A Mass the Catholic Church in Bosnia intends to hold for those killed in Bleiburg in 1945 appears to be an attempt to rehabilitate the Nazi-allied Ustasha movement and should not take place in Sarajevo, the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite Presidency, Milorad Dodik, said on Monday.
“Without wishing to dispute the right of any church or religious community to serve, I have to say that we are deeply disturbed even by the announcement of such a Mass,” Dodik said.
He argued that the announcement suggests “a suspicion that someone is, through a religious ritual, trying to rehabilitate the Ustasha movement, from which the Serb people have biologically not fully recovered even 75 years later.”
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 to 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 ass 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, delivered by Bosnia’s Catholic Archbishop, Vinko Puljic.
Dodik stressed that the mass should especially not take place in Sarajevo “from where the Ustashas have sent trains full of Serbs to death during World War II."