Saturday, 20 November 2021

Vukovar Remembers Victims of War Crimes Committed at Velepromet and Ovčara

ZAGREB, 20 Nov, 2021 - A requiem mass was said and wreath-laying ceremonies were held on Saturday on the premises of the Velepromet storage facility,  which was converted into a concentration camp by the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Serbian paramilitaries and rebels during the siege of Vukovar in 1991. 

An estimated 10,000 people were detained in the "Velepromet" buildings from late 1991 to March 1992 when this camp was closed, according to statistics kept by former detainees' association.

Of those 10,000 detainees, some 700 were killed, and the head of the association Danijel Rehak said today that this was the biggest execution site in Vukovar.

He said that the former detainees had lodged a plenty of reports against perpetrators of atrocities a Velepromet and in Vukovar, and he accused the Croatian prosecutorial authorities for insufficient efforts to prosecute those war crimes.

On Saturday afternoon, residents of Vukovar and families of the missing and fallen defenders and civilians will commemorate the 30th anniversary of the executions at former Ovčara farm.

Ovčara was another site of atrocities committed by the occupying forces on 20 and 21 November 1991. The exact number of the people killed at Ovčara, a former pig farm, is unknown, but 194 cases have been documented before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Of those, the youngest victim was 16 years old and the oldest 77. The majority of victims were patients transported from the Vukovar general hospital to that farm, several kilometres away from the town.

Vukovar was peacefully reintegrated into Croatia in January 1998. The peaceful reintegration began in January 1996 with the assistance of the UNTAES (UN Transitional Authority in Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and western Sirmium). Croatia's parliament decided in 1999 that Vukovar Remembrance Day would be observed on November 18, the day of the town's fall.

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Thursday, 18 November 2021

Lanterns Floated Down the Danube in Memory of Fallen and Missing Defenders, Civilians

ZAGREB, 18 Nov 2021 - Several hundred lit red and white lanterns were floated down the river Danube on Thursday evening in memory of Croatian defenders and civilians killed or gone missing in the defense of Vukovar from the Great Serbia aggression in 1991.

Red lanterns were lit in memory of the missing persons and white lanterns for the fallen defenders and civilians.

According to data collected by the Franciscan monastery in Vukovar, 2,717 persons were killed or went missing in Vukovar in the military aggression of the former Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Serb paramilitary groups.

Another 386 persons are on the list of persons detained or gone missing in the Homeland War, having disappeared without a trace in wartime Vukovar.

On the occasion of Vukovar Remembrance Day, tens of thousands of persons from Croatia and Bosnia, and Herzegovina passed through the city in the Remembrance Procession on Thursday on the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the city's defense, police estimates.

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Thursday, 18 November 2021

Respects Paid to Vukovar and Škabrnja Victims at NATO Headquarters in Brussels

ZAGREB, 18 Nov 2021- Respects were paid to Vukovar and Škabrnja victims at NATO headquarters in Brussels, and that gesture sends a strong message that the truth about the events of Croatia's Homeland War has crossed Croatian borders, said Defence Minister Mario Banožić, the Ministry of Defence reported on Thursday.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the fall of Vukovar, Remembrance Day for Homeland War Victims, and Vukovar and Škabrnja Remembrance Day, the Croatian flag was flown at half-mast to commemorate all Vukovar and Škabrnja victims.

Minister Banožić said that the gesture sent a strong message that the truth about the events of the Homeland War had crossed the borders of our country, which was an additional motive for continuing to promote the truth about the Homeland War, especially among young people.

"Today we are reminded of the importance of collective security and how much easier it would have been for us to oppose threats to our territorial integrity during the Homeland War if we had been a member of NATO then. Today, the Republic of Croatia and the Croatia Armed Forces are appreciated among their allies and partners, which show how much we have done in the past 30 years and that with will, effort and perseverance there are no impossible goals," said Defence Minister Mario Banožić.

He underscored that Croatia was a responsible ally that contributed to international missions, global peace, and security, the ministry said.

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Thursday, 18 November 2021

NGOs Hold Commemoration of Vukovar Victims in Belgrade

ZAGREB, 18 Nov 2021 - The Women in Black association organized a commemoration of Vukovar victims in the center of Belgrade on Thursday, standing in silence with the banner "We'll never forget the war crimes in Vukovar".

Representatives of the Civic Democratic Forum (GDF) joined the Women in Black, and the rally was secured by police, which is seldom when it comes to the association's demonstrations, commemorations, or peace actions.

In addition to remembering the victims of Vukovar, members of the Women in Black pointed out the existence of camps for Croats, who were brought to the territory of Serbia, to Sremska Mitrovica, Stajićevo near Zrenjanin and Begejci in Žitište since the beginning of the conflict, asking for memorial plaques to be placed in those places.

"Serbia and its institutions should grant the request the Women in Black and the Art Klinika association have been making for 15 years, with the support of more than 30 civil society organizations, that a memorial plaque be placed at the location of camps in Stajićevo, Begejci and elsewhere," said members of the Women in Black, seeking support for other forms of symbolic compensation to victims and their families, as well.

According to the Women in Black, Serbia and state institutions should establish the responsibility of the top of the former Yugoslav People's Army for the armed attack on Croatia and initiate court proceedings for the crime of urbicide in Vukovar.

GDF: Serbia doesn't have the strength to face the past

The Civic Democratic Forum said on the occasion of the anniversary of the fall of Vukovar that not only Vukovar but the entire Yugoslavia had fallen on 18 November 1991.

GDF leader Zoran Vuletić told Hina that "Vukovar is indelible proof of the criminal policy which united the Yugoslav People's Army and bloodthirsty paramilitary groups with its manipulation about the defense of Yugoslavia and incitement of revanchism and nationalism".

"And what must not be forgotten in this shameful chronology of evil, the destroyers set out from Serbia for Vukovar, as the executors of the policy of Slobodan Milošević and like-minded people. The vengeful rampage of the destroyers lasted for months until the city stopped looking like itself, and thousands of people were killed, wounded, or forced to leave, not knowing where to go," the GDF said.

Even today, Serbia does not have the will, strength, or desire to face this memory, Vuletić said.

With occasional heckling and verbal provocations by some passers-by, today's commemoration in the center of Belgrade passed without incidents.

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Thursday, 18 November 2021

Remembrance Day March Passes Through Vukovar

ZAGREB, 18 Nov 2021 - Several tens of thousands of citizens from around Croatia and neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina marched through Vukovar to commemorate the war victims of Vukovar on the 30th anniversary of the city's fall into the hands of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Serb paramilitaries.

Veterans' Minister Tomo Medved said that arrivals in Vukovar awakened emotions every time.

"We express our gratitude to our courageous defenders and in a special way pay homage to the victims who were taken from the hospital to the Ovčara farm, to all our POWs, people who were taken to Serb concentration camps. The thing that is very important, is that today is a day when emotions are present to that measure, on the other hand, we have to work throughout the year for society to have appropriate relations towards Croatian defenders and the victims of the Homeland War, said Minister Medved.

Kata Zadro, the widow of legendary defense commander of the Trpinjska cesta street, Major General Blago Zadro who was killed in 1991, also marched in Vukovar on Thursday. "Vukovar today looks very nice. When I was here before the peaceful reintegration I couldn't find my own street or my house, given the way the city looked like then. Today, everything is renewed but it bothers me because there is no harmony or unity," she said.

According to Vukovar's defense commander Branko Borković, the Vukovar episode is not over because the perpetrators have not been punished yet.

"There are many open wounds. Many mothers, children, grandchildren are still searching for their loved ones. That means a very large number who still have not been found. That is a huge burden that not only burdens us all but is an obligation for the state authorities, regardless of their political background to insist and fight for that," said Borković.

Lyliane Fournier also attended the march. Fournier is the mother of a French volunteer Jean-Michel Nicolier, who was one of the victims taken from the Vukovar hospital and killed at the Ovčara farm.

"I am filled with emotion. We are waiting for the state prosecutor to finish the procedure and to conduct an investigation, to indict my son's murderer. All we have now is a decision by the court in Osijek. I am surprised with how many people are so kind to me and how many people remember my son," she said.

Flag bearers were at the helm of the march carrying the flags of Croatia army units including Croatian historical units dressed in historical uniforms.

As the procession passed in front of the building of Croatian Radio Vukovar, its staff played the last report by its wartime reporter Siniša Glavašević who was killed at the Ovčara farm on 20 November 1991 along with 199 other victims.

Similar to previous years, the country's top officials, President Zoran Milanović, Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković, and Prime Minister Andrej Plenković attended the procession.

They were accompanied by several cabinet ministers, members of Parliament, representatives of political parties, and many public figures, like Vukovar Mayor Ivan Penava, Vukovar-Srijem County Prefect Damir Dekanić, and numerous other mayors and county prefects. Zagreb Mayor Tomislav Tomašević was also seen at the march.

The Bosniak member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Šefik Džaferović, also participated in the commemorations and laid a wreath at the Memorial Cemetery.

After the march, numerous delegations laid wreaths and lit candles in honor of the victims of the Homeland War.

Holy Mass was celebrated by Zagreb Auxiliary Bishop Ivan Šaško.

The city on the River Danube was under siege for 87 days, and the battle for Vukovar ended on 18 November 1991 with its occupation, which lasted until 15 January 1998 and the peaceful reintegration of the Croatian Danube region, after which the people of Vukovar finally returned to their homes.

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Thursday, 18 November 2021

Tens of Thousands of People Attend Vukovar Remembrance Day Procession

ZAGREB, 18 Nov 2021 - Tens of thousands of people joined the commemorative procession in the eastern Croatian city of Vukovar on Thursday to pay their respects to the defenders and civilians killed or gone missing at the start of the Homeland War in 1991.

The country's most senior officials, President Zoran Milanović, Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković, and Prime Minister Andrej Plenković attended the procession. They were accompanied by several cabinet ministers, members of Parliament, representatives of political parties, and many public figures.

The procession passed through the main street near the city landmark, the Water Tower, which now serves as a memorial center. During the war, it was damaged by 640 mortar shells.

As the procession passed in front of the building of Croatian Radio Vukovar, its staff played the last report by its wartime reporter Siniša Glavašević who was killed at the Ovčara farm on 20 November 1991 along with 199 other victims.

As the procession walked through the city, the bells of St. Phillip and Jacob's church rang the entire time.

Upon arriving a the Memorial Cemetery, the state delegations laid wreaths and lit candles in tribute to the war victims, while a memorial Mass was celebrated by Zagreb Auxiliary Bishop Ivan Šaško.

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Thursday, 18 November 2021

I Would Like Us to Think Only About Vukovar These Days, Mayor Says

ZAGREB, 18 Nov 2021 - The Mayor of Vukovar, Ivan Penava, said on Thursday that Vukovar and the sacrifice of its defenders in the Homeland War 30 years ago should dominate media reports in Croatia today.

"I would like us to think only about Vukovar these days, for our thoughts to be with those who are no longer with us, and to pay respects to everyone who helped in the defense of Vukovar and Croatia," Penava told reporters before a commemorative gathering outside the Vukovar hospital.

"We should also recall that the city was razed to the ground, that thousands of its residents were killed, that the JNA General Staff were never brought to justice as those who issued orders. This is a huge shame, which only shows what kind of people we are and how we respect the people who were killed in this city. This sends an ugly message about us because we are all responsible for this situation," he added.

"I hope that those who were killed still have their families to remember them, and if not, we are here for them," the mayor said in an emotional statement.

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Thursday, 18 November 2021

Plenković: Vukovar is Croatia and Croatia is Vukovar

ZAGREB, 18 Nov 2021 - On the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Homeland War and Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Vukovar and Škabrnja we recall the heroes to whom the Croatian people owe their freedom and democracy, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Thursday.

"Today, on the 30th anniversary of Remembrance Day, we recall all the heroes to whom the Croatian people owe their freedom, democracy, and the life that we have after the Homeland War. Vukovar is Croatia and Croatia is Vukovar. This can be seen today with numerous people arriving here from all over Croatia and from abroad to pay their respects," Plenković said in Vukovar ahead of the commemorative procession.

He added that this can also be seen in young people attending and is felt in the people.

Vukovar has a future

"The battle for Vukovar is respected, as is its sacrifice. It is a pledge for our future, the sacrifice of Croatian defenders will never be forgotten," said Plenković.

He said that the government has the duty to always do more for Vukovar and its citizens, to invest in its development, economy, social inclusion, and jobs. Plenković recalled that over the past five years the government has done a lot financially and economically as well as symbolically because it wants Vukovar to have a future befitting those who gave Croatia the most.

"It is up to us to make our small contribution and reward that with our actions in the years ahead," said Plenković, once again expressing his gratitude and respect to all those who gave their lives for Croatia's freedom in Vukovar 30 years ago.

Prosecution of those responsible for the deaths of Vukovar defenders and civilians continues

The prime minister said that Croatia is still searching for 1,800 missing persons from the Homeland War and that Veterans' Minister Tomo Medved is working on that.

"We are seeking information from those who have it and that is the Serbian authorities and individuals who know where the graves of those who fell for Croatia are located. We will persist in those efforts in partnership with the families of the missing, with associations and all those who have suffered and are still suffering because they don't know the fate of their loved ones," said Plenković.

As regards war crimes, he said that almost one-sixth of those accused of war crimes in Croatia were from the Vukovar area. The entire JNA command has been indicted, as well as individuals, and there have been more than 100 convictions, but that process is continuing.

Some of the perpetrators of war crimes are out of reach of Croatia's judiciary, but we will continue with the prosecution of those responsible for the deaths of numerous Vukovar defenders and civilians.

Question of the missing part of the criteria for Serbia's accession to the EU

As far as Serbia is concerned, the issue of the missing is raised at every meeting at all levels and that is something that will continue to be insisted upon, Plenković said.

"Recently there have been some signals of political will to take a step forward but given the experience we have had, we are cautious in analyzing those announcements, and only when we have concrete evidence and information that is currently unknown to the Croatian authorities will we be able to take a step forward. It is clear that the issue of the missing is part of the obligations Serbia has to fulfill on its journey toward the EU and we will always emphasize that," said Plenković.

Asked about his opinion of segregated classes in schools and kindergartens, Plenković said that the process of peaceful reintegration of the Croatian Danube region resulted in certain occurrences in that area but the government is working on inclusive policies towards all minorities in Croatia, including the Serb minority.

"We will continue that policy. We consider it to be good and useful for Croatia which has European values that we want to be shared throughout Croatia, including Vukovar," he added.

With reference to the epidemiological situation, Plenković said that the expectation is for everyone in Vukovar to act responsibly.

"We cannot ignore the disease that exists around the globe and has been with us for two years and has caused us to change our way of life. That is why I expect today's commemorative procession, gathering in front of the hospital, attendance at the memorial cemetery, and Ovčara to pass in dignity, above all because of the victims, and everyone should make a small contribution towards responsibility. Even though we will be outdoors, we should not put others at risk," he said.

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Thursday, 18 November 2021

30th Anniversary Commemoration of Škabrnja Massacre Begins

ZAGREB, 18 Nov 2021 - The 30th anniversary of the massacre committed in Škabrnja by the former Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Serb paramilitary forces on 18 November 1991 began at 10 am on Thursday morning with a memorial procession.

The procession headed towards the monument built on the site of a mass grave where the victims of the massacre were buried.

Ministers Oleg Butković, Ivan Malenica, Marija Vučković, Vili Beroš, and Nina Obuljen Koržinek are attending this year's commemoration on behalf of the government. Also present are Deputy Parliament Speaker Ante Sanader, representing the Sabor, and the president's special envoy Dragan Lozančić.

Škabrnja fell into the hands of occupying Serb forces on 18 November 1991 following air and artillery bombardments by the Yugoslav People's Army under the command of Ratko Mladić. The village, located 25 kilometers east of the coastal city of Zadar, was completely destroyed in the attack, and 48 Croatian civilians and 15 soldiers were killed on that day.

During its subsequent occupation and until its liberation in the August 1995 Operation Storm, the number of Skabrnja victims rose to 86. Another six villagers were killed by leftover mines after the war. Two thousand people were forced to leave their homes during the occupation.

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Thursday, 18 November 2021

Remembrance Day Being Commemorated on 30th Anniversary of Fall of Vukovar

ZAGREB, 18 Nov 2021 - On Remembrance Day, Vukovar commemorates the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the city's heroic defense and the aggression by the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Serb paramilitary groups, in which 2,717 Croatian defenders and civilians were killed or went missing, while the city was nearly razed to the ground.

The city on the River Danube was under siege for 87 days, and the battle for Vukovar ended on 18 November 1991 with its occupation, which lasted until 15 January 1998, and the peaceful reintegration of the Croatian Danube region, after which the people of Vukovar finally returned to their homes.

Although the fighting in Vukovar and its environs had started even before that, the date usually cited as the day when the battle began is 25 August 1991, when the JNA and Serb paramilitary groups launched an all-out artillery and infantry attack with the intention of overrunning the city in a week at most.

However, the city's defenders, although ten times weaker in terms of numbers and weaponry, managed to resist the attack for nearly three months. Residents were without electricity and regular water and food supply while hundreds of shells fell on the city every day, in addition to tank and air attacks.

The Vukovar hospital sustained severe damage, although it had the symbol of the International Red Cross on its roof, and the wounded were provided with aid in the basement, where surgeries and other complex medical procedures were performed in dire conditions. On 19 October 1991 a humanitarian aid convoy of Doctors Without Borders managed to enter the besieged city and evacuate about a hundred of the wounded defenders.

Vukovar was defended by about 1,800 Croatian soldiers, including many volunteers from all over Croatia, while on the opposite side there were about 30,000 enemy soldiers, supported by more than 600 tanks, hundreds of mortars, and cannons, as well as the air force.

The heroic resistance was broken on 18 November 1991. Some of the defenders tried to get out of the city, those who remained were taken to Serb concentration camps, and many were killed.

On 19 November 1991, the wounded, both defenders and civilians, were taken from the Vukovar hospital by the JNA and killed at the Ovčara farm outside the city in the night between 20 and 21 November. Two hundred bodies were exhumed from a mass grave at Ovčara, with the youngest victim aged 16 and the oldest 84.

About 22,000 Croats and other non-Serbs were expelled from the city, and the search for 386 persons who disappeared without a trace in Vukovar in 1991 is still ongoing.

On 29 October 1999, the Croatian parliament passed a resolution declaring Vukovar Remembrance Day in tribute to the people who had participated in the defense of the city -- the symbol of Croatian freedom. A government decision of 2019 declared 18 November a public holiday and a non-working day, which is marked as Remembrance Day for the Victims of the Homeland War and Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Vukovar and Škabrnja.

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