Bosnia’s Catholic Church should not be the main target of criticism over a Mass commemorating the victims of a 1945 massacre of Nazi supporters in Bleiburg, Austria, as the event will take place under the auspices of the Croatian Parliament, the Head of Bosnia’s Islamic Community, Husein Kavazovic, told Voice of America on Tuesday.
Grand Mufti Husein Kavazovic told the outlet that the aim seems to be the creation of a dispute between Muslims and Catholics in Bosnia.
“The Catholic Church has the right to make decisions autonomously and when religious rights are concerned, nobody has the right to prevent it from doing anything. The reactions in Sarajevo show that the blame is sent to the wrong address, which is not good,” Kavazovic said.
He argued that the commemoration is taking place under the auspices of the Croatian Parliament and that politicians in Sarajevo should hold this institution accountable for the event instead of the Church.
“There is political responsibility on Croatia's part and the easiest thing is to blame the Church," he said, adding that the Cardinal has an obligation to lead the event in Sarajevo but that he did not take into consideration how it would come across in the city.
A number of officials in Sarajevo slammed Bosnia’s Catholic Archbishop Vinko Puljic for agreeing to lead the Mass at the city’s Sacred Heart Cathedral on May 16, with some arguing that the event represents an attempt to “revise history.”
Amid a Yugoslav army offensive aimed at defeating pro-Nazi and anti-communist forces, tens of thousands of mostly pro-fascist Croat soldiers and their families fled in 1945 toward Austria to seek help from the British army, only to be turned back by the Brits right into the hands of anti-fascists.
In and around the Austrian town of Bleiburg, thousands of the so-called Ustashas were killed. The Yugoslav forces saw the slaughter they committed as punishment for the tens of thousands of Jews, Serbs, Roma and anti-fascists killed by the Ustasha during WWII.
After the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Croatia began commemorating the Bleiburg victims with a large gathering near the Austrian town every year but it was cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The organisers of the event, the Honorary Bleiburg Platoon, said it will be held in different cities instead, among them in Sarajevo.
Kavazovic argued that Croats in Bosnia “trust the Church more than they trust Croatia’s policies” and stressed that Bosnia’s Muslims should “under no circumstances” bear a grudge with the Cardinal and the Church.
He also strongly opposed the idea of organising a protest during the Mass, which is what some political parties and officials called for.
“We must remain dignified. Some are trying to connect this event with this city, but Sarajevo is not commemorating anything. The Catholic Church is organising a Mass and that must remain within the area of the cathedral, nothing should be happening outside,” he said.
"Some would probably want to see disputes between Muslims and Catholics or a third side but we need to respect one another. These days we are marking the Victory Over Fascism and focus should be on the victims of fascism, notably Jews killed during the Holocaust," said Kavazovic.
"But there were people who committed the worst kind of crimes in Bleiburg as well, and there were surely innocent people there too,” he said.
“We shouldn’t ask religious communities to determine facts which states, their courts and history should have determined. We have missed the opportunity to do that timely and it’s not fair to expect it now from a religious community,” he argued.