Croatia: Trials And Tribulations Of Celebrating Independence


Croatian Parliament Friday 7 October 2016 Celebrating 25 years of independence Centre left: outgoing PM Tihomir Oreskovic and Zeljko Reiner, President of Croatian Parliament Photo:

Croatian Parliament Friday 7 October 2016
Celebrating 25 years of independence
Centre left: outgoing PM Tihomir Oreskovic
and Zeljko Reiner, President
of Croatian Parliament

During the 1990’s in Croatia people knew that for a state to have its own parliament also meant that the state was independent and sovereign. Long gone are the days, though, when in celebration of 30th May (1990) the Croatian Statehood Day/Day of Independence jubilation spread across Croatia and its diaspora like wildfire and one cannot but notice nostalgia for the jubilation to return. Indeed, a dose of such nostalgia could be felt in the speech given at the reception hosted by the outgoing Speaker of Parliament Zeljko Reiner on Friday 7 October in honour of 8th October 1991 – the date when the Croatian parliament voted to finally sever all ties with Yugoslavia. On that day, 25 years ago, Croatia said its final goodbye to communist Yugoslavia.

“…When the moratorium date of the decision for independence of Croatia expired in 1991, Yugoslav Army planes bombed Banski Court (Croatian government offices) in an attempt to assassinate Croatian president Franjo Tudjman. Croatian parliament session had to then be moved to another location in Subiceva St … and not in its normal Parliament building (across the city square). At that time Croatia was unarmed, under the UN embargo preventing it to secure weapons and under special lack of will to help Croatia. The pressure for us to give in was terrible. The war was imposed and led on our territory; against all citizens … it was a fight for all or nothing. The newly established democracy and multi-party system were placed into jeopardy. It was because of the fact that we had visions of freedom and a democratic Croatia, and because there was unity that we managed to achieve it … the path was hard and filled with pain for more than 15,000 lives lost. We must never forget that more civilians were killed in their own home than soldiers on the battlefield…said Reiner at the ceremony, emphasising that no one would ever again be allowed to threaten Croatia, and continued:

Let this anniversary be an incentive to bring back to our citizens the hope and confidence and to start the recovery of the country that will bring happiness and satisfaction to all its citizens. This requires patriotism, strength of will, determination, wisdom and responsibility, as well as courage, just like in the Homeland War. I am confident that the call for the new session of Parliament, which will most likely be constituted next week, with the new government will achieve that…”

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic Photo:Dragan Matic/ Hanza Media

Croatian President
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
Photo:Dragan Matic/ Hanza Media

President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic sent a message marking the 25th anniversary of Croatia’s final severance of all ties with former Yugoslavia: “We are allowed to be and we must be proud of our young state, which emerged from many centuries of battles for freedom. We have achieved a great deal in our 25 years of independence. After the harsh experiences living under the totalitarian regimes and dictatorships we have successfully developed a democratic culture, we have built institutions, we have become a notable member of international organisations and institutions. Our students, innovators, business people, scientists, doctors, artists, sports people and many others achieve notable success across the world… this is the day when with respect we remember all those who had contributed to the realisation of that historical goal, starting with the first president dr. Franjo Tudjman and the Croatian veterans, who had during those days defended (Croatia) from the most grave aggressive attacks,” said president Grabar-Kitarovic.


And so, one needs to wonder why with such great speeches and messages from the tops of Croatia’s leadership one comes across very little cheer in the streets, among the people? Could it be that persistent and often underhanded injections of communist resistance to a free and democratic Croatia have severely dampened or shattered the joy Croatians used to express on Independence or Statehood Day particularly during 1990’s? Observing all this, one is justified in saying that the minute the former communists/ left wing political parties entered into government after Franjo Tudjman’s death in early 2000, prompted by former communist anti-Tudjman president Stjepan Mesic, started contemplating upon ways of watering-down the elation for Croatian independence celebrations, the celebration moods would start falling and relative coldness set in.


Croatian first president Franjo Tudjman at the inauguration of the Croatian Parliament 30 May 1990

Croatian first president
Franjo Tudjman
at the inauguration of
the Croatian Parliament
30 May 1990

Croatia’s first president Franjo Tudjman had considered that the most important date to celebrate for an independent Croatian nation should be in remembrance of the day when, after the first post-WWII free and democratic general elections the Parliament of Croatia (that would usher Croatia out of the oppressive federation communist Yugoslavia) was inaugurated – that was 30th May 1990. Indeed, given that actual exit or secession from Yugoslavia was achieved through a multistep process it would only be logical and fair that the very same process was celebrated on the date it started, rather than on the date it finished. For years 30 May was a holiday and a celebration in Croatia and abroad filled with joy and pride. Tudjman died in late 1999 and the former communists decided to abandon 30 May as the Day for celebration Croatian Statehood and Independence; these communist killjoys knew what they were doing: bring confusion among the people about the day/date independence should be celebrated – bring in the element that would eat away at the celebratory joy and confidence in the good for what had been achieved.


And so, we arrive at today’s confusion as to which date of the three possible is best to celebrate Croatia’s independence – this purposefully staged confusion has its roots in the 2002 sessions of Croatian parliament when the centre-left majority passed a new law in regards to the public holidays, remembrance days in Croatia. Suddenly 30th May was out and 25th June came in as the date to celebrate Croatian Statehood/Independence Day. The former communists (who as a reminder did not want Croatian independence in the first place and many walked out of the Parliament in protest, in 1991) in 2002 ushered in 25 June (1991) as the day to celebrate. They had all commenced a political lynch based on lies against Franjo Tudjman even before his death and now that he was dead – they concocted an opportunity to remove 30 May celebrations from the people; remove the date that was associated with so much positive emotion for Croatian freedom and independence and the leader who made it happen. 25 June 1991 had been the date when the Croatian parliament (inaugurated 30 May 1990) proclaimed Croatia’s independence from communist Yugoslavia and, as a matter of interest, at the European Union’s request the decision was frozen for three months (the three months that saw the escalation of terrible attacks, ethnic cleansing, murder against Croatia by Serbs and the Yugoslav Army).


8 October (1991) also became a public holiday in Croatia and this was to celebrate Independence Day or the day when Croatian parliament severed its entire links to former Yugoslavia. Increasingly over the past fifteen years it appears as though having two days as public holiday to celebrate Croatia’s independence but not the original date of 30 May has achieved the goal intended by the former communists: many people don’t feel confident which of the two dates (25 June or 8 October) should be the “right” one to celebrate and, hence, apart from several events organised by the veterans, sadly, not much celebration occurring in the streets this past weekend!


If one was to heed the words said by the President of the Croatian Parliament, Zeljko Reiner, last Friday one would need to conclude that no hope or confidence like the ones present at the beginning of the independence could be brought without bringing back that glorious date of 30 May to celebrate. In the past couple of days a suggestion to that effect has been made by one of the original members of parliament, Vladimir Seks, who also suggested that a referendum on the issue of the date on which Croatian independence should be celebrated is the best way ahead. I do disagree with this strongly and besides the fact that Croatia is too poor to be in the position to pay for a referendum on that matter, 30 May is when Croatia started functioning independently with its new parliament and that date should be celebrated as the Day of independence. Independence is one single concept and reality even though it usually is achieved via separate events of processes. So, Croatia would do well to start recognising that fact and stop confusing its people as to which event in the process to independence means more than the other. 30 May 1990 is the date from which Croatian road to independence truly started and so this date should represent independence – no referendum needed. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.,M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia: Hard-Won Independence

7 October 1991  bombing of Zagreb Photo: Hrvoje knez

7 October 1991
bombing of Zagreb
Photo: Hrvoje knez

While Croatia celebrates its Independence Day on 25 June today, 8 October is also a day for celebrations and so is 30 May. It’s a national holiday that marks the final “administrative” step in Croatian Independence, a day when Croats celebrate the unanimous decision of the Croatian Parliament to terminate the link between Croatia and Yugoslavia.

The Croatian referendum on independence was held in May 1991, with 94% of voters supporting Croatian independence from communist Yugoslavia. On 25 June 1991 the Croatian Parliament proclaimed the Croatian independence and seven days later, on 7 July, Croatia and Slovenia signed the Brioni Declaration in which the two countries agreed to suspend all declarations and acts passed by the Croatian and Slovenian parliaments related to those states’ secession from Yugoslavia for a period of three months. On 8 October 1991, the Croatian Parliament decided to end relations with Yugoslavia, in the Decision on the termination of the state and legal ties with other republics and provinces of Yugoslavia. That session was not held in the House of Parliament but instead in the basement of an INA (Oil and Gas industry company) building, because of fears that the Yugoslav army bombing of the Croatian government headquarters – Banski Dvori – that occurred the previous day – 7 October 1991 – may be repeated.

Croatian newspaper Vecernji List 8 October 1991 covers the bombing of the heart of Croatia: Zagreb

Croatian newspaper
Vecernji List 8 October 1991
covers the bombing of the
heart of Croatia: Zagreb

Vecernji List 8 October 1991 Zagreb bombing by Yugoslav Army

Vecernji List 8 October 1991
Zagreb bombing by
Yugoslav Army

On October 7, 1991 two Yugoslav Air Force jets bombed the Croatian government headquarters in Zagreb where President Franjo Tudjman was having a meeting with Yugoslav Presidency Chairman Stjepan Mesic and Yugoslav Federal Prime Minister Ante Markovic. Two missiles hit the government building while four more struck nearby buildings. Tudjman, Mesic and Markovic escaped unscathed, having left the conference room just minutes before the attack. The attack left one person killed and four slightly injured, as well as extensive property damage.
The attack on Zagreb’s Gornji Grad–the historic “upper city” of Hapsburg mansions, stately villas and a medieval cathedral–shattered any remaining thoughts that the renegade Yugoslav forces would heed a European ultimatum to stop fighting or face crippling economic sanctions.
Broken glass carpeted the square stretching between the Parliament building and the Ban’s palace, and roof tiles were torn off the district’s 14th-Century cathedral, St. Mark’s.
The attack caught many Croats off guard, since residents had come to ignore the air raid sirens that wailed repeatedly throughout the day. Bomb shelters filled quickly after the rocket strikes, and many residents were still taking cover hours later.

Ban's Palace/Banski dvori Zagreb Croatia today

Ban’s Palace/Banski dvori
Zagreb Croatia today


St Mark's church Zagreb Croatia

St Mark’s church
Zagreb Croatia

“What do they want, that we all be killed?” cried Croats as they huddled in suburban shelters.
The U.S. Consulate in Zagreb urged all Americans, including journalists, to leave Croatia.
The attack followed a warning from a regional Yugoslav army commander, Gen. Andrija Raseta, that the capital would be hit if Croatian national guardsmen refused to end their siege of federal bases in the republic. By this time the Yugoslav army in Croatia had suffered mass desertions and Croatian forces surrounded several barracks and cut off power and supplies.
On that weekend Franjo Tudjman called for a full mobilisation in Croatia after the Yugoslav army forces moved to within 10 miles of Zagreb and executed a major assault on the strategic city of Karlovac, severing the Croatian capital from its seacoast.

The attack on Zagreb was obviously an assassination attempt against Franjo Tudjman and meant to strike at the heart of the Croatian Government that wanted out of Yugoslavia. By then, hundreds of people had died in Croatia since the declaration of independence in June. Some estimates had in that month of 1991 put the toll at 2,500 and hundreds of thousands non-Serbs had been ethnically cleansed from their homes. Ethnic Serbs in Croatia, who numbered 12 percent of Croatia’s population together with Serbian Serbs, opposed Croatian independence and joined forces to wage a bloody and brutal war of aggression against Croatia in 1991 that would last to August 1995, many more thousands lives lost, with the final pieces of Serb occupied Croatian territories being returned under Croatia’s sovereignty in 1998.

War has been imposed on us and we have to act according to the laws of war,” said Croatia’s first president Franjo Tudjman at a news conference on the morning of 8 October 1991.

On the same day, the Yugoslav army shelled the outskirts of Dubrovnik, while its troops moved into the nearby harbour town of Cavtat. The outskirts of Zadar were also shelled. To the east, Yugoslav army units and Serbian paramilitary forces attacked the industrial city of Sisak and fought house to house in Vukovar, the centre of which had already been in Serbian hands after two months of aggression, ethnic cleansing, rape, concentration camp tortures.


Croats overjoyed on 7 October 1991 that Franjo Tudjman survived an assassination attempt PHOTO: Reuters

Croats overjoyed on 7 October 1991 that
Franjo Tudjman survived an assassination attempt
PHOTO: Reuters

Franjo Tudjman died in 1999 The floral wreaths at his grave spell: THANK YOU

Franjo Tudjman died in 1999
The floral wreaths at his grave spell: THANK YOU

Croatia celebrates independence but not without remembering how hard it was won and what incalculable costs in human life and suffering it bore and still bears. Congratulations to all freedom and democracy loving Croatians and thank you, Franjo Tudjman – rest in God’s peace and your people’s gratitude. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Red Poppies of Croatian Independence

Jovial fireworks sparkling across night skies, trumpets sounding cheery elation, rainbow coloured streamers and confetti titillating, balloons hovering dancingly above the heads of reveling crowds in the streets, singing, dancing…the picture scurrying into your mind could easily be that of 4th July celebrations across U.S.A., or other celebrations of Independence across the world, or even of your 21st birthday.

On 8th October Croatia will have its 21st birthday and I wish I could see this picture of unleashed joy in every street, on every square, in every home of Croatia. But it’s not to be – there’s still too much to be done in bringing to justice those who massacred innocent civilians, men, women and children during the reign of terror and horror by the Serb aggressor in the self-proclaimed Serb Republic of Krajina in Croatia, between 1991 and August 1995, when Croatian military Operation Storm liberated the Croatian territory from the intolerable reign of terror.

On 8th October 1991 Croatian parliament declared full independence of the Republic of Croatia from Yugoslavia – this is the day Croatia celebrates its independence, still soaking in blood, still awaiting justice for the victims, still subdued by political forces in its craving to celebrate freedom, still awaiting its rite-of-passage into the free and just world.

First and foremost, we have the responsibility to build a society of peace, freedom, solidarity, justice, work and respect for human rights, with particular care for children, youth and families,” said, among other things, Croatia’s President Ivo Josipovic in his message to Croatian people, Friday 5 October, ahead of Independence Day holiday.

While that’s all good and nice, it’s simply not enough. It’s more like an aloof lip service when viewed from the point where unresolved crimes against Croatian battles and struggles for independence stand.

Please President Josipovic, do not mention the “care for children” without mentioning what you and the Croatian government has done, are doing in order to bring the murderers of innocent children to justice and to account.

I could write reams if I were to mention every single innocent victim, whether massacred or ethnically cleansed from his/her home by the Serb forces in Croatia’s War of Independence in the early 1990’s. But let me just tell you the story of the area in and around the town of Glina, where soon after 8th October 1991, 400 civilians were massacred, thousands ethnically cleansed, deported forcibly from their homes by the Serb rebels and members of Yugoslav Peoples’ Army from Belgrade, Serbia. The same story was repeated and repeated, over and over again until August 1995 (Operation Storm) when time came and Croatia had to say: enough is enough!

Croatia’s declaration of independence in 1991 saw the beginning of a bitter war and Captain Dragan Vasiljkovic would train rag tag Serb civilians and lead them on operations against the Croats. The town of Glina still bears its battle scars – hundreds died here in savage fighting…

At the time Captain Dragan was clear in his own mind about what constituted a target. When the Croats used police stations and hospitals as fortifications he said, ‘sorry I just have to massacre them’”.

On 29 September 2012 in Gornje Jame near the town of Glina a Remembrance Chapel dedicated to the 14 Croatian civilians massacred and murdered by a Serb terrorist group led by Sinisa Martic between 3rdNovember and 11 December 1991 was unveiled. The Chapel was raised, built by a Croatian war veteran and the son of one of the murdered civilians, Ivica Kustreba. In his speech (as documented in the accompanying video, below) Kustreba (first male speaker in video) said:

“…A crime was committed here for which no one has yet answered. In this place 14 civilians were murdered with 3 children among them, and they are Nikolina Fabac, Zeljka Fabac, and Darko Dvornekovic, who had not even reached the age of 10. Murdered, massacred and burned with the rest of the civilians whose names are engraved on this remembrance plaque.

Our Generals are in the Hague, and some other prisons for command responsibility and those who perpetrated the crimes here stroll freely and laugh into our faces.

Darko, Nikolina and Zeljka dreamt about beautiful, free and rich Croatia and their dream was cut down early. Now, in our media some other Zeljkas and Nikolinas spin about and here they are forgotten, as if nothing had happened here and so I ask you and all in government authority: do they have a heart and do they have children. Could 21 years since this terrible crime have passed for the remembrance plaque to be raised here for the perished civilians among whom are three children … this is the only part that belongs to the town of Glina which has not a single one resident, Gornje Jame and Donje Jame once were the largest by population numbers in Glina region, and today they’re almost erased…

(Second male speaker in video)Milan Baksic, Mayor of Glina, among other things, said:

Gornje Jame is now a village without people, a village with dead souls …and today we have come here to bow to those souls  … we have raised remembrance plaques to civilian victims of Homeland War in several places in Glina region over the past three years … all these are places of civilian victims of the Homeland War for which no one has been made responsible… 400 civilians were murdered in Glina area …I won’t say who is to blame that for 17 years after the Homeland War one could not even come to this place … let everyone carry that in his or her soul … what can I expect from our government, what can you expect, we can expect that they’ll at least one day remember and begin processes for the criminals to be caught … a long time has passed … let’s believe that one day those who did this will end up where they belong. ”

Remembrance Chapel for the massacred civilians in Gornja Jama near Glina, Croatia


In its brutality the horror of Gornje Jame near Glina has become the symbol of Croatian unbearable suffering during Croatia’s Homeland War or War of Independence.

During that war, from 1991–95, Glina was a town in the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbiam Krajina within Croatian sovereign territory. Thousands of Croats fled, thousands were forcefully deported and multitudes murdered and massacred in groups or individually. On August 6, 1995 Glina became a fully functioning part of Croatia itself after Operation Storm.

Thank you dr Franjo Tudjman! Thank you General Ante Gotovina and all the brave defenders of Croatian Independence. I celebrate you on 8 October.

I celebrate with humble bows the souls of the innocent victims that now stand as red poppies in my heart for remembrance that Croatian independence came harshly and will be celebrated with all joyous pomp and ceremony once the authorities and politicians bring all the perpetrators of these horrible crimes to justice. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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