A group of experts authorised by the Austrian Interior Ministry to evaluate the annual gathering at Bleiburg has recommended banning it, it was said in Vienna on Wednesday.
The gathering is held annually in Loibach Field near Bleiburg, Carinthia to commemorate soldiers of the Nazi-allied Croatian Ustasha regime and civilians killed there at the end of WWII.
The report was presented to the Austrian government today by Interior Minister Karl Nehammer. The next step is to give the commission’s opinion in parliament.
The interior minister must present concrete plans to ban the gathering, Carinthian Prime Minister Peter Kaiser said after the expert committee submitted its report to the government.
He added that he was pleased with the report and expected the Austrian authorities to point out to the Croatian authorities that the gathering was not viable in the form it had been held so far.
The commemoration, officially organised by the Honorary Bleiburg Platoon, has been held under the auspices of the Croatian parliament.
In 2020, following debates on the political dimension of the gathering in recent years, the ÖVP, SPÖ, Greens, and Neos parliamentary parties commissioned expert evaluations of its compliance with the constitution. Only the populist-right FPÖ did not join the request to form an expert commission.
The commission comprised historians, lawyers, and representatives of the Catholic Church, the Interior Ministry and the Carinthian authorities.
Taking into account the constitutional prerequisites, international commitments and the legal foundations of the Constitutional Court, the report said, the commission concluded that the gathering, primarily such as it was held in 2019 and before, should be banned.
Honouring a fascist regime must be banned because the constitution demands it, if for no other reason, the report added, as per Austrian media reports.
The commission underlined that the ban did not apply to “a neutral commemoration or Catholic mass.”
Nehammer said Nazi and fascist symbols, which could be seen in previous years at the gathering, had no place at the commemoration. “Glorifying terror regimes is unacceptable in Austria. We will prevent any attempt to spread extreme right and revisionist worldviews at gatherings,” he told the APA news agency.
Austrian Justice Minister Alma Zadic said the fundamental anti-fascist consensus contained in the Austrian constitution “will finally be applied when it comes to the Bleiburg gathering.”
In recent years, following reactions by the Social Democrat authorities in Carinthia, the Austrian authorities added Ustaha insignia, displayed by some attending the Bleiburg gatherings, to the list of banned symbols.
Last year, Church authorities withheld their permit for holding a mass for the Bleiburg victims, so it was held on private property, led by representatives of the Catholic Church in Croatia.