News 24 Oct 14

Croatian Veterans Vow to Continue Tent-Camp Protest

Former soldiers camped out in front of the war veterans’ ministry for the fifth day in a row, demanding improved benefits and the resignation of the minister.

Sven Milekic

Protesters in front of the war veterans' ministry.

Photo: Sven Milekic.

The veterans’ protest continued in Zagreb on Friday amid anger about the death of a disabled female ex-soldier who was taking part in the demonstration earlier this week, reportedly from exhaustion.

The protesters are demanding better treatment for disabled veterans and all other ex-soldiers, as well as the removal of veterans’ minister Predrag Matic and his team.

They have set up an improvised camp in front of the ministry with tents and a fire, aided by well-wishers who have brought food and blankets.

One of the veterans said that they were protesting because they were “disappointed and angry” with the centre-left government’s attitude to their sacrifices during the 1991-95 war for independence from Yugoslavia.

“I have a son of 25, and what has my struggle left him with? A country led by ‘those people’,” the veteran, who wanted to remain anonymous, told BIRN.

Memorial tribute to the protester who died.

Photo: Sven Milekic.

When Matic came to work on Friday, police were on hand to protect him after an assault on his assistant Bojan Glavasevic earlier in the week.

When he arrived, he crossed himself in front of an improvised memorial which has been set up in front of the ministry in memory of disabled female war veteran Nevenka Topalusic, the 60-year-old who died while protesting on Wednesday.

Protesters meanwhile turned their backs on the minister in a show of contempt and sang patriotic songs.

Matic has refused to step down and has been publicly backed by Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic.

Protesters said they intended to continue their sit-in and war veterans’ organisations are planning a round-table discussion in front of the ministry on Tuesday.

Tent at the protest camp. Photo: Sven Milekic.

The dispute has also taken on a party political aspect after Matic accused the opposition Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, of seeking to gain advantage from the protests.

Meanwhile HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko came to show support for the protesters on Thursday and accused the government of not treating them correctly.

Retired Croatian general Mladen Markac, who was controversially acquitted of war crimes by the Hague Tribunal two years ago, has also visited the protest camp and expressed his support.

A banner on one protest tent outside the ministry says “1991 against Yugoslavia, 2014 against Yugoslavs”, meaning that war veterans who once fought for Croatia against Yugoslavia in 1991 are now fighting for Croatia against politicians who act like they are still Yugoslavs.

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

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