Yesterday marked the 14th anniversary of “Operation Storm”, the Croatian army offensive that exiled more than 250,000 ethnic Serbs from Croatia. Although exact figures are still disputed, it is believed that around 2,000 Serbs were killed, with an estimated 1,200 of those being civilians. Approximately 20,000 Serb-owned homes in Croatia were burned. Three former Croatian generals are currently standing trial at the Hague Tribunal for crimes committed during Operation Storm. They are: Ante Gotovina, Ivan Čermak and Mladen Markač.
For Croatians, the operation was a key military victory that allowed them to recapture Serb-held territory. Even though the Croatian president has stripped the generals on trial in the Hague of their military medals, Croatians celebrate August 4th every year as a state holiday dubbed “Day of Gratitude to the Homeland Defenders”. In Serbia, the country mourns the victims of the military operation.
The diametrically opposed commemorations of the day definitely demonstrate how divisive war can be, but instead of focusing on the fact that atrocities were committed on all sides during the Yugoslav war, I wanted to write about Operation Storm to once again showcase Women In Black’s steadfast dedication to solidarity with all victim’s families. Two of WIB’s most active members attended the commemoration service at St. Marko’s Church in Belgrade. Although they told me that the service has become increasingly politicized, with a priest devoting most of his liturgy to talk about how Kosovo is the “heart” of Serbia, WIB does not discern between victims. A victim is a victim, whether he or she was Bosnian, Croatian, or Serbian, and although WIB might not agree with how the commemorations are conducted, remembering every single victim who died due to actions motivated by nationalism and militarism is of utmost importance.
The two WIB members were approached at the service and told that the police would escort them on their walk back since they had been identified as “targets”. It’s really a shame that some allow their hate to infiltrate even the most solemn of occasions, such as a service for victims of war atrocities, and capitalize on tragedy in order to promote dangerous nationalist rhetoric, but that is unfortunately the reality WIB members face in Serbia. Yet, as always, they persevere and refuse to allow hate to interfere with their commitment to peaceful commemoration of all victims of war crimes, regardless of national boundaries.
Posted By Donna Harati
Posted Aug 5th, 2009