World-leading Jewish human rights group, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has urged Bosnian authorities to ban the recently announced Catholic Mass for the Bleiburg killings when tens of thousands of Croatian pro-Nazis were killed by the then Yugoslav authorities.
Honouring “the genocidal Ustasha state (Independent State of Croatia – NDH) is not only an insult to its victims and their families, but also to all those who opposed the crimes committed by the Ustasha,” the Center said in their Thursday statement, referring to the World War II Croatian puppet pro-Nazi regime.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the events at Bleiburg, a small Austrian town on the border with Slovenia, where thousands of members of the Nazi-allied fascist Ustasha regime, together with pro-regime civilians, had surrendered to the British forces in the closing stages of World War II, only to be turned over to communist Partisans who then sent them on a death march back to Yugoslavia.
The Catholic mass in Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina – which during World War II was part of the fascist Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia (NDH) – had been announced as a replacement for the open-air gathering normally held at Bleiburg itself, due to the restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Ustasha regime, which ran the Nazi-allied NDH on the territory which comprised much of present-day Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1941 to 1945, persecuted ethnic minorities, including Serbs, Jews, and Roma. At its main extermination camp at Jasenovac, official estimates say that more than 80,000 people had perished, including some 20,000 children up to 14 years of age.
Croatian nationalists, on the other hand, see the controversial annual event as a symbol of their suffering under communism in the former Yugoslavia before they fought a war for independence in the 1990s.
The central commemoration ceremony in Sarajevo is scheduled to be performed by Archbishop Vinko Puljic, the highest-ranking clergyman of the Catholic Church in Bosnia. A parallel event is to be held at a graveyard in the Croatian capital.