January 22, 1993
More than a year after the massacre the Croatian village of Vocin, the crime has yet to receive the attention and international moral outrage it deserves. If there is any doubt that Serbian forces have committed war crimes, one only has to look at to this village. The report of the heinous atrocity received a tiny one-day squib in the press. One must ask, who committed the greater crime--the perpetrators or those who ignore it.
The only positive feature of the incident is that provides the clearest example of the Serbian policy of "ethnic cleansing", or more specifically the "Final Solution."
During the four months of Serbian occupation, Vocin's non-Serb villagers were inhumanly abused and harassed. However, evil incarnate descended on a cold December day. Having received orders to retreat, the Serbian forces unleashed their tanks, mortars, and grenades upon the town. Not one Croatian structure was spared. A stump of masonry wall, standing among the rubble like a sentinel, was all that remained of the 750 year-old Roman Catholic Church.
The destruction of the church had acted as a catalyst for the human mayhem that ensued. Although 43 bodies were found, a great number of others, including children, disappeared without a trace. Cursory examination of the bodies, later verified by forensic studies, revealed torture and mutilation. Those shot were from extremely close range, usually multiple times. Bullet pathways indicate many were lying down when shot. Chemical analysis of the charred remains--in reality, nothing but chunks of carbon--verify the victims were burned alive.
Reverend Nikola Sanjkovic, the village priest, assisted in the identification of the corpses. One victim, 70 year-old Marija Majdanzic proved to be an American. She, thus far, is the only American casualty of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Had she been an oil company employee, maybe the American government would have stirred to action. Half of the victims were over 62-- the eldest was 84. By no stretch of the imagination could they be considered Croatian soldiers, as the Serbs allege.
The Vocin slaughter was not a spontaneous event like Mai Lai, rather it was calculated Serbian policy. Ethnic cleansing inexorably follows a pattern; preceded first by a coordinated air strikes, rockets and heavy artillery, indicating a sophisticated command structure. As the defense pulls back, Serbian infantry moves in. It should be noted that prior to any offensive campaign the local Serb population are warned beforehand to leave.
Once the objective is secure, the so-called Serbian irregulars start their cleansing operation. EC monitors state that many Croatian villages have been bulldozed out of existence. What happened in Vocin was only one example of a pattern that occurred in Croatia and is now continuing in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The atrocities committed at Cetekovac, Skrabrnja, and Vocin are no worse than what the Serb forces committed elsewhere. But are better known because of eyewitness documentation. What makes the Vocin slaughter unique is that Serbs soldiers confessed afterward.
According to a number of credible eyewitnesses, which the Serbs left behind in their haste to retreat, the Serbian forces went on a drinking spree after the killing orgy. A few passed out and were left behind in the evacuation. When the Croatian forces arrived, there were captured. During interrogation they admitted their roles in the slaughter and being members of Vojislav Seselj's infamous "White Eagles". But what was most damning is that they stated they have acted under direct orders from Belgrade.
Frank McCloskey, the United States Congressman from Indiana, was present at the interrogation and saw the bodies firsthand. Summing up to the affair as "ghastly, beyond words", Rep. McCloskey's presence lends objective credence. The Texas Court of Appeals Judge Bill Bass also witnessed the aftermath and described Vocin as a "mindless orgy of violence". The judge and the congressman were on a fact-finding mission close to Vocin. After learning of the slaughter they arrived at the scene.
A somewhat related incident occurred at Vukovar shortly before Vocin's slaughter. After Vukovar fell to Serb forces approximately 170 Croatian patients were evacuated from the hospital by soldiers of the Yugoslav army. Confirming eyewitness reports, Dr. Clyde Snow, a U.N. forensics medical specialist, on October 28, 1992, said all evidence indicated that a mass grave found outside of Vukovar contained bodies of the Croatians taken from the hospital. It is anticipated that further evacuations will find at least 3,000 unaccounted for Croatians from Vukovar. Since Vocin and Vukovar are in close geographic proximity and both occurred soon after the fall of Vukovar, it is probable that the perpetrators were same.
The West and U.N. never explicitly condemned the Serbian war policy, the ethnic cleansing, and their concentration camps in Croatia. By contrast, in Bosnia-Herzegovina the West responded with consternation and hand wringing--but only after an existence of the concentration camps was made public by the media.
The incidents however will not become a footnote in history because it is the most documented Serbian atrocity in Croatia or Bosnia. Extensive eyewitness accounts, photographs, forensic pathology reports are available for any potential war crimes trials. The perpetrators of these atrocities must be held accountable because of victims must not be forgotten. For they were flesh and blood, with human desires and hopes for a future. Their only crime was to be born Croatian.