The symposium was organised – at the initiative of honorary Croatian consul in Slovenia Šime Ivanjko DSc – for the 3rd of June by the University of Maribor’s Faculty of Arts, the University of Maribor Library, the National Liberation Museum of Maribor and the Croatian Consulate in Maribor.
An international symposium titled Tezenska Dobrava: May – June 1945 gathered Slovenian and Croatian historians to discuss the tragic events that took place in the environs of Maribor in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Bearing witness to these tragic events is a covered mass grave in Tezenska Dobrava, discovered during the construction of a motorway in 1999. Estimates place the number of prisoners buried at the site at around 15 thousand, most of them ethnic Croatians.
The symposium was organised – at the initiative of honorary Croatian consul in Slovenia Šime Ivanjko DSc – for the 3rd of June by the University of Maribor’s Faculty of Arts, the University of Maribor Library, the National Liberation Museum of Maribor and the Croatian Consulate in Maribor. The event was staged with the objective of shedding light on this tragic conjuncture of recent Croatian and Slovenian history from different perspectives.
On hand for the symposium was the mayor of Maribor Andrej Fištravec DSc and minister plenipotentiary Krešimir Mahečić representing the Croatian embassy in Ljubljana. Also on hand to welcome the gathered was the rector of the University of Maribor Professor Igor Tičar DSc. He wished the gathered historians a fruitful discussion about the tragic events that took place seventy years ago. Zdenka Petermanec DSc, the director of the University of Maribor Library gave an introductory speech in which she noted that the materials at the library and its archive are entirely open for all historical research concerning the victims of the forced marches referred to as the “Way of the Cross” (Križni put). The director of the National Liberation Museum in Maribor, Aleksandra Berberih Slana DSc, noted the importance of researching the historical setting of the massacres that took place at the end of the Second World War. Lectures were given by researchers Matija Ferenc, Martina Grahek Ravančić, Jerca Starič Vodušek and Matijaž Klemenčič who spoke in detail of the echoes of the breakthrough in May of 1945 among the Croatian and Slovenian diaspora in Cleveland, Ohio. Presenting lectures in the second half of the event were Rozina Švent, Damijan Guštin, Vida Deželak Barić and Šime Ivanjko, at whose initiative the international symposium was staged.
On hand to follow the presentations by the researchers at the international symposium in Maribor on behalf of the Croatian Heritage Foundation were the head of the general and legal affairs department Diana Mašala Perković and the head of the publishing department Vesna Kukavica.
Tezenska Dobrava near Maribor is a site related to both the Croatian and Slovenian victims of the Bleiburg tragedy. In early May of 1945 the majority of the Croatian armed forces (the Home Guard and Ustashe units) began their retreat towards the Austrian border with the intention of surrendering to the Western Allied forces. They were accompanied by a great number of civilians, who fled in fear of the advancing Partisan units. Their route took them along the towns of Celje, Slovenj Gradec, Dravograd, across the Slovenia-Austria border to Bleiburg, where they were to surrender to British forces. They were stopped ahead of Bleiburg by the British Army and soon thereafter surrounded by units of the Jugoslav Army. Negotiations on a surrender with British general Patrick Scott were led on the 15th of May in Thurn-Valsassina castle by Croatian general Ivo Herenčić and colonel Danijel Crljen – the negotiations ended with the surrender of what weapons were still in Croatian hands to the Jugoslav Army. When the deadline for the surrender of arms is alleged to have expired the Yugoslav forces opened fire on the surrounded Croatian soldiers and civilians. The surrender of defeated forces from the territory of Yugoslavia began, including Croatian soldiers, Slovenian Home Guards and Montenegrin and Serbian Chetniks. According to the reports of Yugoslav units 95 thousand soldiers surrendered near Bleiburg on the 15th and 16th of May – their reports do not mention civilians. Some of the prisoners were massacred near Dravograd, Maribor and other Slovenian towns and cities. To this day there are varying estimates on the number of people massacred during the Bleiburg tragedy. The survivors faced the long death marches, known in literature as the “Way of the Cross”.
The international symposium was attended with particular interest by Marko Mandir, president of the Croatian Culture Association in Maribor – he expressed the desire that his generation, born in the 1980s, enjoy the fruitful coexistence of nations sharing European values in peace both in Slovenia and in Croatia.
Text by: Vesna Kukavica