ZAGREB, Croatia – Croatia's divisions on the legacy of World War II will be publicly announced when German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits the country to gather support for moderate, conservative candidates in the upcoming European Parliament elections.
While Merkel is speaking in the capital city of Zagreb on Saturday before the main congress of the center-right European People's Party (EPP), thousands of Croats are expected to gather in a field in southern Austria to commemorate a massacre of tens of thousands of soldiers and their families from the Nazi-supporting Ustascha regime in May 1
During her only appearance in a campaign outside Germany, Merkel hopes to strengthen the ruling conservative Croat Democratic Union Party. That should be in the lead on the 26th of May. According to pre-election polls, Croatia's left-wing Social Democratic Party will come second, followed by far-right groups.
Merkel has spoken out against the rise of populism and right-wing extremism in Europe, but Croat nationalists are optimistic I can exceed expectations and hope that the annual commemoration in the Austrian town of Bleiburg will strengthen support. The Ustasha soldiers died days after the formal end of the Second World War by the anti-fascist Yugoslav army, after the British military had stopped their retreat.
The Croatian Ustasha regime was controversial in the country during the Second World War and has been controversial in the wider Balkans ever since. The regime was responsible for sending hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Roma and Croatian anti-fascists to extermination camps.
For Croatian nationalists, the Bleiburg site symbolizes the suffering that communism suffered after the war, when Croatia was part of Yugoslavia. Croatia regained its independence in the 1990s through a war against the Yugoslav army led by Serbia – memories of World War II were never far away in this conflict.
During their election campaign, the leader of the Little Independents for Croatia was the far-right party Bruna Esih, who said Bleiburg was a "symbol of sacrifice, suffering and freedom."
Many in Croatia disagree.
"Innocent people died in concentration camps (World War II)," said former Croatian President Stipe Mesic. "In Bleiburg the Ustasha army capitulated and they were not innocent victims."
The memorial sponsored by the Croatian Parliament in Bleiburg has become a festival of right-wing extremism. Antifascist groups from Croatia, Slovenia and Austria have requested a ban on the event and plan to protest on Saturday. Since last year, the Austrian authorities have banned Ustasha flags, their black uniforms and badges with the letter "U" at the rally, and the local Austrian Catholic Church refused to participate in prayers held in the vast field surrounded by mountains were.
] "Everyone has the right to mourn for their loved ones, regardless of who they were or how they ended up," said Franjo Habulin, chairman of the Association of Anti-Fascist Fighters in Croatia. "No civilized European country has the right to participate." commemorating the fall of fascism.
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