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.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Antifascists Ask Austrian Authorities to Ban "Neo-Nazi rally" in Bleiburg

ZAGREB, May 12, 2019 - Antifascists from Austria, Croatia, Italy and Slovenia on Saturday staged a protest rally in Bleiburg, Austria, asking the Austrian government to ban what they described as a gathering of "Ustashas and fascists" in the Loibach field near that town in the southern region of Carinthia.

The Honorary Bleiburg Platoon nongovernmental organisation traditionally organises in May, and the Croatian Parliament sponsors, a commemoration for civilians and soldiers of the defeated pro-Nazi Independent State of Croatia killed in the aftermath of World War II.

Last year Austrian police introduced harsh penalties for participants in the commemoration who display Ustasha and Nazi symbols, and the local church in Carinthia recently denied permission for the commemoration to be held as a religious gathering, saying that it harms the reputation of the Catholic Church.

Speakers at today's protest, which drew about 150 people and was held in the central square in Bleiburg, asked the Austrian government to respect its constitution and the European policy of fighting fascism and neo-fascism, and to ban the commemoration, which is to be held on May 18.

"We have gathered again this year to raise our voice against 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 it is not that," said Franjo Habulin, head of the Association of Antifascist Fighters and Antifascists of Croatia (SABA).

"The gathering in Bleiburg is nothing but a lament for the failed Ustasha para-state, a movement and ideology that severely compromised Croatia's name and left a blood trace," said Habulin. He said that "both the Catholic Church in Croatia and the Croatian state are participating in that deceit."

"Any family has the right to mourn their loved ones who were killed, regardless of who they were or how they ended up. However, no civilised European country has the right to participate in commemorating the fall of Nazi-Fascism. And gatherings in Bleiburg serve exactly that purpose, with the blessing of the Church in Croatia," said Habulin.

Representatives of World War II antifascist fighters from Italy, Slovenia and Austria, too, spoke against the Bleiburg commemoration.

The commemoration in Bleiburg has been held since 1952, and since 1995 it has been held under the auspices of the Croatian parliament, with the exception of the period from 2012 to 2015 when the Social Democratic Party was in power.

The Honorary Bleiburg Platoon on Monday called on all who planned to attend the commemoration to refrain from using any symbols or chants that are in contravention of Croatian and Austrian laws.

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

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Plenković: Bleiburg Commemoration Should Be in Line with Austrian Laws

ZAGREB, May 11, 2019 - The Bleiburg commemoration should take place this year too regardless of the Church and political controversies that surround it in Austria, but in accordance with Austrian laws, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in an interview with the Večernji List daily of Saturday.

The annual commemoration is held in a field outside Bleiburg in the southern Austrian province of Carinthia 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.

This year's ceremony is planned for May 18.

Plenković recalled that the commemoration was sponsored by the Croatian Parliament, which thus condemned all crimes against innocent Croatians killed in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Commenting on the statement by Bruna Esih of the right-wing Independents for Croatia party that May 8, Liberation of Zagreb Day, was in fact the day of Zagreb's fall, the Prime Minister said that Croatia was on the victorious side in the war and that the Croatian society was being built on the culture of remembrance of all victims of totalitarian regimes, human rights protection and rejection of intolerance.

As for the unions-led signature gathering campaign for a referendum against raising the statutory retirement age to 67, Plenković said that the campaign was aimed at undoing the effects of the pension reform. He added that the purpose of the reform was to increase pensions, eliminate discrimination against pensioners and make the pension system sustainable, recalling that the idea of working until 67 had also existed in a law adopted by the SDP government.

Explaining why the government was conducting the media campaign about the pension reform, the prime minister said that the government had the responsibility to keep the public informed of how it was implementing its reform, noting that the Constitutional Court saw nothing questionable about the campaign either.

Commenting on the forthcoming visit to Zagreb of the European People's Party's lead candidate in the European Parliament elections, Manfred Weber, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Plenković said that they had not chosen Zagreb accidentally, but that their visit signalled respect for his Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party and the direction in which Croatia was going.

Speaking of Croatia's cooperation with China, the PM said that their cooperation was within the strategy of China-EU relations, adding that the construction of the Pelješac Bridge by a Chinese consortium was the most important project in the EU's current financial perspective.

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

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Stricter Rules to be Applied for Bleiburg Commemoration

ZAGREB, April 28, 2019 - A commemoration for the Bleiburg victims will be held in the Loibach field near the Austrian town of Bleiburg this year again, despite strong opposition in Austria, but contrary to what the organiser, the Honorary Bleiburg Platoon, had hoped for, the event will not be treated as a religious gathering, says the Večernji List daily of Sunday.

The event will be officially treated as a public assembly, which implies stronger police presence, the daily said quoting participants in a meeting held between a delegation of the Honorary Bleiburg Platoon and officials of Voelkermarkt District, to which Bleiburg belongs.

"This means that the Austrian authorities did not accept the position of the Honorary Bleiburg Platoon which guaranteed the Austrians, with the support of the Croatian authorities, that the event to be held in the Loibach field would be exclusively a religious gathering, namely a prayer and a procession without any political speeches. According to unofficial information, the district authorities have a different position on the matter largely due to the position of Engelbert Guggenberger, administrator of the Gurk-Klagenfurt Diocese, who was asked by the local authorities for a final assessment on whether the event is really a religious gathering. He answered in the negative, which is why the regime to be in force during the event will be different," Večernji List says.

It notes that this is not the first time the diocesan administrator in Klagenfurt has opposed the Bleiburg commemoration, scheduled for May 18.

The daily recalls that Guggenberger previously turned down a request by the Croatian Bishops Conference for a Croatian bishop to serve Mass at the commemoration.

The new official interpretation of the nature of the Bleiburg commemoration is also in line with a letter which Peter Kaiser, the Social Democrat governor of the federal state of Carinthia, where Bleiburg is located, sent to Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, asking the federal authorities to prevent potential incidents at and in connection with the commemoration which, he said, could harm Austria's international reputation.

Kaiser also asked Kurz to apply the law on public assembly to the commemoration, which has evidently been accepted, Večernji List says.

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. Many were executed on the spot, while many perished during so-called death marches back to Yugoslavia.

The Catholic Church in Carinthia, or rather the Gurk-Klagenfurt Diocese, in March denied permission for this year's Mass in the Loibach field as part of the annual commemorative event.

"If permission for Mass were granted, the overall perception of the event could rightfully be used as a basis to accuse the Catholic Church of Carinthia of instrumentalising a religious service for political purposes and not distancing itself from the Fascist worldview," the diocese said.

More Bleiburg news can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Croatian and Austrian Parliament Speakers Discuss Bleiburg Commemoration

ZAGREB, April 9, 2019 - Croatia's Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković and the President of the Austrian National Council, Wolfgang Sobotka, confirmed in Vienna on Monday that the Bleiburg commemoration would be held this year as planned but warned that Austrian law would have to be strictly adhered to, particularly a ban on displaying fascist insignia.

Jandroković and Sobotka met on the margins of a conference of speakers of EU member countries' and aspirant countries' parliaments, stating that cooperation between the two parliaments and the two countries was at an enviable level.

The two officials also discussed the commemoration at the Loibach field near the town of Bleiburg in Austria in light of differing interpretations of the nature of the commemoration and Austria's attitude to it.

"Bleiburg too was a topic. We agreed that neither side wants or tolerates fascist insignia," Sobotka told reporters, adding that it was clear that the commemoration would be held in accordance with Austrian laws.

Jandroković confirmed that the commemoration would be held and that Austrian laws would have to be adhered to. He said that as the head of Austria's parliament Sobotka understood Croatia's position on this issue very well.

"This is a commemoration whereby we wish to pay tribute to the victims and that is the main idea behind the event in Bleiburg. It is clear to both sides that the commemoration must not be used for any political purpose and that any fascist and Ustasha symbols are especially unacceptable. We agreed that special attention would be dedicated to preventing any politicisation or abuse by extremist political groups," Jandroković said.

He called on all those planning to attend the Bleiburg commemoration this year to make sure tribute was paid to the victims in a dignified way.

Jandroković added that relations between Croatia and Austria were traditionally good and friendly and that they would remain that way, as well as that the two countries would strengthen their economic cooperation and participate in joint projects in Southeast Europe.

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

Friday, 22 March 2019

Austria, Croatia Should Jointly Deal with Complicated History of Bleiburg

ZAGREB, March 22, 2019 - The president of the Austrian Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, said on Friday Austria and Croatia should jointly deal with the historical issue of Bleiburg. "I think we need a culture of dealing with history," the Archbishop of Vienna said after a meeting of the country's Bishops' Conference.

The cardinal said it would be good to form a joint commission that would deal with Bleiburg's "complicated history." "I think we need something like that, otherwise we will stay at the level of conflict," he added.

He concluded that for now Austria saw only a "fascist gathering" occurring at Bleiburg, while Croatia's focus was on the painful history of ancestors, the Austrian news agency APA said. "Bleiburg symbolises a very painful period in the history of the Croatian people, with many thousands dead," he said.

The cardinal concluded that a systematic dealing with this issue would prevent "certain groups" from instrumentalising it.

He confirmed that the Gurk-Klagenfurt Diocese had turned down a request by the Croatian Bishops' Conference (HGK) to hold a commemorative service at Loibach field near Bleiburg, but said "people can't be banned from coming to Bleiburg" and that the ban referred only to the Mass.

The Gurk-Klagenfurt Diocese recently denied permission for this year's Mass in the Loibach field as part of a ceremony commemorating members of Nazi-allied Croatian forces killed there at the end of World War II.

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. Many were executed on the spot, while many perished during so-called death marches back to Yugoslavia.

The Roman Catholic Church in Carinthia turned down the HBK's request to hold Mass at Loibach, claiming the event was used for political purposes.

"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," according to a statement signed by the secretary of the Gurk-Klagenfurt Diocese, Msgr. Engelbert Guggenberger.

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

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