There is no reason for a planned Holy Mass in honour of tens of thousands of Nazi-allied Ustasa troops and civilians whom Yugoslav Partisans killed in 1945 to cancelled as it is not an ideological event or aimed against anybody, the secretary-general of Bosnia’s Bishops’ Conference, Ivo Tomasevic, told N1 on Friday.
Critics, among them the association of Bosnia’s anti-fascists and WWII veterans, slammed Bosnia’s Catholic Archbishop Vinko Puljic for agreeing to lead the Mass while city authorities were urged to sanction those who are “trying to revise history.”
“The Mass is not aimed against anyone. It is not advocating for any ideology. It is always in favour of humans and for dignity. The Church always propagates love toward God and humans, cooperation, truth and justice, and this Holy Mass will take place in that same spirit,” Tomasevic said.
He said that the Catholic Church is the bearer and advocate of peace “based on truth and justice” and that it has proven it many times in the past.
“This has especially been proven by Vinko Puljic, who remained in Sarajevo during the (1992-1995) war while it was under siege, pleaded for peace and called for unity and cooperation, and he still does so today,” he said.
“That is why I am truly amazed by the reactions of those who, 30 years after the arrival of democracy to this area, want to take us back to a one-party system, when the truth could only be what one party says, instead of them following the true values that protect human dignity,” he added.
Amid a Yugoslav army offensive aimed at defeating pro-Nazi and anti-communist forces, tens of thousands of mostly pro-fascist Croat soldiers and their families fled in 1945 toward Austria to seek help from the British army, only to be turned back by the Brits right into the hands of anti-fascists.
In and around the Austrian town of Bleiburg, thousands of the so-called Ustashas were killed.
The Yugoslav forces saw the slaughter they committed as punishment for the tens of thousands of Jews, Serbs, Roma and anti-fascists killed by the Ustasha during WWII.
After the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Croatia began commemorating the Bleiburg victims with a large gathering near the Austrian town every year.
Croatian nationalists perceive the controversial annual event as a symbol of their suffering under communism.
Austrians, however, see it as a glorification of Nazism and have banned Ustasha flags and insignia at the gathering.
The Catholic Church in Carinthia rejected last year a request from Croatia’s Bishops’ Conference to hold a Mass during the event, labelling it as a promotion of nationalist ideas.
The event in Bleiburg was cancelled this year due to the pandemic and the organisers of the event, the Honorary Bleiburg Platoon, said it will be held in different cities instead, among them in Sarajevo.
The program will include a Mass at the city’s Sacred Heart Cathedral on May 16.
Tomasevic argued that many of those killed in Bleiburg were civilians and that those who massacred them were never brought to justice.
“We still don’t know where the bodies of thousands of people are buried. The truth about these people must be brought to light,” he said, adding that the Church and the clergy will always pray for those who passed away.
“We can not judge on crimes because we are not courts, we are the Church and we pray for the dead and on this occasion, we pray especially for the thousands who were killed returning from the Bleiburg field.
The Church always prayed for them and will continue to do so,” he said. “We expect it to be investigated and the truth to be revealed, that there is an attempt to reveal the truth in order to give those victims worthy reverence. The prayer will take place in that spirit.”