On Saturday 17 May the USA marked its Armed Forces Day with pride, respect and celebrations, parades, across the country to pay tribute to the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces in times of war and peace. The UK will do the same on 28 June. In Croatia, the veterans of the 1990’s Homeland War still find themselves fighting for their rights, for recognition – for the dignity that should be felt across the nation. This is a tragedy that can only be removed through strong retaliation against this injustice.
On Friday 16 May the first convention of Croatian Homeland War veterans and members of their families was held in Zagreb – several thousands of veterans and victims of the 1991-95 war and their guests attended the Lisinski concert hall where the convention was held.
It turned loud and tumultuous as the mere mention of the minister in charge Predrag Matic sparked the gathered participants to loudly boo and whistle in disapproval and rejection.
“We have been witnessing the long-lasting poor governance of the Croatian state, the sale of national resources, the pauperisation of the Croatian people, the stigmatisation of Homeland War veterans and the abolishment of their acquired rights, and now we say that’s enough,” reads one of the conclusions of the convention.
“We say to those to whom the dignity of Croatian Homeland War veterans and the Homeland War means nothing, we will no longer tolerate such an attitude. We demand the prosecution of war crimes against the Croatian people and the revision of cases covered by the General Amnesty Act. We demand the collection of war reparations from the aggressor and that all rights of the veterans and their families be regulated under the Croatian War Veterans Act,” said in his speech Ante Deur, the president of the Guard Brigades Corps, adding that “the veterans will no longer permit that those who had not defended Croatia decide upon their fate”.
The convention voiced demands for the Homeland War to be portrayed in schools in a truthful and dignified way, and directions seeking that Vukovar be proclaimed a place of Special Piety and announcements that the veterans will not allow the arrest of Vukovar heroes.
In his very emotional speech, Djuro Goloski, a 100% war invalid, emphasised that the Homeland War was not a civil war and that the veterans who defended Croatia are not criminals. “We were heroes,” he said. “and today we are treated as a mob.” Goloski accused the current and the previous government of systematically disparaging veterans and restricting their rights.
“We insist that our children have the right to education and work in line with traditional values and the world view of the Croatian people.”
Croatian Homeland War veterans will defend the values of the family as the pillar of every society, say the conclusions that were read out by the president of the Guard Brigades Corps, Ante Deur, whose words were met with standing ovations.
Even though Parliament Speaker Josip Leko was expected to address the convention, it did not happen. Veterans’ Affairs Minister Predrag Matic’s presence was met with loud disapproval, apparently scaring away his communist pro-Yugoslavia parliamentary comrade.
Standing ovations rose to the national football team player Joe Simunic (who is currently a victim of FIFA’s political persecution, banning him to play at the coming World Cup in Brazil, based on his “For Home” chant at a relatively recent soccer match in Croatia) , singer Marko Perkovic Thompson, members of the Initiative for the Defence of a Croatian Vukovar and General Mladen Markac.
Among the guests were Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic and the president of the opposition HDZ party, Tomislav Karamarko.
Nineteen years have passed since the last armed operation in August of 1995 for the defense and liberation of Croatia from Serb aggression. It is a tragic reality that the veterans still find themselves struggling for their rights, for their recognition as a national symbol of freedom and door to democracy. This awful reality has a great deal to do with the politics of equating the aggressor with the victim and the fact that many still call the shots in Croatian government who were against Croatian independence and democracy and who still do not accept it, nor cherish it. Out with them, I say.
Ron Kovic, an American veteran – a son of a Croatian father and Irish mother – whose battles are so well portrayed in his autobiography “Born On Fourth Of July” (and movie of same title) said, quite a few years ago:
“We who have witnessed the obscenity of war and experienced its horror and terrible consequences have an obligation to rise above our pain and suffering and turn the tragedy of our lives into a triumph.
I have come to believe there is nothing in the lives of human beings more terrifying than war and nothing more important than for those of us who have experienced it to share its awful truth.”
And in light of these words and the demands and conclusions from the Croatian Veterans Convention, I conclude this post and say: Blessings to you Croatian Veterans from the Homeland War. Keep fighting for the democracy and the rights under it – for which you lost lives, limbs and homes! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)