Austria Debating a Ban on Controversial Commemoration at Bleiburg

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The prefect of Carinthia wants to ban the event which is traditionally held in May.

“The controls at Bleiburg will be stricter than ever this year. The Austrian State Attorney and judges will also be there. Anyone who commits a criminal offence will be detained, while those who commit a misdemeanour will be immediately punished and expelled from Austria,” says Bože Vukušić, the secretary general of the Honorary Bleiburg Platoon, which organised the commemoration at Bleiburg in Austria, reports Večernji List on April 21, 2018.

The annual commemoration held in May remembers soldiers and civilians of the Nazi-puppet Independent State of Croatia, who surrendered there to Western armies at the end of the World War II, but were later handed over to the Yugoslav partisans. During the subsequent return to Yugoslavia, many of the soldiers and civilians were killed.

While there is no doubt that mass killing did occur in the immediate post-WWII period, many say that the commemoration at Bleiburg is instead used to celebrate the Ustasha regime of the Independent State of Croatia. The Croatian Parliament has occasionally provided patronage of the commemoration, often depending on which party is in power in Croatia. The event is particularly controversial because some of the participants arrive dressed in Ustasha uniforms and insignia.

Every year before the commemoration at Bleiburg in Austria, which will this year be held on May 14, part of the Austrian public and politicians, mostly those from leftwing parties, react and demand that the event should be banned. Still, according to information from the Office of the Croatian President, as long as the commemoration is allowed and officially organised, the president will send her envoy. This year, the envoy will be State Property Minister Goran Marić. Many other Croatian politicians have not yet announced whether they will attend the event, although many are expected to do so.

Some Austrian politicians are still trying to ban the event. The liberals from the Neos party have called on liberal parties from Slovenia and Croatia, namely GLAS, to join them in demanding the ban of what they describe as an inappropriate commemoration of the Bleiburg tragedy. GLAS is expected to accept the call and join the Austrian initiative.

On Monday, a roundtable discussion will be held in Vienna, with representatives of the Jewish community, the Documentation Archive of Austrian Resistance (DÖW) and several members of the European Parliament. “The commemoration is justified. But, the abuse of the event must be prevented. I have proposed a roundtable involving everyone involved to ensure that all activities go smoothly,” said Othmar Karas from the Austrian People’s Party (OVP).

The Prefect of Carinthia Peter Kaiser and the Mayor of Bleiburg Stefan Visotschnig, both members of the Social-Democratic Party (SPÖ), are unhappy with the commemoration. “Eighty years after the fall of Austria after the annexation from the German Nazis, the new Carinthian government represents a political centre and therefore opposes any form of political extremism. This includes right-wing rallies which are held as ‘religious processions’ at Loibacher Feld (Bleiburg),” said Kaiser.

The Carinthian government has distanced itself from the event and condemned all the fascist statements given there. “Unfortunately, we cannot legally prevent the event from being held because that is within the competence of the State Ministry of the Interior,” said the Carinthia prefect.

Many say that the religious context of the event is being used to hide the real motives. They want the Austrian Ministry of the Interior to draft a new law since the current law prohibits Nazi insignia, but not the Ustasha symbols. Law experts explain that the Ustasha regime was a copy of the Hitler regime and that there was no legal difference between the two, so the law on the prohibition of Nazism should also refer to the celebration of its vassal regimes.

Reported in Večernji List by Sandra Veljković, Tea Romić, Snježana Herek, Petra Maretić-Žonja.


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