Vukovar/Skabrnja – November 1991/ Lest We Forget!

Croatia: Civilian Victims Of War Assistance Quandary

Tovarnik, Croatia, September 1991 Some civilians massacred by Serb forces were found and buried with dignity

International pressure upon Croatia to achieve reconciliation with its aggressor (Serbia) after the war had ended (1995 militarily and 1998 completion of reintegration of Serb-occupied Croatian territory which “required” the granting of amnesty to hundreds of Serb war criminals) has, without a doubt, proved detrimental to Croatia’s stability and progress into a fully functioning democracy and to the rights of war veterans as well as Croatian civilian victims. This pressure for reconciliation included various avenues of equating the victim with the aggressor; Serbia’s unwillingness to accept its role as a brutal aggressor in the 1990’s war on the territory of former Yugoslavia has also been a significant factor in keeping Croatia back from pursuing goals of a full democracy and sovereignty founded on the Homeland War, which would as a matter of natural course include proper assistance mechanisms for civilian and combatant victims, not the weaker ones installed during and after the war. Croats were after all brutalised, ethnically cleansed, murdered, raped, tortured … and Serbia shows no sign of paying for damages its forces, people and political allies had caused in Croatia during 1990’s.

After the Homeland War ended completely, it was undoubtedly the responsibility of the Croatian government to ensure the security and well-being of those who had suffered and sustained personal losses during the war, either as veterans or civilians. Mechanisms of compensation should have been developed and fully implemented soon after the war’s end and yet here we are in 2021 and perhaps thousands of war veterans in Croatia still have not had their war-veteran status sorted and live like paupers, almost four thousand having committed suicide; assistance to civilian victims has also not been properly attended to. Monetary compensation may never be enough to recompense the harm incurred by the Croats, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction for the government to finally recognise and dignify the damage suffered by civilian victims in a clear and proper way and not dish out legislation that introduces yet another conundrum into the suffering of war victims. This should also be completed for all war veterans and with both of these measures the government may ultimately be pushed to recalibrate its national values and goals, elevating the victory against the aggressor in the Homeland War as its only foundation stone. This though is not likely to happen without pressure from grassroots and political opposition, excluding of course the SDP/Social Democrats and We Can/Možemo opposition that still practices communist Yugoslavia mindset.

 It is good news that there is a new legislation currently before the Croatian Parliament with regards to compensation for civilian victims of the Homeland War in Croatia (Civilian Victims of Homeland War Act/ Zakon o civilinim stradalnicima Domovinskog rata). The discussions about the proposed law are generating sharp public rows and visible distress with concerns that the same legislation may enable a Serb aggressor/enemy from 1990’s to receive financial assistance from the Croatian taxpayer’s pockets.

These concerns regarding rebel Serbs being enabled for such war-civilian victim assistance is largely justified because of two facts. The first being that in the prelude to the full-blown Serb military and paramilitary aggression Serb civilians had a key role in terrorising their Croatian neighbours and preparing and assisting in what was to become the most horrible aggression and war since World War Two in Europe. Serb civilians on a large scale were complicit in the Serb aggression, ethnic cleansing of Croats and devastation and a relatively smaller number sided with Croatians and fought to defend Croatia from Serb aggression. The second reason why the above concerns are justified lies in the fact that there is no register of Serbs, who were also Croatian citizens and lived in Croatia, who had participated in any way in the aggression against Croatia.

There is no register of actual persons involved in the aggression full stop! It must be kept in mind that when it comes to Serb aggression against Croatia, in order to stop Croatia from seceding from communist Yugoslavia, the armed and the civilian Serbs in Croatia who subscribed to the idea of stopping Croatia in its path to independence fought collectively against Croats in both mind and deed.  

The right-wing opposition in the Parliament, such as Miroslav Skoro’s Patriotic Movement and its MP Stipo Mlinaric Cipe, appears adamant and angry that this new legislation will, as they see it, provide a legal avenue for civilians among the Serb rebels and aggressors to receive compensation for injury they may have sustained during the war even though they were on the aggressor’s side; or their surviving families could benefit if they were killed during aggression against Croatia.

The government on the other hand, vehemently denies that possibility and its Minister for the veterans, Tomo Medved, says that civilian invalids from the Homeland War, as a basic right commensurate with the provision of this new legislation, can receive a personal disability allowance in the range of 114 to 3824 kuna, depending on the status and degree of damage to their body. It is estimated that up to 2,500 new beneficiaries of status rights are in full application of the law, including the disabled and family members of dead and missing civilians,” said Medved, referring to Mlinaric’s claims in which Mlinaric stated that it is shameful that the law is being passed only now to compensate civilian victims, parents of deceased children when it should have been passed a long time ago (as it has been over 25 years since the war ended).

Minister Medved negated Mlinaric’s claims that rebel Serb (aggressors) civilians could under this law be eligible for compensation and said that the law strictly states that members, helpers or associates of enemy military and paramilitary units who took part in the armed aggression against Croatia, as well as members of their families, cannot receive benefits under this law.

But, in fact, it is also true that the law provides that, providing they satisfy the criteria, all Croatian citizens are eligible to receive benefits under this law. So, given that Croatian governments have not bothered to create a register of Croatian Serbs who were engaged in any way in the Serb aggression against Croatia, the real possibility does indeed exist that a Croatian citizen of Serb extraction who engaged in activities of aggression during the 1990’s war could qualify for benefits under this law if he/she lines up the “right” sort of supporting testimonies even if these testimonies may be false statements and nothing more.

Judging from what has been unfolding in Croatia regarding this particular legislation during the week one may well be justified in siding with the Parliamentary opposition, Mlinaric for instance, rather than Minister Medved. Credibility must be given to the opinion that the law is not clear enough to exclude absolutely the possibility of enemy “civilians” receiving benefits under it. I put the word civilian in quotation marks because in the environment of brutal aggression against Croats even Serb civilians engaged in terrorising the Croatian people out of their homes and supported the Serb armed forces and paramilitary in ethnic cleansing and destruction.

If the latter were not the case, then why did the Zagreb-based, pro-communist Yugoslavia, communist crimes apologetics, NGO Documenta – Centre for Dealing with the Past and the Serbian National Council, which represents the Serb minority in Croatia, feel the need to launch a media campaign last Thursday entitled ‘Justice for Victims’, supporting the government’s plan to pass legislation that will grant benefits to civilian victims of the 1991-95 war. These NGOs and Pupovac do not appear to care about the Croatian victims.

“With this campaign, we want to improve the rights of civilian victims,” Serbian National Council president Milorad Pupovac, who is also an MP, told a press conference.

Pupovac added that for him, all civilian victims of the war, both the Croats who suffered in the besieged town of Vukovar in 1991 and the Serbs targeted after the Croatian Army’s Operation Storm in 1995 are his “brothers and sisters”!

Alarmingly, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and his government did not bat an eyelash at these depraved and disgusting words that Pupovac had uttered. It is obvious that Milorad Pupovac, a leader of the Serb minority in Croatia whose own brothers were active Serb rebels in Croatia who ethnically cleansed, terrorised, raped, mass murdered Croats, is on a path for Croatia to recognise Serbs involved with the aggression and brutalities against Croats be recognised as civilians in terms of this new legislation. By doing that he is placing another nail in the false claim that the war of Serb aggression in Croatia was a civil war, which it was not!   

Some human rights NGOs in Croatia have also come out, pointing out that Serb civilians could have difficulties proving that they did not aid or collaborate with the ‘enemy’. Why would they come out with this if they did not smell the same rat in the new legislation that Mlinaric and the right-wing parliamentary opposition smell!

No doubt about it, this law, if it passes without some additions and changes in line with expressed concerns, may become yet another notch in the string of notches tied to equating the victim with the aggressor, to give more credibility to the false idea that Croatian Homeland War was a civil war.  If it was a civil war then the UN War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague would not have had jurisdiction, nor would it have been created!

The first victim of the Serbian aggression during early to mid 1990’s were the Croats who were removed from 30% of the Croatian territory, their homes and ancestral lands. That territory was not only occupied by the Yugoslav army and the local Serbs and ethnically cleansed of Croats, but in addition Serbs from other parts of Croatia or Bosnia were persuaded to resettle into abandoned Croatian homes in the cleansed territory for the Greater Serbia. Such behaviour escalated national animosities as the aggression spread on and on. It was a gruesome picture for Croats and the law for civilian victim compensation must be tight to ensure that no Serb civilian aiding the Serb military and paramilitary receives any assistance under it. Many Croatian victims of these Serb civilians are known throughout the world as many ended up as refugees settling in Western countries, many have died, and many are now too old to tell of their suffering at the hands of their Serb neighbours and pre-war “friends”. It is therefore the responsibility of both the government and the opposition in Croatia to ensure this law does differentiate strictly between the victim and the aggressor. Ina Vukic

Serb War Criminal Ratko Mladic Must Still Answer For Crimes Against Croats

Serb aggression – Skabrnja massacre victims in Croatia

After a very long legal battle in the Hague, Ratko Mladic, the Serb dubbed “butcher of Bosnia”, was finally and firmly pronounced guilty of genocide and imposed a life sentence by the UN Appeals judges during last week. It is a pity and a crying injustice for the international criminal justice that Ratko Mladic was neither charged nor tried in the Hague for the heinous crimes he committed in Croatia prior to moving to the Bosnian territory, which were just a brutal as those he committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

One wonders, therefore, in whose political or otherwise interest it is to deliver such piecemeal justice for victims of crimes committed by one and the same person!? Some might say, and many have said, that this case of Ratko Mladic and its verdict, despite the long time it took, remains an important warning to criminals, especially dictators, that, slowly but surely, they will be brought to answer for their crimes. Well, Mladic was not brought to answer for all the known crimes he committed, and the justice delivered in the Hague in his case is a selective justice – the one afforded to some and not to all victims.

On Tuesday 8 June 2021, the United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague Appeals Chamber, with the exception of Judge Prisca Nyambe, confirmed the 2017 Trial Chamber’s ruling, finding Mladic guilty of commanding violent ethnic cleansing campaigns across the country and sniping and shelling attacks against the civilian population of Sarajevo between May 1992 and November 1995, committing genocide against an estimated 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica between July and at least October 1995 using the forces under his command, and using UN peacekeepers as human shields after taking them hostage from May to June 1995.

But the Appeals Chamber also dismissed the parallel appeal against Mladic brought by the prosecution, which had sought a second conviction against Mladic for genocide committed against Muslims and Croats in other areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina (five municipalities) during the early phase of the war from 1992. Certainly, this ruling that excluded convictions for genocidal crimes in these other areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina will certainly weaken and undermine international community’s convictions that more robust and decisive actions by the international community at the time to curb, to stop, what has become known as “a slow-motion genocide” perpetrated by Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina should and could have been pursued. Foca, Kotor-Varos, Prijedor, Sanski Most and Vlasenica, the campaign of persecution escalated to such a degree that it demonstrated precisely the intent to destroy Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats as a group. The prosecution was not successful in achieving a conviction for these crimes of genocide that were a part of the Serb joint criminal enterprise in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It is alarmingly unjust and cruel towards victims and justice that similar crimes committed by Ratko Mladic in Croatia, prior to his criminal spree in Bosnia and Herzegovina were not included in his Hague international tribunal for war crimes indictment. While Mladic acted in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a commander of the so-called self-proclaimed Serbian Republic Army when he was stationed in Croatia he was a commander in the Yugoslav People’s Army that set out to quash the Croatian people who wanted secession from communist Yugoslavia and independence and, as such, rebel Serb agenda in Croatia suited him and his campaign of persecution and murder of Croatians in the own homes, on their own land escalated to such a degree that it demonstrated precisely the intent to destroy Croats as a group in all areas of Croatia where Serbs lived in larger numbers.

In July 1992, the County Court in the coastal town of Sibenik in Croatia sentenced Ratko Mladic to twenty years imprisonment for the attack on the village of Kijevo, which totally destroyed the village in the Dalmatian hinterland, on August 26, 1991.

Mladic was also sentenced for ordering attacks on the villages around the towns of Sinj and Vrlika in the Croatian Dalmatian hinterland in the period between September 16 until 23, 1991. In those attacks many civilians were killed.

In December 1995, Croatian prosecutors filed an indictment against Mladic for an attempt to destroy a hydro plant in the village of Peruca near Sinj.

By the time Mladic was appointed as the commander of the 9th JNA Corps in the Croatian town of Knin on June 3, 1991, the territory was already cut off from the rest of Croatia, because Croatian Serbs, who proclaimed the Serb Autonomous Territory of Krajina in 1990, barricaded the roads around Knin on August 17, 1990. Mladic aligned himself with rebel Serb forces and ethnic cleansing of Croats and other non-Serbs, persecution, killing, rape, plunder… commenced. Many civilians were killed and wounded during the shelling of Croatian villages and towns, and water and electricity supplies were blocked for months.

It is held that Ratko Mladic, as a Yugoslav Army commander that sided with Serb aggression against Croatians and Croatia, is responsible for the brutal massacres and slaughter of 88 Croatian people in the village of Skabrnja, near Zadar, on November 18, 1991 and the death of 30 Croatian people in the village of Saborsko in central Croatia, also in November 1991. 

At the time of his command in Croatia in 1991, Mladic can certainly be linked to the crimes in Knin and its surroundings, in the hinterland of Zadar and Šibenik, and especially to the crime in Skabrnja, which in its blatant ethnic cleansing had the character of genocidal intent.

The Croatian prosecutor’s office had reportedly informed the ICTY about the verdicts in Croatia against Ratko Mladic and the investigations against Mladic in 2003. After Mladic was arrested in July 2011 (having hidden in Serbia and Serbian Republic for some 16 years under an assumed name and identity to avoid prosecution in the Hague for war crimes), then Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor announced Croatia would “insist” that the ICTY includes crimes in Croatia into Mladic’s indictment. But the ICTY did not include Croatia’s findings in its indictment causing public outcry in the country. The reported reason for that decision was that the Hague needed to economise its proceedings, so it pursued only the crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.The Croatian authorities at the time, which included the former communist Yugoslavia operative Stjepan Mesic, was not about to represent on the international levels the truth about the Serb aggression against Croatia. If anything, they played it down and attempted to criminalised Croatia’s defence efforts of the Homeland War. All for the glory of the failed communist totalitarian and criminal regime of Yugoslavia.

Last week in a Press Release responding to the verdict against Ratko Mladic in the Hague the government of Croatia expressed regret and dissatisfaction that “Ratko Mladic was not indicted and convicted for numerous crimes committed during the aggression on the Republic of Croatia, where he started his bloody campaign, continuing it in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” Well now, the Croatian government achieves nothing but bitterness from the public by pretending it is sorry that the Hague tribunal did not consider Mladic’s crimes in Croatia. After all, the Croatian governments and its Presidents since the year 2000 did nothing much, nothing decisive, to truly ensure Mladic’s crimes are included in the Hague indictment. These were the years when the former Yugoslav communists took increasing hold of power in Croatia, these were the years that saw Croatian Government and Presidents enter into extraordinary measures, including fabrications and lies against Croats, in attempts to equate the Serb aggressor with the Croatian victim during that 1990’s war of Serb aggression. Nothing short of treason in my books. The Croatian Government should have made big noises throughout the world, within the UN itself, insisting that crimes perpetrated by Ratko Mladic be included in the indictments against him. They did no such thing, and one must ask why, or rather, one must conclude that the very top echelons of Croatian power at the time did not want the world to see how truly brutal and depraved Serb aggression against Croatia was. I just hope that new indictments will, at Croatia’s instigation, be raised against Ratko Mladic in the near future for the crimes committed in Croatia. It is very important for the victims of these crimes, their families and for justice that those responsible are held to account.

It is likely that the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals – the institution that succeeded the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague – will hand down a first-instance verdict by the end of this month to Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, wartime heads of Serbia’s State Security Department and Slobodan Milosevic’s closest informants. They are accused of participating in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at “forcibly and permanently removing most non-Serbs, primarily Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, from large parts of Croatia and BiH, by committing the crimes of persecution, murder, deportation and forcible transfer.”  The eventual conviction of Stanisic and Simatovic could be the first, and the last, in which the heart of the Milosevic regime, which was the Department of State Security, is singled out and declared a key link in the chain of Serb criminal enterprise in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Viewed from the perspective of the current Serbian state policy that denies genocide and aggression against Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, finding Stanisic and Simatovic guilty would be a heavier blow to them than the vast majority of previous Hague verdicts, including Mladic’s. Serbs may at last start looking truth in the eye and see themselves for what they were and are in their depraved imperialistic appetites for Greater Serbia. Ina Vukic

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