28 years have passed since the start of the Croatian military/police operation “Storm”, in which nearly 2,000 Serbs were killed and disappeared, and at least 220,000 inhabitants of the former Republic of Serbian Krajina were expelled from Croatia.
According to the data collated by the Veritas Documentation and Information Center, around 330 more remains of victims remain unidentified to this day.
Operation Storm took place in the early morning of August 4, 1995, with fierce artillery and rocket attacks along the entire 700-kilometre front line.
The operation was carried out even though the territory of the Republic of Serbian Krajina was under the protection of the United Nations.
In the first-instance verdict against the Croatian generals from 2011, the Hague Tribunal stated that Croatian President Franjo Tuđman was a “key member of the joint criminal enterprise” and that he “intended to populate Krajina with Croats”, “through his powerful position as president and supreme commander of the armed forces ensured that that idea was turned into policy and action”.
As key evidence for this, Judge Alphons Ori singled out the transcript of Tudjman’s meeting with other high-ranking officials in Brioni on July 31, 1995.
However, while the Croatian military committed violations of humanitarian law during the course of the offensive such as the bombardment of a column of retreating Serbian civilians and soldiers which caused deaths among the civilians, the vast majority of the abuses committed by Croatian forces occurred after the area had been captured. These abuses by Croatian government forces, which continued on a large scale even months after the area had been secured by Croatian authorities, included summary executions of elderly and infirm Serbs who remained behind and the wholesale burning and destruction of Serbian villages and property. In the months following the August offensive, at least 150 Serb civilians were summarily executed and another 110 persons forcibly disappeared.
To this day, Croatia celebrates a victory which ended four years of occupation of almost a third of the country’s territory, allowing Croatian refugees to go back home, but at the same time, it ignores Serb victims. Meanwhile, Serbia commemorates Serb victims of Operation Storm, calling it the “biggest ethnic cleansing on European soil after WWII”, ignoring at the same time the causes that triggered the military operation.
For years now, every August, governments in both countries have marked the same events in opposite ways: the Croatian government celebrates and the Serbian one mourns. But both are united in their ignorance of the appeals of human rights activists from both sides, who have persistently requested the prosecution of all war crimes at the judicial level, as the essential condition for reconciliation and dialogue at the social and political level.
(Novi Magazin, N1, Balkan Insight, 04.2023)
This post is also available in: Italiano