SAT, 31 JAN 1998 15:43:08 GMT
AIM Belgrade, 26 January, 1998
UNTAES mandate ended on 15 January, which means that eastern Slavonia, Baranja and western Srem are completely reintegrated in the constitutional and legal system of the Republic of Croatia. On the occasion, this so far only successful mission of the United Nations in former Yugoslavia organized for itself an imposing ceremony of takeover of power, with an equally imposing number of guests, in the cinema hall of the Workers' Home of the Borovo Combine. The official Croatia observed this act both by sending an extremely high political delegation to the ceremony in Vukovar (only Franjo Tudjman was missing), and by spectacular fireworks in Zagreb and a gala concert in Croatian National Theatre (HNK). Naturally, speeches, songs, dances and cocktails in the Workers' Home could not have been conceivable without the current leaders of the local Serbs, so that they too were present there, with solemn and gloomy expressions on their faces.
The authorities of FR Yugoslavia and Serbia were represented by the Yugoslav ambassador in Zagreb, Veljko Knezevic, who had the air of discharging an unavoidable diplomatic routine job. The regime to the east of the Danube - without whose policy and the war in the name of "all the Serbs in a single state", there would have been no such ceremonies - together with its obedient hangers-on and buffoons, nowadays acts as if wondering: "Vukovar, what Vukovar?".
"It was the last day of the shift", says a former veteran of the former Yugoslav people's army (JNA) from the eastern Slavonian battlefield. "The whole company was drunk. We were so drunk and beside ourselves with happiness because we were leaving that we made pumpkin masks like those in the film on Hallowween in America. And then Arkan appeared in a jeep. He cursed the local Serbs for having dispersed and fled and tried to recruit us - 'if we are real Serbs' - to join his guardsmen. Nobody responded".
Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan did not bother to issue a statement concerning the transfer of power in eastern Slavonia. Instead of guardsmen he is now recruiting football players, and repleced his short machinegun with a sweatsuit, and the wine-cellar and petrol station in eastern Slavonia with the world of "turbo" folk entertainers; in 1995 Serbian police was still extraditing to him the refugees fit for military service to his private barracks in Erdut to do with them whatever he pleased...
Indeed, not a single party-supporter of the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) issued a statement concerning reintegration of eastern Slavonia either, although for a few years they talked of nothing but "protection of Serb frail children and feeble elderly from Ustashe daggers". If anyone insisted, they would nowadays probably persistently and mechanically repeat that the Dayton accords and the Erdut agreement were someting the Serbs have day-dreamt of for centuries...
Vojislav Seselj, leader of the Serb Radical Party (SRS) is also silent about it. Trodding around ruins of Vukovar in November 1991 in a combat uniform he pierced people's ears with his view of the border along the line between Karlovac, Karlobag and Virovitica, just as he bragged that summer that his men had been the main organisers of the ambush laid for Croatian policemen in Borovo selo which triggered the war in the region. It is true that he still has not given up on the mentioned border, but nowadays he says he will achieve them peacefully - but tomorrow, "when Russia becomes strong again and stands up on its feet". A whole bunch of "independent" professional Serbs, voluntary donors of other people's blood, act similarly; they are resigned, they act as if they knew nothing about it, as if they were not interested in anything, although they used to proclaim that it was only right for anyone who said that this region was not Serb to be "put to death like a mad dog in the gutter".
As concerning former leaders of eastern Slavonian Serbs and signatories of the Erdut agreement, they are completely deaf and mute. Goran Hadzic, former president of all Serb para-states in Croatia is somewhere in Novi Sad. He does not threaten any more the citizens of Serbia that he would make them "true Serbs", nor does he proclaim the Serbs outside former Krajina traitors and Ustashe - surrounded by bodyguards, he is minding his own (privately-owned) business (enterprise). However, it is hardly believable that he is at peace: one of his closest associates from the region, former mayor of Vukovar Slavko Dokmanovic, has been put on trial at the Hague tribunal which indicted him for participation in mass execution of war prisoners abd civilians at the farm called Ovcara. Finally, it is impossible to find out anything about Milan Milanovic, former main negotiator and signatory of the Erdut agreement, except that even before ink dried, he had packed his things and moved to Belgrade with his family. This should not surprise anybody. The main mentor in the field of these three and those similar to them in the region - police colonel general and once commander of Serb territorial defence of eastern Slavonia, Radovan Stojicic Badza - was killed at a restaurant table downtown Belgrade.
"On 1 November 1991, at Ilok cemetery, we found a tractor trailerload of corpses", remembers Nenad Canak, president of the League of Social Democrats of Voivodina (LSDV), who was forcibly mobilised that autumn and taken to the eastern Slavonian front. "Nobody knew who they were, and there was a woman among them. We buried them at the side of the cemetery".
It is difficult to even list everything that happened in eastern Slavonia, Baranja and western Srem in 1991: mass execution site at Ovcara farm, merciless shelling 24 hours a day, forcing civilians into mine fields in the village of Lovas, taking people away in the middle of the night and executions on the banks of the Danube and the Drava, private jails, plunder, arson, ethnic cleansing, private armies like Arkan's...
"I don't wish to remember, I don't like to talk about it", says former veteran of the JNA. "I would like to forget everything, I wish I were not there". This is approximately the general stand in Serbia - the stand of the authorities and the majority of the opposition - about complete reintegration of the region into the Republic of Croatia.
In the media in Serbia, the only concern in relation to eastern Slavonia is expressed for the destiny of the Slavonian Serbs. Will they remain there or silently emigrate to FR Yugoslavia?
In Vukovar and elsewhere, after takeover of power, people started to lock their doors early. It is known that many people have already transported their movable property to Serbia and that whole families are slowly emigrating without formally reporting their departure. The situation is better in native Serb villages; in those from which the Croats were banished in 1991, and later refugees from former Krajina colonised, there is great fear of return of the original owners. Although the ministry of internal affair of Croatia was efficient in a large number of cases and threw out of the houses the Croats who had moved in by force, there is still plenty of threat, intimidation and blackmail. The destiny of Serb refugees in eastern Slavonia is extremely uncertain: they are living in other people's houses, they cannot return to their own, since the Croatian authorities have colonised Croats from Bosnia into them. The region can also be described as a land of old people: the elderly are taking care of the houses and estates, and the young are somewhere else wait to see what will happen and looking for jobs.
To what extent the Serbian regime really cares about these people is best illustrated by the problem of dual citizenship. Ever since the beginning of last year, the regime has been promising them the citizenship of FR Yugoslavia, but it has not gone further than empty pre-election promises. Hardly anything illustrates better the utter hypocricy, unprecedented abuse and pushing people into a war only for the sake of preserving power. While the regime believed that this territory could become part of Serbia, members of the "territorial defence units of Stari grad municipality (downtown Belgrade) as the last defence of Belgrade" within 48 hours became "the last defence of Erdut". Nobody cared about formalities concerning citizenship, identity papers, permanent residence...
By the ceremony of takeover of power in eastern Slavonia, one could say, the never declared war has formally ended for the Serbs and the Croats. For Franjo Tudjman, the end of peaceful reintegration is a victory which will reinforce his power for some time; for Slobodan Milosevic it is just a skilfully masked defeat which he will from time to time be reminded of because of Ovcara and "the three from Vukovar" (Veselin Sljivancanin, Milan Mrksic and Miroslav Radic who are on the list of the officially indicted for war crimes) by the Hague Tribunal.
The original citizens of eastern Slavoniam, refugees who have taken their places, as well as those who intend to return there, have given up on the attempt to understand why their lives had to be ruined.
"The Serbs and the Croats have never lived there", says former veteran Nenad Canak, "only neighbours lived there. If they become aware of it again, this will be the only true response to all those who wanted to 'save and liberate' them. Because 'liberators and saviors' in this space have killed and made miserable more people than former occupiers. And there have been so many occupiers in history".