The events in Croatia during the past week should have marked the diary pages with pride, piety, dignified grieving for the lost lives, and a determined step forward in the direction of achieving final justice for the multitudes of war crimes’ victims, victims of the times of Serb aggression, and which justice includes due pursuits in achieving compensation for victims as well as public property such as buildings, utilities etc. Croatia was devastated by the onslaught of Serb aggression of 1990’s.
Instead of this, the visit to Croatia by Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic, caused profound distress especially among those who were the closest to the horrors Serb aggression caused in Croatia during 1990’s. While developing bearable and civilised relations with Serbia is a good thing, in principle, it is not done at the expense of victims and justice they are owed. And this is exactly what was happening in Croatia during the past week.
The past week in Croatia marked:
• The 18th anniversary of the military operation “Flash”, which in 1995 liberated Croatia’s Western Slavonia from brutal Serb occupation. The purpose of the operation was to regain control of Okucani, the centre of the Serb insurgency and terrorist attacks in Western Slavonia. In less than 32 hours, 7,200 Croatian soldiers and policemen took control of 500 square kilometers of occupied territory, including the Zagreb-Lipovac motorway and the main railway line running from Zagreb to Eastern Slavonia. Forty-two Croatian soldiers and policemen were killed and 162 were wounded. (Operation Flash preceded Operation Storm, which followed three months later, when Croatia showed its determination to re-establish its sovereignty over its territory.)
• The 18th anniversary of ruthless surface-to-surface rocket attack against Zagreb by rebel Serbs who retaliated for the defeat they suffered as a result of operation “Flash”. Six people were killed in Zagreb, 39 seriously injured and another 136 received lesser injuries. The first explosions were heard around 10.23 a.m. on 2 May 1995 when several rockets were fired on downtown Zagreb. The rocketing a day later was directed at a children’s hospital, a retirement home and the national theatre building. Serb, Milan Martic was sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for the attack on Zagreb and is currently serving a 35-year sentence.
• The 22nd anniversary when 12 police officers were killed and mutilated by Serb paramilitary forces in Borovo, eastern Croatia. The 12 men were killed in an ambush during the night between May 1 and 2, 1991 after they came to rescue two of their colleagues who had been captured by Serb paramilitaries while on regular patrol. Twenty-one policemen were wounded then.
• The visit to Croatia by Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic, who during the times of Serb aggression against Croatia, while Serbs were killing Croatian and non-Serbs and ethnically cleansing of them areas in Croatia, spoke loud and clear that where there are about 20% of Serbs – that was Serbian country – places such as Karlobag, Ogulin, Karlovac, Virovitica … following is video footage of one of Vucic’s speeches in Belgrade, Serbia, during the Serb aggression in Croatia.
It is absolutely unforgivable that Croatia’s government allowed Vucic’s visit to occur in Croatia during the past week. Especially given that Vucic kept saying and reiterating that “the future is more important than the past!” He further said that “ 18 years has passed, the children have become adults. Prospect for development is more important than being buried in political trenches”.
At that point Croatia’s foreign minister Vesna Pusic should have turned towards him, saying:
“Stop! Stop right there!”
One might even be inclined to believe that Vucic bears sincere good wishes for the Croatian people, but when he went on about the importance of pensions in Croatia for Serbs and Serb’s tenancy rights – every hope that Vucic has turned a page away from Greater Serbia ideals has absolutely vanished. He is still the one who roots for the equation of aggressor with the victim – in every sense. He is still the one who wants the past forgotten so that Serbia does not have to answer for its crimes.
The past is important. It’s most important when justice for the victims has not been achieved. But then, it is in Serbia’s interests to bury the past which has not been reconciled. Croatia’s foreign minister Pusic was certainly not protecting the interests of Croatia nor its people by suggesting that a withdrawal of lawsuit against Serbia at the International Court of Justice for genocide might be on the books – if the question of the still missing persons was resolved.
For crying out loud – the lawsuit is not just about the missing persons, it’s about all of the victims.
Neither the government nor minister Pusic have the right to withdraw the court claim that was made in the name of all the victims, that was made because of the victims!
As to how Croatia’s victims feel about Vucic’s visit to Croatia and what transpired between him and Pusic may perhaps be best shown with the contents of the following open letter to Croatia’s Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic by some of the victims of Serb aggression.
“Respected Mrs Pusic,
At the beginning of your mandate in the government of the Republic of Croatia and after you took up the post at the head of the very important ministry, I sent you a request, asking you to hear the testimonies of raped women, victims of Serbia’s and Yugoslav People’s Army aggression against Croatia.
My wish was to provide you with an opportunity to obtain firsthand knowledge about the suffering of victims, especially women, at that time and which knowledge would, I thought, serve you well when as minister, you find yourself in the situation in which Croatia would be attempting to solve the question of war damages with the aggressor country.
You did not respond to our request, you remained without an insight into war happenings and you were, at the meeting with the government official of Serbia, in a totally inferior position. Minister Vucic stated that we need to look into the future, that love is not necessary for future relations, that problems of pensions and tenancy rights of the Serbian minority must be solved, strengthen economic cooperation. Mr Vucic knows exactly what he wants. He will not talk about the war, about the victims, occupation, war damages, the raped, the concentration camps prisoners. Serbia does not want to talk about the lack of its success in the war. It does not confront the consequences.
You, Mrs Pusic, stated that “if the question of the missing is solved, the conditions will be created for the withdrawal of the claim,” (against Serbia for genocide, at International Court of Justice, filed in 1999) as if you had completed a very significant job for the country and the people.
Why is the question about the missing the most important of all the victims of Serbia’s aggression against Croatia?
If the destroyed and devastated country, the killed, the imprisoned, the raped, the deported, about 400 children, have no value in the efforts for justice, compensation.
It’s every public official’s duty to protect the interests of the country and the people he/she represents.
Are you protecting the interests of raped women? Are you protecting their right to feel that their representatives are truly interceding on their behalf so that they may receive compensation for suffering through war horrors at the hands of those who came, armed to their teeth, and made them into war slaves. Try and imagine how it must be to live with the consequences of having had to live through this. How much strength is needed to raise a child, the fruit of someone from that horde.
The claim, I hope, includes their suffering and horrible ordeals. Or, are you pursuing good political relations without any consideration to the victims. The victims arose during the time when Croatia could not protect them with weapons. Today, when everything is being solved around a table why is Croatia not protecting those same victims. This is not a question of volition; it is a debt and the correction of former powerlessness.
I’m writing to you as a minister, more importantly as a woman, engage your efforts for the living, for those who had the fortune of surviving. The claim must be sustained for their rights. Real victims, not to be equated with the criminal. And the important feeling that justice is being sought and that the difference between aggression and defence is being established.
After all minister, politicians are transient. The people remain and the memory of the experiences remains. It is the responsibility of all of you who have taken over the government jobs to realise a just future. For peace’s sake.
I remain at your disposal to relay to you the true testimonies of the women victims of war.
Marija Sliskovic, President, Women in Homeland War Association
Zagreb 30th April 2013”
Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)