Croatian War of Independence

Croatia War

The Croatian war of independence differed massively from the Slovenian War of Independence. In nature; resident Croatian Serb forces playing a huge role in the conflict. And in intensity; over 10,000 people were killed in the 6 months of fighting from July to December. Tudjman, like Kucan wanted independence for their republics, but Tudjman’s methods were more extreme than those of the gently progressive Slovenes.

In 1990 Yugoslavia was still intact. But with the collapse of communism, the two largest republics, Croatia and Serbia fell under the sway of rival nationalism. Milosevic was the first to enflame his people and provoked Croatia to respond. In Croatia’s first free elections, Nationalist Tudjman was elected as President. Tudjman refused to acknowledge Serbs as equal citizens in Croatia, rendering them as second class citizens. Together with the reintroduction of Ustase embraced symbols, such as the red and white checkered flag and the new Kuna currency, it was all too familiar for some of the Serbs living in Croatia whose family had been massacred by the Ustase and an uprising soon followed.

The Yugoslav Army and Croatian Serb paramilitaries worked hand in hand in the hope of carving out an enclave for the Serb majority and cleansing it of Croats. As the conflict wore on, the Yugoslav Army transformed from a multi ethnic force into an essentially Serb dominated military force. Military leaders were guided by Milosevic, the real centre of power in Yugoslavia.

The police force in Knin, run by Serbs, began to operate as an independent force and stopped following orders from Zagreb. Policemen refused to wear the new uniform, which they insisted was strikingly similar to Ustase uniform. The Serbs had raw memories of the last time nationalists ruled Croatia, Hitler’s allies, who killed thousands of Serbs. The decision that the civil service ethnic structure should correspond to their percentage of the entire population led to many Serbs losing their government jobs in the Serb majority areas. This led to the establishment of a Serbian Assembly in Srb, north of Knin in July 1990 where a referendum was announced on Serb sovereignty and autonomy within Croatia. Something Tudjman refused to recognise.

Knin wanted weapons from Yugoslavia or the protection from the Yugoslav Army but needed approval from Belgrade. Milosevic was happy to fuel the flames of unrest and advised them to erect barricades, patrol the streets and arm themselves against the Croats. The media in Serbia was quick to play out the fears of their Serb brothers in Croatia.

A series of events and negotiations in and around Serb dominated Knin became known as the Log Revolution. They blocked important tourist routes to the coast using logs and barriers. Tudjman responded by ordering Special Forces to take helicopters to Knin to disarm rebel forces. The Yugoslav Army ordered the helicopters to turn back, and it was now clear that the Yugoslav Army were supporting the elected government.

The Yugoslav Army had humiliated Tudjman, but he didn’t have the means to respond. It became apparent to the Croatian government following the revolt in Knin and having been denied support for USA, that they were lacking in weapons. The UN weapons embargo designed to prevent violence had little effect on the already supplied Yugoslav Army, but huge impact on Croatian and later Bosnian forces as they attempted to build their armies. Martin Spegelj, Defence Minister rectified the problem by smuggling weapons from Hungary. The Serbs were tipped off about the arms deal and led an aggressive investigation into who was responsible. Croatia was ordered to turn in their arms but they refused on the grounds that they needed to defend themselves against the rebel forces inside their own republic. Croatia threatened to secede from Yugoslavia and seek UN intervention if the Serbs did not back down in their pursuit to disarm them.

During a State Council meeting in Belgrade to deal with Croatia’s refusal to disarm, and in an effort to obtain votes to send in the Yugoslav Army, secretly filmed footage was shown of Croatia’s deals for weapons. It was broadcast to the Serb republic in a bid to show ‘terrorist formations’ in an effort to turn Croats against Tudjman. Tudjman agreed for those implicated in the arms deal to be arrested. However, once back on home soil and with regained public support, he withdrew his promise and instead passed a law to grant their immunity.

In Milosevic’s next attempt, he orchestrated the interference of police to turn a peaceful demonstration into chaos with the eventual intervention of the Yugoslav Army to demonstrate the necessity of the Army in protecting a united Yugoslavia. An emergency meeting was held in Belgrade to vote for the prevention of civil war in Yugoslavia. The deciding vote came down to Bosnia who refused to vote. As a result, Milosevic announced that Serbia would withdraw from the State Council, allowing the Yugoslav Army the autonomy to act alone without commands from the head of the State Council. However, the threat of US intervention loomed large enough to stall the Yugoslav Army from initiating military action against Croatia.

Tudjman and Kucan presented their proposal on the restructuring of Yugoslavia on confederal grounds in December 1990. Tudjman firmly believed that a confederation of sovereign republics would accelerate accession to the European Community. The leaders of the republics tried to resolve the growing crisis in several meetings. Most notably Tudjman and Milosevic met at Karadordevo in March 1991 where it is alleged that they discussed and agreed to the partitioning of Bosnia and Herzegovina between Croatia and Serbia along ethnic lines.

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