By: Lea Kalc Furlanič
The Ljubljana municipality and the Žale cemetery insist that the cemetery is intended for the citizens of Ljubljana and that there is no place to bury the victims of the post-war massacres from the abyss under Macesnova Gorica and other victims, including the murdered Roma from the Ljubljana area, as suggested by the government’s commission for clandestine graves.
Recently, on the European Day of Remembrance for the Victims of All Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes, the Commission of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia for solving the issue of hidden graves called on the government to take the initiative as soon as possible to determine the grave of the remains from the abyss under Macesnova Gorica in the Ljubljana cemetery Žale and to do everything to ensure that this is done. In addition, the commission has already made such initiatives, but there has been no positive response from the municipality of Ljubljana.
Self-interested political activity instead of piety
On the contrary. Both the mayor of Ljubljana, Zoran Janković, and the director of the Žale company, Robert Martinčič, are convinced that the long-standing insistence of the commission on the burial, which – in their opinion – cannot be carried out, shows the political background of the request, which has nothing to do with piety. Of course, this is not true. “We estimate that the best solution is to bury the remains from the abyss under Macesnova Gorica as quickly as possible, either in the cemetery closest to the abyss or in the Teharje Memorial Park built for this purpose,” they told for STA. The Ljubljana municipality is still convinced that all victims of post-war massacres have the right to a dignified burial, but according to the regulations, their burial in the Žale cemetery is not the only option, saying that there is no suitable place there.
In the past years, the government’s commission for solving the issue of hidden burial grounds, also through the competent ministry, has already submitted several initiatives or applications for the burial of remains to the Municipality of Ljubljana, first in 2017 for victims, predominantly of Slovenian nationality, from several mass graves across Slovenia. The Ljubljana municipality insisted that there was no place for them in Žale cemetery. In 2017, the Commission submitted a new application for victims of Slovene and Roma ethnicity from several mass graves near Ljubljana. The commission received the same answer from the municipality. Then, in 2018, they initiated the burial of 65 victims of Roma nationality from Iška and Mačkovec, who were to be buried in two mass graves. In this case too, the municipality of Ljubljana rejected the commission’s initiative.
“The Žale cemetery is indeed the largest Slovenian cemetery, but like every other cemetery in Slovenia, it is intended for the needs of the local community or citizens of the Ljubljana city municipality and not for all-Slovenian and national protocol needs,” Janković and Martinčič justify the rejection of the commission’s initiative and insist that in this case it could be an unconstitutional interference of the state in the original jurisdiction of the municipality. In doing so, the state is putting the municipality in an unequal position, as it indirectly demands that it must finance the needs of the citizens of the other 211 Slovenian municipalities from its own resources, which, according to their belief, is unacceptable, reported STA.
The commission calls on the government for a burial at Žale
However, the Commission of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia for solving the issue of hidden graves still persistently expresses the expectation that Slovenia will continue its efforts to realise the right to a grave and memory for all victims of war and revolutionary violence – both Slovenian victims on the territory of Slovenia and abroad as well as victims from other countries on the territory of Slovenia. This was highlighted again on August 23rd, on the occasion of the European Day of Remembrance for the Victims of All Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes. This is why the commission has been calling for the victims of this war crime and crime against humanity to be buried in the capital of Slovenia for several years. “Excavating the remains of the victims from the abyss below Macesnova Gorica makes this initiative all the more justified. After all, the capital of the country encompasses all extremes of the nation in its symbolic circle,” emphasised the president of the commission, Dr Jože Dežman. “The commission calls on the government to accept the commission’s initiative to determine the grave of these victims at the Žale cemetery in Ljubljana as soon as possible and to do everything to make it a reality,” urged Dr Dežman.
Historical background of the cemetery
Some more information about the Jama pod Macesnovo gorico graveyard in Kočevski rog: according to the record of the historian Dr Mitja Ferenc, between May 27th and 31st, 1945, the British army returned a huge number of opponents of the communists to Slovenia from the concentration camp in Vetrinje near Klagenfurt, including a large part of the Slovenian Home Guard. They handed them over to the Yugoslav Army. From the camp in Šentvid above Ljubljana, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, and others were then taken to Kočevski rog, where they were killed and thrown into the abyss. In addition to Jama pod Macesnova gorica, the best known is the Jama pod Krenom burial ground.
Among the people, the location of the Jama pod Macesnovo Gorico covert war burial site has been known for decades, which is confirmed by the placement of a cross in front of the burial site in April 1990. Between 2004 and 2017, based on the information obtained, several surveys and soundings were carried out, which confirmed that it is mass grave. Based on this, the commission decided on the excavation. The construction and preparatory work project for access to the remains in the burial ground was prepared in 2019, and since then the necessary work has been carried out in stages, which, due to the complexity of the terrain and the circumstances of its creation, must be carried out with all care. The excavation will be followed by a dignified burial of the victims.
4,000 victims under Macesnova Gorica
“Macesnova gorica is worse than the cave of St. Barbara, worse than Huda jama,” estimate experts. So far, approx. two thousand cubic meters of blasted rock that was blasted on the killed victims has been removed. The surrounding was blasted several times, the last time in the 1950s, which testifies of the bad conscience of the former rulers, who wanted to hide their infamous actions at all costs. Archaeologists have so far excavated the remains of more than two thousand murdered people. Due to the bell shape of the cave and the uncertainty regarding the relief of the bottom of the cave, it is estimated that this is about half of all victims.
It is now known that at least fifty people survived being shot and thrown into the abyss. Around thirty bodies were found in cave niches, which means that they died later. Some of them also escaped from the abyss. This is how we know the testimonies of Milan Zajec, France Dejak, France Kozina, and Janez Janša Snr (the father of ex slovenian prime minister Janez Janša). It is interesting that France Kozina also wrote down some names of executioners who undoubtedly knew about the location. They are all deceased today, but thirty years ago (at the time of publication) they were not. Despite this, they were never prosecuted by the police or the judiciary.
Will the remains wait years for burial?
The commission expects that research will be completed this year and that all remains will be exhumed. After the anthropological analysis of the remains, after the submission of identification samples to the depot of the National Forensic Laboratory, after the analysis of the found objects, the choice of the place of grave for these and other silenced victims is before us. What can we expect to happen to the remains? Will they wait for a suitable burial place in plastic boxes and black bags for seven years, as happened with the victims of Huda Jama? According to Dr Jože Dežman, the story of the burial of the victims of Huda jama was a harsh lesson for us, which, among other things, took away the former president of the republic, Danilo Türk, due to the inappropriateness of his statements. Dežman said that he is happy that we now have the opportunity to excavate, do research and talk about what happened there and accept the truth about it. Another thing we have to think about is the question of the place of burial. In the case of the victims of the mass killing under Macesnova Gorica, the question is very simple: will we agree to a propaganda construction where the dead are divided into good and bad, where some can have a grave and others not?
Janković: there will be no “traitor” graves in Ljubljana
If we do not agree to this, it is our duty to find the right burial location. The Slovenian capital must show itself as the bearer of the nation’s symbolic power. For better or for worse, history must be accepted as it is. Unfortunately, Ljubljana, with Mayor Janković at the helm, appears here as a city with a distinctly disrespectful attitude towards death. The Commission of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia for issues of hidden graves has already submitted a request to determine the burial place in Žale several times. So far, this has been rejected, and the mayor has publicly promised that there will be no “traitor” graves in Ljubljana. Who were those killed in the Brezar abyss, asked Dr Dežman, and what about the Home Guard graves on Orlov vrh, and those killed behind the cemetery wall in Šentvid? How can we have a monument to the victims of the plane crash in Ajaccio in Žale or a monument to the victims of the Dachau trials, but for the victims from the abyss under Macesnova Gorica, the city does not have the power to accept them in Žale?
Do we have a Stalinist or Titoist government?
Dr Dežman also pointed out: “If the government supports Mayor Janković in his position that there is no place for “traitor’s” graves in Ljubljana, the question arises as to whether this is still a liberal, democratic government or is it a Stalinist or Titoist government? Of course, the commission cannot decide on the place of burial, but it can draw attention to it. And we will not be able to avoid this question. After all, even the current city government has an expiration date that goes beyond the question of the ethics of burying the victims of World War II. Macesnova Gorica is worse than St. Barbara’s Cave, it is worse than Huda jama, without a doubt it is a new illumination of one of the most tragic points in Slovenian history,” concluded Dr Dežman, “that is why it is time to start having a respectful conscience towards the victims. If there is democracy, it will happen.”
Dr Dežman pointed out the right to a grave, which is a fundamental human right for everyone. Also, for the group of Roma who were murdered by the communist partisans in Iška on May 17th, 1942, and the current Ljubljana mayor Janković is preventing their burial in Ljubljana’s Žale. It was this date that the previous government declared a day of remembrance for all victims of communist totalitarianism.
The government’s commission for solving the issue of hidden graves supports the continuation of research on all graves and burial grounds, the collection of data on all victims and their graves (two-thirds of the victims do not yet have a registered place of grave). Only in this way will an adequate register of war burial places be created.
Dr Jože Dežman: “If the government supports Mayor Janković in his position that there is no place for “traitor’s” graves in Ljubljana, the question arises as to whether this is still a liberal, democratic government or is it a Stalinist or Titoist government?”