Ljiljana Radonić: Commemorating Bleiburg – Croatia’s Struggle with Historical Revisionism (Cultures of History Forum, 11.06.2019)

For many Croatians, Bleiburg – a town not even located in Croatia, but in Austria, near the Slovenian (formerly Yugoslav) border – is a central site of memory. Every year in May, several thousand Croats gather there to commemorate the so-called ‘Bleiburg tragedy’ which occurred at the end of the Second World War. The Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance (DÖW) has called these commemorations “the biggest neo-Nazi meeting in Europe”. Yet, only in March this year the Catholic Church in Austria (the bishopric of Gurk-Klagenfurt) withdrew its permission to hold a holy mass, as had been transpired in previous years as part of the commemoration ceremony. Despite this set-back, the commemoration once again took place on 18 May 2019, with robust support from the Croatian government. The Croat organizers argued that the event takes place on private property and that the Church only withdrew the right to hold an episcopal mass, not a simple mass. However, days before the event, Austrian authorities rejected this interpretation, describing the event as an assembly, and not a church ceremony. As a result, the sermon of the bishop of Krk was dubbed “a speech”. Though fewer than expected, about 10 000 visitors attended the event, including the Croatian ministers of administration, Lovro Kuščević, and defence, Tomo Medved. But what does ‘Bleiburg’ actually stand for? What is its greater meaning in Croatian memory politics and how did this place become a symbol for historical revisionism in contemporary Croatia? The article seeks to provide historical and political context to the current events and ongoing struggles of Croatia’s political elites and society with the country’s complicated past.


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