Croatian Bishops Conference Disagrees with Bleiburg Mass Ban

By 9 March 2019

ZAGREB, March 9, 2019 - The Croatian Bishops Conference (HBK) on Friday expressed its deep disagreement with the decision by the Roman Catholic Church in the Austrian federal state of Carinthia to withhold permission for this year's memorial mass at Loibach, a field near Bleiburg, dismissing the reasons for the decision in their entirety.

"The secretary of the Gurk Klagenfurt Diocese, Msgr Engelbert Guggenberger, has decided not to allow this year's memorial mass in the Bleiburg field. The Croatian Bishops Conference regrets that decision and expresses its deep disagreement with the reasons he stated and dismisses them in their entirety," the HBK Press Office said in a statement.

It believes that "not allowing the possibility to pray for the victims of that great tragedy of the Croat people means disrespect for the victims and lack of sensitivity for the suffering of the innocent."

The HBK recalls that its representatives and representatives of the Austrian Bishops Conference conducted talks on the commemoration of the Bleiburg tragedy on several occasions. The HBK also says that it joined activities to hold masses in Bleiburg in 2003. "In all previous years, notably in 2018, the Eucharist was celebrated in dignity as befits the Church's most dignified prayer," the HBK says in its statement.

Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković has been informed of the news that the Roman Catholic Church in Carinthia has rejected the HBK's request to hold a religious service at Bleiburg, and since the Bleiburg commemoration is held under the parliament's auspices, he plans first to hold talks with the organisers of the event and then decide how to proceed and coordinate future actions.

According to sources close to Jandroković, talks will first be held with the Honorary Bleiburg Platoon and the HBK, which are the organisers of the commemoration, after which a decision will be made as to what to do next.

According to unofficial reports, the Honorary Bleiburg Platoon met on Friday to discuss the matter.

Foreign and European Affairs Minister Marija Pejčinović Burić would not comment today on the decision of the Catholic Church in Austria either, saying only that a mass was the most appropriate way to commemorate victims of World War II.

The Bleiburg commemorations are held in tribute to tens of thousands of Croatian civilians and soldiers of the defeated Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia who surrendered to allied forces there in May 1945, but were handed over by British troops to Yugoslav forces. Many were executed on the spot, while many perished during so-called death marches back to Yugoslavia.

"One should not comment on other countries' actions... for us Bleiburg is a place of remembrance and commemoration of the victims," Pejčinović Burić told reporters.

The secretary of the Klagenfurt Diocese, Msgr. Guggenberger, said that the mass held in the field near Bleiburg "has become part of an event that is used for political purposes and is part of a political and national ritual that serves for the selective perception and interpretation of history."

In a statement that explains the decision not to grant permission for the religious service, planned for May 18 this year, the Catholic Church in Carinthia says that the decision was made after a thorough analysis of the 2018 gathering at Bleiburg as well as numerous conversations between representatives of the Austrian and Croatian bishops conferences, which also included believers of the Croat community in Carinthia and representatives of Austrian security authorities.

Even though the Bleiburg gathering is held on a private property, holding a religious service there requires permission from the local church.

Since last year Austria has been treating the Bleiburg commemoration more critically, at the initiative of several Austrian members of the European Parliament. Recently, a law went into force banning the display of Ustasha symbols, dating back to the time of the NDH.

More news on the Bleiburg commemorations can be found in the Politics section.