Austria’s ban on far-right gatherings forces Bleiburg event to be held in Zagreb

NEWS 13.05.202211:14 0 komentara

"The 77th anniversary of the events at Bleiburg in Austria is being commemorated this month, with the central commemoration to be held under the auspices of the Croatian parliament, set for 14 May at Zagreb's Mirogoj cemetery and also in Udbina in central Croatia," state agency Hina informed the public on Friday.

As part of this year’s commemorative events, a mass will be served at the parish church in Bleiburg, Austria, at 6 pm today, and Croatia’s Ambassador to Austria will lay a wreath there. The memorial service in “Hl. Petrus und Paulus” church in Bleiburg will be said in Croatian.

The central commemoration, including the laying of wreaths and Catholic and Muslim prayers, will take place at Zagreb’s central cemetery on Saturday, after which a mass will be celebrated at the Shrine of Croatian Martyrs in Udbina, some 140 kilometres south of Zagreb.

On 25 May, another “commemorative gathering” is scheduled to take place at the State Archive in Zagreb, and on 29 May, Catholic memorial services will be held for the victims of the Bleiburg tragedy at Radimlja near the town of Stolac in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Since 1995, with a few interruptions during the SDP government in Croatia, the commemorations in the Loibach field near Bleiburg, in the southern region of Carinthia, have been held in tribute to the tens of thousands of Croatian soldiers and civilians aligned with the pro-Nazi Independent State of Croatia (NDH) fascist regime who had fled Croatia to surrender to allied forces there in May 1945,” state news agency Hina explained.

The British troops there handed them back to the Yugoslav Partisans forces. Some were executed on the spot, while many perished during so-called “death marches” back to Yugoslavia in the second half of 1945.


Over the years, the gathering became a key event for Croatian far-right groups, where attendees could be often seen wearing uniforms or insignia of the World War II-era Croatian fascist regime. Although Austrian law outright bans Nazi symbols in Austria, the ban did not extend to similar symbols used by Nazi-allied regimes in other countries.

In 2019 the Catholic Diocese in Klagenfurt withheld permission for a mass to be said by someone of the bishop’s rank. The Roman Catholic Church in Carinthia turned down the request by the Croatian Catholic Bishops’ Conference to hold mass at Loibach, saying that the event is being used for political purposes.

As the event grew increasingly controversial, and amid growing political polarization in Austria itself, in 2020 Austrian MPs requested an expert opinion on whether such gatherings at the Loibach field are in line with Austria’s constitution. “A  task force consisting of historians, jurists and Catholic Church representatives as well local officials in that Austrian province concluded that such gatherings should no longer be held in Bleiburg,” Croatian state news agency Hina said in their description of the subsequent ban.

Due to Austria’s clampdown on the gathering, a variety of Croatian right-wing groups and state institutions, as well as Catholic Church officials, announced that they would simply move commemoration events to places outside Austria.

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