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Short History of the Homeland War

 

January 1991. The JNA threatened from all barracks in Croatia. In the presence of President Tuđman and the Croatian delegation the Presidency of former Yugoslavia decided to demobilise the reserve of the Croatian police and to withdraw the readiness of the Yugoslav Army. The Yugoslav military counterintelligence agency KOS arrested a group of eminent citizens of Virovitice - Đuro Dećak and others. They were released later after protests organised by the citizens of Zagreb in front of the Court Martial building. There was no negotiating on the future organisation of Yugoslavia. Serbia wanted a reformed federation, one in which leading bodies would be chosen on the principle of one man one vote, in other words Serbia under the name of Yugoslavia.

Serb renegades from the Knin region founded the autonomous Serb region of Krajina, which also included some boroughs in northern Dalmatia and Lika, as well as some in Kordun and Banija. In mid March it succeeded from Croatia, the Serbs took over Plitvice and ambushed Croatian police, who managed to ward them off on Easter. The first victim to fall in defending Croatia was Josip Jović. In eastern Slavonia members of the Serb Democratic Party and numerous militant politicians from Serbia, such as Vojislav Seselj, were active. Serbs in the Croatian Danube Region received arms from Serbia and their forces were strengthened by armed Chetnik terrorist groups. On 1st May two Croatian policemen were killed in Borovo Selo. Soon afterwards Serb terrorists killed twelve and wounded twenty policemen. In the Knin borough Serbs openly co-operated with the JNA and besieged Kijevo. Croatia, whose territorial defence forces were disarmed in May 1990, had only its police to defend it. The need to defend its independence lead to the founding of a regular Croatian army - The National Guard. The first parade was held at Zagreb stadium in 1991.

The referendum held on 19th May showed that 94 per cent of the citizens of the Republic of Croatia wanted Croatia to succeed from Yugoslavia and gain its independence. On 25th June 1991 the Croatian Parliament proclaimed the Republic of Croatia an independent and sovereign state. By the end of June 1991 conflicts arose between the Slovenian territorial defence and the JNA, which escalated into a war. The Brijuni Treaty asked that armed conflicts cease and Croatia and Slovenia postpone their decision for independence and sovereignty for a further three months. However, the war in Croatia was in its first phase. The same day the Brijuni Treaty was signed the JNA besieged Baranja and fierce battle raged in Tenja near Osijek. Young people volunteered to defend Croatia. The war escalated in eastern and western Slavonia, in Banija and Kordun, in Dalmatia around Kijevo, Sinj, Sibenik, Zadar and Maslenica and in Lika. Chetniks slaughtered and killed Croatian civilians, plundered and shelled public buildings. The killing and persecution of Croats continued even after the signing of the cease-fire and the memorandum on observer missions to Croatia. Vukovar suffered the attacks of the JNA and Chetniks from 24th August.

The score by then, in the undeclared war against Croatia, was 2,200 Croats killed, 140,000 refugees, razed villages, shelled towns, destroyed cultural monuments, churches, hospitals, old people's homes, kindergartens. TV transmitters were also destroyed, cameramen and journalists of the Croatian Radio and Television were killed. The first such victim was Gordan Lederer.

The Croatian leaders decided to block all enemy barracks and airports. In five days 36 barracks and warehouses were taken over, 230 tanks and around 400 artillery pieces. On 25th September the U.N. Security Council issued an embargo on the import of military equipment to former Yugoslavia, which meant that Croatia could not purchase arms legally. Instead, it had to steal it from the enemy or buy it illegally, which it did aided by Croatian emigrants. Thousands of volunteers marched towards the frontlines. The defenders of Sibenik managed to ward of the JNA attack on the town.

Battles were waged for Karlovac, Vukovar and Vinkovci.The Chetniks took over Petrinja and the JNA Drnis. It then helped Montenegrin units to take over Konavle. At the beginning of October battles raged for Dubrovnik, Sisak and Zadar, as well as in southeastern Herzegovina.

Two days after President Tuđman called for the defence of Croatia, on 7th November, JNA aircraft shelled Banski dvori. On 8th November the Croatian Sabor broke all ties to Yugoslavia and declared Croatia an independent state. The enemy intensified attacks on Dubrovnik, it attacked Slunj, Nova Gradiska, Pozega, Pakrac and shelled Split. Croatia was winning in the Brac canal and fought back JNA vessels south of Peljesac. On 18th November Vukovar fell, the town that had for months warded off Serb attack and destroyed its elite units. 2,000 defenders of Vukovar and civilians were killed, more than 800 went missing and 42,000 were forced into exile. The wounded were taken from Vukovar Hospital to Ovcara near Vukovar where they were executed. Croats in Nadin and in Skabrnja near Zadar, where more than 80 Croats were killed, also fell vicitim.

Zadar was shelled, the Maslenica Bridge, the only connection between south and north Croatia, was destroyed. The Croatian army was successful in Papuk and Psunj and it managed to liberate Lipik. Pressured by the public the international community considered sending U.N. forces into the crisis regions. At that point there were already 500,000 refugees in the free regions of Croatia. Almost 15,000 square kilometres (26.5 % of Croatian territory) was occupied by the aggressor. The world was more and more partial to the idea of acknowledging Croatia internationally. During this period Pope John Paul II played a significant role by acknowledging "Beloved Croatia" as he called her. The Vatican officially acknowledged Croatia on 13th January 1992. By mid January the following states had acknowledged her: Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Iceland, Germany, San Marino and Austria. On 15th January Croatia was recognised by all EC member states and on 22nd May Croatia was admitted to the U.N. U.N. blue helmets arrived in Croatia on a one-year mandate and were deployed to all regions of Croatian territory occupied by the JNA and Serb renegades, to the so-called UNPA zones. The UNPROFOR fulfilled none of its tasks. Croats continued to be persecuted and forced into exile, their homes were plundered, bridges were razed, anti-personnel mines were strewn all over. Croatian refugees were joined by those from neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, where war broke out in April 1992.

A couple of days after Croatia became a full-fledged member of the U.N. the JNA left its last foothold - the islands of Lastovo and Vis. The Croatian army under the command of General Bobetko liberated the Dubrovnik coastline and Konavle. Miljevci, the area between the river Krka and Drnis, was also liberated. In the action called Otkos 10, 300 square kilometres of Slavonia were also liberated. Pressure on Zadar weakened as Kriz hill above Bibinje was liberated. The United Nations Observers, labelled the “blue helmets”, stood by peacefully watching Serb artillery destroying Osijek, Gospic, Sisak, Karlovac, Zadar and Sibenik. The refugee crisis was at its peak. Croatia was host to over a million refugees and exiles. A part of them were to be sheltered in other countries.

1993 brought the liberation of the Zadar hinterland from Zemunik to Maslenica and Zadar airport. Croatia faced sanctions for liberating it own territory . In the Summer of 1993 Belgrade included all occupied regions into its monetary, postal and TV systems. Serbian and cyrillic were used in occupied regions of Croatia. The U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions upon Serbia and completely isolated it from the international community. At the same time in October of the same year the Security Council, for the first time, confirmed that the UNPA zones were an integral part of the Republic of Croatia, however, it did not offer any integration mechanisms. Therefore, the Croatian army liberated an area southeast of Gospic called the Medak Pocket.

The Agreement on the Founding of the Bosniak-Croatian Federation in 1994 between the Croats and Moslems brought a short cease-fire to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Federation was supposed to work closely with the Republic of Croatia. At the same time, talks were held between Croatia and Serbia on the possible normalisation of relations. It was the year when Pope John Paul II visited Croatia and addressed the Croatian people in the Croatian language. His words brought encouragement and hope. The international community, on the other hand, proposed the opening of roads, railway and a gas line and then a political agreement. Dissatisfaction with moves made by the international community only fuelled the plan of the envoys of Contact Group states according to which Serbs in Croatia would receive a state within a state, so-called Plan Z4. Croatia withdrew its hospitality to the “blue helmets” and the Security Council promptly renamed its peace-keeping forces in Croatia UNCRO - United nations Confidence Restoration Operation. Its task was to monitor the cease-fire and Croatian borders towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro.

In the meantime, Croatia had a reinforced military force and in the military operation Flash carried out on 1st and 2nd May 1995 Croatian soldiers and police liberated western Slavonia. Most of the local Serbs sought refuge in areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina under Serb control, from where they shelled Croatian towns in retaliation. Croatian and Bosnian Federation high officials met in Split and adopted the Declaration on the Joint Defence Against the Serb Aggressor. North of the Dinara mountain joint HVO and HV actions were organised under the name Summer '95. Bosansko Grahovo and Glamoc were taken. Knin was isolated from its hinterland. The Serbs retaliated by shelling Karlovac, Sisak and Gospic. At the negotiating table in Geneva they refused to accept peaceful reintegration. Croatia was left with no other alternatives and 4th August saw the key military and police action called Storm. In only 48 hours occupied regions of northern Dalmatia, south and east Lika, Kordun and Banija were liberated. 30,000 Serb soldiers and 80,000 Serb civilians fled from Croatia, although Croatian authorities employed them to stay even before the action started.

The Patriotic War concluded with action Storm. It was a war in which 11,000 Croats were killed, 37,000 wounded and 3,000 went missing. In Bosnia and Herzegovina over 10,000 Croats were killed and more than 12,000 were wounded. The Croatian Danube Region, the remaining 4.6 per cent of occupied Croatian territory, was restored to Croatia not by military force but through peaceful reintegration. The UNTAES mission concluded on 15th January 1998. The Croatian Danube Region was de-militarised, a Croatian-Serb border police force was established and the kuna, official Croatian currency, and Croatian legislature were introduced into the region. Croatia, thus, began its painful and expensive restoration process to rebuild direct material damage sustained during the war, which amounts to almost 30 billion US dollars.