05 Feb 16 balkaninsight.com
Croatia Parliament Backs Controversial WWII Commemoration
Sven Milekic

The parliamentary presidency voted to reintroduce sponsorship of an event in Bleiburg in Austria commemorating the deaths of tens of thousands of Nazi-allied Croatian troops and civilians.

The presidency of the Croatian Parliament voted by four to two on Thursday to reintroduce its backing for the annual commemoration in Bleiburg.

The parliamentary presidency withdrew its sponsorship in 2012, with centre-left majority claiming at the time that the commemoration was used to rehabilitate the ideology of the Croatian WWII-era Nazi puppet regime, the Independent State of Croatia, NDH.

Fleeing troops from the NDH, along with other collaboration forces from Serbia and Slovenia, accompanied by thousands of civilians, surrendered to the British Army and Yugoslav Partisans in Bleiburg on May 15, 1945.

The captives were then taken back to Yugoslavia by the Partisans. Estimates of vary, but according to Croatian historians, around 30,000 of them were killed on the way, most of them in Tezno and Macelj in Slovenia.

Parliamentary chairman Zeljko Reiner from the governing centre-right Croatian, Democratic Union, HDZ, and his party colleague, Ante Sanader, supported the renewed sponsorship, as did others from the governing coalition - Ivan Tepes from right-wing Croatian Party of Rights ‘Ante Starcevic’ and Robert Podolnjak from centre-right Bridge of the Independent Lists, MOST.

Vesna Pusic from the Croatian People’s Party and Milanka Opacic from the Social Democratic Party, both part of the centre-left opposition, voted against.

Pusic said parliament had committed 65,000 euro to funding the commemoration but must now try to ensure that it does not become a forum for rehabilitating fascist ideas.

“In order for sponsorship to be acceptable... the commemoration should be cleansed of Ustasa [NDH death squad] nostalgia and have a clear idea of what is Croatian identity and [show] piety to the people who were killed,” she said the political TV show ‘Otvoreno’ on Croatian Radio-Television on Thursday evening.

Anti-fascism is one of the pillars of the modern Croatian state, she insisted.

Sanader said on the same TV show that the HDZ supports the commemoration because the party is “against all totalitarian regimes”, and is therefore against the Communists, whose Partisan troops were responsible for the killings.

“Sponsorship is not [historical] revisionism, but paying respect and [holding] a holy mass for all the innocent victims who were killed, and this has nothing to do with the Ustasa regime,” he said.

Speaking on the same programme, historian Dragan Markovina suggested that the Bleiburg commemoration “lacks context” in explaining who killed who and for what reason, making it easier for the tragedy to be manipulated for political purposes.

Last year’s commemoration in Bleiburg attracted over 20,000 people, the largest attendance ever at the event.

The commemoration was organised by the HDZ and the Catholic Church in Croatia, and attended by HDZ president Tomislav Karamarko, who is now vice prime minister, as well as Dragan Covic, the Croat member of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency, and Josip Bozanic, the archbishop of Zagreb.

The 2015 commemoration was less controversial than in the past, as there were almost no cases of hate speech, fascist chants and insignia, unlike in previous years.