The yearly memorial service at Bleiburg – FAQ

What happens every year at the Loibacher Feld/Libuško polje near Bleiburg/Pliberk in Kärnten/Koroška (Carinthia)?

Each year thousands (15,000 in 2017 and as many as 30,000 in 2015) people come together to commemorate the alleged victims of the „massacre of Bleiburg“, meaning: Ustaša and their sympathisers, members of Wehrmacht and SS, Domobranes, Četniks, etc. The myth implies that on said field there was a massacre of those same people. The people who attend the event are a mixture of (Neo-)Nazis, fascists, Croatian polticians, conservatives, church representatives etc. - the thing they can all agree on is historical revisionism. There is a procession, as well as a mass at the memorial stone at the Loibacher Feld/Liibuško polje, Bierzelte (beer tents), booths and so on. With Austrian authorities ignoring them and sometimes even looking on approvingly or helping actively, attendants fondly commemorate the fascist “Independent State of Croatia” („Nezavisna Država Hrvatska“, NDH – a vasall state of Nazi Germany that existed from 1941 until 1945) and the Ustaša. At the same time the Croatian veterans from the Yugoslavian wars are celebrated.

What happened back then?

In May 1945, shortly before the unconditional surrender of the Third Reich, the Ustaša and their sympathisers as well as members of Wehrmacht and SS, Domobranes, Četniks, etc. - fully aware of the crimes they had committed – began to flee from the approaching Yugoslavian Liberation Army. They were afraid of being prisoners of war in Yugoslavia because they anticipated actions of revenge for their crimes. Their plan was to reach a region that had been freed by the British and surrender there. But their capitulation was not accepted, they were disarmed at the Loibacher Feld/Libuško polje and handed over to the partisans. The prisoners were taken back to Yugoslavia; tens of thousands were killed on the way and a part of them was put on trial.

What's the myth?

According to the myth there was a massacre committed by the partisans at the Loibacher Feld/Libuško polje. At the same time it is claimed that by not accepting the capitulation the British army was partly responsible for the massacre. However, there never was a massacre at Bleiburg/Pliberk (see above). Time and time again people have gone looking for alleged mass tombs near Bleiburg/Pliberk but, since they don't exist, it is proving quite hard to find any.

Who exactly is being remembered there?

With the memorial service and the open ovation of the “Independent State of Croatia” and the Ustaša, people commemorate a fascist movement whose ideology was significantly influenced by National Socialism. One exceptional feature of the NDH is its Concentration Camp system that was run without any German help and included the biggest death camp Jasenovac. This fact of a completely self-run Concentration Camp system is unique. Whoever celebrates the NDH also celebrates its eliminatory anti-Semitism, antigypsyism and its anti-Serbian racism.

History of the meeting in Bleiburg/Pliberk

The function and role of the celebration in Bleiburg/Pliberk have seen drastic changes (at least since the 00ies). This is especially true for the size of the yearly event. Before the collapse of Yugoslavia the celebration was mostly attended by Croatian exiles from Europe and North America. Since then Bleiburg/Pliberk is being called the place of the “greatest Croatian tragedy”. While the meeting stayed relatively small with a few hundred participants until the 1990s, it later expanded to several tens of thousands of people attending. The Bleiburg celebration also plays a big role in Croatian domestic policy. It has been broadcast on (national) TV for years and dominates the news for weeks during May. The event has become a central feature for the Croatian nation building. Depending on which parties the government is formed of, the event is also under the patronage of the Croatian parliament.

Since the Yugoslavian wars, the celebrations not only include the flaunting of Ustaša/NDH symbols but also the glorification of individual war criminals or military units from the Yugoslavian war as well as the presentation of their symbols and flags.

Who organises the event?

The host of this yearly celebration is the “Bleiburger Ehrenzug”. The “Bleiburger Ehrenzug“ is a club that Croatian emigrants in exile founded in Austria. The club's main field of activity is the organisation of the memorial service and thereby the spreading of revisionist thinking and the glorification of the NDH. In its logo the “Bleiburger Ehrenzug” doesn't use the chequered pattern of the Croatian Republic but that of the NDH state. The same logo was used as a badge worn on the sleeves of the Croatian unit of the Waffen-SS. That logo can also be found on the memorial stone at the Loibacher Feld/Libuško polje.

What's the protocol at the celebration?

The yearly celebration starts off with a “memorial service” at the Loibach/Libuče cemetery near Bleiburg/Pliberk. But most visitors go directly to the memorial site that lies about two kilometres outside of Bleiburg/Pliberk. The participants coming from the cemetery march towards the memorial site on the road. For this purpose, public streets are closed down for hours. During the march, people carry flags and transparents. At the memorial site the actual celebrations begin with a catholic mass and numerous speeches by Croatian politicians. The highlight of the event is the wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial.

What can be found there?

In 1976 the first memorial stone of Bleiburg/Pliberk was erected, which was redesigned in 1985. The stone is standing in the middle of the Loibacher Feld/Libuško polje. The piece of land belongs to the chairman of the Bleiburger Ehrenzug, Ilija Abramovič. The organisation and its functionaries kept buying more and more land around it. A few years ago they also built a roofed stage. The heart of the continually growing memorial site are some trees. These were planted long after 1945, to give a tangible place to the commemoration. This follows the motive of a painting that elevates the “Myth of Bleiburg”. It's very well known among Croatian exiles. The painting does not in any way depict the actual events of the time but shows instead the historical revisionist “memory” of the massacre that never happened at this place. The memorial site itself is supposed to be further expanded in the future. Since 2015 work has been under way to build a cemetery behind the memorial stone. So far, the hole that has been dug for this purpose, is empty. Supposedly the plan is to bury mortal remains there. However, a parliamentary question has shown that there are no requests for that purpose. So, what will happen there still remains a mystery.