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Croatia Accused of Repeating History in Krajina

Martic witness says the Croatian government of the early Nineties continued what the Ustasha regime had started decades before.
By Merdijana Sadović
The trial of the former leader of the rebel Serb authorities in Croatia, Milan Martic, heard a grueling history lesson on Croatia’s fascist Ustasha regime during the Second World War, whose actions were engraved in the collective Serb memory for decades.

A defence witness said these painful memories were the main reason why Serbs in Krajina put up resistance to the new Croatian government and declared themselves independent in 1991, a few weeks before Croatia broke away from Yugoslavia to become a separate state.

Martic, president of the self-proclaimed Serbian Autonomous District of Krajina during the 1991-95 war, is charged with leading local police and other armed forces in the expulsion and murder of hundreds of non-Serbs.

He is also accused of the deliberate destruction of homes and other public and private property, and unlawful attacks on Zagreb in 1995.

The prosecution has tried to prove that Martic, backed by the Yugoslav Army, JNA, and the Belgrade authorities, was responsible for the outbreak of violence in Croatia.

His defence lawyers have claimed it was the other way around, and that the Krajina Serbs were only defending themselves. This week, they brought in Lazar Macura, Krajina government’s first information minister, to support that argument.

Macura said the 1991 rebellion in Krajina was justified by Serb fears that “history would repeat itself” once Croatia became an independent state. He told the judges that the new Croatian government led by President Franjo Tudjman, shared the same goal as the Ustasha regime in the Second World War – to reduce the number of Serbs in Croatia to “only three per cent of the total population”.

His testimony echoed that given by his successor Ratko Licina, the information minister in the “Krajina government-in-exile”, who testified one month earlier.

Like Licina, Macura insisted Krajina Serbs were so traumatised by what they went through under the Nazi-supported Ustasha government that they were prepared to do anything to avoid suffering the same fate in the Nineties.

Macura said that shortly before the outbreak of violence in 1991, Serb policemen in Krajina “refused to wear police uniforms with Ustasha insignia on them”, referring to the Croatian checquered coat of arms.

When the prosecutor David Black pointed out in his cross-examination that this symbol “was not invented by the Ustashas” and had been a national emblem for centuries, the witness appeared unmoved.

“Maybe, but it was the same symbol Ustashas were wearing on their uniforms while they were killing Serbs in World War Two,” he replied.

Throughout his testimony, the witness claimed that the Croatian authorities in the Nineties never sought to reach any agreement with Serbs.

“All they did was to send their police and army to kill us,” he said.

During cross-examination by the prosecution, the witness confirmed his earlier statements that “all Serbs should live in one state” and said this was still his position.

He also stated that Serbs in Krajina “never inflicted any harm on Croats”.

“During this last war, I mean - not the Second World War,” he added.

When at the end of his testimony Judge Frank Hopfel asked Macura whether he was still actively involved in politics, he said he was not and now works as an interpreter.

“The reason I ask is that you still sound very much like a politician to me,” said Judge Hopfel.

The trial continues next week.

Merdijana Sadovic is IWPR’s Hague project manager.

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