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Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic addresses a news conference at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch


ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatia's government set up a commission on Thursday to propose ways of dealing with the legacy of the country's totalitarian regimes in the 20th century, a topic that sharply divides society to this day.

Public opinion has been split in Croatia, a European Union member since 2013, over how to treat both its Nazi-collaborationist and communist past under the former Yugoslav republic.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, whose centre-right government took office last October, put forward the idea of establishing a commission on the issue following an incident in November near the site of the Jasenovac World War Two concentration camp in central Croatia.

"We hope that the recommendations of the commission will help overcome divisions in the society," Plenkovic told a cabinet session.

At Jasenovac, rightist veterans of Croatia's 1991-95 independence war raised a plaque to comrades killed in the fight to secede from Serbian-led Yugoslavia. But they included on it words from the salute Za Dom Spremni (For The Homeland - Ready) used by the Nazi-collaborationist Ustasha regime.

Thousands of Jews, Serbs, Roma gypsies and anti-fascist Croats were killed in the Jasenovac camp.

"In the public there are visibly different interpretations of the past, and current legal practice regarding the reappearance of symbols of totalitarian regimes varies," Plenkovic said.

He said the commission's work should include recommendations on how to educate children about human rights violations under totalitarian regimes and how to approach issues such as the naming of streets and other public places.

While some Croats think the authorities have been soft in dealing with the sporadic resurfacing of extremism praising the Ustasha regime, others say post-independence governments, particularly those led by the left, have failed to condemn crimes committed during 45 years of communist rule.

The commission will include historians, lawyers, political scientists and other experts, and be led by Zvonko Kusic, head of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

(Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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