationalist and fascist Ante Pavelić, who had been in exile in Benito Mussolini's Italy, was appointed Poglavnik (leader) of an Ustaše-led Croatian state – the Independent State of Croatia (often called the NDH, from the Croatian: Nezavisna Država Hrvatska). The NDH combined almost all of modern-day Croatia, all of modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina and parts of modern-day Serbia into an "Italian-German quasi-protectorate". Genocidal policies were then implemented against the Serb, Jewish and Roma population living within the country.
Command of the Ustaše University Centre and Ustaše Youth
On 11 April, Kvaternik named Blažeković to the newly formed Ustaše supervisory committee. On 23 April, Blažeković led more than 1,100 Croatian students as they gathered in the courtyard of the University of Zagreb before going to St. Mark's Square to watch Pavelić give a speech. Here, Blažeković and the students swore loyalty to the Poglavnik and the NDH. In a speech afterward, Blažeković told Pavelić that he and the students were ready to follow him "in life and death." When the Ustaše supervisory committee was disbanded on 9 May, Blažeković was named a commissioner in the main headquarters of the NDH. That same month, he was named the commander of the Ustaše University Centre (Croatian: Ustaški sveučilišni stožer, USS). Although this organization technically required all students in the NDH to become members, most kept away from membership. Increasingly, the USS became a wing of the NDH's student elite with strict rules of membership and enticing privileges, including being able to attend rallies at which Pavelić spoke and wearing Ustaše uniform. In an interview with Novi list, Blažeković stated that all work at the University of Zagreb would be "in harmony with the new Ustaša spirit ... with which youth had been imbued for years in the decades when the university was the "battleground" of the Croatian struggle for liberation." He went on to say that the first priority of the USS was to be the social welfare of students and the expansion of student dining rooms and residential halls. He declared that the structure of the university would change to conform with Ustaše principles – each faculty would have its own camp, consisting of a camp leader and seven adjutants responsible for military training, socio-economic welfare, contacts, sports, professional training, education and journals. Blažeković explained that for the first year of academic study, the university would employ "veteran warriors" as teachers who were to be replaced by fully trained "younger forces" who had spent the previous year preparing for their new roles. Furthermore, he stated that student volunteers would collaborate in the creation and popularization of the USS and other Ustaše organizations, which, once they had established themselves in university life, were to establish a professional, non-ideological student organization meant to incorporate all Croatian students. When asked if Serbs and Jews were to be permitted to attend universities in the NDH, Blažeković replied: "In the coming academic year, the university will be swept clean of foreigners hostilely disposed to Croatians and the Ustaša movement, and in this way our endeavours at the university will be made easier." Later, while dining with the wife of a Swedish diplomat, Blažeković boasted of the large number of Serbs he had killed, claiming that he placed the ears of murdered Serbs on a necklace worn over his smoking jacket.
At the same time that he was appointed leader of the USS, Blažeković was also named commander of the male Ustaše Youth. In its first months, many young Croats joined the movement, with recruitment being fueled mostly by extreme Croatian nationalism. Despite this, many were motivated to join because the Youth provided athletic, intellectual and artistic training for "a next generation of Ustaše leaders." For others, membership gave "a sense of meaning to their lives" and was appealing because it represented "a youthful rebellion against the Yugoslav state." By May, some Ustaše Youth camps publicly announced their refusal to accept new members as they lacked the capacity to do so. Although it is unclear how many young Croats joined the movement, Blažeković claimed a figure of half-a-million members. He defined the Ustaše Youth as a "secular movement" meant to "promote the brotherly cooperation and mutual life" of peasant, working-class and intellectual youth in the NDH.
In late 1941 Blažeković's father was appointed mayor of Osijek, holding this position until 1942. That year, the younger Blažeković was involved in the formation of the 13th Ustaše Assault Corps, using his position as commander of the Ustaše Youth to convince many young Croats to join. In February 1942, he became a member of the Croatian Parliament. That year he joined Ante Pavelić's personal bodyguard, being promoted to the rank of Major. In 1944, he wrote a book titled The Youth and the Nation (Croatian: Mladež i država).
Commissioner for Physical Education and Sport
Blažeković held the functions of commander of the USS and commander of the male Ustaše Youth until January 1945, when he was named commissioner for the State Leadership for Physical Education and Sport (Croatian: Državno vodstvo za tjelesni odgoj i šport, DVTOŠ) in the NDH. Upon taking this position, he introduced strict new sport laws that emphasized discipline during football matches and criminalized the giving of monentary and material rewards to athletes. Blažeković attempted to justify the new laws by saying: "Croatian sport is an amateur sport, and as such it will remain." Attempting to tackle the problem of unruly crowds, he introduced new laws banning disorderly spectators from ever entering football stadiums. Warnings by Blažeković and the DVTOŠ were regularly printed in daily party newspapers, calling for citizens and athletes to abide by the new laws.
Capture and execution
As Allied forces descended on Zagreb, Blažeković left the city on 6 May 1945 and fled from Slovenia into Austria. He was subsequently placed in a refugee camp in Salzburg. On 28 August, American forces arrested him and sent him to a detainment camp before having him extradited to Yugoslavia on 12 February 1946. Blažeković was tried in Zagreb on 12 January 1947, sentenced to death, and executed the same day.
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