Croats gather in Austria for controversial commemoration

Croats gather in Austria for controversial commemoration
A uniformed man carries a Croatian flag during a commemoration ceremony in Bleiburg, Austria, Saturday, May 12, 2018. Thousands of Croatian far-right supporters have gathered in a field in southern Austria to commemorate the massacre of pro-Nazis by victorious communists at the end of World War II. The controversial annual event was held Saturday amid a surge of far-right sentiments in Croatia, the European Union's newest member. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

BLEIBURG, Austria (AP) — Thousands of Croatian far-right supporters have gathered in a field in southern Austria to commemorate the massacre of pro-Nazi Croats by victorious communists at the end of World War II.

The controversial annual event was held Saturday amid a surge of far-right sentiment in Croatia, the European Union’s newest member. For Croatian nationalists, the Bleiburg site symbolizes their suffering under communism in Yugoslavia before they fought a war for independence in the 1990s.

Tens of thousands of Croatians, mostly pro-fascist soldiers, fled to Bleiburg in May 1945 amid a Yugoslav army offensive, only to be turned back from Austria by the British military and into the hands of revengeful anti-fascists. Thousands were killed and buried in mass graves in and around Bleiburg.