News 29 Jul 16

Croatian Youth NGO Apologizes to 'Storm' Victims

A Zagreb-based NGO has started an online letter calling for an apology to the Serb victims of the victorious 1995 'Operation Storm’, which terminated a Serb rebellion in the Krajina region.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
"National interest is a confession and not a lie" on posters in Zagreb. Photo: Facebook

With the 21st anniversary of the Croatian military operation "Oluja" ["Storm"] approaching, the Zagreb-based Youth Initiative for Human Rights has launched on online petition apologizing to the civilian victims, attempting to draw a similar reaction from the state.

Joco Glavas, from the Initiative, told BIRN that the action was planned as a “bottom-up” campaign, trying to persuade the state to step in.

“We’ve seen that 21 years have passed and that state institutions so far haven’t expressed any apology to these citizens who were killed, who had to run, and whose houses were burnt and robbed … That’s why we tried to spark an initiative that would come from the citizens to show some basic solidarity,” he said.

He said he hoped that the initiative would prompt the state authorities to admit that Croatia had a “political plan to get rid of Serbs in that region” through the operation.

The NGO on Tuesday published its online petition apologizing to the mainly Serb victims of the operation, which seized back 18 per cent of Croatian territory that had been under Serb rebel control since 1991.

According to Croatia’s Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, over 600 civilians, mostly elderly local Serbs, were killed during and in the aftermath of the operation.

Additionally, the Committee has listed over 20,000 objects – houses, barns and garages – that were set on fire, while independent media reported mass-scale looting in the area of the operation.

Around 200,000 local Serbs left Croatia at the time, some of whom have returned over the years.

Glavas said the NGO had asked the local authorities in the former Serb rebel headquarters of Knin – where the annual central ceremony marking "Storm" is held – for permission to collect signatures in the town, but added that their plea “will most likely be rejected”.

Although only some 100 people have supported the online petition so far, due to limited media coverage of the action, he is convinced that the number will grow by August 5 – when the operation is marked – and will potentially spark other initiatives as well.

In the letter, the apology is asked from “those who, as innocents, were killed in it and those who lost their loved ones”, trying to “show the face of Croatia that cares about justice and expresses solidarity with victims”.

An apology is asked of those who “lost their closest relatives in the crimes committed against civilians” during and after the operation and those whose houses were burned and property looted, as well as of those who are still living like refugees and those who are still looking for their missing relatives.

The letter says that "a confession [of crimes] and not a lie” is in the national interest and adds that “the realization of any social and political objective ... must never involve committing crimes and serious human rights violations”.

Besides the online petition the Youth Initiative has put up huge posters along the roads in Zagreb and will send the letter with signatures to the Croatian President and government.

The Youth Initiative has for years tried to raise awareness of the crimes committed in "Storm". On the 15th anniversary, it planted a plate on the road from Knin towards Bosnia on which it sent an apology to victims.

Croatian courts have been reluctant to process alleged war crimes committed during operation "Storm" and the issue remains unresolved within Croatian society - a source of discord between Croatia and Serbia, where the majority of Serb refugees went.

The Day of Victory and Homeland Gratitude on August 5 is a non-working holiday in Croatia, marking the operation with a central ceremony in Knin. In Serbia, meanwhile, the victims of the operation are commemorated and Croatia’s celebration is condemned.

Last year’s 20th anniversary in Knin attracted around 100,000 people and was marked by anti-Serbian chants during the concert by the Croatian nationalist singer Marko Perkovic ‘Thompson".

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