|The commemoration at Bleiburg field in May. Photo: EPA-EFE/ALEX HALADA.|
The court in the Austrian city of Klagenfurt has convicted five Croatian citizens in recent weeks of doing Nazi salutes or shouting fascist Ustasa slogans during a controversial commemoration at Bleiburg field in southern Austria in May.
The last of the five to be convicted, whose sentence was handed down on Tuesday, was a 30-year-old male accused of contravening Austria’s anti-Nazi prohibition law by doing a fascist salute at the annual Bleiburg commemoration for tens of thousands of Nazi-allied Croatian troops and civilians killed by Yugoslav Partisans in 1945.
Austrian police also found an electronic version of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf on the man’s phone and photographs of people with Nazi insignia, which according to the prosecution showed his sympathies for Nazism.
However, the man – who was not named by the court – expressed remorse, saying that he “made a huge mistake” while he was under the influence of alcohol, and insisted that he is “apolitical”.
The man said that he did not read Mein Kampf but was curious about what was in the book, and this is why it was found on his phone.
As he said that that he admitted and regretted the crime, and was intoxicated at the time of the crime, the court gave him a 15-month suspended sentence.
In previous weeks, the Klagenfurt court has handed down similar verdicts to four other Croatian citizens for breaches of Austria’s anti-Nazi prohibition legislation at the Bleiburn commemoration.
The only one of them who has been named, Andjelko Bosancic, a member of the governing Croatian Democratic Union party, who was arrested for doing a Nazi salute, received a 15-month suspended sentence on Friday.
During the trial, he also admitted the crime and expressed remorse.
On June 25, a 69-year-old man was sentenced to a two-year suspended sentenced, after he claimed that “Za dom spremni” (“Ready for the Home(land)”) was not the slogan of the Croatian WWII Ustasa movement but a “Croatian salute”. The man was chanting “Za dom spremni” at Bleiburg field while doing a Nazi salute.
But the court called a Croatian historian Marko Jareb, who claimed that Ustasa first used the chant with the Nazi salute. Another aggravating circumstance cited against the defendant was footage of him on Austrian TV ORF praising the National Socialist regime.
On June 19, a 51-year-old Croatian citizen was also given a 15-month suspended sentence for chanting “Za dom spremni” and doing a Nazi salute at Bleiburg field after he admitted the crime and expressed remorse.
“I’m sorry for my behaviour. I feel guilty, I had too much to drink that day, and my grandfather, cousin, and uncle died at Bleiburg,” he told the court.
After Austrian MEPs said in April that the annual event at Bleiburg is being misused to display fascist symbols, the authorities introduced stricter measures in a bid to prevent incidents including Nazi salutes and fascist insignia.
In May 2016, the Croatian parliament decided to reintroduce sponsorship of the Bleiburg event, after it was withdrawn back in 2012 due to concerns that it serves to rehabilitate the ideology of the WWII-era fascist Ustasa regime.