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

Remembering “Bloody Easter” of 1991, Croatia

"Blood on Easter" newspaper photo report by Mario Profaca, 31 March 1991

An incident at the Plitvice Lakes, Croatia, at Easter time in 1991, marked the beginning of the Croatian Homeland War. This incident took the life of the Croatian Police Officer, Josip Jovic, the first Croatian casualty in what was to become a terrible war, a bloody war. Croatian people decided to secede from communist Yugoslavia and Serbians decided to stop the secession by any means.

On 29 March 1991, the Plitvice Lakes management was expelled by rebel Krajina Serb police under the control of Milan Martic (sentenced by ICTY to 35 years prison for war crimes in Croatia) supported by paramilitary volunteers from Serbia proper under the command of Vojislav Seselj (Serb, currently in ICTY on strings of war crimes in Croatia charges).

On Easter Sunday, 31 March 1991, Croatian police entered the national park to expel the rebel Serb forces. Serb paramilitaries ambushed a bus carrying Croatian police into the national park on the road, sparking a day-long gun battle between the two sides. During the fighting, two policemen, one Croat, Josip Jovic and one Rebel Krajina Serb, Rajko Vukadinovic, were killed.

Croatian freelance Jounalist Mario Profaca sent me yesterday a photo (above) of the front page of Slobodna Dalamacija newspaper 1 April 1991 with headline that reads “Blood on Easter”, with the photos he took at Plitvice at the time.

Profaca wrote yesterday: “… At that time, together with Croatian policemen, on 31st March 1991, I went to Plitvice in the early hours of the morning and there we found a large number of barricades from which the Serbian terrorists were shooting at all vehicles that were there. Josip Jovic was hit near the post office building, bullets shot through his bullet-proof vest and soon he was taken to the Ambulance van but died on the way to the helicopter. The same evening, 31 March 1991, in Split, the next day’s edition of the daily newspaper was out with the headline and my photo-report from the location and from that time in Croatian history this day is called the Bloody Easter.”

Saturday 31 March 2012 marked 21 years from that incident and a commemorative service held at Plitvice Lakes.

Croatian President Ivo Josipovic at Plitvice Lakes 31 March 2012 Photo Robert Fajt/cropix

Croatia’s president Ivo Josipovic attended the ceremony, which commemorated the death of Josip Jovic, and said: “Today we celebrate freedom, peace, courage, heroism, patriotism and justice. It was courageous and just to stand here in Plitvice and defend the Croatian homeland, win in Homeland War, protect the values that are part of our constitutional system”.

 We have challenges in our efforts and needs to ensure our citizens a better living standard, prosperity and to stop all those who would want to turn back the wheel of history. As it was courageous and just in the 1990’s to fight against Chetnik ideas just as it was in the 1940’s, so too today, when some want to turn back the wheel of history, we need to say no,” Josipovic said to those Serbs who are attempting to rehabilitate the WWII war criminal Draza Mihailovic.

Today we have to tell them no. Croatia will remain a diligent, just country focused on reconciliation and coexistence, democracy and human rights. We want to clearly say that those values do not go hand in hand with the ideas that fed aggression, death and undermined human rights.”

Your son is our hero,” Josipovic said to the late Josip Jovic’s mother, “your son is our son, your son is all these values we cherish and which we will leave for our children to inherit. Thank you for giving birth and for bringing up your son, thank you, thank you to all war veterans and to all who had taken part in the Homeland War, because you have all contributed immeasurably to our future.”

The 21st anniversary of the first casualty of the Homeland War and the operation known as Bloody Easter was also attended by War Veterans Minister Predrag Matic, many of those who fought in the war, and representatives of the Interior Ministry and the Armed Forces as well as two candidates for the May elections for leadership of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Darko Milinovic and Tomsilav Karamarko.

Lest we forget!

Ina Vukic, Prof.(Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Disclaimer, Terms and Conditions:

All content on “Croatia, the War, and the Future” blog is for informational purposes only. “Croatia, the War, and the Future” blog is not responsible for and expressly disclaims all liability for the interpretations and subsequent reactions of visitors or commenters either to this site or its associate Twitter account, @IVukic or its Facebook account. Comments on this website are the sole responsibility of their writers and the writer will take full responsibility, liability, and blame for any libel or litigation that results from something written in or as a direct result of something written in a comment. The nature of information provided on this website may be transitional and, therefore, accuracy, completeness, veracity, honesty, exactitude, factuality and politeness of comments are not guaranteed. This blog may contain hypertext links to other websites or webpages. “Croatia, the War, and the Future” does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness or completeness of information on any other website or webpage. We do not endorse or accept any responsibility for any views expressed or products or services offered on outside sites, or the organisations sponsoring those sites, or the safety of linking to those sites. Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome and encouraged to voice their opinion regardless of identity, politics, ideology, religion or agreement with the subject in posts or other commentators. Personal or other criticism is acceptable as long as it is justified by facts, arguments or discussions of key issues. Comments that include profanity, offensive language and insults will be moderated.