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.