Saturday, 16 May 2020

Cardinal Puljic: All Victims Deserve Respect, Reconciliation Should be Built on Truth

ZAGREB, May 16, 2020 - Cardinal Vinko Puljic said at a mass for the Bleiburg victims in Sarajevo on Saturday that reconciliation could be built only on the truth and called for equal respect for every war victim, while thousands of people in the city centre honoured the victims of fascism in WWII.

The Archbishop of Sarajevo celebrated the service in the Heart of Jesus Cathedral as part of a commemoration organised by the Bleiburg Guard of Honour under the auspices of the Croatian parliament.

Puljic greeted everyone who joined in the prayer "for so many victims of violence."

He also greeted the bishop of Klagenfurt, noting that this year's commemoration could not be held at Bleiburg field in Austria because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Today we remember all those killed in concentration camps, valleys, mountains and fields, from Bleiburg via Dravograd and Maribor, Ogulin and Gospic, Jazovka and the Macelj woods, Jasenovac and Glina, Kozara and Podgradac, Krizevci and Bjelovar to Srijemska Mitrovica, Sarajevo, Foca and Zenica," the cardinal said, calling for building a climate of reconciliation and restoring trust on the truth, however bitter it might be, and for ceasing with double standards when it comes to victims.

He said a mass for all victims of hate stirred special feelings and that this was why he accepted to celebrate this year's mass for the Bleiburg victims who, he added, were entitled to respect as any human being.

By showing victims their due respect and remembrance, we also show "respect for the price of the freedom we are living today," Puljic said.

The cardinal recalled the words of Pope John Paul II that the fate of peace depends most on the solidarity of the heart which, after spilt blood and hatred, entails the courage to forgive.

He also recalled that in 1995 all Croatian bishops honoured all innocent WWII victims because the right to life and dignity of every human person is protected by God.

"We owe every innocent victim equal respect. There can be no difference in that," Puljic said, adding that he was deeply distressed by the fact that the graves of those who died on death marches from Austria to Yugoslavia in 1945 and later had still not been found.

He said that those who did not want the truth stood behind the evil they defended because no crime could be defended and because crime could not be cured with crime.

The cardinal thanked genuine researchers and those looking for historical truth by gathering facts, saying it was the best way to stop manipulation.

Besides Puljic and several priests, the service was attended by only 20 persons, including Croatian Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Ivan Sabolic.

The mass was held in a very tense atmosphere due to disputes between those who see it as a sign of respect for the dead and those who claim it actually rehabilitates the 1941-45 Nazi-styled Independent State of Croatia and the Ustasha regime.

Sarajevo was under a sort of siege today the police prevented pedestrians from coming near the cathedral and traffic in nearby streets since early morning.

During mass, a group of people came to the police fence around the cathedral to voice their dissatisfaction, carrying banners, one of which said "Fascists are not victims", and shouting "No pasaran".

Antifascists sing Partisan songs to commemorate victims of Ustasha regime

A mass rally was held outside the government and parliament buildings, organised by the SABNOR antifascist fighters' alliance. Despite the ban on gathering due to COVID-19, at least 2,000 people of all ages came.

Singing Partisan songs, they commemorated the victims of the Ustasha regime in Sarajevo during WWII, reading out their names and marching to the city centre and a monument to the Partisans who liberated the city in 1945.

Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe Ambassador Kathleen Kavalec and several diplomats laid wreaths and flowers at another monument to the Sarajevo victims of fascism and at the Jewish cemetery.

Our presence here today is a sign of respect which we feel for the victims and of our understanding for the pain their families feel, Kavalec said.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Croatian PM for Building Tolerant Society by Soberly Looking at Past Trauma

ZAGREB, May 14, 2020 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on Thursday commented on the 75th anniversary of the Bleiburg tragedy, saying that a truly tolerant society could be built only by soberly looking at past trauma and by respecting every victim.

"Today, three-quarters of a century later, we remember that difficult chapter in Croatian history and we remember all victims. Today that is a moral obligation for the modern Croatia, which was built on the harmony and unity of the Croatian people in the Homeland War," Plenkovic said at a cabinet meeting.

We will be able to build a truly tolerant society only by soberly looking at past trauma and by respecting every victim, which was one of the main political messages of Croatia's first president Franjo Tudjman, who participated in Croatia's antifascist movement, Plenkovic said.

In Western Europe, the victory over fascism 75 years ago was key for establishing democratic orders which, in the post-war years, embarked on reconciliation, economic recovery and unification to bring Europe lasting peace and prevent any future conflict, he said.

In Central and Eastern Europe, the end of WWII brought the defeat of the fascist terror and horrors of war, yet it did not bring democracy but new totalitarianism, i.e. communism, which was defeated only with the fall of the Berlin Wall, Plenkovic said.

In 1945, after the defeat of the Independent State of Croatia, which was also Croatia's fate, which was deprived of freedom and democracy for another 50 years, he added.

While the end of WWII in Western Europe marked the end of unprecedented horrors of war and fascist crimes, in which the Holocaust holds a special place, in Croatia May 1945 was also synonymous with horrible post-war communist crimes, Plenkovic said.

Tens of thousands of people, disarmed defeated troops, as well as many civilians who were running away from the establishment of the communist regime, were killed without trial and buried without a grave from Bleiburg to Tezno along the Way of the Cross, he said.

That happened also after the official end of WWII and that mass crime, as well as the persecutions and arrests of all so-called class enemies and persons of different views and reprisals against the Catholic Church, caused anxiety and fear among a large part of the Croatian people, Plenkovic said.

The rigged post-war trial of the Blessed Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, although he spoke up many times against all forms of discrimination and personally saved many Jews and Serbs, additionally compromised the then authorities and principles of justice, he added.

That is why in present-day Croatia, the relationship towards that fraught and multi-layered period of Croatian history is painful and traumatic, despite it being clear that thanks to the antifascist movement and resistance against Nazism, Croatia came out of WWII as a winner, the prime minister said.

It is up to us to build on those foundations a European Croatia founded on democratic values, to build a society that promotes the culture of remembrance, tolerance and mutual respect, he added.

"We owe it first and foremost to ourselves and especially to our youth so that, with a composed look on the past and optimism for the future, unburdened, we can build an even better Croatia."

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

This Year's Bleiburg Commemoration Cancelled

ZAGREB, April 21, 2020 - This year's memorial ceremony for Croatian soldiers and civilians killed at Bleiburg, Austria in 1945 has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, organisers announced in a statement on Tuesday.

The decision was made at a conference call by the Bleiburg Guard of Honour on Monday after the Austrian government restricted the right to public assembly and the governments of Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina restricted travel abroad or transit through their respective countries.

The statement said that an alternative programme to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Bleiburg tragedy would be announced in due course.

The commemoration is held annually in Loibach Field near Bleiburg, Austria for soldiers of the Nazi-allied Croatian Ustasha regime and civilians killed there at the end of World War II.

More Bleiburg news can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Parliament Speaker, Organisers Talk 75th Bleiburg Commemoration

ZAGREB, March 12, 2020 - Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković on Thursday met with representatives of the Church and the Honorary Bleiburg Platoon about the organisation of the 75th Bleiburg commemoration in Austria.

This year's commemoration should take place on May 16 under the auspices of the Croatian parliament. The participants in the meeting said its taking place would depend on developments with coronavirus.

They underlined the importance of constant contacts between Croatia and Austria in preparing the commemoration and of holding a dignified event by respecting the law and prohibiting the display of unacceptable symbols.

There will be no political speeches at this year's commemoration either, it was said.

The commemoration is held annually in Loibach Field near the town of Bleiburg, Austria for soldiers of Croatia's Nazi-allied Ustasha regime and civilians killed there at the end of World War II.

Last year's gathering was held under tighter security after Austria added symbols of the 1941-45 Independent State of Croatia to the list of banned symbols from the Nazi period.

More Beiburg news can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Austrian Court Sentences Croat for Nazi Salute at Bleiburg Commemoration

ZAGREB, August 1, 2019 - A court in Klagenfurt, Austria on Thursday sentenced a 48-year-old Croatian citizen to 18 months' imprisonment for repeating the offence of displaying Nazi symbols, i.e. showing the Hitler salute at this year's Bleiburg commemoration, Austrian media reported.

The man pleaded guilty and said the Hitler salute would be "perceived more mildly" in Croatia, but conceded that he had drunk too much and done a "really stupid thing."

He has been in custody since mid-May. Two months of the 18-month sentence are non-suspended.

Prosecutor Christian Pirker said the salute was a deliberate act of provocation because it was done after the commemoration.

Judge Gernor Kugi took the perpetrator's high intoxication as a mitigating circumstance and called the sentence as "preventative" for participants in future Bleiburg commemorations.

The commemoration is held annually in Loibach Field near the town of Bleiburg for soldiers of Croatia's Nazi-allied Ustasha regime who were killed there at the end of World War II.

This year's gathering was held under tighter security after Austria added symbols of the 1941-45 Independent State of Croatia to the list of banned symbols from the Nazi period.

The Croat sentenced today was the only offender at this year's commemoration. Last year, seven persons were arrested for displaying Nazi symbols.

More news about the Bleiburg commemoration can be found in the Politics section.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Bleiburg Commemoration Passes without Major Incident

ZAGREB, May 19, 2019 - The gathering in Loibach field, outside Bleiburg in the southern Austrian region of Carinthia, held on Saturday to commemorate soldiers of Croatia's Nazi-allied Ustasha regime who were killed there at the end of World War II, passed without major incident, local police said.

Police said that far fewer people attended the event than announced, adding that one person was detained for using the Nazi salute at the end of the commemoration.

Last year seven persons were detained and penalised for displaying banned insignia. Judge Christian Liebhauser-Karl was quoted as saying that the absence of incidents at this year's commemoration was due to resolute police action last year.

On March 1 this year, Austria amended its law that bans the display of symbols of outlawed organisations to include Ustasha insignia.

This year's commemoration attracted about 10,000 people, or a third fewer than expected, APA news agency said quoting Carinthia police. The two protest rallies against the Loibach field gathering were also attended by fewer people than expected, attracting about 100 persons in total, it added.

During a solemn mass in the Lobach field, Krk Bishop Ivica Petanjek said in his sermon that Croatian people had the right to and should preserve the memory of their past and pay tribute to all the victims.

Petanjek said that the Bleiburg commemoration showed that people could not be deprived of their memories. "Gatherings such as this one indicate that memory cannot be taken away from people, because we know very well what a person who has lost it resembles."

"May all who hear this try to understand that they cannot destroy such gatherings, because when our grandmothers and parents transmitted memories of past events to us, they were not transmitting hatred but only remembrance in the light of Christian faith. We are not here today because we hate anyone but for the sake of our loved ones, whom we pray for and commend to God’s mercy," he said in his sermon.

Petanjek warned that "we are only ostensibly living in a united Europe". In recent months, we have clearly understood that we are in the European Union but the borders between us are like high mountains, he underscored. He also added that a lot of strength had been invested into efforts to show only one opinion about the events commemorated in Bleiburg.

It has been made possible for those who for decades did their utmost to erase our people's memories of the past events, to raise their heads again and show how huge darkness was in their hearts, the bishop said in reference to efforts of opponents who insisted on the ban of the Bleiburg commemorations.

"I believe that among our people are many wise and reasonable individuals who are ready to open their hearts and minds to the Truth and believe the Truth, without waiting for the truth to come from Europe or across the ocean. Why do we expect and ask others to evaluate us, judge us and impose their truth upon us," wondered Petanjek.

"How long shall we litigate among ourselves? How long will others judge us and tell us what is true? When shall we want to hear the word of truth, sit at the same table and live in fellowship as brothers and sisters?"

More Bleiburg news can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Commemoration of 74th Anniversary of Bleiburg Begins

ZAGREB, May 18, 2019 - A commemoration on the occasion of the 74th anniversary of the Bleiburg tragedy, which was under a lot of public pressure in recent weeks, began at Loibach Field near Bleiburg, Austria on Saturday with prayer at the Croatian grave at the Unterloibach cemetery.

After that, there would be a procession to the field, where mass will be served, followed by a prayer for the Islamic faithful and wreath-laying at the monument to the victims.

For the first time, the commemoration will not include political speeches nor the presence of Croatia's top state officials.

The commemoration has drawn a large number of people, as well as police, and the area is full of warnings that everything is under video surveillance. Participants carry the Croatian flag and no banned insignia have been spotted.

In March, the Klagenfurt Diocese rejected a request by the Croatian Bishops' Conference to hold mass at the commemoration, saying it was being politically instrumentalised and that it had become part of a political-national ritual in the service of a selective interpretation of history.

Media speculated the commemoration was in question, which prompted Croatian state officials to talk with their Austrian counterparts, after which the commemoration was approved as a public gathering.

Croatian Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković on Thursday laid wreaths at the monument in the Loibach field, saying he came to pay tribute to all victims and dismissing what he described as attempts to politicise his act and noting that he did not come to downplay the nature of the WWII Ustasha regime.

Before visiting Bleiburg, Jandroković and his associates laid wreaths at monuments to people killed in the aftermath of WWII at the Dobrava cemetery near Maribor, Slovenia, and they are expected to lay wreaths on their way back to Croatia at Macelj, a town on the border with Slovenia.

A week before, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović lit candles and laid flowers at memorials at Bleiburg and at Macelj and Huda Jama in Slovenia, paying her respects to those killed in May 1945

The organiser of the commemoration, the Honorary Bleiburg Platoon, called on everyone not to display Ustasha symbols or use salutes or insignia that are banned by Croatian and Austrian law.

The Croatian government's envoys at the commemoration are ministers Lovro Kuščević and Tomo Medved.

Last week, antifascist associations from Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Italy held a rally in Bleiburg, asking the Austrian government to ban the commemoration, which they said was "an event that is being promoted as a gathering of believers who want to pay tribute to innocent victims killed in the aftermath of WWII," but "is nothing but a lament for the failed Ustasha para-state."

They said the Austrian government had the duty to ban the rally under its constitution and in compliance with the European policy of fighting fascism and neo-fascism.

More news about Bleiburg can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 17 May 2019

Austrian Police Announce Resolute Action for Violations at Bleiburg

ZAGREB, May 17, 2019 - Carinthia's police on Thursday released an extensive action plan regarding the Bleiburg commemoration on Saturday and announced uncompromising action at even the slightest hint that the law might be broken.

If there is any disrespect of the law or threat to public peace, the police will act uncompromisingly and resolutely. That includes instantaneous arrest for breaches of the law which bans displaying prohibited insignia, a press release said.

Representatives from the Klangenfurt prosecutor's office will be in the field to provide immediate arrest warrants as will representatives from the federal office for aliens which should contribute to increasing efficiency.

The press release, signed by the Carinthian police head of PR, Rainer Dionisio, said that 15,000 people are expected at the commemoration in the Loibach field near the town of Bleiburg, mostly from Croatia, with a smaller number coming from Austria, Switzerland and Germany, that is about 5,000 more than last year.

More police will be deployed this year considering that the event has come under the remit of the law on public gatherings after the Klangenfurt diocese refused to give its approval for Mass to be held during the commemoration.

About 410 police will be deployed, including members of special police units, as well as 10 guide dogs and two explosives experts, 2 helicopters and 12 Croatian police officers.

The police recalled that insignia, particularly from the period of the WWII Independent State of Croatia (NDH) and those of the Third Reich, are banned in Austria.

The increased number of law enforcement officers by one-third in comparison with last year is also due to the significantly higher number of participants expected, the press release said.

On the other hand, the police wish to prevent any "direct conflicts" between people attending the commemoration and those attending two protest rallies against the commemoration that are being organised by leftist Austrian initiatives.

All three gatherings will be monitored with static and mobile video surveillance.

More news about the Bleiburg commemoration can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Parliament Speaker Lays Wreath at Bleiburg

ZAGREB, May 16, 2019 - Croatian Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković on Thursday laid wreaths at a monument in the Loibach field near the Austrian town of Bleiburg, saying that he came to pay tribute to all victims and dismissing what he described as attempts to politicise his act and noting that he did not come to downplay the nature of the World War II Ustasha regime.

"I came here to pay tribute to the victims, to people who were killed without a verdict and out of revenge, who were thrown into mass graves and whose identities and exact number we do not know. Some speak of tens of thousands, some of a higher number, and it is the duty of us all to commemorate those victims," Jandroković told reporters after he and his associates laid wreaths at the monument to the victims of the Bleiburg tragedy.

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

"We also must condemn crimes. This is a crime of the Communist regime with which it showed that it did not care about human rights or international conventions, and it paved the way to the subsequent totalitarian rule, human rights breaches and the lack of democracy and freedom," said Jandroković.

Asked by reporters why he would not attend the official commemoration, scheduled for May 18, Jandroković said: "Because I decided to come here today. I want to commemorate the victims and condemn the communist crime."

He was then asked if the reason why he would not attend the official commemoration was the fact that he had been booed at last year's commemoration, to which he answered in the negative.

"I am against the politicisation of any gathering at which tribute is paid to victims. I would like all of us in Croatia to embrace the culture of remembering the victims of totalitarian regimes as something that is a civilisational achievement and our obligation to those who live in Croatia today and to the future generations."

It is up to the parliament speaker to decide who his envoys will be, but here we commemorate a tragic event and sending any political messages would be inappropriate, Jandroković said when asked why none of the deputy parliament speakers would attend the official commemoration, except for Milijan Brkić, who said that he would attend the event as a private person.

"Croatia has laws and we should all respect them as regards Ustasha symbols. The prime minister established a commission that discussed the legacy of totalitarian regimes and made certain conclusions. I think that we should respect those conclusions and enforce them through laws," said Jandroković.

Asked who the 1945 Croatian army was to which he paid tribute by laying a wreath at the monument in the Loibach field, Jandroković said that he dismissed "any attempt at politicisation at this site."

"I came here to bow to the victims, I did not come to downplay the nature of the Ustasha regime or the NDH."

Before visiting Bleiburg, Jandroković and his associates laid wreaths at monuments to people killed in the aftermath of World War II at the Dobrava cemetery near Maribor, Slovenia, and they are expected to lay wreaths on their way back to Croatia at Macelj, a town on the border with Slovenia.

More news about the controversial Bleiburg commemoration can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Ministers Kuščević, Medved to Attend Controversial Bleiburg Commemoration

ZAGREB, May 15, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Wednesday Public Administration Minister Lovro Kuščević and War Veterans Minister Tomo Medved would attend Saturday's 74th commemoration for the Bleiburg victims in Austria on the government's behalf, while President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović's office said her envoy would be her chief-of-staff Anamarija Kirinić.

Speaking to the press in Karlovac, Plenković said he would not attend due to other commitments. In Zagreb on Saturday, his HDZ party will hold the main rally for the European Parliament elections, which will be attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the European People's Party spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber.

The Bleiburg commemoration is held under parliament's auspices and Speaker Gordan Jandroković's envoy there will be MP Ante Sanader. Jandroković will pay his respects to the Bleiburg victims on Thursday by laying wreaths at the monument to the post-WWII victims at Dobrava cemetery near Maribor, Slovenia, at the monument at Bleiburg field in Austria, and at the monument in Macelj, Croatia.

Two protests have been announced for Saturday that oppose the Bleiburg commemoration at the Loibach field near the town of Bleiburg, Austria and only one has been approved so far, Austrian media reported on Wednesday.

The first protest is being organised by Martin Diendofer of the Independent Left organisation. It will be held in the town of Bleiburg itself and has already been approved by the police.

The second protest that is being organised by a former member of parliament of the Green Party, Karl Oellinger, has not been approved yet as it is planned to be held in the actual field. It is assumed that the police fear a direct conflict with members attending the commemoration in the Loibach field.

A rally with about 200 protesters was held at the field last Saturday, organised by Carinthian Partisans, who are opposed to the commemoration.

The Alliance for the Future of Austria, a right populist party, has called on Austrian authorities to ban the protest by Partisan veterans and withdraw subsidies for Carinthian Partisans, accusing them of wanting to divide Carinthia.

Austrian media have reported that over the past few years, during the commemoration for post WWII victims held in Bleiburg, several people had been arrested for displaying Nazi insignia, and that this year legislation has been amended to ban insignia of the WWII Ustasha-run Independent State of Croatia (NDH).

Austria's APA news agency described the commemoration as a "gathering of people who live in the past and who misinterpret the role of NDH as a vassal of Hitler's Germany."

More news about the Bleiburg commemoration can be found in the Politics section.

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