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Youth paid their respects to the civilian victims of the Serbian national minority who died in the Medački džep operation

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Zagreb, September 21, 2023


Young people remember the forgotten


Activists of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, in cooperation with the Serbian National Council, took part in a study trip from September 14 to 16 on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the civilian casualties during the Medački džep (Medak Pocket) operation.

It was a military operation known as "Džep-93", which was officially supposed to last from September 9 to 11, 1993, but actually ended six days later, on September 17, with the final withdrawal of the Croatian Army from the conquered territory of Medački džep, which was preceded by the arrival of the Canadian UNPROFOR battalion a day earlier.

Already in the initial phase, the operation was marked by war crimes committed against civilians and prisoners of war of Serbian nationality, followed by the destruction of houses and other property, the killing of livestock and the pollution of wells with the clear aim of making it difficult to return to normal life in the villages of Počitelj, Čitluk, Divoselo and their hamlets.

For this reason, in 2001, the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) indicted Rahim Ademi, deputy commander and chief of staff of the Gospić Military District, and Mirko Norac, commander of the 9th Guards Brigade "Vukovi", and a year later also against Janko Bobetko, Chief of the General Staff of the Croatian Army. Bobetko died during the proceedings, and before the verdict was handed down, while the indictment against Ademi and Norac was transferred to the Croatian judiciary, which became the first such case. In 2008, the Zagreb County Court acquitted Ademi, and Norac was sentenced to seven years in prison, which was later changed to five years, and in 2011, after serving two-thirds of the sentence, he was released.

His arrival at the 25th anniversary of the official marking of the VRO Medački džep speaks about how Mirko Norac and the operation itself were publicly perceived. Apart from him, guilty verdicts were handed down to members of the Croatian Army, Josip Krmpotić, Velibor Šolaja and Josip Mršić, for crimes in the VRO Medački džep.

Given that our research Wartime nineties from the Perspective of Young People in Croatia showed that 72.5 percent of young people had not heard of the killing of Serb civilians during the operation, and also bearing in mind that the young people who signed up for the study trip assessed their knowledge of the operation as insufficient, on the eve of the trip to the Medački džep, we organized a lecture and conversation with the historian and journalist Tihomir Ponoš, where he presented a case study on the course and consequences of the operation he created in cooperation with Documenta - the Center for Dealing with the Past.

This prepared us for visiting places in the area of ​​the Medački džep, that is, locations that were practically destroyed in the operation, and their inhabitants, mostly civilians, were forced to flee or were killed. These are the villages of Medak, Divoselo and Počitelj in the vicinity of Gospić, which are difficult to reach due to systematic neglect and lack of investment in infrastructure renovation. This is also reflected in the number of residents who continued to live there after the war, that is, in the number of those who decided to return there. Namely, according to the population census in 1991, 780 inhabitants lived in the mentioned villages, and today there are only 36. We met with some of them and talked about their experience of the war, life today and the motivation that prompted them to return.

In addition, we had the opportunity to speak with Dragan Pjevač, the son of Boja Pjevač, who was killed during the operation, which is why he and the rest of his family filed a criminal complaint against the Special Unit of the Police of the Republic of Croatia. That report was dismissed, while the investigation into the crime is still officially ongoing.

We ended the study trip by putting roses at the cemetery in the village of Medak and joining the September 16 commemoration organized by the Serbian National Council. This is how we collectively remembered the victims who are not mentioned at the official state commemorations of the VRO Medački džep

With this in mind, visits like this are extremely important because they show that there are people who want to keep the memory of the forgotten alive. It is especially important that those are young people who were mostly born after the war.

We are proud that through our work the participants get the opportunity to become familiar with little or no known facts that point to the violation of human rights and the commission of war crimes on the Croatian side during the wars of the 1990s.

In this way, we contribute to the deconstruction of the attitude about our and their victims divided on a national basis. By educating about the crimes committed and going to the places of suffering, we try to point out the lack of responsibility of the state in recognizing and recognizing the crimes that, especially in the case of the Medački džep, have been extensively documented in court, and to contribute to a sense of empathy, a critical reflection on the events of the past and respect for all victims of war.

This is why the statements and thoughts of our participants are important to us, some of which we quote below:

"It is up to the state to take responsibility, it is our responsibility to remind the state of its responsibility.”

"Regarding my experience of participating in this trip, I can say that it is deeply moving because you pass those places, and you see that they are literally overgrown with weeds and that this is a forgetting that, I would say, is systematically carried out by denying those events. It will lead literally to the point that in a couple of years there would be no one there. You have no one to ask what happened there, you have no proof that anything was ever there, and all you know is what someone else can tell you."

"I don't know who else will, if we don't. Someone who lived through the nineties will have a much harder time changing their opinion than those of us who were born after. Especially young people who were born in areas that were not affected by the war or those who did not have someone die in the war, there really is no one else."

Too young to remember, determined never to forget!

Photo: YIHR and Centre for Nonviolent Action (CNA)


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