If we want to understand political developments in Croatia since the first democratic elections in 1990, we have to look into a highly contested political topic, namely the country’s dealing with the "Independent State of Croatia" (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska - NDH). Since the electoral victory of President Franjo Tuđman and his "Croatian Democratic Alliance" (Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednice - HDZ) in 1990, the "battle for remembrance” is reignited every year during springtime. On the one side this happened on the occasion of the commemoration ceremonies in the former Ustaša concentration camp Jasenovac, which Tuđman wanted to dedicate to a "national memorial of all Croatian victims", on the other side debates sparked around Bleiburg, which was interpreted as "the greatest Croatian tragedy of all time" or the "Croatian Holocaust". Central to this was the idea of the "national reconciliation" (pomirba) of all Croatians, the core element of Tuđman’s politics of remembrance. In the following, the role of Bleiburg for the reinvention of Croatian history after 1990 and the development of nationhood will be presented on the basis of the change in public discourse during the 1990s - also or above all in relation to Jasenovac . The developments since Tuđmans's death in 1999 up to the present day is merely outlined shortly in the end.
The "national reconciliation" of the Tuđman era 1990-1999
In the years before the collapse of Yugoslavia, the Croatian state newspaper Vjesnik made a single indirect reference to Bleiburg which was part of a speech by the Croatian President Jakša Petrić. At a commemoration ceremony in Jasenovac, he explained that on 8 May 1945 "the German state capitulated. But not on our soil: The German army, Ustaša, Četnik and other posses that helped them stayed here. Only after six days of bloody battles the organized resistance of the enemies and quislings was finally broken. For a short time, some Ustaša-Križari groups and their helpers stayed with us in order to finally realize their illusions and errors behind bars and to answer to the people's courts for the crimes they had committed - even those committed here in Jasenovac." (Vjesnik, 22.4.1985) In the official remembrance before 1990 it was beyond doubt that after 8 May it was exclusively a question of breaking organized resistance from groups who were also partly responsible for the crimes in Jasenovac. It did not target the fleeing army units and civilians who were being taken revenge without trial. What remained concealed or hidden here is the bereaved people’s commemorance of the victims of Bleiburg. This had no place in the political discourse of remembrance within Yugoslavia. Those narratives were only passed on in private and in exile and gained even greater effectiveness after 1990.
Remarkably, the state newspaper Vjesnik reported on the commemoration ceremony in Bleiburg for the first time just a few weeks after Tuđmans's election victory in 1990, while the opposition daily newspaper Novi List, for example, only took up this topic in 1992. Likewise, school textbooks soon turned to the new national narrative. In the history book for the eighth grade, published in 1992 and written by Ivo Perić, the NDH is dealt with on seven pages. A distinction is made between the extensive and positively presented state and the criminal Ustaša regime, to which only half a page is devoted . The Jasenovac concentration camp is mentioned only in one place without further information. On the other hand, Bleiburg and the "Way of the Cross" are dealt with in detail, whereby the number of victims is considered to be around 50,000-300,000 in the editions from 1992-1995, but reduced to "several tens of thousands of Croats" in 1998 .
The parallelisation of Jasenovac and Bleiburg, which was referred to as the "Croatian Holocaust", presented a core element of the politics of remembrance of the Tuđman era. Tuđman’s core policy idea was that of a "national reconciliation" of all Croatians. This also explains the entrenchment of anti-fascism in the constitution on the one hand and positive references to the NDH on the other hand. At centre of this political discourse was the premise that Ustaša and partisans had both fought for the Croatian cause in their respective ways, but that this separation had now been overcome by Croatian independence. This was also accompanied by the plan to convert the Jasenovac concentration camp memorial into a "national reconciliation site". As early as July 1990, Tuđman informed the Berliner Tageszeitung that Croatians had fought under different flags for freedom in Croatia. Even General Franco would have known this, burying together the victims of fascism and communism 30 years ago. Only on the basis of such a reconciliation could there be a democratic society without hostile sides. Therefore a memorial for all war victims should be built so as to finally understand that these were all only the consequences of a historical situation . In 1996 the rededication plan was put into concrete terms under Tuđman’s report on the situation of the Croatian state and nation: "For historical reasons but also current political reasons the Jasenovac memorial is to be transformed into a memorial for Croatian war victims. The memorial will be a museum and a memorial for all victims of fascism, as well as a memorial for all victims of communism (by reburial of mortal remains and bones from the discovered pits) and all victims of the Croatian war, in such a way that a memorial stone (or cross) with the names of all those who have fallen for the freedom of Croatia" . This plan was met with heavy criticism from the Jewish community and the few independent media outlets in the country, as well as from foreign observers, most notably the director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Dr. Walter Reich, and the American Secretary of State, Warren Christopher . Later, Tuđman modified the plan by inventing the claim that Jasenovac had remained a camp after 1945 in which returnees from Bleiburg had been imprisoned and that their remains had been buried on the site of the former concentration camp anyway. Due to the fierce criticism, especially from the USA, the plans for transforming Jasenovac were never realized .
In the public discourse a few stakeholders continuingly compare the crimes in Jasenovac and Bleiburg with each other. In some cases they come to the implicit conclusion that the murder of the young men in Bleiburg was worse . However the dominant narrative draws on the equation between the two crimes, arguing that "both are terrible crimes that cry to heaven" and one must mourn the victims of both sides, because countless mothers (no matter on which side) would have wept for their loved ones . Accordingly, one couldn’t remain indifferent "in view of the brutal murder of innocent people, no matter whether in Jasenovac, on Pag, in Jadovno [the two concentration camps from the early phase of the NDH], Stara Gradiška or in Bleiburg" . This perspective assumes the innocence of all victims. This rhetorical equation is contrasted on the political level with a clear focus on Bleiburg and - apart from the rededication debate - a neglect of Jasenovac by the media, politics and the church. Since 1990 Bleiburg has visibly become a symbol par excellence of the "suffering of the Croatian people". Since 1995, the annual commemoration events have been held under the auspices of parliament, were broadcast live on television together with the lavishly displayed Ustaša symbolism and attracted far more participants than the commemoration events in Jasenovac. In 1999 Zoran Pusić of the Helsinki Human Rights Committee criticized in the newspaper Vjesnik for the first time the lack of participation of the Catholic Church in the commemoration ceremony in Jasenovac. This was a topic that became increasingly relevant during the early 2000s as the politics of remembrance experienced a gradual turn .
Public Discourse on the Memorial Ceremony in Bleiburg
The commemoration ceremony takes place in Bleiburg every year on the weekend before 15 May, the day on which most of the NDH armed forces surrendered there. Since 1995, this commemoration ceremony has not only been dedicated to the victims of Bleiburg, but also to all those who were killed in fights in recent history Croatia, including the victims of the "Homeland War" of the 1990s. During the 1990s wreaths were laid down on the "Altar of the Homeland" erected in 1994 in the Zagreb district of Medvedgrad and at the Memorial to the Bleiburg Victims at the Mirogoj cemetery in Zagreb. In 1995, a commemorative session was held in parliament around the time of the anniversary.
In 1990, the taboo of Yugoslavian times was broken with the first media report of the commemoration ceremony. The newspaper Vjesnik spoke of "several hundred citizens from exile and Croatia", while in 1991 there were already 1,100 and in 1993 several thousand visitors. In 1990, a comment stated how the commemoration priest Tomislav Duka "who works for the HDZ [...], read something between a holy mass and a public statement" . In 1991 it was emphasized that the mayor of Zagreb, Boris Buzančić, had also travelled especially from Zagreb . In 1992 a delegation of the Croatian parliament was already represented in Bleiburg, led by Vice Vukojević, the president of the clearly historical-revisionist commission for the registration of war and post-war victims, as well as delegations of the HDZ and the Croatian Liberation Movement (HOP) founded in emigration by the Ustaša leader Pavelić . On the 50th anniversary, the president of the parliament Nedjeljko Mihanović addressed "tens of thousands of Croats" .
As far as the change in public discourse is concerned, it is clear that in the 1990 Vjesnik report there was still no doubt that the victims were members of NDH associations and that many of those present were Ustaša and Domobrane. In 1991, on the other hand, the Ustaša past of a person present was also mentioned. Yet, this mentioning remained uncritical within an overall report that was otherwise hoping for sympathy for the commemoration ceremony. In the same year, the "festive suits decorated with Domobrane badges and the colours of the Croatian flag" were also described, without mentioning the fact that in many cases they were part of uniforms of the NDH army. After 1991, however, all historically concrete names of those killed disappear with their reference to Ustaša and Domobrane and are replaced by expressions such as "slaughter of Croatian forces" and "the greatest tragedy of the Croatian people" in order to present the participants as apolitical and representative of the Croatians. In many cases, participation in Ustaša organisations is described as "activity in emigrant circles".
In Vjesnik's articles on the commemoration ceremony, a German journalist rejected precisely this trivialisation of the Ustaša regime , which otherwise dominates. A reason for this is the fact that the persons quoted in the articles are largely Croatians who left Croatia after 8 May 1945 for political reasons or persons who have served prison sentences as political prisoners. One of the participants in the commemoration responded to a question which was posed in 1990 but later unthinkable, namely on "the undeniable crimes in war": "We have only defended our state. What the Četnik did was much worse" . In this regard, unlimited admiration for the NDH associations can be found, for example, in an author’s comment: "I stress that the Croatian armed associations have not signed any surrenders. And we can be proud of that. Seven days after the German army surrendered, they continued to fight. We lasted longer than any other warring state in Europe. An additional information appears remarkable, namely that in the Bosnian Posavina west of the river Bosna “... Croatian troops waged war until mid-June 1945. That is where World War II ended in Europe!” . The glorification of the NDH is therefore not only to be found among returnees from emigration. Here, the pride and admiration for the "Croatian armed units" are openly articulated as something the author identifies himself.
Representatives of parliament also repeatedly defended the NDH. According to Dubravko Jelčić, the envoy of the parliament, the Bleiburg victims were "Croats who fanatically believed in the Croatian state, not in an ideology - red or black, [...] nobody has the right, according to Jelčić, to call the Croatian army fascist, in the same way as it was just about anti-fascism, which ceases to be anti-fascism in connection with Bolshevism, as the events in Bleiburg testify". In 1998, Kazimir Sviben, the envoy of the Parliament and president of the commemorative committee, also stated in Bleiburg that "the Serbo-Communist regime in World War II tried to convince everyone of a collective Croatian guilt, above all of the guilt of the Croatian home army, while it had merely responded, as he stressed, to the call to defend its homeland". In the articles on the Bleiburg commemoration ceremony, there is no evidence of any ambivalent, ‘reconciling’ politics of remembrance, which see both the NDH and the partisan struggle as a commitment to a Croatian cause.
Religious exaltation of Bleiburg and equation with "the Jews”
While in 1990 the first cautious article in Vjesnik's article still spoke of the "so-called Bleiburg tragedy", as early as 1992 a member of the Ustaša organization HOP emphasized that Bleiburg was "only the beginning of the most terrible genocide in the history of the Croatian people". In 1993 a media report writes about "one of the most tragic dates in the recent history of the Croatian people" or "the greatest tragedy in recent Croatian history" . This while "Croatian people" becomes the most important actor in this narrative, the Ustaša, Domobranen and civilians killed in 1945 are equated with it. The fact that many Croatians had fought against NDH - and in this case, in contrast to Austria, to a decisive extent - is ignored.
In characterizing the events, the frequent use of religious terms is particularly striking. Long-standing participants of the commemoration event from exile have been using the term "Way of the Cross" for the marches departing from Bleiburg from the early reports on. In 1991 the President of the Croatian Domobran Association, Stjepan Ibrišimović, described Bleiburg as "a place where one's life was taken and from where one set off for the Way of the Cross, a place deeply incised in the consciousness of a people" . Exemplarily for many other articles, a commentary speaks of the "most difficult and deadly Way of the Cross of the Croatian people" . The story of "the Croats" is equated with that of Jesus, whereby the "Way of the Cross" is rarely placed under quotation marks or supplemented by the addition of "so-called". The resurrection through the independence of Croatia follows the way of Jesus' suffering. Thus the President of Parliament Pavletić speaks in 1996 of Bleiburg as the "field of tears and blood" in which 45 years after the "first organized weeping" the "great Croatian confidence in the resurrection of the Croatian state has remained" .
Bleiburg is also understood as a "place of pilgrimage" . In 1991, the mayor of Zagreb described Bleiburg as "the largest Golgotha of the Croatian people"  and thus interpreted the events as a collective crucifixion. At the 1995 parliamentary commemoration, the President of Parliament speaks of the "Bleiburg tragedy and the Golgoth-like Way of the Cross" or a "national Golgotha" . The flight towards Bleiburg is described as the "great exodus of the Croatian people" . A letter to the editor, from a person who herself had the "Way of the Cross" behind her, describes the situation at the Austrian border: "It was a people waiting for the departure to the Promised Land from which a Messiah would bring them back to their homeland Croatia" . Tuđman seems to be interpreted here as a Messiah.
In addition to religious collective symbols, other terms such as "Column of Death "are used to equate a Croatian fate with that of Jews . The first Bleiburg memorial event in Sarajevo explicitly refers to "death marches"  - a clear allusion to the marches from the concentration camps towards the West in the final phase of the Nazi regime (given that Christian symbolism is less suitable for the Muslim context). The longer the commemoration around the 50th anniversary of 1995 lasted, the more radical this equation became. Finally, in Parliament, the President of the House, in the presence of UN representatives, spoke of the "Holocaust of Croatian martyrs, most of whom sacrificed their lives for the ideal of Croatian statehood" and of "political murder and mass liquidation of the Croatian people" . A 1996 report quotes a Domobran officer, whose visit to the Bleiburger Feld draws references to concentration camp sites: "On the top of the field, as in a concentration camp, stands the watchtower, a hunter's high seat" . On the 53rd anniversary, the report of the commemoration bears the title "Remembrance from the Column of Death". Therein, a "survivor" describes the poor diet and the killings of those who remained behind: "In a word: everything served destruction" .
The events around Bleiburg are equated with the exodus of the "chosen people", with the sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of mankind, with the marches in the final phase of the Nazi regime and finally with concentration camps and the Holocaust itself. The "Croatian people" is identified with the Jews and Bleiburg is interpreted as a collective Jesus-like sacrifice for the Croatian resurrection in the form of sovereignty.
The most striking aspect of the Bleiburg reporting in Vjesnik is the unity of the discourse on democracy, which was defective in the 1990s to say the least, with limited media freedom, the absolute dominance of the interpretation of the Bleiburg victims as "Croatian army" and "Croatian people". For this reason, the only mention of a controversy on this issue is of particular interest here. It can be found in a report on the meeting of the Parliamentary Committee for the Memory of the Bleiburg Victims and Victims of the Way of the Cross in 1996. The subtitle already addresses the "sharp polemic after the appearance of Slavko Goldstein", a Jewish partisan, the founder of the first democratic party in Croatia and long-time chairman of the Jewish community. The committee's decisions were preceded by "a fierce debate, which one member of the committee, Slavko Goldstein, provoked with the assertion that it was inappropriate to use the term Croatian army for those who died in Bleiburg. Above all, according to Goldstein, the preamble of the constitution clearly states that today's Croatia is based on the anti-fascist National Council for the Liberation of Croatia (ZAVNOH). The second reason for inappropriateness is of utilitarian kind: The Charter of the United Nations provides for the fight against National Socialism until its destruction. If we declare this army Croatian, we allow the possibility that we are the successors of the fascist state. The third reason is a moral one, because the victims of Bleiburg were of mixed composition, including three elite units of Ustaša. President Pavletić spoke out against historical and political debates and stressed that it is a crime to kill people without a court and a sentence, even if they are criminals. ‘The president of the Croatian Society of Political Prisoners, Kaja Perković, on the other hand stated that the Croatian army had not been criminal, but that she did not know what they (the partisans; author's note) who received them were. “They robbed and killed us. They wanted to kill me without a court order, although they didn't know who I was,” Kaja Perković stressed and called on those present to refrain from political debates. Goldstein's appearance was also commented by Anto Baković: ‘In my eyes you have desecrated parliament! What do you have to do with Croatian victims?'" .
This article shows that in Vjesnik, anti-Semitic hostilities were quotable. The Catholic priest and HDZ deputy, Father Baković, distinguishes between the Jew Goldstein and "Croatian victims" with whom he had nothing to do. Secondly, the article shows that the President of Parliament Pavletić admits, at least upon direct request, that there may have been criminals among the victims, which distinguishes him from his predecessor Nikolić, who established the characterization as innocent soldiers, women, children and old people. Eventually, it becomes evident how the few critics of the dominant Bleiburg discourse in the 1990s were dealt with. Not only did Perković pursue a delegitimization strategy against the allegedly politicizing critic, reacting with counter-accusations in the direction of the partisans. The President of Parliament also disqualified the criticism as a "debate with a historical and political omen". Under political and ideological auspices in the Tuđman era, debating was only a matter of the others, the non-Croatians.
Conclusion and outlook
The close links between the Bleiburg discourse and Croatia's independence are clear. Not only has the commemoration received media coverage in Croatia since 1990, but many emigrants were increasingly returning to "liberated" Croatia. The "sacrifice" of Bleiburg was also defined as a milestone towards Croatian independence: "In this holy place the selfless sacrifice of Croatian youth inspires us to selfless love towards our Croatian homeland. ... The victims are not a dead scattered body, they are alive, follow us and rejoice that the Croatia for which they fought has risen" , says Father Duka. In the paper Vjesnik, which is representative of the dominant discourse in the 1990s, the positive reference to NDH, which is interpreted as a Croatian, non-fascist state prevailed. The history of the Second World War was distorted to such an extent that Bleiburg was interpreted as a crime against the "Croatian body of the people", while the perpetrators were identified as "serbo-communist bloodhounds" - the participation of Croatian partisans was blended out. In the Tuđman era, Bleiburg was the most important national place of remembrance, which became - undisturbed by international norms – the locus of the politics of remembrance. In contrast, Jasenovac turned out to be a transnational memorial despite Croatia's foreign policy isolation; the reburial of the bones of those killed by the partisans without trial was not successful.
After Tuđmans's death in 1999 and the vote out of the HDZ in 2000, there was a complete reorientation concerning the revisionist politics of remembrance of the Tuđman era with regard to Jasenovac. National remembrance in Bleiburg, on the other hand, remained initially unchanged as representatives of the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) continuingly spoke of the "Croatian Holocaust". Following international models, in 2002 a representative of the social democratic SDP, Zdravko Tomac, tried to apologize in the face of that years repeated Ustaša symbolism in Bleiburg, but was whistled out. The visit of the social democratic prime minister Ivica Račan to Bleiburg was more successful. Two days after the revisionist spectacle, he bowed to the victims murdered without trial, but at the same time stressed that Croatia was built on the foundations of anti-fascism. The phase is marked by the attempt to demand the same attention for Jasenovac as for Bleiburg. An old issue interpreted as a problem, namely revisionism in relation to the Ustaša crimes, was no longer only addressed by marginalised actors, but also by the president and linked to the demand for accurate textbooks. President Stipe Mesic’s 2003 condemnation of all crimes committed in the name of the Croatian state can be described as a discursive turning point.
After the election victory of 2003, the HDZ, reformed by Ivo Sanader, removed Ustaša monuments and renamed streets named after Ustaša Minister Mile Budak against its own clientel. Sanader no longer spoke of Bleiburg in Jasenovac and, like Mesić, condemned the Ustaša crimes. However, he spoke with considerable constancy in Jasenovac about the condemnation of "black and red totalitarianism". In this regard, his speeches appear as attempts to relativize the Ustaša crimes within the scope permitted by European norms simply by drawing parallels to socialist crimes. He also regularly linked the lessons of Jasenovac with the "Homeland War" of the 1990s, thus replacing the "old" national victim myth about the "Croatian tragedy" of Bleiburg with the new one, according to which "the Croats" had become victims of a "new fascism" in the 1990s. The national place of remembrance Bleiburg thus increasingly lost importance in relation to the transnational condemnation of totalitarianism. The national myth of sacrifice over "Croatian suffering" was used transnationally in the sense of the "universalization of the Holocaust", for example in Sanader's speech about "Serbian fascism" in the Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem.
After the election victory of the coalition led by the Social Democrats in 2011, the patronage of the parliament for the commemoration ceremony in Bleiburg was cancelled. With the election victory of the HDZ presidential candidate Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović in 2015 and above all the coalition led by the HDZ in the parliamentary elections in the same year (as well as in the re-election in 2016) a revival of the Remembrance of Bleiburg can again be observed. Even if the importance attached to this mythical place depends strongly on the respective government, it seems to remain inextricably linked to Croatian national identity. The terms "Way of the Cross" and "death marches" are so widely taken for granted in Croatia to this day that they are even used without quotation marks in critical texts about the memorial culture in Bleiburg .
 Der Beitrag greift zurück auf: Radonić, Ljiljana, Krieg um die Erinnerung. Kroatische Vergangenheitspolitik in Kroatien zwischen Revisionismus und europäischen Standards, Frankfurt 2010. Die Übersetzungen stammen von der Autorin.
 Vgl. Perić, Ivo, Povijest za VIII. razred osnovne škole, Zagreb 1992, S. 85ff.
 Zit. nach Grahek, Martina, »Bleiburg i Križni put u hrvatskim udžbenicima povijesti«, in: Fleck, Hans-Georg/Graovac, Igor (Hg.), Dijalog povjesničara – istoričara 9, Zagreb 2005, S. 641–663, hier S. 643f.
 Vgl. Čulić, Marinko, Tuđman: anatomija neprosvijećenog apsolutizma, Split 1999, S. 108.
 Vjesnik, 16.1.1996.
 Vgl. Feral Tribune, 6.5.1996; 20.5.1996; 8.12.1997.
 Vgl. Feral Tribune, 6.5.1996; 8.12.1997.
 Vjesnik, 6.4.1995.
 Vjesnik, 28.4.1995.
 Vjesnik, 29.5.1997.
 Vjesnik, 7.5.1999.
 Novi list, 28.5.1996.
 Novi list, 16.5.1996.
 Vjesnik, 14.5.1990.
 Vjesnik, 23.5.1991.
 Vjesnik, 12.5.1992.
 Vjesnik, 15.5.1995.
 Vjesnik, 23.5.1991.
 Vjesnik, 5.5.1993.
 Vjesnik, 14.5.1990.
 Vjesnik, 4.4.1995.
 Novi List, 12.5.1997.
 Vjesnik, 18.5.1998.
 Vjesnik, 12.5.1992.
 Vjesnik, 5.5.1993.
 Vjesnik, 23.5.1991.
 Vjesnik, 4.4.1995.
 Vjesnik, 13.5.1996.
 Vjesnik, 16.5.95; 13.5.1996.
 Vjesnik, 23.5.1991.
 Vjesnik, 16.5.1995.
 Vjesnik, 11.5.1995.
 Vjesnik, 13.5.1995.
 Vjesnik, V 12.5.1992.
 Vjesnik, 16.5.1995.
 Novi list, 16.5.1995.
 Vjesnik, 12.5.1996.
 Vjesnik, 17.5.1998.
 Vjesnik, 7.5.1996.
 Novi list, 10.5.1993.
 Vgl. Pavlaković, Vjeran, »Komemorativna kultura Bleiburga, 1990–2009.«, in: Bosto, Sulejman/Cipek, Tihomir (Hg.): Kultura sjećanja: 1945. Povijesni lomovi i svladavanje prošlosti, Zagreb 2009, S. 167–193, hier S. 174.