The intention of the Catholic Church in Bosnia and Herzegovina to hold a mass for the “Bleiburg victims” in Sarajevo cathedral, raised a lot of protest and concerns among anti-fascists and believers of other religions.
The event and victims they want to commemorate at the mass took place at the end of the WWII when a large number of Croatian armed forces Ustaša were trying to escape the capturing by Yugoslavian partisans. Tens of thousands of mostly pro-fascist Croat soldiers and their families were on the way toward Austria to seek help from the British army, only to be turned back by the Brits right into the hands of anti-fascists.
In and around the Austrian town of Bleiburg, thousands of the so-called Ustašas were killed. The Yugoslav forces saw the slaughter they committed as punishment for the tens of thousands of Jews, Serbs, Roma and anti-fascists killed by the Ustaša during WWII.
After the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Croatia began commemorating the Bleiburg victims with a large gathering near the Austrian town every year. Croatian nationalists perceive the controversial annual event as a symbol of their suffering under communism.
Austrian authorities considered the gathering as a glorification of Nazism and have banned Ustaša flags and insignia at the gathering. But, despite the ban, a lot of Ustaša supporters had insignia and flags.
Due to coronavirus pandemic, this year is impossible to organize the large gathering in Austria so the Church in BiH decided to pay the tribute to “Bleiburg victims” in the main cathedral. As soon as the intention reached the public, a number of citizens protested, saying that Sarajevo should not celebrate the Ustaša movement or its victims. Of course, most of the Croats in BiH supports the idea saying that all those who are against it are also against Croats in BiH. In fact, they do not see any problem.
Israel Embassy to BiH and Jewish community also said that the mass for these victims should not spoil the picture of Sarajevo as a multi-ethnic city, and some politicians, as Croat member of the BiH Presidency Željko Komšić, said that the state of BiH should not be “a fascist and totalitarian state”. The Media dug his statement from two years back in which he said that “Partisans on Bleiburg killed those who surrendered” and that it was a “war crime”.
His colleagues, Serb member of the BiH Presidency, Milorad Dodik and Bosniak Šefik Džaferović, also condemned the intentions of the Catholic Church and called Cardinal Vinko Puljić to abandon the idea. Serb Orthodox Church in BiH leader, the Metropolitan of the Dabar and Bosnia, Hristozom, said that the “doors for cooperation and any kind of relationship” with BiH Catholic Church are “permanently closed” because of the announced mass in Sarajevo. He said he feels “betrayed” and that the decision to hold the mass is worrying.
“We hoped that we could begin the path of togetherness. However, how can we go together? I would go to Stari Brod at the Drina River to cry and mourn the victims of (Jure) Francetić, while the Cardinal is bringing Bleiburg to Sarajevo. Well, that doesn’t go together!” he said.
Citizens are also divided but the vast majority is against the mass. Some of them announced that they will organize a peaceful protest in front of the cathedral, with the idea gathered many supporters in just a few hours./ibna