Helping Refugees Amidst Still Fresh Scars Of War Crimes Against Croatian Tovarnik

Tovarnik, Croatia, September 1991 Some civilians massacred by Serb forces were found and buried with dignity

Tovarnik, Croatia, September 1991
Some civilians massacred
by Serb forces were found
and buried with dignity

Tovarnik, a Croatian village near the border with Serbia had since 17 November become the newest hotspot in the EU refugee crisis. Refugees and migrants broke through a police line at Tovarnik on September 17, as Croatia struggled to deal with the sudden influx of people. With the border between Serbia and Hungary closed, thousands of refugees and migrants made their way to Croatia, a great majority through Tovarnik. According to some sources about 35000 refugees and migrants had come into Croatia within the week, stayed a couple of days and were moved on to continue their journey to their desired destination within the EU, leaving distressing amounts of garbage strewn everywhere and hygienic devastation behind.

What the world reporting on Tovarnik these days doesn’t report or mention are the events of 22 September 1991 that occurred in it. In September 1991 Tovarnik, a place near Vukovar, was a place of genocidal murders, horrific tortures and ethnic cleansing of Croats and some other non-Serbs by the Serb rebels and Serb led Yugoslav army.

On 22 September 1991, 68 innocent civilians were murdered and massacred in Tovarnik and many more in the days that followed.

Hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles moved in columns from Belgrade and Novi Sad in Serbia, heading for Vukovar but came across fierce determination in Croats to defend Croatia as they passed through the villages of Tovarnik, Ilaca, Bogdanovci and others. Croatian resistance to Serb aggression was fierce even if the Croatian defenders had little or no weapons or ammunition of speak of.

But, the killings, the beatings to death, starvation, and unimaginable physical and psychological torture were daily occurrences in the house of dr Djordje Cvejic, which was turned into a concentration and torture camp. During late 1991 at least 300 Croatian soldiers and civilians passed through that house owned by that ethnic Serb, mostly from Tovarnik and surrounding places. People that were not killed in that house were taken at a mass gravesite and killed there and buried, after being tortured at the house. Father Ivan Burik, Tovarnik’s long-standing parish priest was murdered and buried there. More than 95% of 2,500 Croats that lived in Tovarnik were forced out of their homes to flee, were ethnically cleansed by Serbs and ended up destitute refugees. The elderly and women that were permitted to remain in Tovarnik had to wear white ribbons around their sleeves as a sign that they were of Croatian nationality. The same sign (white ribbons) marked their homes.
Trial on criminal charges laid against Milos Stanomirovic and 14 other persons of Serb ethnic background for war crimes committed in Tovarnik after 20 September 1991 commenced in March 2010 in the District court in Vukovar. Charges laid against them said that they forcefully deported from Tovarnik Croatian and other non-Serb population, killed and physically abused and stole or destroyed the property belonging to Croats and had, therefore, committed acts against humanity and international law – genocide.
Verdits and sentencing were delivered on 23 April 2012: Milos Stanomirovic, Dusan Stupar, Bosko Miljkovic, Dragan Sedlic, Zeljko Krnjajic and Radoslav Stanimirovic were found guilty. Milos Stanimirovic received 10 year prison sentence, Srdic and Miljkovic 8 years, Stupar, Krnjajic and Sedlic 6 years, and Radoslav Stanimirovic 5 years.

Tovarnik, Croatia September 2015 Refugees from Middle east await transportation for the next border

Tovarnik, Croatia
September 2015
Refugees from Middle east
await transportation for the next border


24 years after September 1991 Tovarnik sees tens of thousands of refugees passing through the still battle-scarred eastern Croatia, where vivid memories of their own war inspired the local people to help these victims of distant conflicts as well as poverty stricken lands.
Yesterday, locals came down here with 20 cars full of food and water,” Robert Martinkovic said on Monday 21 September as he helped fellow volunteers clear a makeshift transit camp near the Croatia-Serbia border for refugees, predominantly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. “We understand completely what this means for this people, what it means to be a refugee.”

The war of Serb aggression in Croatia killed about 20,000 people, most of them Croats, and displaced hundreds of thousands. Eastern Croatia (where Tovarnik sits) suffered the worst atrocities, and the biggest massacre occurred at Vukovar. For three months in 1991, a couple of thousand lightly armed Croats defended Vukovar from more than 35,000 Yugoslav troops, as Serb commanders pounded the city with tanks, heavy artillery and bomber aircraft. Barely a building was left undamaged.
Twenty-two thousand people fled Vukovar, and about 1,700 Croats were killed before Serb-led military groups overran the city on November 19, 1991. When they did, hundreds of people sought shelter in Vukovar’s hospital, from which they hoped to be evacuated. Instead, the Serbs transported about 250 fighters and civilians to a nearby pig farm at Ovcara, where they were tortured and shot dead. Their bodies were later found in a mass grave not far from the city.
Throughout the territory…crimes were widespread and systematic. They included the destruction of Croatian communities; forced deportations of thousands of citizens; murder, torture and extermination; and the unlawful confinement of civilians. Areas that were affected by these crimes were Celije, Daljski Atar, Dalj, Dalj Planina, Sarvas, Ernestinovo, Laslovo, Erdut, Aljmas, Lovas, Sarengrad, Tovarnik and Bapska. And there was Vukovar, where violent criminals devoid of even the slightest hint of humanity perpetrated the single largest massacre in Croatia during the war,” page 120, The Devil’s Garden: A War Crimes Investigator’s Story, By John R. Cencich.

The people of Tovarnik embraced with good will and assistance the refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries during the week as they arrived in tens of thousands. Croatian defenders fought the Serbian troops advancing toward Vukovar through Tovarnik almost barehanded in 1991. On 22 September 1991 68 of them lost their lives in the most brutal of ways! Lest we forget! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb), B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this Ina. Such a sad part of history for all. So wonderful to see the Croatian spirit bright in the area helping those in need.

  2. An amazing article. The people of Tovarnik really have ‘seen it all’ in the past 25 years. Bless them all.

  3. I noticed the ground litter in every picture of the refugees. Nobody ever mentions it though. That speaks volumes to me.

  4. Suffering and disaster upon tragedy and loss — so profoundly disturbing and disheartening. What will come of all this?

    • I also cannot see an end to this any time soon, Jasna, or a resolution that will satisfy at least the refugees especially in the situation where mandatory distribution across countries is to follow. So on a personal level not good although on state levels this might be a strong message for order

  5. “Today in Germany, another conquering army are being welcomed as liberators – liberators from the residual moral stain of what remains of ethnic nationalism and cultural identity. Watching European news broadcasts right now is like an insane demotic inversion of the Emperor’s new clothes.”

  6. Michael Silovic says:

    Croatians are a compassionate people and have a big heart in whatever they do. You see it everyday in the smaller villages where they look out after their neighbors and the elderly even when they do not have much themselves. This was installed in them through out the struggle in their own history as a people but also in their religion as Catholics in the churches teaching of Mathews 25:40 ,Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ In that passage Croats have always believed that their faith would bring them to freedom and brotherhood if they cared not only for themselves but others. We all should be proud of our people for the strength and courage they provided to mostly Muslims while in Muslim countries they kill Catholics. But we also need to be reminded that even though we do what we can for the least of these that we need to be strong and firm in taking care of our heritage , religion and culture which taught us to be compassionate and understanding to begin with.

    • So true, Michael and if we, anyone, doesn’t take care of their heritage and self then everything falls through, nothing much of the true self can survive

  7. The people of Tovarnik are an example of compassion and honor in this recent flood of refugees.

  8. Heard Milanovic dissolved parliament…looks like elections in November. Hopefully / prayfully Croatians vote him and his anti-Croatian government out of power convincingly! Also hope the opposition gets their act together and starts to act like a true opposition and STOP giving him and the SDP government a free pass. They should have been all over him about the refugee debacle he created. When you think about how many refugees were taken in and processed during the homeland war and compare it the current situation it is shameful that Milanovic failed so miserably; we had less, were less prepared were in the middle of a war but managed successfully, and this government of stooges can’t manage this refugee situation. As the saying goes if you don’t plan, you plan to fail.

  9. Also see:
    Weapons of Mass Migration

    And: “I spent a day with the refugees” – in Croatian but it’s a quick translation online:

    and The Final Hijra – A Warning on the Refugee Crisis.

  10. Nada Lubay says:

    I was shocked by lack of basic understanding in the text written by A.Sarić….He seems to be unaware of Croatian situation: still fresh wounds from war, more than 104 thousand Croats emigrated in the last few years seeking jobs abroad. an army of more than 320 thousand people blocked by banks because of their insolvency, homeless , jobless, poor people, Croatian economy on it’s knees, and Croatia also hugely indebted… come it can accept refugees and create new jobs for them, provide health care, education, apartments etc. ? Especially how come secure religious tolerance between Christians who are peaceful and friendly (Croats certainly are and that was evident throughout the refugees crisis) and Muslims who are not tolerant and who do not assimilate but usually live in their ghettos : see what was and is happening in UK and France..Small exhausted Croatia can not endure such pressure…Croatian birthrate is constantly decreasing..while refugees are known to have 5, 8 children per per family..In less than 20 years from now Croats would be a minority in own country! Person who does not see this bigger picture as a very probable scenario is stupid or corrupted or wants to destroy Croatia . Logical reasoning and sufficient education/knowledge are crucial for Prime minister and also for every level minded individual who makes comments.

    • I think Nada one cannot generalise but I do agree with much of what you say, as far as funds to settle refugees I believe they’re not from Croatia’s budget but from EU? Still, Croatia does pay hefty EU membership fees from Croatia’s taxpayers money and other revenue


  1. […] built refugee reception centre in the village of Opatovac near the Serbian border, not far from Tovarnik. Then they are usually taken on buses and trains to three border crossings with […]

  2. […] built refugee reception centre in the village of Opatovac near the Serbian border, not far from Tovarnik. Then they are usually taken on buses and trains to three border crossings with […]

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