ZAGREB, May 25 -- Croatia's plan to revive a currency used by the Nazi regime of World War Two has enraged Jews and Serbs, who claim the reappearance of the kuna desecrates the memory of victims of fascism.
On May 30 -- Croatian Statehood Day, the kuna will replace the dinar, inherited from when Croatia was one of the six republics of federal Yugoslavia.
Representatives of the country's Jewish and Serbian communities claim the kuna desecrates the memory of hundreds of thousands of Jews, Serbs, Gypsies and Croat anti-fascists who were murdered by 'ustashas', the militia of Croat fascist leader Ante Pavelic from 1941 to 1945.
Pavelic's regime, sponsored by Hitler, was crushed by Yugoslav communist partisans under Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslav's charismatic leader, at the end of the war.
'We cannot welcome kuna as the name of the new currency,' said Dragan Hinic, a Serb member of the Croatian parliament. 'Kuna is a fascist currency, and everything that resembles the Independent state of Croatia (NDH) is an obstacle to normalization of relations between the Croatian government and rebel Serbs.'
Hinic's words were echoed by Slavko Goldstein, the former chairman of Zagreb's tiny Jewish community. He said the kuna raises a new obstacle to thorny process of reconciliation with rebel Serbs, who seized a quarter of Croatia in a rebellion against its 1991 secesion.
'One can easily envisage there will be no integration of Serb- occupied land back under Zagreb's rule. Serbs will never deal with kuna. Never.'
Goldstein also suspects the switch to the kuna will tarnish Croatia's international image by sending mixed messages about its democracy.
'It's hard to tell if at all and how many countries will be ready to do business and provide loans to a country with fascist currency,' Goldstein said.
To quiet the protests, Croatian president Franjo Tudjman cited the kuna's medieval origin as a unit of value. Kuna, a Croatian name for marten, a forest animal whose fur was prized, symbolized a trade unit during a short period of Croatian medieval kingdom, historians said.
Tudjman, a communist-turned-nationalist who led Croatia into the 1991 war for independence from the Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, insists the kuna represents a finishing touch to Zagreb's break with Belgrade.
'(Adopting the kuna) we showed maturity and decisiveness to stand up in defense of Croatia's sovereign interests, and we can be proud of it,' he said.
'To link kuna only with the Independent state of Croatia (1941-1945) is an attempt to discredit Croatia's government,' he said.
'The fact that it was used by the Nazi puppet regime, shouldn't be a problem, because there are other (European) countries which maintained their currencies from the fascist era.'
He said, 'the word kuna is easy to pronounce, it's unique, so here you are -- there are many historical and political reasons for it.'
Meanwhile, to the chagrin of Jews and Serbs, Ustasha memorabilia has again become popular in Zagreb, where Nazi swastika flags, 'U' (Ustasha) symbols and Pavelic's pictures are sold freely on the street.
The new banknotes were printed in Germany in denominations ranging from five to 1,000 kunas.
Croatians will be able to exchange dinars for kunas at a rate of 1, 000-to-one until the end of 1994 without devaluation.