Two months before the 1990 elections, the father of Croatian revisionism, historian and general Franjo Tudjman, gave an oft-quoted statement: “NDH was not just a Nazi-fascist creation, but also an expression of the wish of the Croatian people for an independent state”. This sentence sums up a three-decade long debate in the modern and democratic Croatia on the identity of NDH which led to the majority of young Croats not having the right idea about their own past during the 20th century. They were taught that NDH was a Croatian state, albeit a flawed one, and that Yugoslav socialism was just totalitarianism aimed against Croatian interests. Although he learned from different history books, Croatian prime minister Plenkovic is a pragmatic student who, taking after his father of the nation, said this at the government session on May 14th:
“While the end of World War II in Western Europe meant an end to the endless horrors and fascist crimes, among which the Holocaust holds a special distinction, in Croatia, unfortunately, May 1945 meant the beginning of horrible after-war communist crimes. Tens of thousands of people, disarmed soldiers, but also a lot of innocent civilians who were fleeing the communist regime, from Bleiburg to Tezna and along that Way of the Cross were killed without trial and buried in unmarked graves.”
The pandemic prevented the traditional protocol of the state support to the “Bleiburg myth” in Austria, so, under the patronage of the Croatian parliament, they “naively” had the idea to move it to another state, to one of the cities which were most hurt by the Ustasha terror during the war – Sarajevo. The majority of those killed were Jews, who never manager to recover as a community in this city after the horrors of WWII. Sarajevo remembers the crimes of NDH and Ustashas which were so cruel that they occasionally managed to shock even the Nazis, like burning with a hot iron, stabbing spikes into temples, mass hangings in the city center – Marijin Dvor, pregnant and mutilated bodies buried in pits. History says – almost ten thousand inhabitants were cruelly killed. Today, a lot of descendants of the victims and a handful of survivors still live in Sarajevo.
So, the authors of the political idea to move “the Bleiburg mass” led by archbishop of Vrhbosna Vinko Puljic to the Sacred heart cathedral in Sarajevo, must have realized the political earthquake this would cause. B&H still suffers from the same ethnic conflicts and politics which caused the suffering during WWII, but also during the wars in the ‘90s that current generations still remember. No matter how hard cardinal Puljic tries, post festum, to explain his own and the acts of the church with the help of his media services, such an irresponsible decision is hard to justify; it is clear that it’s only a part of a continued political project to destabilize B&H. In his statements, the cardinal failed to mention the initiators of this commemoration, pro-Ustasha honorary Bleiburg squad led by a former intelligence officer, convicted killer Boze Vukusic, and Vice Vukojevic, suspected of rape during the ‘90s war. However, the cardinal was deeply offended by the member of B&H presidency Zeljko Komsic who opposed the rehabilitation of the Ustashas by asking the cardinal to pray for the souls of the innocent victims of their crimes. In an open letter, Komsic reminded the cardinal “to remember the crimes of the Black Legion led by Jure Francetic, crimes of Maks Luburic in Sarajevo and to pray for the souls of the thousands of innocent civilians, including the children brutally killed in Jasenovac and Donja Gradina. Or if he won’t do that, then at least for his own benefit, he should read something about those same people and their crimes and try to accept that those he wishes to pray for in Sarajevo cathedral committed crimes which horrified even their Nazi masters”.
After the mass, the cardinal angrily addressed this statement by the Croatian member of the B&H presidency, accusing him of never having said anything positive about the Croatians and the Catholics. He then resorted to a national/racial “argument” which unpleasantly resembles the Nazi theory on gene purity and said:
“He has an aversion to us. And I can’t think where it comes from. Political aversion is one thing, but a genetic one, that’s the real danger. This, actually, shows what he carries inside himself.”
I don’t know what the cardinal was referring to, but Komsic’s political enemies often use the photograph of Tito in his office as the crowning piece of evidence against him being “true”, legitimate Croat. Historically, the majority of the Croatian people supported the National liberation forces led by Tito’s communists. Not all Croats were, nor will they ever be, Ustashas. Komsic knows this, hence his antifascist letters to the cardinal.
Many world media reported on the Bleiburg victims’ commemoration mass, but also on the thousands of people who protested against it on the streets of Sarajevo.
“Their protest was one of the biggest religiously and ethnically diverse antifascist rallies in Bosnia in more than two decades”, one of the reports said. It was hard for fake promoters of “European values” from HDZ, and their paid journalists and intellectuals, to swallow this slap in the face in the media, so they tried to prove that Sarajevo is an intolerant, backwards, and indecent place of joint living, infested with Yugo-communists and Titoists. Chauvinist articles and headlines on the “end of the European Jerusalem” and notorious lies about how “Catholics have become second-rate citizens in Sarajevo” are parts of coordinated efforts of the church and politics to portray the majority Bosniak Sarajevo as the capital of an impossible, dysfunctional state of B&H. What was the biggest “sin” of the disappointed citizens of Sarajevo who marched through the city to the sounds of the Partisan Bella Ciao?! They expected a religious community to not show preference when choosing which victims are worthy of being honored. The Roman Catholic church in B&H and Croatia has been honoring the victims of only one side, the ones killed in Bleiburg, for decades. They are considered fighters for Croatian freedom by the government and ruling political circles. Truth be told, some portion of the victims were innocent civilians, no one’s disputing that. Even if all the victims were war criminals, which they weren’t, execution without trial, without even proof of identity, has no moral ground. However, they keep failing to mention the historical fact that the Partisans had offered Ustasha leadership negotiations on several occasions after May 9th and the capitulation of Germany. So, a good part of the narrative presented in and around Bleiburg is an Ustashophile construct. This is evidenced by the fact that the victims also included Muslims, Orthodox, members of Chetnik units from B&H, Serbia and Montenegro. But there was no prayer for the Orthodox victims, which were slightly outnumbered by the Muslims, because it is the intention of Croatian nationalism to reduce everything to the clash between Yugo-communist and Yugo-Serbian regimes on one side, and Croatia on the other. The many who wish to counterbalance the actions of the Ustasha and Partizan movements like to fall back on the resolution of the European parliament which equated all totalitarian regimes: Nazism, fascism and communism. This is being repeated as a political mantra, used as a space for moral relativisation of fascist crimes, or to blasphemously equate Jasenovac and Bleiburg. This resolution might be valid for some countries of the former Soviet bloc, but certainly not for Croatia or B&H. A single Yugoslav flag with a five-pointed star, and Kozaracko kolo danced around the Eternal flame served as indisputable evidence that this gathering was a “communist ball” of vampires from the past. Bosnian right wing circles started warning of the great danger of reaffirming the Yugoslav spirit in a city which is a former bastion of communism and the iron grip of the party. This is a completely false premise, because the photos from the event show mainly young people calling for a more equal society by carrying symbols of a former socialist state. The poor still think affirmatively of that time, unlike the new elites who made large portions of their fortunes through privatization of state property created during Tito’s reign. In a way, this is also a way to spite the dominant narrative of ethnic divisions. These people remember the concept of interethnic cooperation which reigned in the socialist society, versus the interethnic confrontation which today’s party oligarchies use to gain legitimacy, and therefore seek to build a negative attitude towards that time of brotherhood. Antifascism and interethnic harmony are the lasting and most valuable heritage of that time, and Tito managed to temporarily keep them alive.
After all, antifascism is not synonymous with communism, it is a civilizational value on which the modern foundations of the EU rest. Saturday’s antifascist march greatly irritated Nazis on all sides, who will continue to try to insult the people of Sarajevo and diminish the significance of the gathering with incoherent and vicious comments. A lot certainly needs to change in Sarajevo, but this beautiful May day of solidarity and compassion for the victims of the Ustasha terror from World War II made the civilized world love and respect today’s Sarajevo even more.
Translated by Marijana Simic