Doctoral defence: Katarina Damčević “Semiotics of hate speech and contested symbols: the “Za dom spremni” Ustaša salute in contemporary Croatia”

On 19 June at 12:15, Katarina Damčević will defend her doctoral thesis “Semiotics of hate speech and contested symbols: the “Za dom spremni” Ustaša salute in contemporary Croatia” for obtaining the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (in Semiotics and Culture Studies).

Associate Professor Andreas Ventsel, University of Tartu
Research Fellow Mari-Liis Madisson, University of Tartu

Associate Professor Anna Maria Lorusso, University of Bologna (Italy)
Associate Professor Magdalena Najbar Agičić, University North (Croatia)

This dissertation studies the meaning-making patterns surrounding hate speech and contested symbols in Croatia by focusing on Za dom spremni (“Ready for the Homeland”), the salute used by the fascist Ustaša movement during World War Two. I rely predominantly on cultural semiotics, which allows me to approach the salute as a particular model or interpretational frame of social reality, as well as analyze dominant meaning-making hierarchies associated with it. Za dom spremni was the official salute of the Independent State of Croatia, a puppet state of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy that existed from 1941 to 1945. The ruling Ustaša regime used the salute in documents and declarations that were a part of the genocidal policies that resulted in the mass murder of Serbs, Jews, Roma, and antifascists of all nationalities in concentration camps, prisons, and other execution sites. While the salute was banned in socialist Yugoslavia, it resurfaced during the Croatian War of Independence (1991-1995) along with a broader rehabilitation of the Ustaša movement. Since the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the 1990s war, the salute was appropriated by right-wing politicians and groups as a symbol of that conflict, and is often used to reinforce a one-sided version of the past and the post-war national identity, as well as to mobilize voters and advance political agendas. This dissertation focuses on three particular cases of how the salute was used for these purposes.

First, I analyze Croatian right-wing Facebook pages and identify speech associated with the Ustaša salute in order to demonstrate how seemingly inconsistent and contradictory textual elements form a coherent identity discourse.

Second, I explore signification tendencies associated with the salute as part of a controversial memorial plaque dedicated to the 1990s war. In doing so, I propose a wider meaning-making framework to advance the understanding of the semiotic logic of the salute and show how it can be utilized in order to maintain symbolic divisions, hinder dialogue, and facilitate the discursive construction of the enemy/Other.

Third, I analyze the media discourse surrounding the salute in the aftermath of two national commemorations. The analysis reveals how the discourse of victory and foundation that underpins Croatia’s post-war identity is claimed by various actors and regulates the meaning-making sphere surrounding Croatia’s legacy of the 1990s war.

The Za dom spremni salute is a multilayered research object that reflects processes of post-war identity-building and attempts towards coming to terms with the past, while simultaneously being a mechanism of identity affirmation as well as ideological contestation.

Defence can be followed in Zoom (Meeting ID: 980 9473 3004, Passcode: 305007).