ZAGREB, March 8, 2019 – The Roman Catholic Church in the Austrian federal state of Carinthia has turned down a request by the Croatian Bishops Conference (HBK) to hold a mass at Loibach, a field near Bleiburg because the event is used for political purposes, the local church said on Friday.
“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,” reads a statement signed by the secretary of the Klagenfurt Diocese, Msgr. Engelbert Guggenberger.
The statement further notes that the event in Loibach harms the reputation of the Catholic Church. “… if permission for Mass is granted, the overall perception of the event could rightfully be used as a basis to accuse the Catholic Church in Carinthia of instrumentalising a religious service for political purposes and not distancing itself from the Fascist worldview,” the statement said.
The decision to withhold permission for the religious service, which was planned for May 18 this year, was made after a thorough analysis of the 2018 gathering at Bleiburg as well as numerous conversations between representatives of the Austrian and Croatian bishops conferences, which also included believers of the Croat community in Carinthia and representatives of Austrian security authorities.
Even though the Bleiburg gathering is held on a private property, holding a religious service there requires permission from the Catholic Church in Carinthia.
Since last year Austria has been treating the Bleiburg commemoration more critically, at the initiative of several Austrian members of the European Parliament. Recently, a law went into force banning the display of Ustasha symbols, dating back to the time of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH).
The Bleiburg commemorations are held in tribute to tens of thousands of Croatian civilians and soldiers of the defeated Nazi-allied 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.
Croatian Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković has been informed of the news that the Roman Catholic Church in the Austrian federal state of Carinthia has rejected the Croatian Bishops Conference’s (HBK) request to hold a religious service at Bleiburg, and since the Bleiburg commemoration is held under the parliament’s auspices, he plans first to hold talks with the organisers of the event and then decide how to proceed and coordinate future actions.
According to sources close to Parliament Speaker Jandroković, talks will first be held with the Honorary Bleiburg Platoon and the Croatian Bishops Conference, which are the organisers of the commemoration, after which a decision will be made as to what to do next.
Foreign and European Affairs Minister Marija Pejčinović Burić would not comment on the decision of the Catholic Church in Austria either, saying only that a mass was the most appropriate way to commemorate victims of World War II. “One should not comment on other countries’ actions… for us Bleiburg is a place of remembrance and commemoration of the victims,” Pejčinović Burić told reporters.
More news on the Bleiburg commemorations can be found in the Politics section.