Antifascists from Austria, Croatia, Italy and Slovenia staged a protest rally in Bleiburg, Austria, asking the Austrian government to ban what they described as a gathering of "Ustashas and fascists" in the Loibach field near that town in the southern region of Carinthia.
The Honorary Bleiburg Platoon nongovernmental organisation traditionally organises in May, and the Croatian Parliament sponsors, a commemoration for civilians and soldiers of the defeated pro-NS Independent State of Croatia killed in the aftermath of World War II.
Last year Austrian police introduced harsh penalties for participants in the commemoration who display Ustasha and National Socialist symbols, and the local church in Carinthia recently denied permission for the commemoration to be held as a religious gathering, saying that it harms the reputation of the Catholic Church.
Speakers at today's protest, which drew about 150 people and was held in the central square in Bleiburg, asked the Austrian government to respect its constitution and the European policy of "fighting fascism and neo-fascism", and to ban the commemoration, which is to be held on May 18.
"We have gathered again this year to raise our voice against an event that is being promoted as a gathering of believers who want to pay tribute to innocent victims killed in the aftermath of WWII, but it is not that," said Franjo Habulin, head of the Association of Antifascist Fighters and Antifascists of Croatia (SABA).
"The gathering in Bleiburg is nothing but a lament for the failed Ustasha para-state, a movement and ideology that severely compromised Croatia's name and left a blood trace," said Habulin. He said that "both the Catholic Church in Croatia and the Croatian state are participating in that deceit."
"Any family has the right to mourn their loved ones who were killed, regardless of who they were or how they ended up. However, no civilised European country has the right to participate in commemorating the fall of Nazi-Fascism. And gatherings in Bleiburg serve exactly that purpose, with the blessing of the Church in Croatia," said Habulin.
Representatives of World War II antifascist fighters from Italy, Slovenia and Austria, too, spoke against the Bleiburg commemoration.
The commemoration in Bleiburg has been held since 1952, and since 1995 it has been held under the auspices of the Croatian parliament, with the exception of the period from 2012 to 2015 when the Social Democratic Party was in power.
The Honorary Bleiburg Platoon called on all who planned to attend the commemoration to refrain from using any symbols or chants that are in contravention of Croatian and Austrian laws.