by Luka Misetic
[The following is an English translation of a column I authored and which appeared in the Zagreb daily Jutarnji List on 4 August 2015, the 20th anniversary of Operation Storm].
This year, on 8 May on Victory Day in Europe, when the entire continent commemorated 70 years of Europe’s liberation from fascism, Milorad Pupovac, Vesna Terselic , and others from the NGO Documenta held a commemorative ceremony to remember the victims of Allied forces: victims from Dresden to Bleiburg. They invited from Germany five victims who survived the fire-bombing of Dresden to tell their stories at HNK in Rijeka, where Oliver Frljic provided them with an opportunity to tell their stories.
What’s that you say? You don’t remember Pupovac and Documenta organizing such commemorations in Rijeka for the victims of Dresden and Bleiburg? Actually, I don’t remember any such event either. Because it did not happen. What I have just described for you above is something that Pupovac and Co. would never do on the commemoration of the Day of Victory in Europe because, as Pupovac himself said in 2010, he “condemns the politics of equalization of victims.” He argued against the equal treatment of victims of World War II because the victims of fascism were killed as part of a criminal politics, while the victims of the Allied forces were victims not of criminal politics but of vengeance which was not officially condoned.
But this week, when Croatia celebrates its own liberation in Operation Storm, you will hear Pupovac say something quite different, something like what he said last year at this time: “Real reconciliation won't happen until all victims are equally mentioned." When one compares this statement to Pupovac’s views about how World War II victims should not be commemorated equally, it is clear that Pupovac is aware that behind his efforts to equate the victims in the Homeland War, lies a political agenda: an agenda to equalize the responsibility of the leadership of Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s. One cannot otherwise explain why Pupovac treats victims of different wars with different criteria.
On 4 and 5 August, Croatia will commemorate its own victory over another criminal politics: the liberation of one-third of Croatian territory from the so-called “Republika Srpska Krajina,” which the Hague Tribunal in the case of Milan Martic has already declared beyond reasonable doubt was a Joint Criminal Enterprise on Croatian territory. According to the tribunal’s judgment, the RSK was a criminal enterprise controlled from Belgrade which had as its purpose the creation of an ethnically-pure greater Serbia through the persecution and deportation of all non-Serbs from occupied Croatian territories. The International Court of Justice confirmed this conclusion in its judgment in the Croatia v. Serbia genocide case.
In contrast, the Hague Tribunal has concluded that there was no criminal intent on the part of the Croatian leadership towards the Croatian Serbs. Even in the first instance trial judgment in which General Gotovina was falsely convicted, Judge Orie’s Trial Chamber unanimously concluded that President Tudjman and the Croatian leadership had no intention to allow Serbs to be murdered, or their homes to be destroyed or property stolen. In fact, Judge Orie’s Trial Chamber concluded unanimously that the Croatian state did not have a policy to not investigate crimes committed against Serbs. This is now the unanimous conclusion of every judge at the ICTY, both at the trial and appeal levels. Moreover, although Judge Orie’s Trial Chamber (falsely) concluded that Serbs had been ethnically cleansed from Knin, Benkovac, Obrovac and Gracac, it concluded that Serbs had not been ethnically cleansed from any other part of the “Krajina.”
In the appeals case therefore, the only question was whether Judge Orie’s Chamber had properly concluded that Serbs had been ethnically cleansed from the four towns of Knin, Benkovac, Obrovac and Gracac, even though Judge Orie’s Chamber concluded that they had not been deported from any other part of the “Krajina.” The majority of the Appeals Chamber concluded that Serbs from these four towns were not expelled by Croatian forces, and acquitted Generals Gotovina and Markac.
The conclusions from these two ICTY judgments in the Gotovina case are undeniable: the Croatian leadership did not have any intent to murder or expel Croatian Serbs, and it did not intend to destroy and loot their property. It did not expel the Serb population. Concretely: the Croatian leadership did not have a criminal political policy towards the Serb minority in Croatia.
One of the goals of the establishment of the ICTY in 1993 was that a record of history of the events of the 1990s could be created by an independent, international body, freeing the people of southeast Europe from mythical histories created by elites. That independent body has now spoken. On the Serbian side was a criminal political agenda which resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands. On the Croatian side, there was no criminal plan directed at the Serbian minority, although crimes were committed on the Croatian side as well. Croatia launched a legitimate military operation which it was entitled to do under international law.
I would have hoped that the judgments of the ICTY would have laid a solid foundation for the beginning of reconciliation in the region. What if Aleksandar Vucic had gone to Srebrenica and expressed his regret that G-E-N-O-C-I-D-E had been committed there? What if Milorad Pupovac had publicly condemned the criminal politics of the Croatian Serb leadership during the war unequivocally, without simultaneously condemning the Croatian leadership? What if as a result of these gestures, President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic and Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic together appeared at the commemoration on 28 September of those senselessly murdered in Varivode and other places after Operation Storm to express the sincere regret of the entire Croatian people for the murders of those innocent victims?
Unfortunately, the persistent failure to acknowledge historical facts confirmed by the Hague Tribunal continues to hamper reconciliation.. Vucic continues to deny genocide at Srebrenica despite numerous ICTY judgments and an ICJ judgment confirming it was genocide. Vucic and Pupovac organize a “day of mourning” on 5 August, the day Croatia celebrates its liberation from what the Hague Tribunal has confirmed was a Serbian criminal enterprise. They both continue to insist that over 200,000 Serbs were “expelled” from Croatia, despite ICTY rulings that refute this claim. And they both claim that “victims of the wars in the 1990s should be remembered equally,” something that both men would condemn if the victims in question were World War II victims.
Let’s hope that one day, Vucic and Pupovac recognize that holding a “day of mourning” on the day of Croatia’s liberation is as provocative as Croatia holding a “day of mourning” for the victims of the Way of the Cross on 8 May, Victory Day in Europe. We need less provocations, and more statesmen-like measures. Like acknowledging the genocide in Srebrenica, or the criminal nature of the Republika Srpska Krajina. We also need Croatia’s leaders to acknowledge the pain felt by Serbs for the crimes committed after Operation Storm. Perhaps 28 September, the anniversary of the murders in Varivode, would be an appropriate day.
But not 5 August. 5 August is Croatia’s day, the day when we celebrate the country’s liberation from an evil political project, a day when we give thanks for those that led Croatia to victory. And when we remember each and every soldier who gave his life, or a part of his body or mind, so that every one of Croatia’s citizens can live in freedom.
Neka im je vjecna slava i hvala (Let their glory be eternal).