News 23 Oct 14

Disabled Croatian Veterans Rally After Protest Death

War veterans who have been protesting in Zagreb for several days held a commemoration for a wheelchair-bound female ex-soldier who reportedly died from exhaustion at a late-night rally.

Sven Milekic
BIRN

Tribute to Nevenka Topalusic, the protester who died.

Photo: Facebook/braniteljski.hr.

The disabled former servicemen and their supporters on Thursday mourned Nevenka Topalusic, the former soldier who died on Tuesday night while taking part in the ongoing protest in front of the veterans’ ministry in the Croatian capital.

Scores of candles were lit and placed below a photograph of Topalusic in her wheelchair at an improvised memorial tribute created by the protesters.

Hundreds of disabled ex-soldiers have been rallying this week to demand improved benefits and the resignation of veterans’ minister Predrag Matic.

Just before she died, 60-year-old Topalusic, who was seriously wounded while fighting during the war in Croatia in the 1990s, reportedly told another protester that she intended to continue demonstrating for as long as necessary.

“I went to war so it would be better for me and my children, but it’s not - either for me or for them. I will not leave here, they can only carry me away dead. I will be here for days and nights and years if necessary,” Topalusic said, according to Vecernji List newspaper.

Matic said afterwards that “this is a sad event that was not supposed to happen”.

Opposition leader Tomislav Karamarko, head of the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, came to show support for the protesters on Thursday as the row became increasingly politicised.

Karamarko accused the government of not treating the veterans correctly and denied claims that the opposition HDZ was using them for political advantage, as Matic has alleged.

“I respect everything they’ve done for the Republic of Croatia, I sympathise with them in what they feel, because they feel that everything they fought for is underestimated and disputed,” Karamarko said.

The unemployed veterans say they receive poor healthcare treatment and accuse the ministry of reducing their rights and cutting their disability benefits.

They are also angry at Matic’s assistant, Bojan Glavasevic, after he stated that “people on the ‘other side’ [during the war with Belgrade’s forces] could have post-traumatic stress disorder as well”.

In an altercation on Tuesday, some of the protesters directly confronted Glavasevic and poured water on him.

During the war, Matic was a soldier involved in fighting to defend the Croatian city of Vukovar in 1991 and was then captured and detained in Serbia, while Glavasevic’s father was a journalist in Vukovar who was executed by Serbian fighters after the city fell.

Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic insisted on Thursday that Matic retains his full support.

“If this kind of minister, with his war record and his assistants, are not good enough, then I don’t know who can to this job better in Croatia,” Milanovic said.

The protesters have set up a tent camp near the veterans’ ministry, where they were visited on Tuesday by retired Croatian general Mladen Markac, who was controversially acquitted of war crimes by the Hague Tribunal two years ago.

“When I was detained and ill in The Hague, all these veterans were with me and gave me full support, while believing in the truth of our, the accused’s words. Today it is my duty to be with them,” Markac said.

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