Remembering the Bleiburg Massacres and Communist Yugoslavia Crimes Against Croatian Patriots

Map of Mass Graves of victims of communist Yugoslavia crimes in Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina compiled in 2017 by Croatian association of historians “Dr Rudolf Horvat”, PHOTO: Screenshot 15 May 2021 https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1acZrR00vSr3kkgGXBZUsSL0Dbk&ll=43.93469114726703%2C18.12258350000001&z=7

Today, in Croatia, the communist Yugoslavia legacy of lies, deception, silence, denial of communist crimes and secrecy conspire against Croatia’s well-being and against the future for which rivers of Croatian patriotic blood was spilled during the 1990’s Homeland War. Without full disclosure of the crimes and criminals, without lustration and/or disabling former communists and their followers from power in Croatia, the political future of the country as a functional democracy remains uncertain and unlikely. Indeed, without a lustration the region within which Croatia sits remains politically unstable and widespread corruption is set to continue undermining livelihoods of the people and peace.

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This year, this month of May, marked the 76th Anniversary of the end of World War Two. At the end of World War II, despite the victory of the Allies in Europe and the official defeat of fascism, the secret genocidal killing continued as organised groups of Yugoslav communist Partisans, starting on 15th May 1945 at Bleiburg Field in Austria under the very noses of the British forces administering that part of Europe after the War, sought and pursued revenge against those who fought for and wanted an Independent Croatia. Most of the refugees reaching Bleiburg left the Croatian capital of Zagreb on 7 May 1945. A column of people approximately 70 kilometres long was reported by Radio London to be moving north to Austria from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, people scrambling to leave Yugoslavia, “overtaken by a fear of the Partisan units” (Portmann, M. [2004], Communist Retaliation and Persecution on Yugoslav Territory During and After World War II [1943-1950], pp 130-134).

Josip Broz Tito’s communist Yugoslavia killing machine started the brutal genocide there at Bleiburg and continued under the pretence of repatriation, forced repatriation to communist Yugoslavia of those who were fleeing it. This genocidal mass murder of Croatian patriots continued as the so-called death marches, the Way of the Cross, in that forced repatriation process as well as communist purges continued for several years to come. The British records indicate that up to 700,000 unarmed men, women and children were massacred by the Yugoslav Partisans, forcibly repatriated and their bodies dumped, as we now know, in over 1700 mass graves.

Croatian children were among those who fled communist Yugoslavia in May 1945 and were brutally massacred

On Bleiburg Field in southern Austria, the great deception began on 15 May 1945. According to records of the British Foreign Office Headquarters 5th Corps, 200,000 Croatian and Slovenian soldiers and military personnel, as well as 500,000 civilians headed to Bleiburg at the end of World War II seeking asylum, expecting that the British would abide by the principles of the Geneva Conventions and provide them sanctuary to protect them from Partisan reprisals. They expected deadly reprisals from the communist Yugoslavia regime because, refusing to endure the oppression and brutalities against Croatians within any Yugoslavia, they fought for an independent Croatia during WWII.  

Historical writings after WWII show that the great majority of the people the British forced back from Austria, Bleiburg, were simple peasants. They had no murders on their hands. They had not been Croatian Ustashas or Slovenian ‘Home Guards’. Their only fear was of communism and the reputation of the communists. The British forces pursued an unforgivable act by sending these refugees back to communist Yugoslavia knowing they were sending them to certain and brutal death.

Croatian civilians, children, women, unarmed soldiers fleeing communist Yugoslavia in May 1945

According to the testimony of a Partisan soldiers: the orders came from the staff of the 11th Dalmatian Brigade that the most reliable communists, both officers and soldiers were to be chosen for a confidential task… They (communists) created a special unit of them, which amounted to seventy people. Every day between 10 to 20 trains arrived at the station full of people. They didn’t receive any food or water. The overwhelming majority of them were collapsing. Most were men. A smaller proportion were women who were raped in the pit before they were shot… Two hundred boys from 14 to 16 years of age. Everyone was killed. All killed. In two pits. There were 30,000 to 40,000 killed in 8 days… The Partisans went to Lake Bled on vacation on Sundays after eight days of killing, then came back for another round. From Kočevja alone we sent over twenty freight cars of clothes. Daily we sent two to three freight cars of personal effects of the dead (Tolstoy, N. [1986], The minister and the massacres, London: Century Hutchinson Ltd., pp. 198-200). Yugoslav communists created many extermination squads that operated at local levels across Yugoslavia but the relatively greatest number of them operated within Croatia for a number of years, even within the WWII Jasenovac camp which Tito’s communists kept open until 1952 where, according to new and emerging research of historical archives and facts, extermination of anti-communist Croats occurred constantly.   

Croatian refugees fleeing communist Yugoslavia in May 1945

Killing civilians and prisoners of war after the Second World War is the greatest massacre of unarmed people of all times in that territory. Compared to Europe, the Yugoslav communist massacres after the Second World War are probably in size and ferocity second only to the Stalinist purges and the Great Famine in the Ukraine. Because of its relatively short time, the number of murdered innocent people, the way of execution and massiveness, the so-called Bleiburg Massacres (that encompass murders at Bleiburg and the years that followed) is an event that can be compared to the greatest crimes of communism and National Socialism. Communist Yugoslavia’s leader Josip Broz Tito, under whose command the State-ordered purges and massacres of Croats occurred, stands listed among the World’s top 10 mass murderers of the Twentieth century.

And yet today’s powers that be in Croatia fail to legislate a ban on communist Yugoslavia symbols, insignia and celebrations! They barely pay a lip service to the commemoration of Bleiburg massacres and the State-owned or controlled mainstream media barely give it a mention. It would be a reflection of absolute truth that this appalling situation in remembering the victims of the communist Yugoslavia totalitarian regime exists because those who committed these crimes are and were among families of many today’s persons who hold positions of power or some form of control.   

All of the crimes committed in Tito’s name from 1940 to 1980 were repeated again during the 1990’s war when Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina sought to secede from communist Yugoslavia. The message of the Serb-led Ovčara massacre at the outskirts of Vukovar, the message of ethnic cleansing of Croats from two thirds of Croatian sovereign territory, the message of thousands of rapes, tortures and murders committed by Serbs and Yugoslav forces, is identical to the message of the horrible massacres of more than 1700 mass graves and pits filled with the remains of brutally massacred Croats and Slovenes.  Communist Yugoslavia hid these crimes, and it was only in early 1990’s when Croatia became an independent state, even if it was still in the midst of brutal Serb aggression and war of defence, that historical archives opened up and research into truth began without fear of communist reprisals.

Today, in Croatia, the communist legacy of lies, deception, silence, denial of communist crimes and secrecy conspire against Croatia’s well-being and against the future for which rivers of Croatian patriotic blood was spilled during the 1990’s Homeland War. Without full disclosure of the crimes and criminals, without lustration and/or disabling former communists and their followers from power in Croatia, the political future of the country as a functional democracy remains uncertain and unlikely. Indeed, without a lustration the region within which Croatia sits remains politically unstable and widespread corruption is set to continue undermining livelihoods of the people and peace. Ina Vukic

Croatia: You Can Run But You Cannot Hide From Depravity Of Communist Crimes

“Here rest 294 victims of World War II and/or Post World War II period. Gracani” Photo:HINA

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic’s glaring absence from the burial ceremony of earthly remains of 294 communist crimes victims, recently dug out of mass graves at Gracani on the outskirts of Zagreb, on Friday 23rd August 2019  has thrown a national spotlight on the token, unconvincing and reluctant compassion afforded the victims of communist crimes by official Croatia. According to records kept by parshioner, the late Miroslav Haramija, 738 Croats were murdered by Partisans in 1945 in Gracani area and excavations of mass graves are set to continue.  23 August is European Day of Remembrance of Victims of Totalitarian Regimes and this year central events towards that remembrance were a Mass at St Michael’s church and funeral rites and burial for the 294 victims of communist crimes, of Partisans. The services at Gracani were led by Msgr. Zlatko Koren in conjunction with Don Marko Med, the parish priest, Fr. Marin Matančić, and other priests.

Mons. Koren emphasised that in this place of commemoration, 294 victims of World War II and the post-war period proclaim victory: “The victory of good over evil. Victory over sin. Victory over death.”

Gracani, Zagreb 23 August 2019 – burial of remains of 294 victims of communist crimes recently dug out of mass graves. PHOTO: HINA

It would indeed be a complete victory of good over evil had the entire Croatian leadership bowed their heads at the burial place of the remains of these 294 victims. It would indeed be a complete victory of good over evil had Croatia’s leaders announced a plan for fitting monuments for victims of communist crimes to be erected across Croatia, just like the existing monument to the victims of fascism/Nazism/Ustashas at Jasenovac. Certainly, there were countless more victims of communist Partisans than there were victims of Ustashas. Concrete evidence of this exists in the uncovered mass graves that add up so far to 1,700 across Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (1000 in Croatia alone!). Much is yet to be done for the good to truly triumph over evil when it comes to the history of Croatians, particularly the 20th Century one. That body of work to be done still pertains to the condemnation of communist crimes and to building of monuments to victims in mass graves rather than marking the mass grave sites with mere crosses and humble plaques! Communist crimes were devastatingly huge in Croatia and this fact must not be marked by small remembrances but giant monuments to the suffering, visible by naked eye from the stars above.

Gracani, Zagreb 23 August 2019 – burial of remains of 294 victims of communist crimes recently dug out of mass graves. PHOTO: HINA

“Among the victims there are 63 minors. At least 112 people were killed with a bullet to the head. These bones today, after 74 long years, are finding their peace,” said Croatan Veterans Minister Tomo Medved said at Gracani on Friday 23 August 2019. Stating the obvious would not be my choice of words on this very important occasion for justice.

“Today’s event, like many other events in many other places, confirms not only a totalitarian but also a criminal character of the communist system. We must talk about this, because, like how we condemned the Ustasha regime, just as loudly and clearly we must talk not only about the totalitarian but also the criminal character of communism,” said Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković. To the point, but talk is cheap and Jandrokovic knows it! It blows over with the wind in seconds and all remains as usual – no official declaration of condemnation, no laws passed in parliament to reflect this, no banning of communist regime’s insignia and symbols. No banning of Josip Broz Tito’s birthday celebrations. No banning of Day of Antifascists!

Gracani, Zagreb 23 August 2019 – burial of remains of 294 victims of communist crimes recently dug out of mass graves. PHOTO: HINA

“While in the democratic world Fascism, Nazism and similar regimes were morally and politically condemned, their victims places of death and their graves marked, and numerous guilty people convicted, Communism in Croatia, without a proper and complete condemnation, smuggled its way into democracy. Therefore, at this place, I clearly condemn totalitarian regimes, both the Communist and the Ustasha and I clearly condemn Greater Serbian totalitarianism, and its aggression against Croatia,” said President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović at Gracani on Friday. Same as Jandrokovic, really. Grabar Kitarovic failed to spell out how “proper and complete condemnation” of communist regime should be achieved. The President of Croatia has a duty to give practical direction and undertakings for a complete condemnation of communist crimes she refers to. Words are cheap!

To add insult on the injury, the actual wooden cross that marks the burial place of the 294 victims of communist crimes at Gracani says absolutely nothing about who their murderers were! The writing on the cross says: “Here rest 294 victims of World War II and/or Post World War II period. Gracani”.

Absolutely heartbreaking and demoralising!

Their murderers were the communists so say it loud and say it again and again and again, until the truth sinks into every memory and every human heart.

Gracani, Zagreb 23 August 2019 – burial of remains of 294 victims of communist crimes recently dug out of mass graves. PHOTO: HINA

 

In addition to the commemoration and the burial of the remains at Gracani last Friday, the actual locations of mass executions were presented to the public for the first time; with shocking, disturbing photographs of the innocent victims! If this wasn’t enough for the Croatian leaders mentioned above to give to the public a real sense of determination that communist crimes will be utterly and completely condemned, I don’t know what will be. Milan Bandic, the Mayor of Zagreb, was present there also. While he generally boasts of beautifying Zagreb with lots of grand fountains and statues, he did not announce any fountain or statue or monument to be built in condemnation of communist crimes. His past is in a communist family, as is for most at the top echelons of Croatian current leadership, including the president’s.

The politicians in Croatia who walk on eggshells when it comes to condemning communist crimes, spread cheap and empty words in acknowledging the victims of communist crimes, ensuring that the burial places of the victims don’t name their murderers, create an atmosphere where such crimes are further pushed into insignificance as such atmosphere encourages unjustifiable justification of communist crimes –  can run (in such ways) but they cannot hide. When faced with the enormity of communist crimes in Croatia, with the overwhelming number of mass graves – nothing these politicians in power can mitigate or lighten the horrendous weight of those crimes.

Gracani, Zagreb 23 August 2019 – burial of remains of 294 victims of communist crimes recently dug out of mass graves. PHOTO: HINA

Croatia is abound with victims of communist crimes – almost every second family with its descendants has a horror story of its own to tell, where loved ones had been murdered, imprisoned for speaking against communism, simply being related to an anti-communist,  forced to flee and emigrate to avoid persecution or personal properties confiscated and given to communists; the communists even chased those who emigrated  across the world, assassinating dozens and blackening the names of all, maliciously, evilly, labelling them as extremists and terrorists. A large portion of the victims of communist crimes were not conscious enemies of the communist regime. They were punished according to their belonging, as “socially dangerous elements”. These were mostly family members of people who have been branded opponents of the regime because they sang no praises to Tito and his communists; women, children and elderly persons. Victims of communism have to be remembered as innocent victims of regimes founded on communist ideology and also as people who stood up to regimes of terror in the name of democracy, the rule of law, and independent statehood, or for other motives.

And those who committed these heinous crimes and atrocities have not faced justice nor have the stolen properties been restored to original owners. There is no real remorse nor condemnation for these acts of communist depravity within the corridors of power. The words spoken at occasions such as the one in Gracani on Friday are cheap and frankly, without real demonstrations of legislative work (such as banning communist symbols, removing from the Constitution the claimed credit given to antifascism as part of the foundation of today’s independent Croatia) that would cement condemnation of communist crimes these words are insulting.

Gracani, Zagreb 23 August 2019 – burial of remains of 294 victims of communist crimes recently dug out of mass graves. PHOTO: HINA

Denial of the Holocaust has been criminalised and listed as hate speech etc., almost worldwide. Are then victims of communist crimes less worthy of such dignity because they were not Jewish! All victims are equally victims and the time has come when denial of communist crimes must be criminalised.

The resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism passed in the European Parliament in April of 2009 recommended declaring 23 August the day of remembrance for victims of communism and Nazism and this has been done in many European countries and in North America. The remembrance of the victims of the Nazi regime, first and foremost victims of the Holocaust, and of the victims of communist regimes on one and the same day has been called an attempt to deprive the Holocaust genocide of its historical uniqueness. Eastern European countries are accused of attempting to hide the collaboration of their own peoples with the national socialists at that time behind the remembrance of victims of communism. Politicising tends to always confuse and bias issues but in 21st century we should be free to say that a victim of the Holocaust is in no way more unique than a victim of communist regimes. Each are a side of the same coin – the coin of power usurpation by brutal force and disregard for human life.  It is time to rip out of the ground the monuments raised during the times of former Yugoslavia to honour the WWII communist Partisans and raise instead, monuments to victims of communist crimes! Ina Vukic

 

 

 

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