Horrified, my heart skipped beats when I saw on TV news Thursday 28 May 2015 armed Croatian police, in a frenzy, chasing after protesting 100% war invalid veterans into the church of St Marks (where the war veterans sought refuge) pushing and shoving through the narrow doorway, threatening the physically weaker and defenceless veterans harm! The last time such utterly depraved aggression by authorities against citizens caught my eyes was way back in 1971, during the so-called Croatian Spring protests that sought more autonomy for Croatia within the communist Yugoslavia – when in a frenzy armed police beat with batons and pistol handles old women and men going about their private business, anyone found in the main city square in Zagreb.
This incident on Thursday at the door of St Mark’s church and in front of the church caused a great deal of distress and tension within Croatia.
For over 200 days now the war veterans have held continuous protests against the government, seeking the removal of Predrag Matic, the minister for veterans affairs and his two assistants, protesting against the removal of some veterans’ entitlements/rights and seeking government protection of the same.
On Thursday 28 May 2015, the disabled war veterans’ protest moved away from their protest tent, erected several months ago in front of the veterans’ affairs ministry at 66 Savska street in Zagreb, to St Mark’s square in front of the parliament house and government house. The dramatic two-day protest by Croatian war veterans ended Friday after Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic promised he would meet with them and hear their demands for more rights on Monday 1 June 2015.
The protest became heated when large groups of veteran supporters broke through police cordons, joining the protest at St Mark’s square. Veterans from other cities and towns across Croatia organised impromptu protest gatherings in support of the protest being held in the capital. The police insisted the gathering was illegal and moved to disperse the group late Thursday. The veterans — many in wheelchairs — barricaded themselves inside St. Mark’s church where they spent the night. The police that chased after them were stopped at the church’s doorway.
This incident and tensions around it triggered a political crisis and it seems Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic had no choice but to agree to a meeting with the war veterans; he has been refusing to meet with the protesting war veterans ever since their protest began months ago.
“What kind of government sends police against those who have fought for independence of our homeland?” asked Djuro Glogoski, one of the war veterans’ protest leaders.
It is indeed sad and sickening the way the Croatian Social Democrat-led government treats its war veterans. All that the war veterans have wanted was a dialogue with the Prime Minister and the government but have had to resort to such protests to achieve it! Months ago the same government, or its parliament, declined to permit the war veterans to speak in the parliament on issues behind their protest.
The Social Democrat led government had through its minister for veterans’ affairs and other government representatives of the issue of war veterans’ protest at all times tried to make the protest a political agenda led by the opposition, Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ instead of truly addressing the legitimacy of the war veterans’ demands or rights. To these former communists and communist Yugoslavia sympathisers that lead the current government of Croatia the thought of democratic rights to protest has not even entered into their public rhetoric.
Tomislav Karamarko, president of HDZ, had said to HRT news this weekend that he has and always will “support the citizens in their legal and legitimate pursuits for their legitimate rights,” hence, his party supports the protesting war veterans. But of course, the government representatives are blind to this, they try and pass it off as political “agitation” rather than pursuit of democratic right to protest and seek realisation of legitimate rights!
Furthermore, the governing reds accused the Catholic Church in Croatia that it protects and shields the war veterans whose protests were illegal! As to the legality or illegality of the protest that has yet to be determined but in no case can a desperate call for dialogue with the government in itself be illegal – and certainly no one as yet has said that the war veterans have broken any law by organising the protest.
Mons. Zelimir Puljic, archbishop of Zadar and president of Croatian Bishops’ Conference has stated for HRT news on Saturday 30 May 2015 that “the church supports those who cry and who seek legitimate rights.”
Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic and veterans’ affairs minister Predrag Matic remain hostile and intolerant towards the protesting war veterans and that is evident in every public statement they make. There is evident animosity and hatred towards the war veterans coming from the government quarters that is deeply painful to watch and one cannot but wonder whether the former communists actually still loath the idea of an independent and democratic Croatia even though they govern it and espouse democracy – rhetorically at least.
We often hear from the government, including the veterans’ affairs minister, how they respect the war veterans, that the protesting veterans are only a small part of all veteran population. We often have seen the government officials or supporters bring our attention to the war veterans who are not protesting or seeking any rights. What is this but a denial of democracy and democratic rights by communist-mentality stealth? The government has been busy in creating divisions among war veterans; creating the perception that there are “good” and there are “bad” war veterans!
All war veterans were and are good! Those who actually lost their life and limbs on the frontlines and battlefields do deserve our highest regard and respectful attention. They placed their life and limb at the frontlines for the defence of the Croatian people’s right to democracy and freedom from communist Yugoslavia. Those who did not want an independent Croatia then (in 1990’s) govern Croatia at present and still do not seem comfortable with the idea of Croatian identity! Ending their protest, the war veterans said on Friday 29 May 2015 they hoped the Prime Minister will live up to his promise. To live up to that promise there would need to be a turnaround or a shift in Zoran Milanovic’s reasoning – it would truly need to become democratic and fair; move well away and convincingly from the spiteful intolerance it has so far been. It’s election year and Milanovic is likely to attend the meeting with the war veterans on Monday but the outcome of that meeting will be something that will interest all Croatians. Should there be no outcome that seems fair there is likely to be more tension and more incidents that will increasingly take the shape of toppling the government with citizen power, hopefully without violence. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)