Open Letter to the President of the Republic of Croatia, Zoran Milanović, on the Occasion of the 25th Anniversary of Operation Storm

Zagreb, July 29, 2020.


President Milanović,

The 25th anniversary of the Operation Storm is coming soon. In our appeal, among other things, we are proposing that during your introductory speech, you also mention human rights violations which happened during and after Operation Storm. This way, you will act justly not only towards the victims whose rights are not satisfied to this day, and present to the public a complete account of the events during and after the Operation Storm, highlighting not only its positive sides but also the negative side representing the crimes for which to this day there is no legal epilogue.

Also, in the following paragraphs we will point out the challenges Croatia is still facing in the context of unrealized transitional justice mechanisms, which you can actively influence as the head of the state.

Despite the fact that the Croatian territory has been reintegrated as a consequence of the Operation Storm, Croatian citizens who have been forcefully displaced in most cases did not return, and for that reason, reintegration was not entirely accomplished. It is important that you speak about this publicly and that you do not forget that one of the core values upon which the Croatian Constitution is built is the national equality. 

During your pre-election campaign, you highlighted the importance of respecting human rights, togetherness, and mutual respect, and we hope that you will not give up on these promises during your presidential term.

Out of all successor countries of Yugoslavia, aside from Slovenia, only Croatia is a part of the European Union. Use this accomplished political success for Croatia to be a role-model to our neighbors on how to invest in values on which the European Union is built, especially in the higher standard of human rights and rule of law. Initiate the establishment of the regional commission for the establishment of facts about war crimes and other serious violations of human rights (RECOM). Make Croatia a Country that is known throughout the region, Europe and the rest of the world for the successful peace-building, and not for insisting on relativization of war crimes and criminals.

Invest the funds and personally participate in commemorations and marking the unmarked places of suffering and human rights violations. Do this in cooperation with representatives of the victims and in their presence. Civil victims of law are not discerned per their ethnic origin, but per the fact, if their rights are acknowledged or not.

Oblige to celebrate anniversaries of the treaty on basis of which the peaceful reintegration was established and contribute to preserving the memory of activists for peace – it is important that we as a nation are proud of the bravery of those who built and tried to preserve peace. Do not forget that peace-building is our Constitutional value.

Hate speech and crimes motivated by hatred in which violence toward Serbs is encouraged are no longer an exception in our daily lives, but rather a rule which points up towards increasing intolerance. These are also the consequences of the mythologized role of Croatia in the wars during the 90’s. In your public appeals, insist that the blame for the crimes is established on an individual basis. Point out that there is no collective national responsibility for crimes, but that as a society we need to invest in curing the collective trauma caused by the severe consequences of war. You will be able to give these contributions during bilateral and multilateral meetings with representatives of neighboring countries in which it is important to clearly and unequivocally speak about the importance of reconciliation for accomplishing the better future of all people who live in these areas.

Contribute to changing the dominant nationalistic narrative about the events of the 90’s and influence the development of a shared narrative with a focus on the victims. History has taught us that acknowledgment, and not denial, relativization and compensation, will help to heal the post-conflict society.

Take away the official decorations of the Republic of Croatia from the convicted before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and national courts. This way you will not only return the reputation to those who earned these decorations with they behaviour and respect towards the international humanitarian law, but also show that you are conscious and acknowledge the fact that war crimes done by the Croatian army and armed formations are not political constructs of plaintiffs, and court committees of ICTY, but the harsh reality of Croatian history.

Do not leave coping with the past of the ’90s to the advocacy efforts of the few non-governmental organizations, but rather use the historical role, duty and responsibility you have and apologize for the crimes done in the name of the Republic of Croatia.

We hope that you will invest the effort to contribute to the establishment of our requests so that you would not be one of those public officials who did not recognize the importance or did not invest the appropriate energy to change the dominant nationalist narrative about the wars of ’90s. Be determined not to leave the future generations with the inheritance of not coping with the consequence of the cowardice of those whose duty was to lead this country toward peace, and not toward conflicts.

The Youth Initiative for Human Rights