Ethnic cleansing of Vukovar

Milivoj Djilas

TUE, 30 MAY 2000

Zagreb, 24 May, 2000 - Ethnic cleansing continued even after the end of war operations – this conclusion cannot be avoided any more after publication of the notes on the talks of late president of Croatia Franjo Tudjman with the former minister of defence and development Jure Radic, published by Feral Tribune in its latest issue. Comfortably chatting in the shade of the presidential palace with his minister, Tudjman turned on recording of the whole conversation, the last part of which was devoted to the composition of the population in the so-called “symbol of Croatian war suffering” – Vukovar. The conversation took place on 31 March last year, two years after UNTAES had left the territory of Eastern Slavonia, and neither Tudjman nor Radic concealed discontent because of the small number of the Croats who returned to this town and because of ethnic composition of the population, both the existing and the one created past their plans and wishes.

“I have another thing about Vukovar”, Radic significantly noted to the president at the end of the conversation. This referred to a proposal Radic had received on his desk, but it is not clear from the report what the content of the proposal was. But from the conversation that followed it is clear that for Radic the proposal sent to him by Tudjman himself was not especially significant because he had a solution of his own. “The essence of the story”, says Radic was in the fact that reconstruction of Vukovar was intentionally interrupted in order to “establish the demographic picture which we needed”. Their objective was to have as many Serbs as possible leave Vukovar, because both he and the president thought that – for realisation of “national interests” – there were too many of them in this city. At the same time they also had a lot of trouble with the Croats who did not wish to return to the destroyed city, due to which it occurred to Tudjman that they ought to, indeed, “had to” colonise “the Bosnians” (that is how he called Bosnian Croats) in Vukovar and in this way create the desired ethnic composition.

Radic openly says that the goal of everything they did was “to change the picture a little bit”. In the beginning of 1999, at the time when this conversation took place, between nine and ten thousand Serbs lived in Vukovar, and slightly less than one thousand Croats. Tudjman’s idea was that 15 or 20 thousand Bosnians should be colonised, while Radic believed that already in the first phase of implementation of this project it was possible to achieve that only five thousand Serbs remain in Vukovar, that is, to reduce their number by half while seven or eight thousand Croats would be quickly colonised (maybe even by force).

A large problem of the former regime with the former inhabitants of Vukovar resulted from the moves of these same authorities – banished citizens of Vukovar were enabled to find jobs in Zagreb (mostly bad, but still jobs), gave them temporary accommodation which after eight years has become permanent, and they got used to the life in a big city and minor privileges that their status of banished persons brought them. Return to the demolished city in which neither homes nor factories have been reconstructed, after years of life in exile, became unthinkable for them. The situation is somewhat better when return into villages around Vukovar is concerned, primarily because it was known for whom and in which villages houses were reconstructed, but also because Slavonian peasants have during all these years strongly wished to return to their homes and their land.

Mate Simic, former president of the community of banished persons, one of the numerous “non-governmental” organisations the Croat Democratic Community (HDZ) was founding whenever it could not make use of the already existing ones for its purposes, was at the time a thorn in the flesh of HDZ. Their disappointment was founded on the fact that the president of the community of banished persons had decided not to return home, that he had decided to keep the apartment he got in exile, but also the house he had been banished from in the beginning of the war, probably so he would have where to go to on vacation on weekends. They thought that he was “telling pletitudes” on return, but when it was necessary to act, they could not rely on him. “There is no awareness that we should sacrifice ourselves a little for national interests”, Tudjman used to say about such phenomena and Simic’s behavior. Radic had some additional proposals as well – if they did not wish to return, they should at least be given papers with the addresses in Vukovar “so they will vote there some day, even if they are somewhere else”. From this conversation it can be concluded that departure of Mate Simic from the post of the president of the community of banished persons was not accidental, nor the departure of much more radical Josip Kompanovic. Like many other personnel issues, this too was conceived in the presidential palace – and nobody could do anything to oppose these decisions.

Vukovar has transformed from the “hero city” as it was publicly called, into a city burdened with problems. It was known that it was impossible to bring back or colonise 40 thousand people which Vukovar had had before it was destroyed. “Let it be a town of 15 thousand, and out of this 15 thousand, let two thirds be…”, Radic said and suggested to late president Tudjman, obviously aiming that these two thirds of new inhabitants should be Croats. “This is the goal. So the picture of Vukovar cannot be changed in three days”, he elaborated his idea. That is the reason why he delayed reconstruction of homes, but also reconstruction of the whole economic infrastructure. “If I hurried to reconstruct one thousand apartments in the city instead of (houses) in villages, the Serbs would enter these thousand (apartments)”, Radic explained his strategy of slowed down reconstruction and Tudjman approved: “You shouldn’t…”, Probably he should not allow the Serbs to come and enjoy in what was intended for the Croats.

Their conversation is an authentic report about the manner in which Croat Democratic Community resolved problems where it believed that they should be solved and how it produced problems when it was not satisfied with the existing situation. Creation of a desirable ethnic composition of the population in Vukovar was one of the imperatives of their actions, and the problems this city is still encountering testify about the frenzy of policy of Balkan leaders. To this day, a significant number of Croats has not returned to Vukovar, and the Serbs still prefer to run away from it than to remain, almost nothing has been reconstructed that has not been there a year ago, and now it is clear why this is so – in order to prevent the Serbs from staying here.

HDZ lost the elections because of the death of the president of the state and the party, and probably due to quick progress of Tudjman’s illness the fiendish plan of Radic and Tudjman was not carried out to the end: there is still the same number of the Serbs in Vukovar, and there are about 1500 Croats over there. This is just an estimate. The actual situation and ethnic composition of the population will be known after the census of the population of the state planned for next year.

The so-called humane migration, euphemism for ethnic engineering and creation of a desired ethnic composition in certain regions and even whole states, has been the subject of debates of demographers and sociologists for many years, but also subject to sharp criticism of those who refused to have their minds disciplined by the ruling party. A large majority of such debates was founded on data collected from the spot, on estimates of the number of those who had abandoned a region and those who have come to that same region. All these years, the key link was lacking in proving that the strategy of ethnic cleansing was intentional – a document which would be a testimony about it. Certain laws did hint that their intention was to preserve the situation in which the Serbs were absent and the Croats were present, although nothing of the kind has ever been explicitly uttered. It was suspected by the media that minister Radic was charged by Tudjman to carry out his ideas on necessary reduction of the number of the Serbs in Croatia, but there had been no evidence about it until this report was published. Nowadays, when all repugnant things concealed by thick wall of the presidential palace have come up on the surface, it is finally possible to assess the true role of Jure Radic in fulfilment of “national interests” embodied in artificially generated ethnic composition of Croatia.

Original article