Croatian Journal Sheds Light on Abuse of Bleiburg

A leading scientific journal from Zagreb has published a special issue on the controversial killings at Bleiburg in 1945 – aiming to shed light on how this crime has been misused and manipulated in history.

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A column of Ustasa and Domobran forces, as well as mostly Croat civlians, near Bleiburg in May 1945. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A Croatian scientific journal, Politicka misao [Political Thought] has dedicated its latest issue to the controversial events of May 1945 onwards at Bleiburg, in southern Austria, where a Partisan massacre that year remains a toxic and hotly disputed issue.

Those killed were mainly members of the fleeing army of the Croatian Fascist Ustasa regime, Domobrans – members of the regime’s “Homeguard” – other Nazi collaborators but also ordinary civilians.

Stopped by the British army at Bleiburg, they were mostly disarmed and handed back to Josip Broz Tito’s Communist-led Partisans, who executed tens of thousands of them.

Many died in so-called death marches led through Slovenia and Croatia.

During the Yugoslav communist era, discussion and memories of Bleiburg were supressed. But, since the fall of communism and Croatian independence, the subject has become a rallying point for the nationalist right in and outside the country.

Politicka misao, published by Zagreb Faculty of Political Science, gave the task of editing the articles to an assistant at the University of Graz, Dario Brentin, and an assistant professor at Rijeka University, Vjeran Pavlakovic.

The bulk of the articles were produced through a project that the two universities – under Brentin and Pavlakovic – conducted together, gathering researchers from across Europe.

Brentin told BIRN that the original idea was to try to “approach the topic in an academic and non-ideologised way.

“We didn’t try to establish what happened at Bleiburg and later on, but how it was shown in historiography and how politics manipulated it,” he said.

He explained that they had wanted to publish the articles in an international journal but later decided to publish them in a Croatian journal, because “it’s most important for the political discourse, as well as academics, journalist and others in Croatia”.

The articles were published in Politicka misao also because it is translated into English and open to access by all readers, Brentin added.

The articles are written by political scientists, culturologists and historians from Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia and Denmark.

They cover how the Bleiburg events are seen in different countries, as well as how the Croatian diaspora – and hard-line diaspora nationalist circles – have related to the topic.

The issue also includes how the Yugoslav State Security Service, SDB, monitored two commemorations at Bleiburg field organised by the Croatian diaspora.

Professor Dejan Jovic, editor-in-chief of Politicka misao, told BIRN that the whole issue was dedicated to Bleiburg in order to “put a politically attractive topic in an academic context”.

“The authors give perspectives from neighbouring countries, as Bleiburg isn’t exclusively a Croatian issue but a part of interpreting the past in a broader sense,” he said.

Jovic explained that the topic of Bleiburg is too often “reserved” for the Croatian right, which he and the authors do not agree with.

“Also, it’s good to de-taboo topics like this, so these topics can become a subject of academic and public discourse in which everyone can participate … All this is to contribute to the public debate on the issue, from an academic perspective,” he added.

Jovic concluded that the editorial team wanted to show that even hotly disputed topics like Bleiburg can be academically approached in this way and not just through “commissions for interpreting history” – referring to the government-established Council for Dealing with the Consequences of the Rule of Non-Democratic Regimes.

Politicka misao is the highest regarded Croatian journals in the fields of political science, international relations and history and in the top 25 per cent in the field of history globally.

Since Yugoslav times, the Croatian diaspora has organised commemorations on Bleiburg field – which are now organised with the support of the Croatian parliament.

However, many complain that the event is routinely used to promote the Ustasa and neo-Fascist ideas generally.

The Austrian authorities have taken a stricter approach to these events lately, penalising people who abuse the event to display Fascist insignia and salutes.

Andjelko Bosancic, a member of the governing Croatian Democratic Party, HDZ, was arrested alongside four other Croatian and one Slovenian national in May this year for breaching Austria’s law against using Nazi and Fascist symbols or making Nazi salutes.



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