Sunday, 21 November 2010
Croatia: Myth and Reality (08) - C. Michael McAdams - Strike Two: Operation Storm (cont.)
C. Michael McAdams
When the first units of the Croatian Army arrived, they found a deserted city, virtually untouched by shelling but thoroughly looted. The President of Croatia immediately arrived and called upon the refugees to return home and asked those who had not left to stay and help rebuild a multi-ethnic society. Some chose to do so; most did not. Some who fled were guilty of murder, rape, "ethnic cleansing" (genocide) and the continued daily shelling of a dozen cities from Karlovac to Dubrovnik during the previous four years. Many of the fleeing Serbs were still wearing the uniform of the dreaded Cetnik death squads. Croatia could have arrested the criminals and deported them to the Netherlands for trial. Instead, it kept the escape corridor open and allowed the UN and the press to observe the retreat of Serbian army and their civilian cover back to Serbia. The Croatian government reiterated that any Krajina Serb not guilty of war crimes was welcome to return and live in peace. The Western media immediately labeled the exodus as "ethnic cleansing" by the Croatians. When the Krajina authorities later admitted in the Belgrade press that they had ordered and organized the mass evacuation, little notice was taken.
For four years of over one million non-Serbs were herded out of their homes with little more than the shirts on their backs. Women were taken to rape camps. Tens of thousands were slaughtered and buried in mass graves (such as those that are still being unearthed in Bosnia). Yet the world press was almost gleeful in blaming Croatia for the plight of more refugees fleeing from the so-called Krajina.
Although the media referred to Knin as being "devastated" by the brutal standards of the war, the city was barely touched. To illustrate the devastation, some media unwittingly showed the totally destroyed Roman Catholic church, which was blown up by the Serbs in 1991. The Serhian Orthodox church was untouched and protected by Croatian police. It would later be learned that only 2,000 shells were used in the liberation of Knin. In comparison the Serbs lobbed an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 shells on Sarajevo in a single day.
After the army withdrew from the liberated areas, thousands of Croatians who had been living in refugee camps for the previous four years returned to find their homes, churches and businesses destroyed. Enraged, some took retribution upon the Serbs - looting, burning, and committing as many as twenty-six killings that may not have been war related. While these crimes paled in comparison to the tens of thousands murdered by the Serbs and the entire cities, such as Vukovar, that had been wiped from the earth, they were no less reprehensible. While Serbian leaders had been photographed repeatedly forcing civilians from their homes and the highest ranking Bosnian Serb leaders were named by the International War Crimes Tribunal as war criminals, the Croatian leadership moved quickly to clean its own house. By late September almost four hundred people had been arrested, and in early October Croatian President Franjo Tudjman announced that legal proceedings had been launched in cases of looting, destruction, and the twenty-six murders. He announced, "We expect the courts in Croatia, which are indeed completely independent, to perform their duty in all of these cases." By January 1996, most of the crimes had been prosecuted. When Croatia was attacked in 1991, many Serbs fled not to Belgrade but to the Croatian capital of Zagreb and to other non-occupied areas. More Serbs chose to live at peace in free Croatia than chose to live under Serbian occupation. As late as March 31, 1995, some 218,000 ethnic Serbs lived in free Croatia as opposed to 184,000 in occupied Croatia. Peaceful urban Serbs were not mistreated in free Croatia where some were members of Parliament and one was its Vice President.