Easter In Croatia – 2021 Looking Back To 1991

(R) Josip Jovic, the first casualty in Croatia’s 1990’s pursuit for independence. (L) Giant and magical Easter eggs proudly on display in front of Zagreb Cathedral 2021

Easter of 2021 is the second Easter of most difficult times many have seen when it comes to celebrating togetherness, together. The pandemic is the culprit. At Easter we usually crowd the churches, and, in our homes, we gather so that we can all experience the spirit of contemplation during the greatest celebration of Christianity. This year many across the world will not have this togetherness in physical presence but the soul, the heart and the mind connect and stay connected, cementing the love and joy in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

My thoughts and the thoughts of multitudes in the Croatian diaspora are with our first Homeland, Croatia. Croatia is being tested once again as the third wave of Covid-19 looms and threatens the very existence of community life in the coming months. And so, the Homeland and the diaspora shall remain united with faith and optimism.

Croatian diaspora keeps the Homeland in its heart and draws strength from Croatia, which feeds identity and belonging like little else in life. This source of strength in most difficult times has been proven a thousand times and we are familiar with the strength Croatian diaspora offered when defending Croatia from brutal Serb aggression became a matter of life and death. It was Easter 1991 when the first blood was shed in the goal of Croatia’s freedom and in preserving Christian identity, away from communist Yugoslavia.

Croatian diaspora’s love for Croatia is the compass that guides us in the crossing of any difficult road of life. On reflecting upon Croatia’s history, the sufferings and the sacrifices for freedom one may indeed compare this pain with the pain and suffering Jesus Christ endured on his torturous way to the Calvary. But just like Easter Day, the day of His resurrection, as we imbibe Croatia’s lush beauty, wine and cuisine cultivated by centuries of tradition in celebrating Christ, the utmost sacrifice and pain in achieving victory for its independence, we find that history never tasted so good; just as faith never tastes so good as it does at the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

At Easter 2021 it is inevitable for Croatians to contemplate on Easter 1991 with great sadness but also exquisite joy at what would be achieved once torture of bloody aggression was suffocated and victory came like resurrection of the Croatian thousand-year dream. Freedom and independence.

Easter of 1991 became to be known as Bloody Easter (“Krvavi Uskrs”). Every year, 31st March marks the anniversary of the death of Josip Jovic, the first Croatian defending Croatia killed in the Homeland War. He sustained fatal wounds in the area of Plitvice Lakes when Serb rebels mounted a vicious onslaught against Croatia’s efforts to pursue a path of secession from communist Yugoslavia. This incident of recent Croatian history hinted that the battle for Croatian freedom and independence would be difficult and bloody. It is this tragic event that will go down in our history as Bloody Easter.

Croatian peoples’ intention to get out of communist Yugoslavia and become a sovereign, independent State had accelerated during 1990 as changes on the political landscape saw new political parties formed towards a democratic future, Croatia’s Constitution being written, Croatia’s diaspora connected to help fight for democracy and on 30th May 1990 Croatia held its first session of a democratic Parliament, inaugurating the Croatian Parliament. A section of Croatia’s Serbs who did not want to be a part of independent Croatia even though, overall, they were a minority in Croatia, grew into terrorist formations and in October 1990 proclaimed a part of Croatia their so-called “Serbian Autonomous Region of Krajina” (SAO Krajina). Ethnic cleansing and abuse of Croatians living in that region was evidently on the cards.

The day prior to the Bloody Easter incident at Plitvice Lakes in 1991, Serbian extremists and rebels in that region organised the so-called “rally of truth”, demanding that the Plitvice Lakes National Park remain part of the rebel Serb freshly self-proclaimed and so-called SAO Krajina. The next day, another illegal decision to dismiss the management of the National Park and the beginning of terrorising non-Serb workers followed. A bus full of Serb extremists from Knin had arrived in the Plitvice area, known worldwide for its natural beauty and under the protection of UNESCO. Serb rebels entered the administrative building of the National Park, blocked the main public road to the south, to the so-called SAO Krajina, at dawn the SAO Krajina flag was found raised at the Korana River bridge in the area.  

These events at Plitvice called for immediate intervention. The young Croatian police force had a task of establishing order and peace in the park area. However, before dawn on March 31, rebel Serbs ambushed a convoy of vehicles with Croatian special forces on the main route not far from Plitvice hotels.

Gun fire opened from the surrounding forest, and an anti-tank mine entered the bus full of Croatian police officers, which fortunately did not explode due to an unpulled fuse. This was followed by the police officers’ hurried exit from the bus, lying down by the road, opening fire in the direction from which the shooting came and slowly advancing through the thick fog and deep snow that surrounded Plitvice that Easter.

The conflict lasted for several hours. Unfortunately, in the action, an enemy bullet fatally wounded 22-year-old Croatian policeman Josip Jovic, a member of the Special Tasks Unit of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia, Rakitje. Despite the quick intervention by the ambulance medics, Jovic died from wounds on the way to the hospital. A dozen more Croatian police officers were wounded.

Serb rebels issued an ultimatum to Croatian forces to leave Plitvice. But that was resolutely rejected. Although the action of the special units of the Ministry of the Interior in Plitvice was of a limited character, and in the totality of all future horrendous events of the Homeland War it was relatively small in scope, but it was the first such action of defending Croatia, above all successful, which far exceeds its importance in armed terms.

Croatians stood their ground to defend their people and land at Easter 1991. A show of remarkable and extraordinary love of Homeland was set in action then. The faith in the Croatian nation that smouldered and sparkled in the hearts for a thousand years was fortified, once again, by action of courage and love there at Plitivice Lake in 1991, at Easter! Let’s keep it that way – Croatia and its diaspora!

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3)

Happy and Blessed Easter everyone!

Ina Vukic

Croatia: Fundraising For LaudatoTV – For Christian Values In Public Arena

Charity is love! Part of our duty as citizens is to contribute to the wellbeing of values that define our nation of people. The morals and values I choose are those of Christianity. That is why I have commenced a fundraiser this month for Croatia’s LaudatoTV that is in need of our help and I hope some of you will join me in this wonderful cause; link to which is at the end part of this article! Your help is needed. Thank you!

As I write this article Palm Sunday, also called Passion Sunday, has dawned here, where I live. It is the first day of Holy Week and the Sunday before Easter, commemorating Jesus Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It marks the week that leads to Christ’s suffering for us, to save us, to His death, and resurrection. 

It is often asked: Why did Jesus go into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday? An answer that stands out for me is that Jesus went up to Jerusalem to make twin demonstrations, first against Roman imperial control over the City of Peace and, second, against Roman imperial control over the Temple of God. In other words, put personally, against the (sub)governor Pilate and his high-priest Caiaphas.

The days of Lent, that precede His resurrection, are associated with sacrifice; prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Almsgiving is more than handing out money; it is about the universal destination of goods, a term used in Catholic social teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “the goods of creation are destined for the entire human race” 

Far from being a sort of socialist or communist mantra, this is a reminder of our responsibility to our fellow people in the truest sense of “caritas,” or charity. Giving alms to the needy people and causes is a witness to fraternal charity: It is also a work of justice pleasing to God.

It is no wonder that charitable giving and charitable, volunteering work, have for centuries been the backbone of togetherness and collective hearts that make societies a good place to live in. Charitable giving lends itself to feelings of contribution and, hence, pride. We are not doing this because we will receive something ourselves; we do it for love of our neighbour, our nation, human race, and to fulfill the command of our Lord.

This has brought me to repeated contemplation upon how such Christian values were downtrodden during the times of communist/socialist former Yugoslavia to which Croatia used to belong, albeit largely unwillingly. Legal separation of church and state declared religion the private affair of every citizen. This had the effect of relegating religion (Christianity) out of the public sphere into the private spiritual domain of individuals but also led to practicing Christians being publicly degraded and considered not worthy of key positions in government and society. Religious liberty was understood narrowly as the freedom to worship or not to worship but that freedom did not exist in reality. People were overwhelmingly too afraid to publicly express their faith, Christian values that should serve as life-guides. The task of the Marxist party as the vanguard of the working classes was to enforce that what it considered the inevitable fading away of religion, and Christian practices. In communist Yugoslavia there was a deliberate policy of the state against truly free religious or Christian affairs. In fact, it thwarted them in any which way it could.

While the marvellous victory of the 1990’s Croatian Homeland War ushered Croatia out of the unwanted Yugoslav communist reality, the same unwanted reality continued, festered for some years until from year 2000 those who did not fight for Croatia’s independence, those who did not bleed for a democratic Croatia, those who were part of the Yugoslav “moral” army that shunned Christianity, began taking up key positions in government and public institutions even though a welcome rise of religious practices was very visible. This meant, and means, that Christian values, religion has still not reached the level of public presence hoped for, fought for.

Public television, mainstream media and the like had sadly not changed with the victory over communist regime; they largely retained the political profile that was in former communist Yugoslavia – far away from upholding patriotic and Christian values.  

For me personally, and I am sure for many others, Christmas season of 2015 marked a most significant step forward in public media promotion of Christian values in Croatia. Laudato TV broadcasted its maiden shows. It was and remains the first in history of Croatia television station promoting and upholding Christian values in all walks of life. Its start and ongoing pursuits come as tribute to people and associations and institutions whose goodness expressed through charitable giving makes it possible to bring Christian values into the public domain via media sources that define the modern world. Croatian government, regretfully, had failed miserably to give Laudato TV, or any similar pursuits that bring Christian values into the public arena, access to all people, not just those that practice religion. National televised broadcasting of these values was not a cause Croatian politicians and mainstream media controllers would pursue or assist with. It appeared, and appears, more important to them to support the media that carry a torch for the failed experiment that communist/socialist Yugoslavia was. Laudato TV is currently left with a number of regional studios/coverage for its programs, cable, and, of course, online.

One could well ask: is relative absence today of proper reporting on religion, of Christian values, a serious problem? Absolutely it is. Religion deserves much better than that. Religion has an enormous influence on society and its institutions: think of schools, social welfare, universities and, above all, values. Most intelligent people can see that its global importance has, if anything, increased in recent decades and particularly so with apparent anti-Christian pursuits that seem to fill the media and cause those practicing Christian values to feel less valuable than what they are or have been in the shaping of life we know. Intelligent people see that reporting on and with Christian values can be a tremendous force for good or ill. It is far too important to ignore or not give a helping hand to.

I myself have at this time decided to give a helping hand to Croatia’s Laudato TV, to help it survive the enormous task of moving premises in the coming weeks as its lease for current premises in Zagreb contract was cut short, almost suddenly. The moving bill will be enormous, almost prohibitive. It depends much on the goodness of people and their giving and donating.

I have decided at this to start a GoFundMe campaign “Help LaudatoTV Survive” so that the donations received, that are directed to the charitable association “The Name of Goodness” (Udruga Ime dobrote), incorporated in Croatia in 2013 with view to supporting LaudatoTV, to at least try and help pay for a few removalist trucks, if nothing more, so that LaudatoTV can move its studios and operations to its new location in Zagreb with that much lesser burden.

I do trust that many of you will see the enormous significance for Croatian identity as a nation LaudatoTV has and that some of you will donate some funds to this fundraiser. It can be reached via this link: GoFundMe/Help LaudatoTV Survive.

In these times when mainstream media is more about misinformation than information; when mainstream media thrives on sensationalism and shock-provocation; when mainstream media challenges our basic traditions and beliefs with discomfort borne in the unknown and new, we might pray for the people who report and edit the news. We could pray that journalists and editors be strengthened in their dedication to truth and fearless in their quest for it. We might pray too that we might be more sensitive and discriminating hearers of the news, and more dedicated witnesses of the “good news” of Christ. The news is more than a record of far-off events, it springs also out of our daily world of home and work and we are makers of news as well as hearers. The news we bear, of God’s love for us and all people, may not reach the headlines but it can enter and change the lives of the women and men we encounter each day.

Christian discernment in a mass-mediated culture brings together a critical awareness, communicative action and a contemplative spirit. The mass media will not make us gloomy and pessimistic, world-weary and cynical, because we shall be able to discern what is valuable and life giving in what they communicate. We shall strive to be realistic, but always remain hopeful of our culture. The contemplative spirit will fill us with that clear-seeing love and reverence for our culture and for other people that will inform our communication and so help us bring another part of our individual and corporate lives under the standard of Christ. And that is why I support LaudatoTV and its endeavours to reach more and more homes in Croatia, even those whose values were cemented by the communist mindset of former Yugoslavia, which has only brough despair and exodus from homeland to more people (and their offspring) than what Croatia’s current population is today.

Thank you all on your support!

Ina Vukic

Croatia: First Define Serb Civilian In War Then Talk About Compensation!

In any war civilian victims are defined as casualties of war killed or injured by non-civilians. Civilians who are helping a war effort are people working to supply the troops or paramilitary forces and to provide them with weapons, shelter, cheer them on or help in other ways are not combatants in the sense of bearing arms, but they are an essential part of the war machine and constitute a threat to the other side and, therefore,

may well (must) be considered as combatants and not civilians.

Even thirty years after Serb (Croatian rebel Serbs and Serbs from Serbia) and Yugoslav Army aggression against Croatia began, Croatia has not managed to sort this out. And it was the first thing it should have done after the Homeland War had completely ended with the re-integration of its last occupied territory of Eastern Slavonia in 1998. For all the public knows Croatia has no list of Serb “civilians” in Croatia who must be listed as non-civilians and yet Croatian government has the terrible and mean audacity to try and pass its new legislation regarding the rights of civilian victims during its Homeland War including among them Croatian Serb rebels and their families and friends who were actively involved, in one way or another, in the aggression against Croatia.

Clearly distinguishing between civilians and non-civilians (civilian combatants) has never been more important for Croatia than now. This importance arises from the fact that if this is not clearly defined it will serve as yet another notch in the repulsive denial of human rights of the real victims that equating the victim with the aggressor has been doing so far in Croatia.  

During this past week the matter of proposed new legislation for civilian victims of Croatian Homeland War has been before the Croatian Parliament and the floor clearly demonstrated that even though Croatia won that bloody war of aggression against it, the war is by a long shot not over. Croatian Serbs who belonged to the rebel squads during the war, who simply cannot be considered as civilians, still have their sights on taking over Croatia for Serbia and they are in parliament as representatives who got into the parliament with a couple of hundred votes – because Croatia’s law regarding minority rights permits that. They do not represent those Croatian Serbs who are in the same minority but fought on the Croatian side in war, to defend Croatia from Serb aggression. They are in parliament with the task of equating Croatian victim with Serb aggressor.

Croatian authorities appear to have purposefully forgotten or are sweeping under the carpet the fact that Serb aggression against Croatia started with the Croatian Serb rebels, many of whom come under the definition of civilian combatants who actually drove the aggression and who caused untold damage and loss to Croatians even though they belonged at the time to no official army. Their family members and friends helped them to cause untold damage to Croatia and continued to do so. They were all an army of “civilians”, intent on ethnically cleansing Croats from their own homes so that their homes become a part of Greater Serbia. This is simple language but nevertheless most relevant. The so-called Log Revolution (Blavanska revolucija) was an insurrection by Croatian citizens of Serb extraction who in August of 1990 barricaded sections of Croatian territory near Knin in efforts to stop Croatia in its path of secession from communist Yugoslavia. These rebel Serbs were armed and dangerous and their families stood tight with them against Croats and Croatia. This tension once rebel Serbs were joined by the Yugoslav Army and Serbia’s forces escalated soon into a war, Croatian Homeland War, during which the aggressor perpetrated ethnic cleansing of Croats, genocide, murder, rapes, destruction.  

Serb aggression against Croatia serves as a clear example where civilians are not exclusively civilians but actually largely an active and essential part of that aggression. Serb “civilians” were largely involved in hostilities against independence of Croatia and against the Croatian population in Croatia. Generally, the participation of civilians in hostilities is an issue that represents a critical challenge to the protection of civilians in current conflicts, particularly when hostilities are conducted in the midst of civilian populations and assets, and when non-state armed groups and individuals are engaged as central actors. This issue is also of particular relevance when the hostilities occur under occupation. While international law recognises a basic right of self-determination for populations under occupation, it provides immunity against violence only to those not participating in hostilities. This apparent contradiction is at the core of the debate on the protection of civilians and raises a number of questions about the roles and rights of civilians in armed conflict, as well as the concept of participation in the war effort and the nature of hostilities. Is a member of a militant group necessarily a “combatant”? Of course he/she is! Was a Serb civilian individual who tortured or sent from Vukovar to a camp in Serbia his Croatian neighbour a “combatant”? Of course he was!

So, thirty years after the war of Serb aggression (from inside Croatia and outside it) in Croatia started, a law that aims to set out the rights of civilian victims of the conflict, parents of children who were killed, children of parents who were killed and families of missing persons has been drafted, and the Croatian government (part of which are family members of rebel Serb aggressors!) is pushing for it to be passed by parliament by the end of the year.

The proposed law aims to provide financial compensation for people who became disabled as a result of the war or people who lost family members, as well as funding specific items like prosthetics.

The problem is in the definition of civilians during that war – it has not surfaced yet in the way that reflects reality of the time nor is it accompanied with efforts to delineate between true civilians and civilian combatants, i.e. those who were a perilous enemy without guns! This is the point upon which strong disputes and recriminations are occurring on the parliament’s floor.

The opposition or right-wing politicians are fighting for distinctions to be made so that someone who was a civilian combatant among the Serb aggressor doesn’t “sneak in” and receives compensation that should go to true civilian victims only.

Furthermore, Stipo Mlinaric Cipe, Member of Croatian Parliament for the Patriotic Movement Party has rightly criticised the proposed legislation because it also actually excludes Croatian victims of war who were taken to Serbia during the war, kept in prison camps, tortured and often killed there.

How can we one day explain to the generations that come after us that they have to set money aside from their salary to pay compensation for the aggressors who destroyed their homeland? How to explain that the people who killed their grandparents have all the benefits of the state budget? Is it worth pushing the aggressors at the expense of the budget for 76 hands? It is unfortunate that we are losing the battle we won in 1995 in peace,” Mlinaric said in Croatian Parliament on Wednesday 17 March 2021.

…Tomorrow some Chetnik (Serb) who received amnesty (for war crimes) or someone who fell out of a tractor while fleeing Croatia during the Operation Storm (1995) will get money from the Croatian state … there are some good provisions in this law and really some people or some group who could not exercise that right before will now, on our Croatian side, I am not interested in those from the other side… this may sound rude, non-Christian, but I don’t care what happened to those who applauded the tanks and those who bombed our cities, I don’t care. I wouldn’t give them a penny from the Croatian budget, to any of them … “ said in Croatian Parliament Hrvoje Zekanovic MP for Croatian Sovereignists when talking about the draft legislation on compensation for civilian victims.

The coalition government partly made up of those who belonged to the rebel Serb side during the war, on the other hand, are fighting for all who were not members of any armed forces or groups to be considered as civilians. And they know only too well that a great majority of Serbs in Croatia bore no arms but participated in the hostilities against Croats! Their aim is to justify Serb aggression and equate victims with the aggressors. These are attempts by the depraved people Croatians encounter every day on the streets and parliament! They talk of reconciliation when they have no intention whatsoever to admit to their own guilt! On the contrary, they fabricate new lies about the Homeland War every day. They condone acts of murderous aggression and want their victim to pay them for it. Truly repulsive and utterly immoral.

Until yesterday, they (Serbs) were killing us, raped us, beat us, massacred us, set us on fire, imprisoned us, denounced us, and today we are paying them for those same crimes. Are we a normal state? The whole play about this law that you made yesterday is just ordinary folklore with which, for who knows how many times, you equate the victim and the aggressor. Be ashamed of the the land you walk on, the bloody soil that covers the buried bones of our killed and missing,” Zeljko Glasnovic, retired Croatian Army and Croatian Defence Council General and former Member of Croatian Parliament, wrote 19 March 2021 on his Facebook profile about this proposed new legislation.

The point is that the most important criticism against this proposed legislation for compensating for civilian victims of Croatian Homeland War is the real danger that those “civilians” who participated in the hostilities against Croatia and Croats may end up receiving compensation and, I dare say, the danger is real because the proposed law does not employ real criteria in defining who was civilian and who was not, even though they may not have been members of armed forces or paramilitary forces! The government opposition and people in Croatia need to press on with this and “force” the lawmakers to distinguish among the so-called civilians and exclude from compensation those who participated in hostilities against Croatia and Croats without guns. Ina Vukic

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