Franciscan blames politicians for manipulating with the Bleiburg massacre

NEWS 14.05.2020 18:18
Source: N1

The quarrel that erupted in Sarajevo over a Holy Mass which should be held at the city’s cathedral for the victims of a massacre committed by Yugoslav Partisans at the end of WWII is a clash between two truths that is being used for manipulation by politicians, a Franciscan professor said on Thursday.

Fra Ivo Markovic, professor at the Franciscan Theological Faculty in Sarajevo explained that there are opposite perceptions of the Bleiburg massacre and that politics has dropped this problem into the lap of the Church, which now has to deal with the controversy.


Where there are more truths, “they turn into ideologies, incomplete truths with special needs” and as such, they have to become peacefully ripe in order to become one, the professor said.

The announcement that a mass for the victims of the 1945 mass killings near the Austrian town of Bleiburg will be held at the Sarajevo Cathedral on Saturday prompted public outrage because the victims of the massacre are seen as Nazi collaborators who don’t deserve to be commemorated.

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 Nazi-allied Croatian nationalists, called 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 controversial event in Bleiburg was cancelled this year due to the pandemic and the organisers said it will be held in different cities instead, among them in Sarajevo.

But many Sarajevans see the commemoration as an attempt to rehabilitate the Ustasha regime that committed gruesome crimes in the country and the city.

For Croats, Bleiburg remains the worst cataclysm in their history. The victorious Partisans executed a yet undetermined number of fleeing armies and civilians.

The forces that committed the crimes were mainly made up of Serbs who sought revenge for the crimes the Ustasha regime had previously committed against Serbs, Jews, communists and others, Fra Ivo Markovic said.

Even after the war, communists continued to demonize the Croats as a “fascist, genocidal, backward killer nation,” he said.

“Tens of thousands of widows and many more children lived and grew up in fear and in silence, bearing their pain and stigma and craving for the day when they will be able to express their truth and pain,” he said.

Bleiburg remains the biggest wound that still hurts Catholic Croats and that would need to heal in order for the Croat people to regain their dignity and for the wound to stop being a subject of manipulation, he argued.

After the fall of communism and the dissolution of Yugoslavia, expectations were high that the crime will finally be investigated, but the Croatian government led by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), made up mainly of former communists such as the first Croatian President, Franjo Tudjman, showed no interest for such an endeavour and left it to the Catholic Church to bear the burden of safeguarding the memories of the Croat people, the professor explained.

He accused every Croatian government so far of abusing the massacre for manipulation in an effort to gain political points.

He argued that the commemoration of the Bleiburg massacre has been “maximally politicized” and that it cannot be simply viewed as a sermon, arguing that it turned into a problem in light of the resolute stance of Europe has taken on fascism.

Croatia is not accepting the political part of the problem and is now, as the chair of the Council of Europe, dumping it into the lap of the Catholic Church which is trying to avoid holding the Mass in Zagreb and therefore putting the burden on the Catholic Church in Bosnia, he added.

Fra Ivo Markovic cited the head of the Islamic Community, Grand Mufti Husein Kavazovic, who “wisely” said that “in Sarajevo, the religious (aspect) mixed with the secular and the political and the Archbishop did not pay enough attention to that.”

He went on to explain the complex relationship between the Church and fascism and communism and said that the victims of fascism, “particularly Jews, Roma, communists and Serbs” are blaming the Catholic Church for their suffering.

Jews are now perceiving the Mass for the Bleiburg victims as an expression of disrespect toward their pain and as amnesty for fascists, he said, adding that the Serbian Orthodox Church and WWII veterans feel the same way while Kavazovic blames Croatia as being politically responsible for the controversy while leaving it up to the Church.

The goal of the Mass is to let the truth about Bleiburg be known but “if that Mass is producing other effects, then it is controversial,” he argued.

“The way it is presented now, the Mass is jeopardizing the achievements and the existence of the Interreligious Council, it closes the door for ecumenical perspective in Bosnia and cuts ties with the Jews,” he warned.

There is a need for an explanation and a dialogue with the Jews, the veterans, the Serbs who should have been told beforehand that the Mass is in no way meant to be an exculpation of fascism but just a prayer, he said, adding that it is not too late for such a dialogue. He suggested that Archbishop Puljic should visit the Jewish Community, the head of the Orthodox Church and the veteran's association to explain this to them.

If it stays the way it is, the Croat National Assembly (HNS, an organisation of Croat political parties) will use the situation to “drive Croats crazy,” while not doing anything for the victims of Bleiburg, he stressed.

The support Croat nationalists are expressing for the Archbishop is the “biggest trap set for the Catholic Church” in Bosnia, the professor concluded.