War against Croatia 1991-1995. Greater Serbian Projects from Idea to Implementation
Hrvatski memorijalno-dokumentacijski centar Domovinskog rata, Zagreb i The Ollendorff Center, New Jersey (SAD)
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From the perspective of its concept and composition, this book consists of three interconnected parts: Serbian diaspora in the lands of the Croat Kingdom; Serbian diaspora in the Greater Serbian projects (1836-1986); Serbian diaspora in Croatia and shaping of the anti-Croatian war coalition. The establishment of an organic link among the three parts has been attempted in order to preserve the integrity of the presentation.
When I first began writing, my intention was only to elaborate the Greater Serbian projects of the 1800s and 1900s; demonstrating when they emerged, what goals they pursued, and how the political elite of the Serbian people further developed them over the course of the past 150 years (1836-1986). However, I soon realized that my research assignment would be inevitably reduced if I set the beginning of my work during the first half of the 19th century; at the time of the first written Greater Serbian projects (in 1836 and 1844). Doing thus would actually intersect a considerably older, yet still recognisable thread running through history, particularly with regards on Greater Serbian appetites for foreign lands, such as Dalmatia and the Adriatic coast, Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as central and northern Croatia. Consequently, wishing to provide a more accurate insight into the genesis of Greater Serbian claims on lands of other states, I decided to make a brief digression into the more remote history of Serbia and the Serbian people. I have done this primarily because only history can help us grasp the first steps in the initial shaping of this great national megalomania, which for centuries promoted false expectations of the “ unification of the entire Serbdom” (sojedinjenje vascielog srpstva). In the last decade of the 20th century this megalomania revealed itself in the form of Greater Serbian expansion with the dangerous intention of building a single and common “roof ” for all Serbs. This turned into unprecedented persecutions and deportations of the population from the territory of the Republic of Croatia, as well as brutal torture of all who attempted to defend their homes, villages, cities and ethnic borders of their homeland.
In essence, research digression into the more remote history provides a unique window of opportunity to trace and better understand the genesis of Greater Serbian megalomania directed towards non-Serbian lands. Indeed, the emergence of Serbian diaspora in Croatia has beginnings that, naturally, date back to the time of the Ottoman wars and the disappearance of some mediaeval states in the direction of the Ottoman Empire’s conquests towards Vienna and Central European states. Along this line it is possible to approach the whole collection of emigrated or dispelled Serbian people, who emerged far from the borders of the mediaeval Serbian state. In effect, during the Ottoman, Austrian and Venetian Settlement, Balkan Serbs and Vlachs – peoples belonging to the Orthodox Church – were scattered far away in the north and west; in the lands of the Croat Kingdom, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as across the Danube throughout the Hungarian lands. Following the restoration of the Patriarchate of Peć (1557) and its jurisdiction, distinguished individuals emerged in the clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Church as early as the 1600s. It was these individuals who were among the first to call the parts of the Croat Kingdom settled by Serbs, “Serbian lands” and this first labelling would, significantly later, change into statement: “This is Serbia.”
In the first stabilisation process, when Vlach-Serbian settlers ceased hearing the stomping hooves of Ottoman cavalry in their new environment, leaders of the Orthodox Church sent their clergy to Imperial Russia, the most powerful Orthodox country, in an attempt to secure funds for the Serbian Orthodox Church. On their journeys to Russia, Serbian bishops, monks and other distinguished individuals were subjected to strict interrogations at the Russian border posts or in Moscow as to where they came from and the reasons for their arrival. These data serve historical science today as valuable material by aid of which it is possible to revive a historical picture of the founding period of Greater Serbian projects, including the expansionist policy towards non-Serbian lands. Those travellers frequently stated to the Russian border services that their monasteries and churches were in “Serbian land” (v serbskoj zemli) even though they had not actually travelled from the land of Serbia itself but, rather, from towns and villages of the Croat Kingdom. Today, researching such statements on the relabelling of the land from whence they came, one can grasp the genesis of Greater Serbian megalomania and Greater Serbian claims on non-Serbian lands, far before the first written Greater Serbian projects. The Russian archival material allows a conclusion that conquering pretensions directed towards south, west and north considerably predate the first written Greater Serbian projects of the 1800s.
In the second part of the book, I have attempted to define the basic guidelines of each of the eight Greater Serbian projects dating from the 19th and 20th centuries ranging from the one by Vuk Stefanović Karadžić (1836) to SANU Memorandum (1986). Individual Greater Serbian projects have been much debated both in Croatian and Serbian historiography; most frequently, the focus of scholarly attention was on Ilija Garašanin’s “Načertanije” (1844). Since 1961, I too have taken part in some of those debates. While some have emphasised their Greater Serbian concept, others have defended their purported Yugoslav idea. In 1991 – on the eve of the Greater Serbian aggression against Croatia – almost all projects of the Greater Serbian policy and their English translation (Izvori velikosrpske agresije1) were published for the first time in a book in order to draw the attention of world scholars and global political leaders to the Greater Serbian plans of the 19th and the 20th century, as well as a possible attempt at their implementation.
Following the diary entries of Borisav Jović, President of the SFRY Presidency at the time, it is possible to detect when the “Serbian question” emerged and how it got resolved at the time of the general rearrangement of the SFRY; in other words, following the definite breakup among the Yugoslav republics’ communist parties. While preparing for talks between Croatian and Serbian political leaders (on 25 January 1991), Slobodan Milošević and Borisav Jović decided, the day before the meeting, to demand the following solution for Serbs living in Croatia: “Serbs will consent to Croats leaving Yugoslavia provided that Croats consent to Serbs in the Krajina regions remaining in Yugoslavia.” B. Jović further noted, “Everything can be solved under this condition; nothing without it.” Since the Serbian-Croatian negotiations failed on that same day (25 January) because the Croatian leadership rejected to cede part of Croatia’s territory to Serbia, Serbian political leadership reached a new war agreement on the implementation of plans for the establishment of Greater Serbia as early as the following day. The new idea was to occupy parts of Croatia militarily; however, the “military occupation” would be masked by the “cover” concept. The exact formulation of military occupation, as agreed between Slobodan Milošević and Borisav Jović (on 26 January), read as follows: “…once the army ‘covers’ Serb territories in Croatia we shall no longer be afraid of the final outcome of the Yugoslav crisis.” S. Milošević added to that his final thought, “This is a conditio sine qua non. No other course of events suits us.” In other words, the war over western borders of Greater Serbia was agreed as early as 26 January 1991, i.e. a day after the failed negotiations with the political leadership of Croatia (Franjo Tuđman, Žarko Domljan and Josip Manolić) regarding the “Serbian question”.
Another dramatic issue regarding Croatian-Serbian relations depended on the outcome of the negotiations in Belgrade. The Army leadership had already made the decision to arrest the Croatian leaders. The Croatian cultural magazine Vijenac recently published (14 January 2010) Žarko Domljan’s reminiscences of that fateful night in Belgrade when the birth of the Croatian state was to be stopped, and of the nascent Croatian state’s crucial first moments. According to Domljan, “the arrests should have occured during that dramatic night of 25 January, when the Croatian delegation was negotiating in Belgrade; specifically, during the time that a film on General Špegelj was being aired on television. Ambassador Gagro (from Paris) reported that the military attaché in his Embassy told him that he had received news from Belgrade about the arrest of the Croatian leadership, who would be tried for high treason, and also passed on to him, at the same time, the instruction to distribute this news to French media before midnight.” Unaware of the secret plan for the impending arrest and subsequent treason trial against the three most responsible Croatian leaders, Žarko Domljan also notes: “While sitting that night at the table in the Presidency opposite Kadijević, Adžić and Brovet, who were looking at us with their grim, evil faces, we felt that our destiny hung by a very thin thread. Only God knows (or maybe the CIA) what happened that night for the generals to forgo their infernal scheme so that our delegation managed to escape with our lives from the Belgrade wolfs’ den.”
In his work, the historian must have a clearly-formulated research question that he strives to answer, concurrently attempting to detect the organic link among specific larger topical units. In the chapter “War of Serbia and its Anti-Croatian Coalition against Croatia” I embarked upon investigating the components of the research plan, despite numerous obstacles, such as a ban on consulting any documentation of the most important Belgrade institutions: the Supreme Defence Council, the Federal and Republican Ministries of Police and Army, as well as the JNA General Staff. My research plan comprised the following questions: referenda by Serb putschists and their many decisions to secede from the Republic of Croatia; war against Croatia; deportation of the entire non-Serbian population from all parts of the Serb Autonomous Regions; deportation of their own people, i.e. the Serb population of the Republic of Serb Krajina (RSK); negotiations on the unification of the Republic of Serb Krajina and the Republika Srpska; and the final defeat of the joint criminal enterprise and its centres in Knin and Belgrade. This part of the research plan could be realised, despite the aforementioned obstacles, thanks to the fact that documentation of the Government of the Republic of Serb Krajina, and other decision-making centres in the area of the RSK, was not destroyed. This documentation is today located in the archives of the Croatian Memorial-Documentation Centre of the Homeland War, which was finally established in December 2004. Eight books of this archival material have been published thus far, together with valuable archival documentation originating from other central state institutions of the Republic of Croatia. In addition, memoirs and other literature offer a sufficient research basis for realising the final part of the research plan: war over western borders of Greater Serbia.
In one of the last chapters of the book “On the Path to the Final Defeat of the Greater Serbian Project”, there is a comprehensive analysis of actions of the joint criminal centre in Knin, headed by Milan Martić. Using its special units, special groups and other means, Knin’s criminal centre carried out the “first” ethnic cleansing and deportation of Croats (summer 1991 – end of 1993), then the “second” ethnic cleansing and deportation of their own people (Serbs from the Republic of Serb Krajina) in August 1995, followed by the “third” ethnic cleansing and complete deportation of Croats and Bosniaks (the indigenous civilian population of Western Bosnia) from 14 August until the end of November 1995, with the wholehearted support of Banja Luka authorities as well as the police forces of the Republika Srpska of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The final subchapter of the book provides a conclusive analysis of the two-day stay of the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Pavle, in Zagreb in 1999; in particular, his visit to the Croatian President, Franjo Tuđman. In his “Zagreb Message” the Patriarch did not frighten Serbs in Croatia, nor did he call them to arms. On the contrary, the Patriarch came to Zagreb as a peacemaker. His advice to the Serbs, who had quite recently been rebels, was to integrate into Croatian society in a civilised manner. For him, the Republic of Croatia was no longer “a new Independent State of Croatia” but, rather, a “homeland, whose laws should be respected, and for whose welfare one should work.” His visit, and subsequent messages for Serb refugees to return to Croatia, were perceived as an expression of new expectations that the Serb people would come to terms with their past and pave the way for their catharsis, in order to more quickly discard their megalomaniacal ideas on Greater Serbia stretching as far west as Karlobag, Karlovac and Virovitica. There were also high expectations that the political leadership of the Republic of Serbia would one day offer an apology for crimes committed, thus accelerating national catharsis.
The liberating counteroffensive of the Croatian Army (August 1995) has not been considered in this book, which is inherently focused on Greater Serbian projects and their implementation, i.e. on the creation of Greater Serbia and horrendous crimes that this “creation” would entail. 2
1 Miroslav Brandt, et al., Izvori velikosrpske agresije, rasprave, dokumenti, kartografski prikazi (Zagreb: August Cesarec, Školska knjiga, 1991).
2 Most of this work was handed over to the defence team of the indicted Croatian General Mladen Markač, in May 2009 since I decided (in 2007) to make an expert analysis for the needs of Markač’s defence before the ICTY, at the request of his defence attorney, Miroslav Šeparović.