Causes And Dynamic Of The War In Croatia

by Mladen Klemencic

Published in the ACTA GEOGRAPHICA CROATICA, Volume 28, 1-245 Zagreb, 1993

1. Causes of the war

When the Yugoslav state union was founded in 1918, its single constitutive parts entered the union with different intentions and motives. The union state was envisaged by some on a federal basis and on mutual appreciation while Serbia understood it to be a chance for the realization of an old idea for the expansion of its territory. Since then, the myth of Greater Serbia has been repeatedly restored whenever the conditions were more favorable. Since 1986, we have been witnessing the last of these Serbian attempts which have led, firstly, to the breakdown of Yugoslavia, and secondly, to the present war in Croatia.

The war in Croatia is a conflict of two politogenetic ideas: Serbian, which seeks ethno-territorial expansion, and Croatian, which seeks its full independency and sovereignty. Serbia wants to change its borders and expand territory, while Croatia defends its present-day borders and territorial integrity. Therefore, it is not an ethnic war but a war between two states and it is not a civil war but an aggression against Croatia conducted by Serbia using the federal army which had previously been a joint army composed of all the Yugoslav nations.

Therefore, the geopolitical cause of the Serbian aggression is an attempt to create Greater Serbia. The aggression, however, has also got its economic background. It we accept a generalized but in essence a truthful statement that Yugoslavia served as Serbia's empire, then we bear witness to a rare case in which after the breakdown of an empire, the imperial centre remains poorer and less developed than its composing imperial parts. Because of this fact, Serbia, under the false pretext of defending Serbs outside its borders, is trying to conquer new living space (Lebensraum) and this as large and wide as possible. Subsequently, Serbia would organize that expanded state in a way which would provide a flow of resources into the centre of the state. For this reason, the most interesting for Serbia are the following parts of Croatia: the agricultural and industrial east (Slavonia) and the maritime and tourist south (Dalmatia).

2. Dynamic of the war

2.1. Political and metapolitical prelude

2.1.1. Conflict of political conceptions

All the contrasts between Serbia on the one side, and Croatia and the majority of the other republics on the other side, became obvious while Yugoslavia, with its political and economic system, was still in existence. Serbian mass- movement, the so-called anti-bureaucratic revolution, sprung up on the ideological basis of the Memorandum of the Serbian Academy, written in 1986 by a group of Serbian intellectuals. Slobodan Milosevic was the political leader of that movement. By the suspension of the legal constitutional autonomic rights in Kosovo and Voivodina, that movement first reconstructed Serbia as one whole entity inside the federation and afterwards announced the reconstruction of the federation according to Serbia's heart's desire. Other republics, especially Croatia and Slovenia, responded by claiming a higher degree of independence and fundamental economic and political reforms. Actually, it was a conflict of concepts: one of centralism, political monism and planned economy interceded by Serbia and one of federalism, political pluralism and market economy, interceded by the so-called western republics.

Accusing Croatia of discrimination of its Serbian minority and imputing "genocidal" characteristics to all Croats, Serbia succeeded by that metapolitical instrument to "export" its anti-bureaucratic revolution outside Serbia, first of all among the Serbs in Croatia.

2.1.2. Metapolitics of the Serbs in Croatia

The second phase of the prewar prelude began immediately after the first free elections in Croatia in 1990 and the establishment of a democratically elected Parliament.

Political leaders of the Serbs in Croatia refused to take part in the new political system. They voiced their autonomistic claims avoiding at the same time to define them clearly. An illegal referendum of the Serbs with undefined voting lists was organized in order to proclaim "autonomy". The consequence of it was the establishment of a Serbian political- demographical-territorial core-area in northern Dalmatia and eastern Lika (6 communes, 8.8% of territory and 2.4% of the total population of Croatia). During the whole period, the Serbs in Croatia have had continuous and many-sided support from Serbia.

2.1.3. So-called "trunk-revolution"

The third phase began on August 17, 1990, at the peak of the tourist season, by blocking the most important roads and rail roads with tree trunks which resulted in cutting off the flow of goods and people between the coast and inland. The area of "Serbian autonomy" extended to parts of Banija and Kordun (5 communes, 3.7% of territory and 1.6% of the population of Croatia). The so-called "Serbian Autonomous Region Krajina" was proclaimed (including 74.2% Serbs and 21.6% Croats in its population) which, although geographically remote from Serbia, announced the will to unite with Serbia. Since Serbia's official statement has been that Serbia is not at war and that the Serbs in Croatia are operating independently, Serbian parliament has not accepted that unity. This phase, which lasted until spring 1991, is characterized by a continuous exhaustion of the Croatian economy and the destruction of its infrastructure, as well as by the political and subsequently the physical repression of the Croats living in "Krajina".

2.1.4. The first armed conflicts

In the period from March to June 1991, the first armed conflicts between Serbian rebels and Croatian police took place in Pakrac, Plitvice Lakes National Park and Borovo Selo near Vukovar where 12 policemen were ambushed and killed. In all three cases, the federal army (JNA) interfered under the excuse of a making buffer zone between the hostile sides. During that phase nearly all the Croats from the Knin region were forced to leave.

2.2. Armed aggression against Croatia

2.2.1. Phase of limited (low intensity) conflicts

Soon after Croatia and Slovenia had declared their independence at the end of June 1991, the JNA attacked Slovenia, but within a week it came to a military, and moreover, ideological and moral breakdown. Ideological "cleansing" of officer cadre, which actually meant selection on the ethnic basis followed, by which the JNA definitively became a Serbian military power.

In Croatia, armed conflicts expanded and assumed the character of real war operations in which the JNA operated together with rebel Serbs and volunteers which were secretly sent from Serbia. In terms of territory, battles were still limited to the so-called Serb-dominated areas in Croatia. It was significant that in most cases Serbian rebels attacked Croatian defense positions. Battles took place in eastern Slavonia, Banija and northern Dalmatia.

Meanwhile, ethnic cleansing in the Serb-dominated areas turned into real genocide against the Croats (examples: Dalj near Osijek, Struga in Banija). The number of victims was in constant progression as well as the number of refugees while deserted Croatian villages were pillaged and burned down (example: Celije in Slavonija).

2.2.2 Escalation - total aggression

By the middle of August 1991, parts of Croatia in which the Serbs were a minority were gripped by armed conflicts. The escalation of aggression was "justified" by fighting against "neofascism" in Croatia. JNA forces from Bosnia and Herzegovina entered Croatia and opened new battlefields in western Slavonia, conflicts spread out in Lika and Kordun, and the JNA occupied Baranja and expelled most of the Croats and Hungarians who had formed the majority population there. In Slavonia, big towns were attacks: Osijek (70.3% Croat, 15.1% Serb), Vinkovci (79.9% Croat, 10.7% Serb) and Vukovar (47% Croat, 32.4% Serb). And so it happened that the "defenders of Serbian villages" were in fact attacking Croatian towns.

It became obvious that Serbia, with the help of an ideologically similar and ethnically uniformed JNA, wanted to occupy all parts of Croatia lying east of the line Virovitica- Karlovac-Ogulin-Karlobag. That aim was not openly announced by Serbian officials but instead by an extreme right-wing politician Vojislav Seselj.

The proportion of war destruction moved international factors towards a more active engagement. The European Community took over the trusteeship on peace-making. The efforts of foreign ministers of the Twelve, unfortunately, did not have corresponding results. Croatia, as well as Slovenia, obeyed agreements signed with the Twelve but Serbia and the JNA, in spite of a series of cease fires and declarations carried on with the aggression.

In September 1991, there was further escalation of conflicts including air attacks on, up till then, peaceful parts of Croatia. Sisak (58.1% Croat, 23.7% Serb) and Sibenik (83.2% Croat, 9.5% Serb) were under continuous attack for days.

A new total offensive was launched at the end of September and the beginning of October 1991. In order to break Croatia into more divided entities, the aggressor attacked the towns of Zadar (77.1% Croat, 14.5% Serb) and Karlovac (64% Croat, 24% Serb) and blocked all sea and air routes as well as some roads. Strategically important points were occupied (the Maslenica Bridge) or tried to be demolished (the Pag Bridge). The biggest destruction was in the town of Vukovar which had been by then under siege for three months. Without any plausible reason, the town of Dubrovnik (77.5% Croat, 8.8% Serb), the "crown of Croatian towns" and the "pearl of the Adriatic", had also been under attack for more than a month. A more perfidious method was employed, for example in Ilok, where most of the inhabitants (63% Croat, 17.2% Slovak, 7.2% Serb) was actually forced to leave the town while the JNA later tried to present the exodus as an act of their own free choice.

The aggression on Croatia still lasts despite the fact that during the Peace Conference in the Hague on October 10 it was decided that the JNA should withdraw from Croatia. Up to now, (1993) only on the Croatian side more than 2,500 persons have been killed and some 9,000 wounded. The number of refugees is around 300,000 persons. Material damage is immense. Entire towns are being destroyed and numerous villages as well. The economy of entire regions is completely at a standstill. Besides direct damages, all indirect ones should be taken into account as well.

3. Serbian aims and modes of campaign

The aim of Serbia is to create a Greater Serbia i.e. to unite all areas of former Yugoslavia in which the Serbs live, no matter whether they are a majority or minority. It should also include areas with no Serbian population, the reason being their geographic position. The fact that all those areas have never, throughout history, been part of Serbia bears no importance to Serbian leaders. The idea is, to put it modestly, an imperialistic one, moreover, one of the kind known to all as inspired by the "Blut und Boden" ideology.

Knowing that in such a state Serbs would actually be a minority against non-Serbs, in its realization ethnic cleansing is practiced i.e. persecution and extermination of the Croats first of all, but villages with Hungarian or Czech majorities are not spared either. Everything is followed by the intentional destruction of all traces of Croatian culture which bear witness to a millenary continuity of Croatian existence and Croatian statehood. The colonization of the Serbian people is intended for deserted Croatian villages (example: region of Baranja).

It is very important to stress the perfidious mode of campaign. Since Serbia in all ways tries to hide its real role and officially denies its participation in the war, Serbia uses the service of the JNA for reaching its aims. In this army the non-Serbs from Serbia (Hungarians, Slovaks and others) and Serbs from B-H are recruited. Volunteers from Serbia, members of paramilitary neo-Chetnik units are engaged as well. For attacks on Croatia and logistic support for the occupation forces, territory of the third republic has been used (B-H). It is only on the battlefields in eastern Slavonia that attacks come directly from Serbia. The Montenegrins are recruited as well and during the attacks on Dubrovnik, the territory of Montenegro was used.

Serbia's relation with the Serbs in Croatia is at the highest level of instrumentalization and manipulation. Most of them were forced to commit war crimes against the republic whose citizens they are.

4. Aims of Croatia

Up till now all battles have taken place on Croatian territory. In these battles most of the victims were citizens of Croatia irrespective of their ethnicity. Only Croatian towns and villages were destroyed. No Croatian soldiers are fighting outside Croatia. So, there is no doubt that we are dealing with a campaign and an aggression against Croatia. Therefore, the main aim of Croatia is to stop further fighting, suffering and destruction.

The political aim of Croatia is a full sovereignty and international recognition as well as the building up of its democracy. Because of such aims, Croatia asked the European Community for help believing that its goals were in full accordance with the EC's interests.

Regarding the question of the Serbian minority, Croatia proposes a solution which Europe can easily recognize. It offered and guaranteed a high level of autonomy and home-rule in a proportion with the share of the Serbs and all other non- Croats in the areas where they live and this under international control.

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