Bleiburg, Austria | May 12
Thousands of Croatian far-right supporters gathered in a field in southern Austria on Saturday to commemorate the massacre of pro-Nazi Croats by victorious communists at the end of World War II.
The controversial annual event was held amid a surge of far-right sentiment in Croatia, the European Union’s newest member. For Croatian nationalists, the Bleiburg site symbolizes their suffering under communism in Yugoslavia before they fought a war for independence in the 1990s.
Tens of thousands of Croatians, mostly pro-fascist soldiers known as Ustashas, fled to Bleiburg in May 1945 amid a Yugoslav army offensive, only to be turned back from Austria by the British military and into the hands of revengeful antifascists. Thousands were killed and buried in mass graves in and around Bleiburg.
The Croatian Ustasha regime sent tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and Croatian antifascists to death camps during the war.
Top Croatian officials attended Saturday’s gathering Saturday on a vast field surrounded by mountains. Croatian Catholic Church clergy held a Mass for the killed Croats.
“Awful crimes have been committed in the Bleiburg field,” Croatian parliament speaker Gordan Jandrokovic said. “Today we are paying our respect to the victims, civilians as well as soldiers.”
Croatia’s center-right government has been accused of turning a blind eye to the rising extremism and downplaying the crimes of the Ustasha regime. The policies have triggered protests from Croatia’s minority Jewish and Serb communities.
Top Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff said he tried to persuade Austria’s conservative government to ban the rally, but without success.