Six arrested for displaying banned symbols at Bleiburg

Six arrested for displaying banned symbols at Bleiburg Izvor: Reuters/Lisi Niesner

Five Croatian nationals, and one Slovenian, are in custody in Klagenfurt, Austria on suspicion that they broke an Austrian law banning the display of fascist and Nazi symbols at a commemoration at Bleiburg on Saturday, the Austrian media said on Wednesday.

"Five men were arrested for saluting with the so-called Hitler salute and one for wearing symbols of the SS units," the spokeswoman for a Klagenfurt court, Eva Jost-Draxl, told Kronen Zeitung.

The suspects are in custody due to a high flight risk, and a judge will decide within a fortnight whether to remand them in custody, she said, and added that the suspects are facing up to ten years' imprisonment.

The event, held every year in May near the town of Bleiburg in southern Austria only a few kilometres from the Slovenian border, commemorates tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians loyal to the Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia (NDH) regime who fled to Austria to surrender to Allied forces in the closing days of World War II in May 1945. However, they were turned over to Yugoslav Partisans, who sent them on death marches towards Yugoslavia, where many of them perished over the next few months.

Although officially sponsored by the Croatian Parliament and supported by prominent members of the Croatian Catholic clergy, the event has caused controversy in Croatia since the early 1990s, and is perceived as a gathering of right-wing and far-right Croatian groups, with some of them openly displaying World War II-era Ustashe insignia and symbols on the site, the Loibacher Feld near the town of Bleiburg.

A local police official, Michaela Kohlweiss, said she regretted that persons who are under investigation for the same crime committed at last year's commemoration were not arrested then. "Fourteen criminal proceedings against unidentified persons are still open," she told Kronen Zeitung.

The newspaper said the Klagenfurt court hoped this year's strict measures against the display of banned symbols would have a lasting effect so that "the commemoration of Croatian victims can pass in a dignified manner and without a radical right-wing backdrop."

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