Zagreb - A memorial service was held at Bleiburg field in Austria on Saturday in memory of the disarmed Croatian soldiers and civilians killed there and on the Way of the Cross death marches through Yugoslavia at the end of WWII.
The Archbishop of Đakovo and Osijek, Đuro Hranić, said Bleiburg "represents one of the most tragic fields in the history of our Croatian people and the beginning of a big suffering of hundreds of thousands of Croatian soldiers and civilians after World War II."
He said it was still unknown where many were killed or died and where all the graves and the pits with their bones were. The remnants of that totalitarian communist system still see to that, and the unclear historical truth and the burden of the past hamper togetherness and cooperation, becoming, in the new historical circumstances, a danger for both Croats and Serbs as well as other peoples in this part of Europe, said Hranić.
A prayer for the Muslim victims was said by Idriz Bešić, who read out a message from the head of the Islamic Community in Croatia, Mufti Aziz Hasanović, in which he called for learning "from ours and others' mistakes." "The truth must be known. The truth must be preserved and we can't run away from it nor can it be blotted out. There is no statute of limitations on crime. Crime is crime, one of the rare categories which cannot be justified with anything," Hasanović said in his message.
The commemoration was organised by the Honorary Bleiburg Platoon and held under the auspices of the Croatian parliament.
Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković said the commemoration was for the victims and their families. "We are gathered here to recall as well as once again affirm our obligation and responsibility to preserve the truth and actively oppose all forms of totalitarian rule," he said, adding that hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and disarmed soldiers had to walk for many kilometres through the then Yugoslavia until they died.
"I wish to stress here that at Bleiburg, but also in the months after that, people were executed en masse without any trial. Those crimes were one of the deepest buried secrets and those who committed those crimes were never brought to justice," said Jandroković. "Those executions symbolise the suffering of the Croatian people and are one of the gravest events in our history. Bleiburg is a symbol and a metaphor of all Croatian suffering, not just in a specific period after World War II. It's also a reminder of all the crimes committed during all the years of the Yugoslav communist totalitarian regime," he said, adding that Croatia suffered three wars in the 20th century and that, looking at the victims, all were fatal and grave.
"At Bleiburg, respects are also being paid to all the generations of Croats who, far from their homeland, waited for the day when Croatia would become a sovereign nation, anchored in the European space of peace and democracy," Jandroković said, adding that now everybody had the obligation to always remember all the victims who had died for the state.
"If we wish to responsibly deal with the past, we must be aware of that, acknowledge it and bow down to the victims. Croatia, as a sovereign and democratic state, has the responsibility to promote and preserve freedom, democracy, the respect for human rights and the rule of law. Everybody is also responsible for making sure that horrible crimes, committed for any reason, for any ideology, do not happen ever again. Another obligation is to strongly condemn any undemocratic, authoritarian and totalitarian rule and to show respect to every victim who opposed every form of such a regime."
Croatia has the strength and the perseverance to strongly guarantee and ensure the freedom and rights of all of its citizens, to respect their dignity and to promote their economic and cultural progress and social well-being, Jandroković said. "It is important to talk about and scientifically research all crimes committed in totalitarian and undemocratic regimes. That will contribute to our awareness of them because there is no true reconciliation without truth and remembrance. And reconciliation can be achieved only by accepting responsibility, seeking forgiveness and strengthening society's moral renewal."
"The victims of the tragedy at Bleiburg and all Ways of the Cross, the victims of the Homeland War and all the victims of totalitarian rules must always be mentioned so that their story and tragedy do not happen again or are forgotten. Because it's known that nations which forget their history are condemned to new tragedies, Jandroković said.