Finally But Poor Justice For Croatian Civilians Horrendously Tortured By Yugoslav Army In Morinj, Montenegro, 1991-1992

Morinj concentration camp 1991/1992  Photo:

Morinj concentration camp 1991/1992 Photo:

For the people of Dubrovnik (Croatia), Morinj is a symbol of horrendous sufferings endured by the Dubrovnik’s residents who ended up in Morinj (near Kotor, Montenegro) concentration camp. From the total of 440 Croats from Dubrovnik who suffered torture at the hands of Serb and Montenegrin camps 300 of them endured the horrors of Morinj camp; some 200 of these suffered abuse of unimaginably cruel proportions.  In Morinj camp most were tortured in the most horrible and insufferable ways, many are to this day suffering chronic Post Traumatic Disorder as one of the nightmarish consequences of utterly horrific tortures and trauma.
Pobjeda news portal (Montenegro) reports that four out of six men originally indicted and now retried on charges of war crimes (against Croatian civilian population between October 1991 and August 1992) and relating to concentration camp Morinj have been convicted Wednesday 31 July to a total of 12 years imprisonment. They are Ivo Menzalin (4 years), Boro Gligic and Spiro Lucic (3 years) and Ivo Gojnic (2 years).  While the defence for these four men has announced that it will appeal the judgment, the special prosecutor Lidija Vukcevic said in the Podgorica supreme court that their guilt for the war crimes had been proven beyond any doubt.

The summary of the horror story behind these horrible crimes perpetrated in Morinj concentration camp against Croats from Dubrovnik goes like this:

In 1991, as part of Serbia’s war against Croatia, Yugoslav Army units led by Montenegrin officers and full of Montenegrin reservists ravaged many of the villages in the southernmost tip of Croatian Dalmatia and shelled the historic port and World Heritage city of Dubrovnik, causing millions of euros in damage and hundreds of civilian deaths. Throughout the duration of the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro remained in a federal state with Serbia until 2003.

In 1997, Montenegro expressed regret for its part in the wars and the consequent atrocities. However, the process of coming to terms with the past has been selective and superficial.

“Rat za mir” (“war for peace”), was the cynical slogan under which Montenegrin politicians backed the Yugoslav Army’s campaign in southern Croatia.

Croat prisoners in Morinj concentration camp 1991/1992 Photo:

Croat prisoners in Morinj concentration camp 1991/1992

In 2004-05, the ICTY in The Hague found former Montenegrin admiral Miodrag Jokic and General Pavle Strugar guilty of war crimes and sentenced each of them to eight years’ imprisonment. Attacks on Dubrovnik’s civilians bore a special place in the verdicts.

The Morinj camp war crimes prosecution began in 1998 in Montenegro’s Podgorica city, adjourned several times and retried (with same verdicts both times) … a profile of criminal justice process akin to circumstances where denial of crimes and profound lack of will by Montenegrin authorities and politicians to get stuck into the business of delivering justice where justice must be done had littered and undermined any path for reconciliation. Whether this latest verdict will in fact contribute to some semblance of healing for the victims remains to be seen. The chances for that, though, seem very slim as a significant number of Montenegrin politicians look the other way, barely acknowledging that horrible crimes were perpetrated even though an “apology” for the same war crimes had trickled through albeit with muffled resolve some years ago. Perhaps it is due to this pathetic attitude towards crimes that the sentences received by the four men for Morinj concentration camp are so obscenely inadequate. I pray for the health of those victims whose horrific times spent in Morinj must be revisiting them right now as intensified nightmares and horrendous flashbacks – all because justice has betrayed them. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)


Also – remember the others

Today, Red Poppy badges adorn the suits of men and women across the world – on the 11th day of the 11th month of every year we remember that World War I ended. It’s Remembrance Day for those who were killed during that war and observed by the countries of the Commonwealth (formerly known as the British Commonwealth).

At 11 am today I stood still and silently for a minute or two as so did all other shoppers and staff at a stationery store I happened to be in at the time.

Standing like that, in respectful silence, the memory of my grandfather Vicko appeared in my mind from nowhere! And I thought: Yes grandad, I remember the stories you used to tell me when I was a child; how you suffered humiliation and utter despair while interned in a concentration camp within the Commonwealth from 1914 to 1918, just because your immigration papers said you were a citizen of Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Vicko, cca 1925

I remembered him telling me that he resisted being taken to the concentration camp by insisting that he was not an Austria-Hungarian citizen, that he was a Croatian. Then the officers told him that “the country of Croatia did not exist”, then he replied: “But Croatian nation of people exists”. Regardless, he spent the years of WWI interned in the camp only to be deported in 1919, along with thousands of other innocent people like him, back to Croatia, i.e. into the newly proclaimed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

Searching National Archives of some other Commonwealth countries one finds:

  • Within one week of the declaration of war, all German subjects in Australia were declared ‘enemy aliens’ and were required to report to the Government and notify their address.
  • In February 1915 the meaning of ‘enemy aliens’ changed. It came to include naturalised migrants as well as Australian born persons whose fathers or grandfathers had been born in Germany or Austria.
  • Concentration camps, later renamed into Internment Camps were established at Rottnest Island in Western Australia, Torrens Island in South Australia, Enoggera in Queensland, Langwarrin in Victoria and Bruny Island in Tasmania. In New South Wales the main internment camp was at the Liverpool-Holsworthy Military Camp (western Sydney) where between 5000 and 6000 men were detained. Women and children of German and Austrian descent, detained by the British in Asia, were interned at Bourke and later Molonglo near Canberra. Former gaols were also used, with men interned at Trial Bay Gaol and Berrima Gaol.
  •  In the United Kingdom during WWI enemy aliens were assessed by Internment Tribunal Boards and several internment camps were established.
  • In Canada the War Measures Act was enacted on 22 August 1914, and gave the federal government full authority to do everything deemed necessary “for the security, defence, peace, order and welfare of Canada”.
  • There were more than 80,000 Canadians who were formerly citizens of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. These individuals had to register as “enemy aliens” and report to local authorities on a regular basis. Twenty-four concentration camps (later called “internment camps”) were established across Canada, eight of them in British Columbia.
  • And the facts continue in the same fashion across the rest of the Commonwealth.
  • Other countries of the Commonwealth like South Africa also had concentration/internment camps.

Although not a member of the Commonwealth USA had similar systems in place. From April 1917, people in above category were required to register at their local post office, to carry their registration card at all times, and to report any change of address or employment. The same regulations and registration requirements were imposed on females on April 18, 1918. Two camps were esrtablished: Fort Douglas, Utah and Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia.

While history books and individual stories tell us that physical abuse, torture and such crimes did not occur in such concentration/internment camps one thing is true for sure: thousands innocents suffered gravely – humiliated by being assigned a number, photographed and finger printed like criminals … and yet until WWI they had lived years of an orderly hard working life in those countries, contributing significantly to the economy.

Today I remember not just those who lost their lives in battles of WWI for the Commonwealth but also the tens of thousands of those who lost those years of their lives in concentration/internment camps.

They have been forgotten, their suffering suppressed from public’s view and mind. They too lost their lives then, if not in body then in spirit.

They deserve remembrance! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb), B.A.,M.A.Ps.(Syd)

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