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WED, 17 OCT 2001 15:21:55 GMT

Uproar over Film "Storm over Krajina"

AIM Zagreb, October 4, 2001

Bozo Knezevicís documentary "Storm over Krajina" - produced by an independent Zagreb producer, Factum - was finally shown on Croat state TV, on the show "Latin Letters" aired at prime time, eight in the evening, October 1. The fifty-minute-long film depicts the executions of civilians in the villages of Grubori, Varivode, Gosici and Plavno in the course of operation "Storm". For the most part, the film deals with the executions of, by rule, elderly men and women in the said villages, but the opening sequences are a political overture of a sort. Without a single comment, archive shots of some crucial events which, de facto, contributed to the crimes committed, were run. The film opens with the speech the acting Croat Reconstruction Minster Radimir Cacic gave in Parliament immediately following the change of power in the country, describing how - at the very start of Operation Storm - he entered Knin, intact at the point, to find house after house in flames on his return latter on. Bluntly, Cacic concluded that homes in Croatia were demolished not only as a result of Serb aggression but by "rascals among us" as well. His comment caused an avalanche of protests from HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) MPs who, enraged, quit the session on the spot.

In the very next cadre, the camera focuses Dobrica Cosic attending the exhumation of the earthly remains of Serb victims from WW II in Prebilovci, Herzegovina, and the soundtrack of the pathetic speech he gave on the occasion is played. The sequence is followed by an almost identical scene, shot at a different location this time. Jazilovka pit: shattered bones of slaughtered Croat civilians, ustasha and home guardsmen are being excavated while Ivan Vekic, the future HDZ Interior Minister, delivers a patriotic speech... Then come: Milosevic, Tudjman, Seselj, the forming of the ZNG (Croatian National Guard Corps), Korenica Serbs pledging on the eve of the war that each and every Serb victim fallen to Croat hand would be avenged and, finally, the capture of Goran Hadzic at Plitvice on Catholic Easter 1991, considered by many to be the true beginning of the war in Croatia.

After the first ten introductory minutes of his film, Knezevic goes on to his true subject: the killings of Serbs, arson and plunder of their homes in the course of Operation Storm and in its immediate aftermath. The whole thing is conceived as a succession of scenes followed by no comments whatsoever, incorporated into the dialogue between the two major figures of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Ivan Zvonimir Cicak and dr. Zarko Puhovski. Among other things, the documentary reveals facts concerning HVO (Croat Defense Council) forces, according to which more than 400 civilians were killed and over 20 000 houses burnt down in sector South (north Dalmatia and southern Lika). Along with the stark images of slaughtered old men and women, the speech of late president Tudjman calling on Serbs to stay on in Croatia while offering them his personal guarantees for their wellbeing is heard. This is followed by the footage of Tudjmanís Knin speech when the Father of the Croat nation wished the fleeing Serbs a safe trip, adding that they had left without having time to bring along their foreign savings and their soiled underpants.

The film was followed by a discussion in the studio in which lawyers Anto Nobilo and Zeljko Olujic, journalists Drago Pilsel, Vedrana Rudan and Maja Freundlich and the author of the film himself, Bozo Knezevic, took part. Three reports - depicting the sufferings of civilians from the fleeing refugeesí convoy in the aftermath of Operation Storm, that of the execution of war prisoners on the Miljevacki plateau and the confession of a soldier sentenced to 14 years (later to be reduced to 11) for the murder of two elders during the Operation itself - were shown. All the die-hards of the nationalistic right declined the invitation flatly: General Janko Bobetko (who, even before seeing the film, judged it to be "pro-Serb"), Giovanni Maksan, Admiral Davor Domazet Loso. The true storm broke out in the course of the TV debate itself: Olujic and Freundlich argued that crimes committed during Operation Storm by the Croats amounted to isolated incidents which have since been dealt with, for the most part successfully, by the Croatian legal system; Nobilo, Pilsel and Vedrana Rudan claimed that there were instances of veritable war crimes, unpunished as of yet. The first two claimed that the film is essentially anti-Croat, the opposing side that such a film was needed and, to a certain extent, even belated.

Simultaneously with the airing of the show, spectators were polled. Out of 2168 registered calls, 75 percent of the viewers took the stand that, regardless of who committed them, legal proceedings against the perpetrators of these crimes should be instituted. The remaining 25 percent took the opposite stand. The following day, rightists from all over the country ran amuck. On the spot, HDZ called for the resignations of the state TVís general manager Mirko Galic and Latin Letters host, anchorman Denis Latin. HSP (Croat Party of Right) convened a protest rally to be held at the doorstep of the state TV building. Lines in the telephone exchange of the state TV "buzzed" all day long: threats, insults, curses...The common subject of all incoming calls - Denis Latin is a communist, Bozo Knezevic a Serb, his film pro-Serb (thus, anti-Croat), the whole "assault" carried out with the sole purpose of currying favor with "Racan and Mesic". Similar reactions came via e-mail from all over - former Yugoslavia, Australia, Scandinavia, West Europe - but this time with a greater number of positive responses. For their part, most newspaper commentators in Croatia praised the fact that Knezevicís film had been aired at all, particularly since this was done on the first channel of the national TV.

Practically all public opinion surveys carried out later on the results of which were published in various dailies throughout Croatia came up with the same result: the "silent" majority upholds legal proceedings against all and any alleged war-crime criminals. In a telephone poll carried out by the daily Jutarnji List, 74 percent of the interviewed opted for the institution of legal proceedings against them, while a poll of the Media Meter public opinion agency showed that 51 percent of their subjects found Knezevicís film to be authentic.

"I was astounded by the human race as a whole. I felt guilty for it all, not as a Croat, but as a human being. I believe it is high time we ceased being Croats, Serbs, leftists and rightists and start being simply humans. Let us stop doing to others what we do not want done to ourselves and let us stop defending such behavior", was the comment of dr. Drazen Lalic, a sociologist.

"Only those confronted with the crimes committed following Operation Storm for the first time during the TV show had reason to be appalled", said retired General Martin Spegelj. To his mind, it is time for Croat citizens to come face to face with the dark side of the homeland war, a view to which the general added the remark that certain opinions regarding the Croat army stated during the show had been flat-rate since "the entire army did not burn down houses and kill old people; this dirty job was carried out by the dogs of war operating on the margins of the chaotic situation."

"It is essential that all sides involved in wars fought in the region tackle the painful subject and come to turns with it among themselves", said Bozo Knezevic, the author of the film.

"The results of the polling are the best indicator as to the maturity of the Croat public and to my mind they are the best possible comment on the communication issued by HDZ", were the words of Denis Latin, author and anchorman of the most disputed show in the history of the Croat television.

The negative response to the controversial show would have been much more benign had the Croat state TV undergone necessary reforms following the general elections. But, full two years later, the "do not sway" policy has strengthened the radical right. (Mis)informed by the very same state TV, the public had no way of inferring why Croatian generals were being brought before the Hague Tribunal, seeing that they have committed no crimes...

The show, the impact it made on the public and the results of public opinion polls show that, in fact, the general public is much more inclined to changes, reforms and even the instituting of legal proceedings against alleged war-criminals than the authorities which have shoved the problem aside, partly out of cowardice, partly out of fear that the public would resent any such move. If the government persists in the policy adopted so far, this will inevitably result in its defeat at next elections, and its avoiding to confront "the dark side of the homeland war" in its isolation by the international community. The paradox being that the disputed film dealing with war crimes was aired within the framework of the Entertainment Program of the Croat TV. The informative and documentary editorial staff of the national TV company is still convinced that HDZ has stepped down from power only temporarily. If no signs of change in the editorial policy of the media house are detected in the foreseeable future, this may well turn out to be absolutely true.

BORIS RASETA

(AIM)