Croatia: Derelict Democracy – War Veterans Need Sheltering From Harm

Croatian war veterans seek refuge inside church from police brutality Photo: Zeljko Lukunic/Pixsell

Croatian war veterans
seek refuge inside church
from police brutality
Photo: Zeljko Lukunic/Pixsell


Horrified, my heart skipped beats when I saw on TV news Thursday 28 May 2015 armed Croatian police, in a frenzy, chasing after protesting 100% war invalid veterans into the church of St Marks (where the war veterans sought refuge) pushing and shoving through the narrow doorway, threatening the physically weaker and defenceless veterans harm! The last time such utterly depraved aggression by authorities against citizens caught my eyes was way back in 1971, during the so-called Croatian Spring protests that sought more autonomy for Croatia within the communist Yugoslavia – when in a frenzy armed police beat with batons and pistol handles old women and men going about their private business, anyone found in the main city square in Zagreb.

This incident on Thursday at the door of St Mark’s church and in front of the church caused a great deal of distress and tension within Croatia.

For over 200 days now the war veterans have held continuous protests against the government, seeking the removal of Predrag Matic, the minister for veterans affairs and his two assistants, protesting against the removal of some veterans’ entitlements/rights and seeking government protection of the same.

On Thursday 28 May 2015, the disabled war veterans’ protest moved away from their protest tent, erected several months ago in front of the veterans’ affairs ministry at 66 Savska street in Zagreb, to St Mark’s square in front of the parliament house and government house. The dramatic two-day protest by Croatian war veterans ended Friday after Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic promised he would meet with them and hear their demands for more rights on Monday 1 June 2015.

Supporters of Croatian war veterans guard the entry to St Mark's church Zagreb from armed riot police Photo: Darko Bandic/ AP Photo

Supporters of Croatian war veterans
guard the entry to
St Mark’s church Zagreb
from armed riot police
Photo: Darko Bandic/ AP Photo

The protest became heated when large groups of veteran supporters broke through police cordons, joining the protest at St Mark’s square. Veterans from other cities and towns across Croatia organised impromptu protest gatherings in support of the protest being held in the capital. The police insisted the gathering was illegal and moved to disperse the group late Thursday. The veterans — many in wheelchairs — barricaded themselves inside St. Mark’s church where they spent the night. The police that chased after them were stopped at the church’s doorway.
This incident and tensions around it triggered a political crisis and it seems Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic had no choice but to agree to a meeting with the war veterans; he has been refusing to meet with the protesting war veterans ever since their protest began months ago.

What kind of government sends police against those who have fought for independence of our homeland?” asked Djuro Glogoski, one of the war veterans’ protest leaders.

It is indeed sad and sickening the way the Croatian Social Democrat-led government treats its war veterans. All that the war veterans have wanted was a dialogue with the Prime Minister and the government but have had to resort to such protests to achieve it! Months ago the same government, or its parliament, declined to permit the war veterans to speak in the parliament on issues behind their protest.

The Social Democrat led government had through its minister for veterans’ affairs and other government representatives of the issue of war veterans’ protest at all times tried to make the protest a political agenda led by the opposition, Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ instead of truly addressing the legitimacy of the war veterans’ demands or rights. To these former communists and communist Yugoslavia sympathisers that lead the current government of Croatia the thought of democratic rights to protest has not even entered into their public rhetoric.

Tomislav Karamarko, president of HDZ, had said to HRT news this weekend that he has and always will “support the citizens in their legal and legitimate pursuits for their legitimate rights,” hence, his party supports the protesting war veterans. But of course, the government representatives are blind to this, they try and pass it off as political “agitation” rather than pursuit of democratic right to protest and seek realisation of legitimate rights!

Furthermore, the governing reds accused the Catholic Church in Croatia that it protects and shields the war veterans whose protests were illegal! As to the legality or illegality of the protest that has yet to be determined but in no case can a desperate call for dialogue with the government in itself be illegal – and certainly no one as yet has said that the war veterans have broken any law by organising the protest.

Mons. Zelimir Puljic, archbishop of Zadar and president of Croatian Bishops’ Conference has stated for HRT news on Saturday 30 May 2015 that “the church supports those who cry and who seek legitimate rights.

Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic and veterans’ affairs minister Predrag Matic remain hostile and intolerant towards the protesting war veterans and that is evident in every public statement they make. There is evident animosity and hatred towards the war veterans coming from the government quarters that is deeply painful to watch and one cannot but wonder whether the former communists actually still loath the idea of an independent and democratic Croatia even though they govern it and espouse democracy – rhetorically at least.

We often hear from the government, including the veterans’ affairs minister, how they respect the war veterans, that the protesting veterans are only a small part of all veteran population. We often have seen the government officials or supporters bring our attention to the war veterans who are not protesting or seeking any rights. What is this but a denial of democracy and democratic rights by communist-mentality stealth? The government has been busy in creating divisions among war veterans; creating the perception that there are “good” and there are “bad” war veterans!

All war veterans were and are good! Those who actually lost their life and limbs on the frontlines and battlefields do deserve our highest regard and respectful attention. They placed their life and limb at the frontlines for the defence of the Croatian people’s right to democracy and freedom from communist Yugoslavia. Those who did not want an independent Croatia then (in 1990’s) govern Croatia at present and still do not seem comfortable with the idea of Croatian identity! Ending their protest, the war veterans said on Friday 29 May 2015 they hoped the Prime Minister will live up to his promise. To live up to that promise there would need to be a turnaround or a shift in Zoran Milanovic’s reasoning – it would truly need to become democratic and fair; move well away and convincingly from the spiteful intolerance it has so far been. It’s election year and Milanovic is likely to attend the meeting with the war veterans on Monday but the outcome of that meeting will be something that will interest all Croatians. Should there be no outcome that seems fair there is likely to be more tension and more incidents that will increasingly take the shape of toppling the government with citizen power, hopefully without violence. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia: Reparations For War Damages – A Priority In Relating To Serbia


Vukovar, Croatia 1991 - brutally devastated from Serb aggression

Vukovar, Croatia 1991 – brutally devastated from Serb aggression

This month, the Croatian government announced its backing for legislation, set to be voted in May, entitling rape war crime victims to a one-time compensation payment of up to 20,000 euros ($21,500), a 320 euro ($340) monthly allowance, health care, psychological counseling and legal aid.
The focus of the law is on the victim, without the need to detail or emphasise the person who committed the war crime of rape, however, it’s necessary to emphasise the perpetrator’s military characteristics in order to make a distinction from a civil perpetrator,” said Vesna Nadj, deputy veterans’ minister.


Marija Sliskovic

Marija Sliskovic

Until now, victims have had to deal with their own trauma privately. Now, they will finally be seen by society,” says Marija Sliskovic, who runs Women in the Homeland, an NGO that has been advocating for rape victims’ rights since 2010, and helping them to heal.






Ruzica Erdelji - Barbaric

Ruzica Erdelji – Barbaric

Raped by some 20 men in Vukovar, Ruzica Erdelji-Barbaric fled her hometown during the war and returned in 1998. She lives off a 200 euro ($215) pension, and hopes the new compensation will help her live “a decent old age”. Barbaric, 63, insists other perpetrators must face justice. “I was raped and I want the people who did it to be punished,” she said. “Our wounds will never heal.”




War veterans’ minister Predrag Matic told the Croatian media recently that the compensation envisaged by the proposed law will be granted “based on trust”.
A victim of sexual violence comes before the committee and tells what happened to her or him and gives accompanying documentation, if there is any. The commission will then decide whether they will get the status of a victim or not,” he said.
Minister Matic has emphasised that his government is the first to do anything about the war crime of rape and that they have shown a “political good will” to address compensation to victims of rape!

While compensation to victims of rape war crime is, in itself, a positive and needed move one cannot but scorn such statements by the veterans’ affairs minister. Such statements do strongly suggest that there is no substantial will to deal with the gravity of such crimes and their perpetrators. Furthermore, given that the grant of compensation will depend on “trust” the process announced for decision-making on compensation via a committee tied to the veterans’ ministry is fraught with likelihoods of political influences and subjective interpretations on committee members.

This law would seem to fit into the concept of “victims of crime compensation” known to societies throughout the democratic developed world. The only difference is, that in the democratically developed world there’s genuine pursuit of justice against the perpetrator and in this case there seems to be no efforts by the Croatian authorities to seek reparations from Serbia whose citizens, at its instigation, committed these war crimes!

Franjo Tudjman visits Vukovar 8 June 1997 during the process of peaceful reintegration of the Serb-occupied Croatian Danube region into the Croatian constitutional and legal system

Franjo Tudjman visits Vukovar
8 June 1997 during the process
of peaceful reintegration of
the Serb-occupied Croatian
Danube region into the
Croatian constitutional and legal system

This brings me to a pertinent issue: Serbia is desirous of becoming an EU member and as such it would be required to respect the democratic standards inherent to EU membership. One of these standards is respecting and complying with agreements signed with other countries. One of such agreements is the Agreement on Normalization of Relations between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republic of Croatia, 23rd August 1996.
The joint committee (Croatia – Federal Republic of Yugoslavia/Serbia & Montenegro) met a few times (last time in 1999) after the signing of the said agreement, without any progress being made as to reparations for war damages. Serbian members rejected Croatia’s draft on compensation for damages submitted in July 1998 under the false guise that the 1990’s war was a civil war and, therefore, each state should sustain/compensate for damages arisen on its own territory! Not an inch of Serbia’s territory was under attack, of course. Croatia could not agree to such a legally and factually unfounded premise and considered that its responsibility lay in compensation for war damages that occurred on the territory under the control of the Croatian authorities and not for those that occurred in its occupied territories under the control of the Yugoslav army, i.e. Serbia and Montenegro, and the rebel Serbs in the Krajina region.


Armed Serb rebels  commenced aggression  in Croatia with barricades 1990

Armed Serb rebels
commenced aggression
in Croatia with barricades

War damages to Croatia sustained between 1990 and 1999 are estimated to be in the vicinity of 32,5 Billion Euro. At the end of 1999 Croatia filed a lawsuit against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (later changed to Serbia as Montenegro left the union with Serbia) at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for genocide and seeking compensation for war damages. When Social Democrats won government in Croatia, in 2000, Prime Minister Ivica Racan suspended all activities to do with the abovesaid 1996 Agreement, pending ICJ verdict. Despite that, Serbia had continued to raised the question of restoring the property to Serb minority that had fled Croatia during the war years, criticising Croatia that not enough is being done on that front even though Croatia had, to September 2014, spent 5.5 Billion Euro from its budget in the implementation of the national program securing the return of refugees and their housing.
In its February 2015 verdict the ICJ had decided that while acts of genocide were committed in various areas of Croatia there was no genocide committed by either side (Croatia or Serbia) as a whole but there was no doubt as to the fact that Serb aggression against Croatia, on Croatia’s sovereign territory, so to speak, did occur.

Vukovar, Croatia 1991 Serb Chetnik and Serb-led Yugoslav army march into Vukovar singing: "Slobo, Slobo (as in Slobodan Milosevic) send us some salad, there will be meat, we'll slaughter the Croats" (BBC newsreel screenshot)

Vukovar, Croatia 1991
Serb Chetnik and Serb-led Yugoslav army
march into Vukovar singing:
“Slobo, Slobo (as in Slobodan Milosevic) send
us some salad, there will be meat, we’ll slaughter
the Croats” (BBC newsreel screenshot)

Croatian parliament had on 21st October 2011 upheld the Declaration on promoting European values in South-East Europe and it has been heard on several occasions that Croatia will not, as an EU member state, use that position in obstructing Serbia’s negotiations for EU membership. However this Declaration does not mean that Croatia should renounce its rights and national interests.
It’s high time to put a stop to political juggling and “political good will” (as minister Matic put it in the case of war crime of rape) and bring the matter of compensation for war damages to Croatia to the table, along with other open questions such as the missing, the Vukovar medical archives, the processing of war criminals, the return of stolen art treasure, the landmines’ plan etc.). An official meeting between Croatia’s new President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Serbia’s Tomislav Nikolic would seem to be an ideal opportunity to start “the ball rolling” in the right and practical direction. There’s been enough politicisation on the issue of compensation for war damages and the tide needs to turn towards actual and concrete demands to Serbia for payment. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

A Croatian Misery: War Veterans Denied Request To Address The Parliament

Front: Djuro Glogoski, invalid war veteran one of the leaders of Croatian War Veterans Protest Photo: Screenshot news 29 January 2015

Front: Djuro Glogoski, invalid war veteran
one of the leaders of
Croatian War Veterans Protest
Photo: Screenshot news 29 January 2015


It’s been over three months of continued protest by Croatian war veterans in which they are camped out in front of the War Veterans Ministry building in Savska street, Zagreb, seeking among other things better treatment for war veterans, especially for the disabled veterans, a legislative protection of veterans’ rights, a move to remove veterans’ rights from the country’s “social welfare” laws and returning the same into laws and regulations that deal exclusively with veterans’ rights, a cessation of current government’s attempts to equate the victim with the aggressor, as well as resignation of War Veterans Minister Predrag Matic and two of his close advisors.

These men and women who protest in the Savska street tent were the warriors who stood up for freedom when, after the 1991 plebiscite 94% of Croatian voted elected to secede from communist Yugoslavia, many rebel Croatian Serbs and Serbia waged brutal was of aggression on Croatia’s sovereign territory.

These protesting men and women are among those who make up the very heart of independent Croatia today. And that is why they are gaining widespread support of Croatian people as well as veterans’ associations and many politicians.

On Thursday 29 January 2015 representatives of protesting war-invalids veterans walked out of parliament shouting “Shame on you” after the Speaker Josip Leko, citing Standing Orders, refused to allow them to address the parliament. Parliament was to have discussed reports on the implementation of the law dealing with veterans’ rights, the rights of their families and the operations of the Fund for veterans and their families. Josip Dakic, HDZ member of parliament asked that the veterans be given ten minutes to address the floor but this was denied.

The war veterans wanted to have a say before the members of parliament on matters that affect their lives and welfare directly, and which matters are closely associated with the parliament’s agenda of the day! The Speaker refused to allow them to speak!

How awful and disgraceful!

The opposition parties, HDZ and HDSSB, requested a break after Leko turned down their request that veterans’ representative Djuro Glogoski address MPs before the reports were submitted.
Speaking after the break, Ivan Suker of the HDZ said Glogoski should have been allowed to take the floor “so that you can see that they are not protesting for material rights, greater rights, but for dignity and respect for those who defended their country with bare hands.”
Suker accused the ruling coalition of lack of sensitivity. He said veterans “put parts of their bodies into the foundations of the Croatian state and are asking that what they did doesn’t get forgotten.”
Speaker Josip Leko insisted, in cold blood: “I’m in charge of protecting procedure and this is a guarantee that parliament acts on democratic foundations, and some Standing Orders provisions concern the Constitution. Who can speak in parliament is part of the democratic procedure. I don’t intend to bargain with love for veterans and the Homeland War by arbitrarily running the session.”
A standard should be established beforehand, Leko said. “Otherwise we will turn into a debate club and I want no part in that,” he said.

The déjà vu here from the communist Yugoslavia times is astounding! Indeed, shame on Leko and shame on the Croatian parliament!

The Croatian parliament’s rules of procedure, in Article 224, for example, says that the Speaker suggests the agenda for the sitting/meeting, in writing… that the Speaker can during the parliamentary sitting change the Agenda in a way whereby he/she will take out certain items or add new items to the Agenda if at least 1/3 of representative request the change in writing…And since the Speaker Leko waved the connection of Standing Orders with the Constitution it’s shameful and alarming that he did not, after refusing the war veterans to speak to the parliament on Thursday (because of allegedly not fitting into the Agenda or Standing Orders), mention the constitutional provision for the parliament to call an emergency session on this issue which has been crippling Croatia for months!

Also, the opposition parties HDZ, HDSSB … should “put their money where their mouth is” and instead of just commenting on and criticising the move by the Speaker to deny the war veterans’ speaking to the parliament, start and finish the formal process of seeking an emergency session of parliament which would give the war veterans the floor for the day and in relation to the law that directly affects their welfare.

Speaking to the press afterwards, Glogoski voiced his bitterness, saying everyone could be discussed in parliament except war veterans. He rejected the Standing Orders interpretation of who was allowed to take the floor and said Leko disappointed him. “Anyone can address parliament if the speaker and the parliamentary groups agree on it,” he said. “This incident convinces that, after all, the Croatian parliament if not a home of all Croats and that only certain people can speak in it, those elected by the people but not those who are most deserving for the creation of the Croatian homeland,” Glogoski continued.

One cannot but shudder from horror at what ensued after the above incident in the Croatian parliament: word spread that the police were planning to swoop down on the war veterans tents on Savska street in Zagreb and forcefully bring the protest there to an end. While the war veterans minister Predrag Matic denied any knowledge of this, or that it had substance, he stated: “The only thing I can confirm, and I hope you’ll understand that I am ironic, is that we have 100 or 200 special police force members, armed to their teeth, staying in the cellar of the ministry building and all are of Serbian nationality…”. This statement is no irony; it’s a direct attack on and intimidation of war veterans who defended Croatia against Serb aggression and an attempt to continue vilifying the justness of Croatian War of Independence. It’s a direct vilification of Croatian war veterans for not in one single moment during the 106 day protest have any of them said anything against Serb nationals; one does not expect much better from a minister who obviously draws his strength from the former communist regime but one does expect the people in a democracy to do their best and hardest to rid Croatia of such political garbage.
The man, Predrag Matic, has no place being a minister for veterans’ affairs and this latest statement of his adds to the justification of the protesting veterans’ plight. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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