A Catholic Mass in the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina for Nazi allies executed at the end of WWII is not a matter of religious freedom, but the latest and most egregious in a series of disturbing attempts to rewrite history.
Only a handful of worshippers will be allowed inside the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Sarajevo on Saturday, in addition to the clergy holding and Croatian TV cameras. The service is being organized by the Croatian Conference of Bishops and sponsored by the Croatian parliament.
The last time my hometown was part of Croatia, however, was between 1941 and 1945, when it was ruled by the Ustasha poglavnik Ante Pavelic. His Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia eagerly took part in the Holocaust, killing Jews and Orthodox Serbs alike in a manner that disgusted even Hitler’s envoys.
Three quarters of Sarajevo’s Jewish population perished in the Jasenovac death camp and elsewhere. The killings continued up to the very last moments of the war, at which point Pavelic’s sizable following tried to flee to the West. Communist-led Yugoslav partisans captured a number of them in present-day Austria in May 1945 and had them shot near the town of Bleiburg.
Since then, the Roman Catholic Church has done two mutually contradictory things: argued that it had nothing to do with Pavelic and his genocidal regime – while honoring those killed at Bleiburg as “martyrs” to Communism, going so far as to describe their execution as “Way of the Cross,” blasphemously comparing them to Christ. Eventually, Austria blocked the services at Bleiburg due to their Nazi connotations; this year’s coronavirus border closures were merely an additional obstacle.
So naturally, Croatia – an EU member since 2013 and current president of the European Commission – decided to hold the Mass for the Bleiburg “victims” in Sarajevo – as opposed to, say, its own capital of Zagreb.
The Croat Cultural Society in Sarajevo, HKD Napredak (Progress), argued the Mass was just a “Catholic prayer for the dead” and a matter of religious freedom and fundamental human rights guaranteed by European conventions. Croats are one of the three constituent groups in Bosnia, uneasily sharing the country with Bosnian Muslims and Orthodox Serbs in a convoluted arrangement that ended the 1992-1995 war.
Not surprisingly, Israel has objected, saying the event represented WWII revisionism. So has the Serbian Orthodox Church, adding it would sever all contacts with the Catholics. High Representative Valentin Inzko, the de facto international viceroy of Bosnia who routinely denounces Serbs as wreckers of the peace, has stayed entirely silent on this occasion.
Muslim response has been mixed – while both the nationalist party in power and the religious authorities have largely shrugged it off as an internal Croat matter, some Muslim activists denounced it as a celebration of fascism that’s entirely inappropriate. A group has even organized a protest at a site of an Ustasha atrocity right outside the Bosnian parliament.
Aside from an element of current politics – Muslims and Croats are uneasy partners in the Federation that accounts for half of Bosnia – the Mass is also an unpleasant reminder that many Muslims were among the Ustasha, including those shot in Bleiburg. The monument there even features a Muslim crescent next to the Croat checkerboard, after all.
Moreover, the two groups were again allied – albeit with a bloody infighting interlude – during the 1990s war against the Serbs. Bosnian Croat politicians recently pointed out that numerous Bleiburg commemorations were held without objection back in 1995, on the event’s 50th anniversary.
That would account for the awkward statement from the US Embassy in Sarajevo, which merely cautioned the organizers “to refrain from historical revisionism and retrograde rhetoric.”
Washington, you see, was the force that reconciled the Croats and Muslims in 1994 and backed their joint offensive against the Serbs in 1995.
Besides, the US and its present-day allies have engaged in widespread WWII revisionism of their own. Earlier this month, the White House credited only the US and the UK for the victory, leaving out the Soviet Union.
The Pentagon’s “history” of the war claimed – falsely – that it began with Nazi Germany and the USSR jointly invading Poland. Meanwhile, the State Department issued a joint statement with Eastern European NATO allies – some of whom were actual Axis members – denouncing the postwar Soviet “occupation.”
If that’s not enough to establish a pattern, note that Facebook just happened to censor the iconic photo of the Soviet battle flag being raised over the Reichstag in Berlin. Czech authorities have just dismantled a monument to the Soviet general who liberated Prague, under the cover of the coronavirus lockdown.
Back in January, a speech by Vice President Mike Pence and a proclamation by President Donald Trump left out who exactly liberated the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz – namely, the Red Army – and a German newspaper actually claimed the Americans did it, before hastily retracting the “mistake.”
How many more “mistakes” and “accidents” need there be for the pattern of denial to become crystal clear to even the most obtuse observer?
Last, but not least, note that it’s the US establishment that denounces Russia for supposedly challenging the “rules-based liberal world order” created by the allies at the end of WWII. Yet Moscow continues to honor the victors in that war, while Washington has shifted to side with the vanquished. From Germany to Croatia, they are now good NATO members, after all.
By Nebojsa Malic