Croatian War of Independence Part II

Yugoslavia

By the time Croatia declared independence in June 1991 they were already involved in a bloody war.

Immediately the Serb minority declared their independence from Croatia. Serb nationalists had already started to seize power in many villages near the border with Serbia where the majority of the population were Serbs. Their plan was to join together the small villages and join Serbia. The extremist allies of Milosevic provoked conflict between Croats and Serbs. Serb Nationalist Leader, Vojislav Seselj addressed his people declaring that Serbs were being attacked in their villages by fascist Croats and he warned that genocide was coming. They began to recruit volunteers who were sent to the front line in Eastern Croatia.

Croatian Minister of Defence, Susak orchestrated an attack on Borovo Selo, a Serb majority town that had set up blockades preventing Croats from entering. Borovo Selo turned to Belgrade for man-power and weapons to defend itself and seized two Croat policemen. The Croats retaliated, entering the Serb stronghold and were defeated. 12 Croat policemen were killed and many more injured, causing demonstrations in the rest of Croatia where civilians burned the Yugoslav flag.

As Serbia and Croatia slid towards war, it was the extremists that took charge. Yugoslav Army tanks entered Croatia claiming to be neutral peacekeepers. Once inside Croatia the Yugoslav Army overpowered the police in Kijevo, a Croat town blocking the path to Serb-majority villages, and erected Yugoslav flags. Eventually Tudjman made a stand in Vukovar, to protect those towns behind it and threw all his resources into defending it. The Yugoslav Army by this point was strengthened by Serb nationalist volunteers and the fighting became messy with many Croat civilians killed and tortured and left on display. Croats living in these areas fled to the coast and lived as refugees in resort hotels as Serb ethnic cleansing began. By September the fighting intensified. The Serbian siege of Vukovar, lasting almost three months was one of the most ferocious. By the end of the siege thousands of Croat soldiers and civilians had disappeared, later to be discovered in mass graves. Vukovar eventually fell in November, at the same time as the attack on Dubrovnik picked up media attention. By 1992 Croatia and Republic of Serbian Krajina had established their borders and ceasefire followed.

Peace negotiations, negotiated by the European Community, failed in quick succession, mostly because the focus remained on winning the war and not compromising politically. Lord Carrington, on behalf of the European Community put forward a set of principles for the solution to the crisis in October 1991. Milosevic had agreed in theory to accept an independent Croatia as long as the human rights of Serbs living in Croatia were preserved. Serbia had two choices; to accept the peace plan and end the fighting or continue the war and risk international sanctions.

Despite five leaders of the Republics accepting the proposed peace plan from Lord Carrington, Milosevic refused. It remains to be the closest solution to the crisis in the Balkans.

Where the European Community failed, the United Nations were invited to mediate. In January 1991 the Vance peace proposals, of Cyrus Vance, Special Envoy, were finally accepted by Croatia, Serbia and the Yugoslav Army. Vance’s plan involved the deployment of 14,000 UN peacekeeping troops, starting in March 1992. The conflict might have paused but the political situation was not mollified.

The leaders of the Serb majority in Krajina were betrayed when the fighting stopped, but Milosevic overruled their objections. After watching the UN troops deployed, he’d decided to consolidate his military gains.  The ceasefire bought some time for Croatia to re-arm themselves and in 1995 the now well-equipped Croatian Army retook the Serb-occupied areas and quickly established new borders. Between 100,000 and 200,000 Serbs were forced from their homes in large-scale ethnic cleansing and many more forced into Serbia where the majority have remained.

The result of the war was that independent Croatia was cleansed of its 600,000 Serb minority population but with its territory mostly intact. Also with Tudjman’s nationalist allies controlling tracts of western Bosnia-Herzegovina with the idea of incorporating them into Greater Croatia. The ceasefire, signed in 1992 saw the spread of war into Bosnia.

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