News 11 May 17

Austrians Seek to Ban Croatian WWII Commemoration

The Austrian state of Carinthia is being urged to ban a Croatian event at Bleiburg commemorating defeated Nazi collaboration forces and civilians killed by the Yugoslav Partisans in 1945.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
The Bleiburg commemoration in 2016. Photo: Beta.

A total of 21 political organisations, rights NGOs and anti-fascist groups have called on the local authorities in the Austrian state of Carinthia to ban Saturday’s annual commemoration of the Croatian collaboration forces and civilians who were captured and killed in 1945, Austrian national broadcaster ORF reported on Wednesday.

“The gathering in memory of the [Croatian WWII Nazi-aligned movement] Ustasa state has become the largest neo-Nazi congregation in Europe,” the petitioners wrote in their letter to Carinthia’s Prime Minister Peter Kaiser on Wednesday.

Karl Oellinger, an MP from Austria’s Greens party, said that the Bleiburg commemoration represents “the largest meeting of revisionists, neo-Nazis and followers of a fascist state”.

But the Carinthia office for protection of the constitutional order defines the event, which has been held for 30 years, as “a church gathering”.

“This gathering can’t be banned under Austrian law,” Gert-Andre Kloesch, president of the Voelkermarkt district, told the Austrian Press Agency, APA on Wednesday.

Kloesch said that in recent years, only one person has been arrested and convicted of doing a Nazi salute at the event, while no swastikas have been displayed.

“We can’t intervene against uniforms and symbols that are banned in Croatia, but not in Austria,” he said.

Austrian NGOs tried last year to have the event banned, but the police and the office for protection of the constitutional order said that the law prohibiting the use of Nazi symbols or Nazi surrogate symbols cannot be applied in this case.

'Za dom spremni' on a Croatian 1990s war veteran's uniform at the Bleiburg commemoration in 2016. Photo: Beta.

Bleiburg’s mayor Stefan Visotsching said meanwhile that he was unhappy about the commemoration being held in the town.

“As a social democrat, I don’t approve of it, and I think that here [other] real reasons lie behind the scene of a church gathering,” he said.

He said that he cannot ban the event himself since it takes place on private property.

At the commemoration on Saturday, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic will send State Property Minister Goran Maric as her personal envoy, while the new chair of parliament, Gordan Jandrokovic, from the governing centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, will make a speech.

Fleeing troops from the Ustasa-led Independent State of Croatia, NDH, along with other collaboration forces from Serbia and Slovenia, accompanied by thousands of civilians, surrendered to the British Army and Yugoslav Partisans in Bleiburg on May 15, 1945.

The captives were then taken back to Yugoslavia by the Partisans. There is no precise death toll, but thousands were killed on the way, most of them in Tezno and Macelj in Slovenia.

The commemoration was held in Yugoslav times by Croat émigrés and the Catholic Church, which is still one of the organisers, holding a mass for victims and their families.

The Croatian state reintroduced the support for the event in 2016.

In recent years there have been cases of individuals wearing Ustasa insignia and symbols, as well as chanting their slogan ‘Za dom spremni’ (‘Ready for the Home(land)’) or singing inappropriate songs.

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