Cardinal Vinko Puljic said at a mass for the Bleiburg victims in Sarajevo on Saturday that reconciliation could be built only on the truth and called for equal respect for every war victim, while thousands of people in the city centre honoured the victims of fascism in WWII.
The Archbishop of Sarajevo celebrated the service in the Heart of Jesus Cathedral as part of a commemoration organised by the Bleiburg Guard of Honour under the auspices of the Croatian parliament.
Puljic greeted everyone who joined in the prayer "for so many victims of violence."
He also greeted the bishop of Klagenfurt, noting that this year's commemoration could not be held at Bleiburg field in Austria because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Today we remember all those killed in concentration camps, valleys, mountains and fields, from Bleiburg via Dravograd and Maribor, Ogulin and Gospic, Jazovka and the Macelj woods, Jasenovac and Glina, Kozara and Podgradac, Krizevci and Bjelovar to Srijemska Mitrovica, Sarajevo, Foca and Zenica," the cardinal said, calling for building a climate of reconciliation and restoring trust on the truth, however bitter it might be, and for ceasing with double standards when it comes to victims.
He said a mass for all victims of hate stirred special feelings and that this was why he accepted to celebrate this year's mass for the Bleiburg victims who, he added, were entitled to respect as any human being.
By showing victims their due respect and remembrance, we also show "respect for the price of the freedom we are living today," Puljic said.
The cardinal recalled the words of Pope John Paul II that the fate of peace depends most on the solidarity of the heart which, after spilt blood and hatred, entails the courage to forgive.
He also recalled that in 1995 all Croatian bishops honoured all innocent WWII victims because the right to life and dignity of every human person is protected by God.
"We owe every innocent victim equal respect. There can be no difference in that," Puljic said, adding that he was deeply distressed by the fact that the graves of those who died on death marches from Austria to Yugoslavia in 1945 and later had still not been found.
He said that those who did not want the truth stood behind the evil they defended because no crime could be defended and because crime could not be cured with crime.
The cardinal thanked genuine researchers and those looking for historical truth by gathering facts, saying it was the best way to stop manipulation.
Besides Puljic and several priests, the service was attended by only 20 persons, including Croatian Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Ivan Sabolic.
The mass was held in a very tense atmosphere due to disputes between those who see it as a sign of respect for the dead and those who claim it actually rehabilitates the 1941-45 Nazi-style Independent State of Croatia and the Ustasha regime.
Sarajevo was under a sort of siege today as police since early morning prevented pedestrians from coming near the cathedral and traffic in nearby streets was redirected.
During mass, a group of people came to the police fence around the cathedral to voice their dissatisfaction, carrying banners, one of which said "Fascists are not victims", and shouting "No pasaran".