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 Thursday, 16 January, 2003, 17:14 GMT
Croatian skier under fire over 'Nazi' remarks
Ivica Kostelic
Mr Kostelic's spokesman says he was misinterpreted

One of Croatia's sporting heroes is being accused of Nazi sympathies, after he compared his own attitude before a ski race to that of a German soldier in World War II.

Ivica Kostelic's comments - which he made after winning a World Cup slalom race 10 days ago - are reported in a Croatian news magazine.

Adolf Hitler
Kostelic compared Hitler favourably with Stalin
While Mr Kostelic's spokesman says his words were taken out of context, the magazine's website also carries the recording of an earlier interview, in which the skier says Nazism was a healthy system.

Mr Kostelic, who is a hero in Croatia, on Sunday won his third consecutive World Cup slalom race.

Previously, after his second win 10 days ago, he gave a news conference in which he compared his pre-race attitude to that of a German soldier at the time Nazi Germany launched its invasion of the Soviet Union.

His comments have now been published in a Croatian magazine.

'Heat of the moment'

Mr Kostelic's spokesman says the young skier spoke in the heat of the moment but the magazine, Nacional, has now published on its website the recording of an interview he gave last year.

In it, Mr Kostelic says Nazism is a healthy system, better than Communism, because under the Nazis an individual could rise to the top on merit.

He also says Russian dictator Josef Stalin was worse than Adolf Hitler, because Stalin killed his subordinates at random, whereas Hitler only killed those who were after his own life.

Croatia was a Nazi puppet state during the Second World War, and Croatian nationalists have been equivocal about condemning the country's fascist past.

Many of Croatia's leading sportsmen - including former Wimbledon tennis champion Goran Ivanisevic are outspoken nationalists, but few have gone as far as Mr Kostelic.

One of the sponsors of Croatia's ski team is now demanding that Mr Kostelic either apologise or explain.

See also:

12 Jan 03 | Ski Sunday
05 Jan 03 | Other Sports
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