Failure To Expose Communism Crimes Gravely Harms Croatia – Robin Harris

British Historian, university lecturer, author, commentator, journalist, former Advisor to UK  Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Vice President of COK (Croatian Centre of Cultural Renewal) based in Zagreb, Croatia, Dr. Robin Harris has 27 September 2022 delivered a lecture on the importance of National Sovereignty at the Centre for the Renewal of Culture – New Direction Young Leaders summer school in Split, Croatia.

It was and is a most relevant lecture because it succinctly and most aptly paints the reality of today’s Croatia whose political and government echelons are poisoned with former communists or their undemocratically indoctrinated offspring who largely disrespect and ignore the reason why Croatia so intensely wanted to secede from former communist Yugoslavia. Rivers of blood and thousands of Croatian lives were lost to achieve the sovereignty of Croatia, independence from communist Yugoslavia and, thirty years on the transition from communist practices has not shifted much, fearmongering, oppression, corruption, nepotism, denial of horrendous communist crimes and mass murders, political prisoners…as if the 1990’s Homeland War had never occurred! What a tragedy for democracy and prosperity and freedom.

Here is what Dr. Robin Harris said in his lecture recently:  

“…Lustration is a word, an idea, that by one means or another one would either break the link between the communist regime and the post-communist democratic regime or at least expose those who had been involved, particularly involved in the nefarious practices under the old regime so that anybody who decided to vote for them or promote them would know what they were doing. In practice it was also intended, and perhaps most importantly intended to change the atmosphere.

But in society collective guilt is a very important things and sense of collective guilt is always being manipulated by the media or manipulated by outsiders in one way or another. I’ll just give a little example: in the Croatian War of Independence, what they call the Homeland War, appalling atrocities were committed by the Serbs. Beyond description. Nothing that had been seen both in Croatia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina, atrocities that nobody had seen since the Second World War. Now, far from actually apologising for that, what Serbs did and have done with great effectiveness is to refocus attention on real atrocities committed by the Ustasha, the Croatian fascist movement, essentially under the wing of the Nazis during the Second World War. So, in fact we forget the more recent atrocities which are still fresh, there are people walking with only one leg, or in some terrible mental state because of these latest atrocities, we’re meant to focus on things in the past.

This kind of manipulation is very important but of course on the other side this is part of what politics is about. We have to make our enemies, not personal enemies but the enemies of what we believe in, we want them to feel guilty. Or even if they don’t actually feel guilty, this is important, there is a distinction, we have to make them feel ashamed. Because shame is a public thing …

But in fact, because there has been no lustration, no exposure of who was what under the communist regime, cruel communist regime under Tito, here (in Croatia) or any other bits of former Yugoslavia, people are prepared and able to carry on, the elite of this country is able to carry on as if nothing happened.  And as a result, almost all of those who are running the country in one way or another, I’m not just talking about politics but politics, business, and judiciary, these are people who are basically part of the old communist stock. These are communist mentality people who got their education, in many cases by stipendiat (scholarship), stipendiat which were available to those who were the offspring of communism party and were not to those who were not. And we are not talking just about those who were imprisoned.

And as late as 1988, former NDH (WWII Independent State of Croatia) Minister Artukovic was extradited and given a very long-life sentence, I can’t remember, for crimes committed during the Second World War. I’m not going to defend Artukovic, that’s not the point, but the point is this was about things that had been done decades before and not one successful prosecution has ever taken place in this country against anybody who committed any murders or atrocities under communism. Not one! Nor will it be because they do not want to know the truth.

The truth may as Our Lord says set you free, but it can also put you in prison.

And that unfortunately is one of the pillars of modern Croatian state – a denial of the communist past and the atrocities committed under it.

And I can say that to somebody from outside; I don’t care what anybody thinks. And that, the fact is that when the German court in Munich found two former very senior Croat Secret Policemen guilty of murder of a man called Djurekovic, they were finally extradited after a law that the Sabor (Parliament) had passed, stopping the extradition, had to be quashed and they were extradited and finally sentenced and now there is pressure that these people should be freed by the president of Croatia. And so not only is it true that nobody who had committed crimes under communism has been prosecuted here (in Croatia), the general view is that nobody who has committed crimes against Croats overseas should even serve any prison sentence at all. I would say this in fundamentally unjust and till you and others are prepared to face up to this and do something about it there will be problems in the Croatian state.”

Ina Vukic

Day of Remembering the Victims of Croatia War of Independence and Day of Remembering Victims of Vukovar and Skabrnja

Holy Cross at Ovcara Farm, Vukovar, Croatia
Holy Cross at Ovcara Farm, Vukovar, Croatia adorned with rosary beads from pilgrims and mourners

November 18 the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Homeland War and the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Vukovar and Škabrnja.

When Croatia formally declared independence on 25 June 1991, its Serb minority openly renounced the authority of the newly proclaimed state. In August 1990, the rebellion started, and in 1991, backed by the Serb-dominated Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA/Jugoslavenska narodna armija/JNA) and Serbian authorities, the insurgents declared an independent Serbian state covering one-third of Croatia’s territory, intending to carry out systematic ethnic cleansing of Croats and other non-Serbian populations. From mid-1991, almost the entire territory of the Republic of Croatia was affected by heavy fighting, ethnic cleansing of Croats from the Serb-occupied areas, torture, rape, destruction…

The city of Vukovar today, 18 November 2022, marks 31 years since the collapse of the city’s heroic defence and the aggression of the former Yugoslav National Army (JNA) and Serb paramilitaries, in which some 3,000 Croatian veterans and civilians were killed and went missing, and the city was almost razed to the ground.

The city of Vukovar, on the Danube, was under siege for 87 days, and the battle for Vukovar ended on November 18, 1991, with its occupation which lasted until January 15, 1998 and the peaceful reintegration of the Croatian Eastern Slavonia and Western Syrmia and Baranja area ended the Serb occupation in the region. Ethnic cleansing of Croats and non-Serbs from the region meant that many were tortured, killed or turned into refugees and displaced masses. After the Peaceful Reintegration of the region, which regretfully gave hundreds of Serbs who fled to Serbia in fear of retribution for their heinous crimes amnesty against being prosecuted for war crimes, the Vukovar Croats and other people finally began returning to their home city to build life anew among the ruins and devastation.

Although fighting and clashes in and around Vukovar began earlier, e.g. Borovo village on the outskirts of Vukovar that saw a massacre of twelve Croatian policemen by local rebel Serbs, August 25, 1991 is usually cited as the date of the start of the Battle for Vukovar when the JNA and Serb paramilitaries launched a general tank-infantry attack with the intention of capturing the city in a week at most. However, the Croatian defenders, although numerically ten times weaker in terms of weapons, managed to last almost three months. Their defence was weakened and obstructed severely by the UN Arms Embargo and the Yugoslav Army was considered to be the third largest in Europe. Began ethnic cleansing of Croats from Vukovar, hundreds of Croatian civilians and defence volunteer men forcefully taken to concentration camps and prisons within Serbia – such as Begejci, Sremska Mitrovica and Stajicevo –  and later Serbs opening new concentration camps near Vukovar (e.g. Velepromet and Ovcara) where torture, rape and murder were daily horrors endured. The residents that still remained in Vukovar were without electricity and an orderly supply of water and food as a full-blown attack saw hundreds of projectiles fell on the city every day with tank and air attacks.

Hence, the Yugoslav People’s Army, aided by Serb Territorial forces and paramilitaries from Serbia, launched a full-blown attack on Vukovar in eastern Croatia on August 25, 1991, beginning a siege that would last for 87 days and leave thousands of Croat soldiers and civilians dead before the town’s Croatian defenders had to surrender.

The Vukovar hospital suffered extensive damage from Serb shelling despite the International Red Cross visibly painted on its roof, and the treating of the wounded was provided in impossible conditions in the hospital basement. On October 19, 1991, a humanitarian convoy of Doctors Without Borders managed to enter the besieged city of Vukovar, rescuing about a hundred wounded veterans from the hospital.

Vukovar was defended by about 1,800 Croatian defenders, including many volunteers from all over Croatia and from the diaspora as well as foreigners from countries like France, Germany, Ireland and on the opposite side were about 30,000 enemy soldiers, aided by more than 600 tanks, hundreds of mortars and cannons, and the air force.

The heroic Croatian resistance was broken on November 18, 1991. Part of the Croatian defenders tried to get out of the city in breakthroughs. Those who remained were taken to Serb concentration camps, and many were killed. On November 19, the Yugoslav army evacuated the wounded, veterans, and civilians from the Vukovar hospital, who were killed on the night of November 20-21 at the nearby Ovčara farm. 200 victims were exhumed from the mass grave in Ovčara, the youngest of whom was 16 years old, and the oldest 84 years old. Subsequent forensic investigation of a mass grave at Ovčara farm of victims killed by the Serbian army in 1991 showed that 198 male and 2 female bodies (one of a pregnant woman) in civilian clothes were exhumated from the site. The determined manner of death for all 200 exhumed bodies was homicide, and the cause of death for 95% of the victims was a gunshot wound to a vital part of the body, in 67% of cases to the head. Traces of medical treatment and hospital workwear were found on 53% of the victims.

About 22,000 Croats and other non-Serbs were expelled, ethnically cleansed, from the city.

On October 29, 1999, the Croatian Parliament passed a decision to proclaim the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Vukovar in 1991 in order to pay tribute with dignity and appropriateness to all participants in the defence of that city – the symbol of Croatian freedom. By the decision of the Government from 2019, November 18 was declared a holiday and a non-working day and is marked as the Day of Remembrance for the victims of the Homeland War and the Day of Remembrance for the victims of Vukovar and Skabrnja.

The Škabrnja massacre (Škabrnja), also known as Skabrnja and Nadin massacre, was a war crime perpetrated by Serb Army forces during the Croatian War of Independence. On November 18, 1991, Serb paramilitaries, supported by the Yugoslav People’s Army/JNA, captured the village of Skabrnja, some 25 kilometres east of the coastal city of Zadar, and murdered, massacred, 62 civilians and 5 prisoners of war. The massacre occurred shortly after an agreement to evacuate Zadar’s YPA/JNA garrison following an increase in fighting between the Croatian National Guard and the Yugoslav People’s Army. Most of the killings were committed by the Self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina troops which followed the leading armoured Yugoslav Army units fighting their way into Skabrnja on 18 November. During the initial attack, the attacking force employed a human shield of captured Croatian civilians forced to walk in front of armoured vehicles. Most of the civilian population fled the village and about 120–130 were captured by the Yugoslav Army and detained in the village school and kindergarten. However, others who took shelter in basements were killed in or just outside their homes. A portion of those killed in the massacre were buried in a mass grave in Skabrnja, while dozens of bodies were turned over to Croatian authorities.

Afterwards several Croatians also died there when stepping on landmines left by Serbs. In total, 86 people were killed, mostly the women, or the elderly during the war in Skabrnja village. Skabrnja and Nadin were ethnically cleansed of its Croatian and other non-Serb population and annexed to the Self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina, remaining there until the Croatian forces reintegrated them back in 1995 with the swift, heroic, and determined military operation “Storm”.

To recapture, thirty-one years ago, on 18 November 1991, after three months of siege, the almost completely destroyed Vukovar was occupied by attacking Yugoslav People’s Army and Serbian rebels. On the same day, about 300 kilometres south-west of Vukovar, 62 civilians and 5 prisoners of war, mostly of Croatian nationality, were killed in a massacre in the small villages of Skabrnja and nearby Nadin. These two tragic events marked November 18 as the saddest moment of recent Croatian history that captures the horror and terror that Croats endured just because they wanted to secede from communist Yugoslavia and become an independent democratic state. The tragedies in Vukovar and Skabrnja have become symbols of suffering and will forever remind future generations of the victims who gave their lives for a free and independent Croatia. Lest Te Forget! Ina Vukic

LEST WE FORGET VUKOVAR AND SKABRNJA – CROATIA

Photo: Croatian Club “Braća Radić” in Sydney Australia members, children and teachers during 2018 commemoration of Vukovar and Skabrnja

On 18th November commemoration to honour the victims of brutal, genocidal, Serb and Yugoslav Army aggression will be held across Croatia and particular focus will be on Vukovar and Skabrnja who on that day in 1991 and days that followed suffered horrific destinies at the hand of the aggressor while the “world” via the UN pressed on with arms embargo against Croatia! I was particularly touched recently of the announcement from the Sydney, Australia, based Croatian Club “Braća Radić” (Radic Brothers) that they will hold a special commemoration on Friday 18th November in the evening for Vukovar and Skabrnja massacres victims, focusing on including school-age children to participate in this event – so that future Australian-Croatian generations know about these tragedies and never forget the victims. The children, parents and friends will confirm their knowledge and remembrance of significant milestones of these tragedies and places in Croatia. It will include the following lines of truths that will be useful for your children and grandchildren to know:

1.The town of Vukovar is situated in the north-east part of continental or mainland Croatia and sits on at the confluence of the Vuka River and the Danube. Its history begins in the 6th century AD when Slavic people settled in the area. Vukovar as a town was first mentioned in history books as Vukovo in the early 13th century AD and in 14th century it acquires the name of Vukovar. Vukovar occupies parts of historical provinces of Croatia. What are those provinces called?

Reply: Eastern Slavonia and Western Syrmia.

Map of Croatia and position of Vukovar

Map of Croatia with position of Vukovar

2. What is the name of the historical symbol of the city of Vukovar?

Reply: Vucedol dove.

Vukovar Vucedol Dove

Vukovar’s Vucedol Dove

3. What is the name of the modern symbol of Vukovar’s  suffering that was restored, with the help of Croatians living in the diaspora including Sydney, to its former glory of pre-Homeland War of the early 1990’s after it was significantly destroyed by the former Yugoslavia and Serbian aggressor armies’ bombing and shelling?

Reply: Vukovar Water Tower

Vukovar Water Tower

Vukovar Water Tower

4. Most Croatian people wanted independence from communist Yugoslavia so in May 1990 they held the first democratic elections and on 30 May 1990 Croatian Parliament was inaugurated. This was the beginning of the end the 45-year rule of communist Yugoslavia over Croatia. At the instigation of the first Croatian President, dr Franjo Tuđman, who led the political movement for an independent Croatia, on 19th May 1991 Croatians held a referendum and almost 94% of Croatian voters voted for independence from the oppressive communist Yugoslavia totalitarian regime. There was a Serb minority living in Croatia who opposed Croatian independence and loyal to Serbia they wanted Croatia to remain as part of Yugoslavia. These Serb minorities became to be known as Rebel Serbs in Croatia and in August of 1990 they blocked the roads around the town of Knin with logs and with the help of Serbia they proclaimed the Serbian Autonomous Region of Krajina and commenced banishing Croats living in that area, killing many. On 25 June 1991 the Croatian Parliament proclaimed Croatia as an independent state and commenced the path to separate itself from communist Yugoslavia. As a result, the Yugoslav Army opposed Croatian independence and sided with the Croatian Serb rebels and together from August 1991 they staged a cruel and brutal attack upon Vukovar and Borovo Selo at its outskirts. Then Began the heroic Battle for Vukovar on Croatian side amidst the siege of the town by the Yugoslav army and rebel Serbs in Croatia who lived there. On 18 November 1991, the battle of Vukovar ended after the city ran out of ammunition but the Serb rebels living in the area nevertheless committed more mass killings and genocide in the days that followed. The massacre of Vukovar Hospital medical staff and civilian patients and war prisoners at the nearby Ovčara farm occurred on 20 November. During the siege of Vukovar from 25 August to 18 November 1991 by Serbs and Yugoslav Army 1800 of civilians and Croatian soldiers were killed, thousands wounded, and over 2,000 missing, presumed killed by Serbs, thousands of Croatians held captive and tortured in Serbian concentration camps and others that made up all Croatians living in the area were banished and became refugees, Vukovar suffered catastrophic damage in the battle with 90 percent of houses either destroyed or damaged. It is worth noting that while majority were rebels and aggressors there were some Serbs in Croatia who joined the Croatian fighters to free Vukovar. In 1998, the largest mass grave in Europe since World War II was discovered at the New Cemetery in Vukovar, from which the remains of 938 victims were exhumed. Croatian soldiers and civilians were buried there by the Yugoslav Army after the occupation of the town. Vukovar remained occupied by Serbian forces until late 1998 when it was returned to Croatia during the so-called peaceful reintegration of occupied Croatian Danube area. In Croatia, after the heavy suffering in the Homeland War that included the Battle for Vukovar, what is Vukovar called?

Reply: Hero City.

Devastated Vukovar from Serb and Yugoslav Army aggression - November 1991

Devastated Vukovar November 1991

5. There was a woman from Vukovar who is known as a Croatian hero and nicknamed “The Vukovar Mother of Courage”. She lost four sons and a son-in-law in the Battle for Vukovar. She searched for her sons’ remains for 12 years. The last body, the oldest Niko, was found in 2003 in an unmarked grave at the cemetery in Srijemska Mitrovica in Serbia. Niko was her eldest son and was 49 years old when he was captured in the fighting before the fall of Vukovar. He was taken to the Srijemska Mitrovica concentration camp in Serbia. There he was brutally tortured and killed by a blow to the head in December 1991. He is survived by three sons. The second son Mijo, three years younger than Niko, managed to hide his family in Zadar, and he returned to Srijemski Čakovci, Croatia, to see what happened to his house. His Serb neighbours captured him and then killed him in a cornfield on the day of the fall of Vukovar on November 18, 1991. Kata’s third son Ivan, the commander at Mitnica near Vukovar for defence of Vukovar, better known as “Big Joe”, was 43 years old when he died. He started to break through from Vukovar, was ambushed by the Chetniks and tried to get out of the ambush. He jumped into the Danube and drowned in the cold and swollen river. He left behind three minor children. The fourth son Mato was killed at the beginning of the war during the attempt to seize the Yugoslav Army barracks in Vukovar on September 19, 1991.  She died in July 2008 at the age of 85. A Park in Zagreb was named after her to honour her courage in the Capital city. What is her name?

Reply: Kata Soljic.

Kata Soljic

Kata Soljic

6. There were many men and women who lived in other countries outside Croatia, some were of Croatian origins some were foreigners, who came to Croatia and volunteered as fighters to help Croatia defend itself against the aggressors in the Homeland War. There was a French man who fought across the Vukovar fields as member of Croatian military forces. He was wounded in battle in early November 1991 and was treated for his injuries in the Vukovar Hospital. On 20 November 1991 he was forcefully taken from the hospital and placed in a Serb a “Hangar” at Ovcara farm by members of the Yugoslav Army and Serb paramilitary after he gave an interview to a French TV journalist in which he stated that “Vukovar was a slaughterhouse”. He was dragged from the hangar by Serbs, viciously beaten and murdered. His remains have not been found and he was still in late 2021 among hundreds of Croatian men and women listed as missing although there are more recent claims that he was buried in a mass grave behind the hangars on Ovcara farm and these claims need verification. His mother and brother have moved to Croatia where they and continue searching for justice for him and his burial place. In 2015 Croatians in Vukovar build a statue of him, which now forms one of the important landmarks of Vukovar’s suffering during Croatia’s Homeland War. What was the name of this French volunteer, hero, who bravely fought to save Vukovar and was brutally tortured and murdered?   

Reply: Jean-Michel Nicolier

Jean-Michel Nicolier

Jean-Michel Nicolier

7. During the negotiations with the Serbs for the peaceful reintegration into Croatia of the area in which Vukovar is located, which was successfully concluded for the Republic of Croatia in January 1998, a special train of 21 wagons left Zagreb on June 8, 1997 for Vukovar. In that train were President Dr. Franjo Tuđman and top officials in the Republic of Croatia and church dignitaries. That train symbolically marked the return of the occupied city of Vukovar to the territorial integrity of Croatia. “The arrival in Vukovar, a symbol of Croatian suffering, resistance, aspiration for freedom and a return to the eastern borders, to the Croatian Danube, is a sign of our determination to want peace, reconciliation, to create a truce and to never let what happened to us happen again. happened to us in Vukovar. This panorama of Hiroshima in the middle of Europe, the city of Vukovar, will be easier to rebuild in a material sense, but difficult in our memory. This train to Vukovar is truly a symbol of peace, the return of exiles, victims of this war who spent more than six years outside of their hearths, but who are ready to return and to also lend a hand to those who did not bleed their hands like war criminals,” said Dr. Franjo Tuđman at the time. What was the name of that train?

Reply: Peace Train.

President of Croatia Dr. Franjo Tudjman at arrival in Vukovar of 1997 Peace Train

President of Croatia Dr Franjo Tudjman arrives in Vukovar on Peace Train 1997

8. On the same day as the fall of Vukovar, Škabrnja massacre was perpetrated as the most brutal massacre killing of 63 Croats, 15 defenders and 48 civilians by the self-proclaimed Serbian Autonomous Region Krajina (SAO Krajina) Territorial Defence troops and the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) in the villages of Škabrnja and Nadin (near the Dalmatian city of Zadar) on 18–19 November 1991. Every family in Škabrnja was “wrapped up in black” after that attack. By the end of the Homeland War, the number of people killed in Škabrnja had grown to 80; another 6 died after the war from land mines placed around the village by Serbs This terrible crime was planned and timed, at the same time when the Serb Chetnik hordes were rampaging in occupied Vukovar, as well as in other areas of Croatia where the Chetniks were killing all Croats (Kostrići, Saborsko, Slunj, Nadin, Vrhovine and elsewhere). After the massacre of Croatian civilians, the Serbian aggressor wrote on a wall of a large building in Škabrnja in large black letters “Welcome to the dead village”, which, in itself, says how very brutal and savage the Serbs who fought against Croatia were against the Croats. What is the name of the province in Croatia where the villages of Škabrnja o Nadin are located?

      Reply: Ravni Kotari.

Map of Croatia and position of Skarnja and Nadin

Map of Croatia with position of Skabrnja and Nadin

9. Even before the 18 November 1991 massacre, Serbs from neighbouring villages and the Yugoslav Army attacked Škabrnja, wanting to kill and expel all the inhabitants of that Croatian village. The attacks were fierce on September 17, 1991 and October 5, 1991. In September, the residents were evacuated to Island of Ugljan, but they returned after a signed armistice. In the period from October 4 to 10, more than 2,000 grenade bombs fell on Škabrnje. Škabrnja was rocketed from an airplane; large bombs were thrown on the village, the so-called “Sow” bomb. The massacres in Vukovar and Škabrnja and throughout Croatia were part of Serbia’s plan and strategy for the destruction of Croats and the final breakdown of the defenders in order to create the genocidal creation of Greater Serbia, to which Serb s wanted to join Croatian lands and populate them with Serbs. Who was President of Serbia at that time who headed the terrible aggression against Croatia and Croats?

      Reply: Slobodan Milosevic.

10. The United Nations Security Council, based in New York, United States of America, formed in 1993 the United Nations court of law base in The Hague, Netherlands, that dealt with war crimes that took place during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia including Croatia in the 1990s. During its mandate, which lasted from 1993 – 2017 after that the role of war crimes justice was passed onto a new body called the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals [IRMCT]), it irreversibly changed the landscape of international humanitarian law, provided victims an opportunity to voice the horrors they witnessed and experienced, and proved that those suspected of bearing the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed during armed conflicts can be called to account. While many war criminals who perpetrated crimes against Croatians in Vukovar and Skabrnja have still not faced court judgment and their victims have still not received justice it is noteworthy to know that Serb leaders of the time Vojislav Šešelja, Jovica Stanišić i Frank Simatović, Slobodana Milosevic, Goran Hadzic, Slavka Dokmanovic, Mile Mrksic, Veselin Sljivancanin i Miroslav Radic were indicted, and most were convicted. The notorious Goran Hadzic and Slobodan Milosevic both died in the Hague prison while the criminal court proceedings were continuing. What is the name of the International Criminal Court in the Hague that prosecuted war criminals in relation to war crimes perpetrated in Vukovar, Skabrnja and the entire Croatia during Croatia’s Homeland War or War of Independence during 1990’s? 

     Reply: International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

Prepared by Ina Vukic

CROATIAN LANGUAGE VERSION: DA SE NE ZABORAVE VUKOVAR I ŠKABRNJA (PDF):

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