News 05 Aug 14

Croatian Leaders Booed at ‘Victory Day’ Ceremony

PM Zoran Milanovic and President Ivo Josipovic were heckled by war veterans at a ceremony to mark the 19th anniversary of the Croatian Army’s victorious Operation Storm against Serb forces.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
'Victory Day' event in Knin. Photo: Damir Sencar, Hina/Beta.

The premier and president were greeted by whistles, taunts and boos as they held a ceremony in the town of Knin on Tuesday to mark the anniversary of Operation Storm in August 1995, which saw Zagreb’s forces seize back large amounts of Croatian territory held by Serbs during the war.

Some veterans, angered by the government’s liberal stance during the recent dispute over the official use of Serb Cyrillic script in areas with large Serb minorities, chanted “Get him off” during Milanovic’s speech.

Milanovic retorted by saying that they should go to the government building to express their discontent, because “that is the place for whistling and this is a place where people are honoured, those who fell for Croatia”.

There were fewer taunts however during the speech made by Josipovic, who said that war veterans helped to create Croatia so it could fulfil the principles of freedom, democracy, human rights and economic development.

The Operation Storm commemoration started in Knin with the raising of the Croatian flag and the playing of the national anthem at 9.45am – the time when Croatian forces entered the previously Serb-held town 19 years earlier.

The flag was raised by a war veteran, and the names of all 198 soldiers who died during the operation were read out.

During Operation Storm Croatian troops quickly defeated the armed forces of the Serb wartime statelet called the Republic of Serbian Krajina, ending its existence. More than 10,000 square kilometres of Croatian territory that had been under Serb control since 1991 was taken back.

But widespread killings of Serbs and the burning of their property forced around 200,000 of them to flee Croatia during and after the military campaign.

Commemorating the anniversary in Belgrade on Monday, Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said it was a “hard and sad” day and criticised Zagreb for celebrating it as Victory Day.

Meanwhile a Croatian NGO, the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, said that the ceremony in Zagreb should have started with a minute of silence for all civilians who lost their lives during the fighting.

“Bearing in mind that the Croatian judiciary has so far provided an insufficient and inadequate response to these crimes, the Republic of Croatia has to at least provide, in a dignified and responsible manner, intangible and symbolic reparations to victims and their families,” it said.

It called on people to post photos on Facebook and Twitter of columns of Serb refugees fleeing Croatia during and after the operation.

A popular but unofficial annual celebration of the anniversary also took place on Monday in the settlement of Cavoglave, not far from Knin, led by nationalist singer Marko Perkovic, alias Thompson – an event that attracts as many as 100,000 people each year.

 
  President Ivo Josipovic at the commemoration. Photo: Lana Slivar, Hina/Beta.

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