Harassment and Ethnic Cleansing in Western Slavonia by the Authorities of the Republic of Croatia
From mid XVI century to this day, in Western Slavonia, there were many and compact ethnic Serb settlements, so this area has for long been considered as Serb land, as witnessed by numerous old geographic maps and historical documents. The compact Serb ethnic area in Western Slavonia (see supplied map: "Ethnic Composition of Population in Western Slavonia") was broken up by Croatian state authorities after World War II into several parts, after which these parts were administratively and artificially connected with parts in which ethnic Croats represented a majority. This prevented the creation of municipalities with ethnic Serb majority, and instead of having several municipalities with ethnic Serb majority, we saw the creation of nine ethnically mixed municipalities (see supplied map: "Administrative Division of Western Slavonia" and list of settlements). This way, ethnic Serbs were denied the opportunity to have, on a municipal level at least, any real control over the administration, economic development and education which they might have used in the best interests of their community.
Most settlements with absolute or relative ethnic Serb majority, prior to ethnic cleansing 1991-1992, were in the following Western Slavonian municipalities: Daruvar, Grubisino Polje, Nova Gradiska, Novska, Orahovica, Pakrac, Podravska Slatina, Slavonska Pozega and Virovitica. According to 1981. census data, the last census whose results are fully available to the public, in these municipalities there were 251 settlements with absolute and 32 with relative ethnic Serb majority. The number of such settlements would have been greater still if many ethnic Serbs did not hide their ethnic background during census by declaring themselves as "Yugoslavs". There were settlements with ethnic Serb majority in the neighboring municipalities as well, where ethnic cleansing has also taken place, such as, for example, in the municipalities of Nasice and Bjelovar.
In the urban settlements of Western Slavonia (Daruvar, Grubisino Polje, Lipik, Nova Gradiska, Novska, Orahovica, Pakrac, Podravska Slatina, Slavonska Pozega and Virovitica), which according to the 1981 census had 95,620 inhabitants, there were 17,199 ethnic Serbs and 17,944 Yugoslavs. During the ethnic cleansing of 1991-1992, as determined by inspecting lists of names, as yet incomplete, regarding refugees from the above urban settlements, as of August 15, 1992, only to the territory of the Republic of Serbia, there were 21,521 ethnic Serb refugees: 2,895 from Daruvar, 1,186 from Grubisino Polje, 983 from Lipik, 1,951 from Nova Gradiska, 1,391 from Novska, 485 from Orahovica, 4,382 from Pakrac, 4,273 from Podravska Slatina, 1,841 from Slavonska Pozega and 2,134 from Virovitica. In case of some urban settlements, more ethnic Serbs fled them than were recorded by the 1981 census as living there. This is especially true of Pakrac and Podravska Slatina. This statistical paradox is a result of the fact that driven out of those settlements were not only those who in the 1981 census declared themselves as ethnic Serbs, but also those who at that time declared themselves as "Yugoslavs". The number of driven out ethnic Serbs, as established by field researchers of the Serbian Council Information Center, is in fact far larger than shown in official data. Many refugees, for fear that they might be driven back to the territory of the Republic of Croatia by force, have not reported to the local authorities their arrival on the territory of the Republic of Serbia. Beside this, there is a lack of lists of names of refugees from Western Slavonia in Bosnia-Herzegovina and on the territory of the Republic of Serbian Krayina.
Ethnic Serbs in larger urban settlements, as most local ethnic Croats, were employed in state owned companies and institutions, so their existence depended almost entirely on the attitude the state authorities assumed towards them. The right to manage these enterprises enabled the Croatian authorities, or the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (CDU), to threaten the existence of ethnic Serb communities in larger urban settlements by harassing and firing from work ethnic Serb employees. This possibility has been extensively used since early 1991 until this time, despite the readiness of the larger part of ethnic Serb urban population to provide all required evidence of loyalty to Croatian authorities. Many of them, denouncing their ethnic Serb background and declaring themselves to be "Yugoslavs", clearly demonstrated that they would not demand any special ethnic rights from the authorities, just as they had not demanded them from previous communist authorities. Despite their will to remain loyal at any cost to Croatian authorities, even at the cost of denouncing their ethnic rights, they were not spared from harassment - the fate determined for all ethnic Serbs in the Republic of Croatia.
The campaign to fire ethnic Serbs from work and to create a feeling of uncertainty in them was the beginning of ethnic cleansing of urban settlements in Western Slavonia, but the results of that campaign did not satisfy the Croatian authorities and the local ethnic Croat population. Because of that, since mid 1991, other much more radical measures were being prepared: the mining of ethnic Serb houses began, as well as of commercial premises, and lists of unsuitable ethnic Serbs were being prepared, they being slated for arrests or liquidation. These methods have shown themselves to be very efficient in performing ethnic cleansing of urban settlements in Western Slavonia, so by the end of 1991, they were mostly ethnically cleansed; a part of ethnic Serbs from urban settlements left and went to relatives on the countryside, while another part went as refugees to the Republic of Serbia and Bosnia- Herzegovina.
Thorough research work performed by sociologist Mrs. Vera Nikolic, the results of which have been placed at our disposal, indicates that the urban settlement ethnic Serb population primarily left because fear had systematically been implanted in them and because their lives were being threatened. Most believed that was only a temporary refuge, but because of what went on after their departure, and what is still going on with their property and the few ethnic Serbs who did not leave the Republic of Croa tia (constant arrests, looting and taking away of apartments and property, tearing down of houses, harassment and murder of ethnic Serbs and "Yugoslavs"), they began to realize that they were not refugees, but were in fact exiled, dislocated people strongly unwanted in the Republic of Croatia, and strangers in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The documentation gathered, witness statements and polls taken among the refugees all indicate that ethnic cleansing in all urban areas of Western Slavonia began the same way and at approximately the same time, which leads to the conclusion that it was performed as per previously formulated and well orchestrated plans. The nature of this report, whose volume is by definition limited, does not permit a detailed description of the initial stage of ethnic cleansing in urban settlements, and for illustration's sake, we will quote only one example, that of Grubisino Polje.
In Grubisino Polje, on the start of ethnic cleansing, ethnic Serbs represented a relative majority, while ethnic Croats (979 of a total of 3,060 inhabitants as per the 1981 census data) represented a clear minority. Despite this, the ethnic Croat population, joined by members of ethnic Czech and Hungarian minorities, as early as the beginning of 1991 began to exert pressure on the ethnic Serb population in the town itself, but also in neighboring mixed population settlements. The Croatian police not only failed to protect the ethnic Serbs, but took part by itself in denying them their basic human rights. There were no investigations of cases of overt violence against members of the local ethnic Serb community, nor of cases of damaging and destruction of Orthodox church facilities. On certain Orthodox church facilities, threatening graffiti turned up; for example, on the Orthodox church of V. Grdjevci, as reported also by "Grubisinopoljski list" of July 19, 1991, among others, a large graffiti turned up stating: "Death to the Serbs" ("Smrt Srbima"). In view of the living memory of crimes committed by Croatian authorities and population against ethnic Serb population during World War II, such threats and a veritable anti-Serb hysteria went a long way in creating a feeling of being threatened in the local ethnic Serb population. This feeling was further promoted by the arrival of "blackshirts" - members of the National Guard of the Republic of Croatia from Virovitica, under the command of the CDU activist Stojan Gustin, on August 13, 1991. This unit, whose appearance and aggressive behavior caused a consternation among the local ethnic Serbs, blocked all roads from the settlement, established autonomous checkpoints in the town and took over police affairs and operations in Grubisino Polje. Its members began to arrest ethnic Serbs according to a previously compiled list, produced by the local chapter of the CDU. The arrest list contained 124 names of ethnic Serb locals from Grubisino Polje and several neighboring settlements. During merely the first several days of terrorism spread by the members of National Guard of the Republic of Croatia (NGC), more than twenty ethnic Serbs, mostly highly respected men, were arrested. Spasoje Milosevic, Mitar Stanic and Drago Macak were arrested at that time, and several days after their arrest, they were liquidated. Among those arrested then, and subsequently released ethnic Serbs was also one Mladen Kekerovic, whose fate is highly illustrative in realizing the sheer volume of lawlessness which had by mid August 1991 taken root in Grubisino Polje and brought about the mass refuge of ethnic Serbs from that place:
- Mladen Kekerovic (1973), the richest ethnic Serb from Grubisino Polje, Novi put b.b., was arrested without any court order by members of the National Guard of the Republic of Croatia on August 16, 1991, during a business trip he embarked upon with a larger amount of money in his possession. After several days of harassment in the improvised jail situated in the hotel in Grubisino Polje, where among other things he had his ear cut off, Mladen Kekerovic was permitted to leave the Republic of Croatia and to go to Serbia. On the occasion of being released from prison, he was not given back the money he had when arrested, nor was he permitted to sell his property. This private property of his, estimated at some US $ 950,000, was looted by members of the NGC from Grubisino Polje and Virovitica, among whom was their commander Stojan Gustin.
Exposed to all kinds of harassment and lawlessness, insecure even regarding its very life, the ethnic Serb population began to flee en masse from Grubisino Polje. In part, they went to neighboring settlements with ethnic Serb majorities, and in part they crossed over to the of Serbia. Many of these refugees came to Serbia to the same families with which they themselves, or their fathers and mothers before them, were accommodated as refugees during World War II, when as per the orders of the current authorities of the Independent State of Croatia almost all ethnic Serbs were run out of the Grubisino Polje region. After the mass exodus of ethnic Serbs from the Grubisino Polje region at the end of August and in early September 1991, only a handful of ethnic Serbs remained, mostly elder men and women, determined to preserve the family property. Only some of them managed to do so, because Croatian national guardsmen began to mine ethnic Serb houses in early September 1991. This practice was continued throughout 1992 as well, despite the fact that the municipality of Grubisino Polje is under protection of UNPROFOR. One of the mine targets, according to our data, was recently the house of Djuro Popara, given for use to the Argentinean part of the UN forces. By evicting ethnic Serbs, and by knocking down their houses and expropriating their apartments, the Croatian authorities have attained their goal - they have ethnically cleansed the region of Grubisino Polje and have made the return of ethnic Serb refugees impossible, thus making this an ethnic Croat majority town.
Ethnic cleansing in all Western Slavonian towns, as previously stated, was performed in the same manner and in a relatively short period of time. An exception in that respect is only the town of Slavonska Pozega, most probably because ethnic Serbs in it were a definite minority to start with. Croatian authorities of this town conducted their own ethnic cleansing markedly more slowly than elsewhere in the region of Western Slavonia. Ethnic Serb population of this town could not leave it without special passes, nor could they move about the municipality without such passes. Only on November 1, the "Day of the Deceased", when Roman Catholics generally go with flowers and wreaths to the graves of their deceased to pray for their souls, did the mass eviction of ethnic Serbs from Slavonska Pozega begin. Because of the holy day, the Croatian authorities permitted all movement, even crossing of borders without any passes, so as to allow all Roman Catholics to perform their religious rites with minimum hinderance. Orthodox ethnic Serbs from Slavonska Pozega used that opportunity and over one thousand of them left the town with flowers and wreaths, so as to lead the Croatian guardsmen and policemen to believe that they were Roman Catholics and to be allowed to cross the barricades without the required passes. With flowers and wreaths in their hands, they cross ed the border in Slavonski Brod over to Bosnia- Herzegovina. This is how in one single day, the majority of ethnic Serbs from Slavonska Pozega were in fact turned into refugees.
In the countryside settlements of the municipalities of Daruvar, Grubisino Polje, Nova gradiska, Novska, Orahovica, Pakrac, Podravska Slatina, Slavonska Pozega and Virovitica, according to the 1981 census data, there lived a total of 54,861 ethnic Serbs and 21,856 Yugoslavs. Ethnic Serbs represented an absolute majority in 251 settlements, and a relative majority in 31 settlement. According to the same census data, they possessed as private property 53,311 hectares of land. According to data as of August 15, 1992, during the process of ethnic cleansing, 183 villages were completely cleansed and 87 were partially cleansed. This process was primarily directed at villages with a clear ethnic Serb majority: of 251 such villages, 149 were completely ethnically cleansed, while another 40 were partially cleansed.
The process of ethnic cleansing did not strike at only 22 villages with a clear ethnic Serb majority, or which is more probable, the Serbian Council Information Center has thus far not managed to obtain reliable data regarding their fate. Also uncleansed remain ethnic Serb settlements situated in the Western Slavonian part of the Republic of Serbian Krayin a. Only from ethnically cleansed villages, and according to as yet incomplete data, 26,278 ethnic Serbs have been driven out, with another 4,521 from partially cleansed villages. When data on the number of evicted ethnic Serbs is sorted out, it will be possible to determine the true magnitude of ethnic cleansing in Western Slavonia. The only thing worse yet than the sheer number of evicted people is the fact that ethnic cleansing in partially cleansed villages was primarily directed at the segment of the population capable of reproducing, so only elder people remain in those settlements.
Having lived there for centuries, the ethnic Serb population from ethnically cleansed villages possessed as private property proportionally the greatest part of the land (see supplied map: "Privately owned land of ethnic Serb households in Western Slavonia"), which the Croatian state is now trying to nationalize or turn over for use and even sell as property to ethnic Croat population. In their efforts to expropriate from the ethnic Serb population the property rights over a significant part of the land in Western Slavonia, the Croatian authorities also reveal one of their very important motives for performing ethnic cleansing.
The pressure exerted by the authorities and the armed population upon ethnic Serbs in villages began in spring of 1991 by armed provocations and strikes of large groups of armed activists of the CDU against ethnic Serb majority villages, allegedly with the objective of placing the "new" Croatian flag in them quite alike the one under which Croatian Ustashas in World War II brutally murdered several hundred thousand ethnic Serbs. Drawing up of Croatian flags was merely an excuse, while the real objective of armed groups of CDU activists was to implant and nurture fear in the hearts of ethnic Serbs and to provoke clashes, since ethnic Serbs tended to prevent them from drawing up the flags - "checkered flags" ("sahovnice"), or took the flags down, unless they were under armed guard at all times. In early May 1991, "The War of Flags" in Western Slavonia turned into a veritable ethnic war between ethnic Croats and ethnic Serbs, but this unfortunately did not stimulate the Croatian authorities towards a more peaceful behavior in Western Slavonia. To the contrary, after armed clashes in Borovo Selo and Vukovar, "The War of Flags" in Western Slavonia became even more ferocious: ever greater gangs of armed Croats, first civilians, and subsequently policemen, raided ever more ethnic Serb villages. This only made ethnic tensions greater, and in summer of 1991, when Croatia began to show off its armed forces and began its ethnic cleansing in towns and cities, the population in ethnically homogenous and compact ethnic Serb settlements on Papuk, Psunj and Bilogora, attempted to use firearms to defend its right to a peaceful life and sheer survival.
Armed resistance of the ethnic Serb population in hillside settlements in Western Slavonia tied up significant Croatian guard forces, and temporarily made easier the otherwise grave situation of ethnic Serbs in villages where they were the majority or a significant group, which had remained under full control of the Croatian authorities. This provided the opportunity for many ethnic Serbs from such places, as well as those living in towns and cities of Western Slavonia, to move out their families to Serbia or ethn ic Serb parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina, thus preserving them from the hell in which those few ethnic Serbs remaining on their homesteads in Croatia find themselves in. However, armed resistance could provide for a lasting peace, because influential centers of world politics, for reasons unknown to us, failed to demand of the Republic of Croatia to protect the human rights of the ethnic Serb population and to resolve the Croat-Serb conflict peacefully.
This conflict has, to large extent, remained in the shadow of the conflict between Croatian armed forces and the Yugoslav army, and it is still wrongly believed today that it was instigated by authorities from belgrade in order to prevent the secession of the Republic of Croatia. In reality, things happened the other way around - the Croatian authorities used the secessionist war to implement ethnic cleansing and resolve the ethnic Serb question in Croatia, and to create an ethnically homogenous Croatian state. Were it not so, the surrender of the garrisons and warehouses of the Yugoslav People"s Army to the Croatian armed forces in the autumn of 1991 would have brought about a quick end to the civil war in Croatia and an end of the Croat-Serb conflict. Yet, quite the opposite thing happened - the disarming of army units and turning over of their weapons enabled the Croatian authorities and armed forces to generally complete the ethnic cleansing of significant parts of the Republic of Croatia, both those in which the ethnic Serb population offered armed resistance, and those where there was no resistance at all.
Cleansing of ethnic Serb population from villages under full control of Croatian authorities, due to immobility of village populations in general, was affected only using most brutal forms of violence - physical liquidation, population deportation and destruction of property. This is why most crimes were committed in just those parts of Western Slavonia quite outside areas in which armed resistance was offered. Almost every murder, as may be seen from the examples supplied below, as a rule led to accelerated dissipation of the ethnic Serb community from the settlement where the murder was committed:
The largest group of those murdered in Marino Selo consisted of ethnic Serbs from the village of Kip, some eight kilometers away from Daruvar; masked members of the Croatian military police arrested these people in smaller groups and brought them to the camp in the period November 13-16, 1991. During the arrest of the second group of ethnic Serbs in Kip, according to witness depositions and the report submitted by the representative of the Red Cross in Daruvar, Mr. Vlado Slivar, dated January 16, 1992, Croatian guardsmen killed one Dusan Popovic (1931) next to his own house. On the same day, immediately after their departure, one Zeljko Popovic (1953) was found hung by his neck in his house. The following day, on December 16, 1991, Croatian guardsmen and armed activists of the CDU from the village of Gornji Sredjani killed in Kip one Ilija Danojevic (1916) and one Zorka Gojkovic (1940).
Arrested ethnic Serbs from Kip were subjected to tremendous torture in the Marino Selo camp - they were stabbed with knives, beaten with metal rods, salt was put in their lacerations, they were subjected to electric shocks and several of them had their ears cut off (Nikola Krajinovic, Savo Gojkovic, Pero Novkovic and Milan Gojkovic). The prisoners were tortured and debased to the point of having been forced to eat the ears cut off from other prisoners.
Between November 15 and 19, 1991, in the camp of Marino Selo, in various ways but mostly by means of firearms, the following people were liquidated: Branko Buncic (1954), Mijo Danojevic (1938), Filip Gojkovic (1933), Gojko Gojkovic (1937), Mijo Gojkovic (1928), Nikola Gojkovic (1927), Nikola Krajnovic (1927), Jovo Simin Popovic (1920), Jovo Popovic (1934), Milan Popovic (1929), Pero Popovic (1944) and Petar Novkovic (1940). After the liquidation of 16 ethnic Serbs, inhabitants of the Kip village, it was almost completely depopulated, while ethnic Serb owned houses were generally mined. Only a few elderly women remain in the village, but even they are constantly harassed by Croatian guardsmen and the other remaining village inhabitants - ethnic Czechs.
In the process of ethnic cleansing, as per data gathered until August 15, 1992, beside urban settlements in Western Slavonia, completely or partially the following generally ethnic Serb majority settlements were also cleansed:
The number of ethnically cleansed settlements, from which almost the entire ethnic Serb population has been driven out, is constantly increasing because the world community did nothing to stop this violence-based forced exodus of ethnic Serbs from territories under full control of the Croatian authorities.
Partially cleansed thus far, and if ethnic cleansing in the Republic of Croatia is not stopped quickly, soon totally cleansed will be the following settlements, until recently either with ethnic Serb majority, or ethnically mixed populations:
[ CLEANSING OF KRAJINA SERBS ]
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Last revised: July 22, 2005