The Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner said on Friday that the mass planned to be held on Saturday in Sarajevo for the victims of the 1945 killings near Bleiburg, Austria, risks becoming a glorification of Nazi supporters.
The mass was announced by Bosnia’s Cardinal Vinko Puljic, who said that Croat Catholic bishops organize a mass for the Bleiburg victims every year and that this year it was his turn to lead it.
The commemoration is usually held in Bleiburg but was cancelled because of the pandemic and the anniversary will instead be marked with events in several cities, including Sarajevo.
The announcement of such a mass in the Sarajevo cathedral has prompted outrage among citizens, who view the Bleiburg victims as supporters of the pro-Nazi Ustasha regime who committed heinous crimes in the city during WWII.
Artists, anti-fascists and other groups have announced a peaceful protest on Saturday, while an NGO hung life-size cardboard silhouettes of people at a downtown square where the Ustasha regime hung 55 anti-fascists in 1945.
Saturday’s commemoration “risks becoming a glorification of those who supported the Nazi-allied fascist Ustasha regime, complicit in the death of hundreds of thousands of human beings,” Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic said in a statement posted on Facebook.
“Such a commemoration would represent an additional attack on the victims of that regime, fly in the face of the ideals and principles of antifascism on which European countries have been built after WWII, and deal a severe blow to the efforts towards reconciliation in the region,” she said.
Mijatovic called on political and religious leaders in the region to work together to rebuild trust between peoples and urged them to refrain from taking steps that reinforce divisions and intolerance.