Difficult Memories of Major Jurgen Kolda

A couple of days ago a film was broadcasted on the killing of weak, sick and handicapped Serbs that hid in the school premises in the town called Dvor na Uni during the great offensive of the Croatian Army in August 1995. Actually, it is a repetition of seeking answers to a question that is repeated by the Danish commander of United Nations Protective Battalion Major Jurgen Kolda on whether his soldiers, that observed the killing intention of soldiers in uniforms with unspecified marks from immediate proximity, could have prevented it? The film in a very straight line fashion, taking its time, explains the past war period and shows endless lines of people all the time, that were banished, mostly because they are Serbs. The film has no intention to provide answers, it leaves them in the memory of Major Kolda.

Screening of the film, that was produced in the Danish and Croatian coproduction, was stopped very soon. As if they wished to leave these painful events to time and memory. However, this was not the case. New discussion occurred, this time, regarding the crimes of Vojvoda (Commander) Seselj, committed also to people that were guilty merely for being Croatian. Namely, Seselj should report to the International War Crime Tribunal for war crimes committed on the territory of former Yugoslavia in Hague at the end of the month for reading of the verdict. He sent the notification to the Court that he will not show up and that he believes that Serbia will not surrender him against his will.

Croatian Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic almost immediately commented on the decision of Hague Tribunal Council that the verdict shall be read without the presence of the named, with a comment that Serbia wishes to become a member of the European Union and that he is sure Serbia will make the right decision and deport the Chetnik Commander accused for war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and against Croatians in Vojvodina, to Hague, without delay. This is where he stopped with evaluations and expectations, as a politically mature person. However, Deputy Prime Minister of his Government, Bozo Petrov, continued, with an explanation that the verdict shall be read for Seselj in his absence, but not due to the fact that the Court shall not seek its personal presence, but due to the fact that authorities in Serbia are not capable to apply legal remedies that would make him do so. The last sentence followed stating that the time has come for catharsis.

It was obvious that this was no longer a discussion, but the beginning of the new dispute between two countries. And this was no longer a question after the response of high ranking minister in the Serbian Government and the leading party. Message to the Croatian Government stated that they should first check on how do Croatian citizens of Serbian nationality that remained in Croatia after the persecution organized by Dr. Franjo Tudjman live, the threats they face every day, endangerment of their human rights. Let them comment on actions of Black Shirts on main Zagreb squares, destruction of Cyrillic signs and systematic prevention of returning of Serbs into their Croatian homes. For, namely, Serbia and Serbs did not banish 300,000 Croatians, but Croatia banished 300,000 of their own citizens, only because they were Serbs.

Maybe rational and patient diplomacy could have stopped the tension at this point. As late Dr. Janez Drnovsek always taught, if the snow ball starts rolling, it will only become bigger and unstoppable. But they did not. Croatia took a new step and announced blockade of access negotiations of Republic of Serbia and the European Union.

These 300,000 banished mentioned in the message from Serbia are the ones in the back of the memory of Major Kolda, running to save their own lives. This exodus is reopened with the blockade of Serbian access negotiations. It was just a consequence of the strategy of the late Croatian President Dr. Franjo Tudjman aiming to reduce the number of citizens of Croatia of Serbian nationality after the end of the war to half. If the named took a sound share of 12 percent in the Census during the 1991, after the war operation Storm (Oluja) there should have been less than 5 percent. Its Presidential Successor Stipe Mesic, in the testimony in front of the Court in Hague, in April 1997, stated that Tudjman, in the meetings of its ruling party, claimed that the result of war must be a number, not larger than 3 to 5 percent, of remaining Serbs. This statesmanlike decision explains the background of Tudjman’s concept of humanitarian moving on the territory of former Yugoslavia.

On the Geneva negotiations that were held in 1992 with the President of Yugoslavia at that time Dobrica Cosic, an agreement of demilitarization of the Prevlaka peninsula was reached and a very ambiguous Agreement on decisive action of returning refugees and enabling “voluntary and humanitarian settlement of persons that wish to do so” between two states. As explained later by Cosic, Tudjman offered an exchange of population from the west Slavonija with population from Croatian Posavina in Republic of Srpska. In order to avoid the term ethnic cleansing, the moderator of the meeting, diplomat Cyrus Vance, who approved the formulation of population moving, proposed the usage of term humanitarian moving.

Also, due to the knowledge on such difficult historical memory and an attempt not to use it in the European negotiations of the countries in the region, Republic of Croatia had to sign a special pledge on signing the Agreement on Joining the European Union. It obliged Croatia that it shall not solve its relations with neighboring countries with European negotiation blocking.

All political meetings of President Boris Tadic and Dr. Ivo Josipovic I observed primarily as seeking options for this formal Croatian pledge to become a political practice of Government functioning. This is why I paid special attention to the speech of President Josipovic, in July2014, on adopting a special declaration of the Croatian Parliament stating the neighboring countries shall not be burdened in their attempts to join the European Union. But the second part, which is frequently neglected, of the President’s speech followed. That the resolution of open inter-state issues shall be very important for evaluation on meeting conditions for full membership in the EU. And that this shall be an important test for all countries in the region.

Only a couple of months later, by the end of January last year, Croatian Prime Minister at that time, Zoran Milanovic, at its Cabinet meeting, announced that Serbia, without the recall and suspension of the Law on Universal Jurisdiction cannot become a member of the European Union, that Croatia shall not allow it. They do not have such law, and Europe functions on rules of judicial cooperation and mutual arrest warrants. At this time, the case of arrested Croatian soldier Veljko Maric, incarcerated in Sremska MItrovica, occurred, due to allegations for murder of a civilian in Croatia, for the stated Serbian law allows sanctioning of crime committed on the territory of entire former Yugoslavia. The Minister of Justice, Orsat Miljenic, on the same meeting of Milanovic’s Cabinet, also mentioned for the first time that Croatia will condition negotiations with requests that Belgrade initiated new proceedings for war crimes committed by Serbian citizens on the territory of Croatia. It was not mentioned, but it was clear that this specifically includes members of different paramilitary formations, namely Seselj and Arkan.

This was a clear sign that the relation to countries in the region, especially Serbia, it about to change. The stable political talks and diplomatic solution seeking shall change upon the announcement of European negotiations blockade. In February 2015 Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic was present at the inauguration of the new Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic. This was a brave decision by Vucic. During his visit it was said that Croatia will definitely determine conditions for negotiations of Serbia and the European Union. Primarily due to default regarding Article 7 of the Agreement on Relation Normalization of two countries from 1996 setting six-month period for executing new agreement on compensation for all destroyed, damaged or missing property. Further, due to unclear fate of 1600 soldiers and civilians that were or went missing in Serbian camps as well as stolen cultural heritage and returning and availability of all archive material that had to be returned to Croatia after dissolution of the former country.

At least one open issue remains. It was identified by Milanovic in March 2014. Croatia will, despite everything use joining negotiations as instrument of pressure to Serbia in order to facilitate agreement on state border on Danube.

Croata blocked European negotiations of Serbia couple of days ago. All that was supposed to remain the memory of Major Kolda shall not become, once again, a subject of memory and horror of war in Yugoslavia, but a priority subject of the new political relationship of the two countries.