News 03 Oct 17

Controversial Major’s Statue Causes Serbia-Croatia Row

A diplomatic row has continued to simmer for four days after Serbia unveiled a monument to a Yugoslav major who blew himself up rather than surrender to Croatian forces during the war in 1991.

Filip Rudic, Sven Milekic
BIRN
Belgrade, Zagreb
The unveiling of the statue of Milan Tepic. Photo: Beta/Jovo Mamula.

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic on Tuesday accused Croatian officials of “anti-Serbian hysteria” as the dispute continued between the two countries over the new statue of Yugoslav People’s Army Major Milan Tepic in Belgrade.

Dacic described Zagreb’s displomatic protest about the monument to Tepic, who blew up an ammunition warehouse in Croatia, killing himself and 12 other people during the war in 1991, as an example of “madness”.

“Compared to [Croatian officials], he is a moral giant,” Dacic said of Tepic in an interview on Serbia’s public broadcaster, RTS.

The row started after the monument to Tepic was unveiled on Friday, in the presence of the Serbian defence and labour ministers.

Tepic, together with another Yugoslav army soldier, refused to surrender to Croatian troops in September 1991, blowing up an ammunition warehouse in the Croatian town of Bjelovar instead.

The two men died, together with 11 Croatian soldiers. Tepic’s actions also potentially threatened civilians’ lives.

The Croatian Foreign Ministry issued a note of protest about the unveiling on Monday, saying that the statue confirms that Serbia “still isn’t ready to confront the past and its role in the bloody breakup of the former [Yugoslavia]”.

The ministry said that Serbia’s move went against Croatia’s attempts to “build good neighbourly relations” despite having been a victim of the “aggression of the Republic of Serbia and the JNA [Yugoslav People’s Army]”.

Croatia also claimed that Tepic would have “razed the town of Bjelovar to the ground” if it weren’t for the “heroic Croatian war veterans” in stopping him.

Many Croatian media, but also some in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, condemned the installation of the Tepic statue.

Bosnian news website Prometej said that Serbia “now has what not even Iraq or Afghanistan have - a monument to a suicide bomber”.

Serbian Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin said on Sunday that Serbia and Croatia will never agree on certain issues from the past.

He cited the example of Miro Baresic, a Croat who assassinated Yugoslavia’s ambassador in Sweden in 1971, and whose statue was unveiled in Croatia last year in the presence of Croatian state officials.

“You would surely disagree with me when I say Miro Baresic was a terrorist. That is what I am saying, and I cannot draw a parallel between Baresic and Major Tepic in any way,” Vulin told Croatian journalists.

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