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Interested in Recording Your Oral History, Association for Diplomatic Studies & Training. I didn’t think so. Nor were we sure that the rockets could even hit downtown Zagreb; the ones they’d fired in the fall of 1993 had only reached the outskirts of the city. But, just like my day in Vukovar, what I found on the ground was very different to my expectations, one of the most dignified and measured victory celebrations I have seen. The United States not only monitored the complete Operation Storm, but they also actively participated with the Croatian Military in its preparation, and in the end directly initiated the operation. Operation Flash (Serbo-Croatian: Operacija Bljesak/Операција Бљесак) was a brief Croatian Army (HV) offensive conducted against the forces of the self-declared proto-state Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) from 1–3 May 1995. The building was old and, notwithstanding our efforts to shore it up, still not all that structurally sound. Probably not. They all left, including my family, later that afternoon. There is no sign. A spokesman for the Croatian Ministry of Defense denied that any war crimes or other illegal acts were committed during the offensive, which the Croatians dubbed Operation Storm. Twenty years ago, the Croatian army launched Operation Storm to take control of the Serbian-occupied territory in Croatia. We are not a Balkan country.”. People responded instinctively but differently. But I counted just 10 of the 36 terraces in use, and the majority of the other apartments shuttered up. (Photo: AP — Zoran Sinko). So, some in Congress were concerned. After the death of Tito and with the fall of communism throughout eastern Europe, the Yugoslav federation began to unravel. We informed the Department by phone that we intended to implement our evacuation plan as soon as the dust cleared and it seemed prudent. The war didn't start with Croatia attacking Krajina. Indeed, it didn't seem to exist at all online, apart from those terrible events on August 1995. We felt that if we could send missiles into the window of a barn or down the streets at Baghdad and turn left at the second stop light, we could certainly send a message to Milosevic. (Author's note - I had intended to write this article some time ago, much sooner after the event, but time was against me). In the days that followed Operation Storm, property was destroyed and atrocities committed against those Serbs who remained. President Franjo Tuđman in the middle, right to him Gojko Šušak, left to him Ante Gotovina. Attitudes to the Homeland War differ vastly between Croats who were in Istria or Vukovar, for example. Operation Storm was the biggest and most brutal ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. It needed a humiliating defeat to bring the Serbs to the negotiating table. We didn’t want another hot front opening up in the post-Yugo wars. Ante Gotovina along with his fellow general Mladen Markac was charged with war crimes during Operation Storm, the lightning military campaign that brought victory for Croatia. Operation Storm proved to be a decisive victory for the Croats, uniting geographic Croatia under Croat control, decimating the RSK, and tipping the military balance of power heavily in favor of the Croats. Croatia takes back control. INTRODUCTION. This was the point at which [Ambassador to Croatia] Peter [Galbraith] tried to contact officials in Knin, with whom he’d dealt in the Z-4 effort [a proposed basis for negotiations to end the Croatian War for Independence that was rejected by Croatian President Franjo Tudman and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic], and at least implicitly threatened them with U.S. retaliation if they hit the Embassy or killed Americans. There had been some artillery exchanges and skirmishing in the days leading up to the Croatian move, which, in the event, they characterized as a “police action” aimed merely at opening up the main east-west highway. Croatia - Operation Storm 1995. Vukovar is a little bit far inland, but using F-15Es out of Aviano [air base in Italy] would have been simple enough. They not only pushed the Serbs out of Krajina, they kept right on going northeast. Krajina – the Military Frontier – was… by Dan McLaughlin @DanMcL99. Hitting the Serbian guns that were bombarding Dubrovnik would have been easy. After a couple weeks in that cramped situation, everyone went back to their old offices and we got on with it. It is a national event each year, broadcast live on national television and attended by all the senior politicians and other dignitaries. The green light from the White House and then President Clinton for Operation Storm was passed on by Colonel Richard C. Herrick, then US military attaché in Zagreb. Although it was just seven years since the war had ended, there was little trace of that on Hvar, where the tourism industry was recovering nicely, and the lack of physical scars of war meant that the recent past did not really touch me. The JNA initially tried to keep Croatia within Yugoslavia by occupying all of Croatia. The operation was launched at 5 am on August 4 along the line running from Bosansko Grahovo to the south to Jasenovac to the east, the front line being more than 630 kilometres long. This would be mid-August, when Storm was already underway. On August 4, 1995, Zagreb launched Operation Storm, recapturing the rebel-held lands in an 84-hour offensive. This year's event was also historic for the appearance of a Serb politician for the first time, with Croatian government representative Boris Milosevic from the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) took his place in the front row. They weren’t angels either, far from it. In August 1995, the Croatian army launched a full-scale invasion to recover all of the Serb-held areas in Krajina. "Operation Storm" for the Croatians was an event that they would honor and celebrate enthusiastically every year thereafter. Today, 5th August 2015 is the 20th Anniversary of the Operation Storm, of liberation of Croatia, which put an end to the bloody and brutal Serb aggression and Croatia was liberated on that day from Serb occupation! Operation Storm (Oluja) ended the war, both in Croatia and in Bosnia. It was still early in the day, but the atmosphere was good-humored and celebratory. Operation Storm (kroatiska: Operacija Oluja) var en polisiär och militär operation genomförd av den kroatiska armén den 4–7 augusti 1995. As it was, you had 250,000- 300,000 Serbian refugees headed east, into Serbia. Why would it be? The whole event was extremely dignified, conciliatory, full of remembrance and pride at the considerable achievement of liberation a quarter of a century ago - a perfect tone. Go here for other Moments on the Balkans. I lived for years in that naive bubble, and the recent past only entered it in the first week of August each year, when Croatia celebrated its holiday, Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day and the Day of Croatian Defenders. The Serbian rockets hit several parts of the downtown area in the general vicinity of the Embassy, including near a children’s hospital, the national theater, and a large market place, Britanski Trg I think, where we often shopped and through which many of us drove a couple times a day. It would have been difficult. Operation Storm View other pieces in "The New York Review of Books" By Mark Danner October 22, 1998 Tags: Balkans | Croatia: Books referred to in this article: CROATIA: A NATION FORGED IN WAR By Marcus Tanner 338 pages, $30.00 (hardcover), $16.00 (paperback) During the Croatian military and police operation Storm, according to the data provided by the Serbian Commissariat for Refugees, 250,000 Krajina Serbs were expelled, 1,856 … Q: How was Washington reacting? The assault effectively ended the war that killed about 20,000. After two Croatian MiG fighters flew overhead (a little too quickly for this aspiring photographer to document), it was time to take a walk around town, and I soon realised why things were so quiet on the main square. In 1994, the Croatians and Bosnian Croat forces fighting with them, joined forces with the Bosniaks and launched what they called Operation Storm. Going back to Plavno, I was surprised to see a well-tended Serb graveyard, the graves maintained and many with fresh flowers. What is not to celebrate? The offensive, involving 100,000 Croatian soldiers, was the largest single land battle fought in Europe since World War II. Nearly a quarter of Croatia’s economy was ruined, with an estimated $37 billion in damaged infrastructure, lost output, and refugee-related costs. Yes, for sure. A father and son, Serb refugees from Krajina in the aftermath of Croatia’s ‘Operation Storm’, walk alongside refugee vehicles near the Bosnian Serb city Banja Luka on August 10th, 1995. Nonetheless, I wasn’t ready to recommend ordered departure…. Croatia: Operation Storm - still no justice ten years on 03 Aug 2005 , 12:00am In the aftermath of the operations members of the Croatian Army and police murdered, tortured, and forcibly expelled Croatian Serb civilians who had remained in the area as well as members of … The building shook. But as Croatian forces quickly prevailed in Sector West, and did so, as I indicated, in a way that didn’t leave much evidence of criminal excesses behind, some in Washington began to see the light, to perceive that this first major successful pushback against a four-year Serbian offensive, if it didn’t go too far too fast, was not only tolerable but a positive development. The assault effectively ended the war that claimed some 20,000 lives. That was the time, looking back on it now, when some form of U.S. military intervention might have had an effect. Certainly, in the White House, the NSC, the State Department, not to speak of the Defense Department, there was no readiness to take a major role in Yugoslavia. However, on August 4th, 1995, the last battle of the Croatian War for Independence, named Operation Storm, was launched. About 200,000 ethnic Serbs fled Croatia during Operation Storm; less than a quarter returned. That’s the surprising note that [EUR Deputy Assistant Secretary] Bob Frasure is reported to have passed to Holbrooke at a luncheon with Tudjman two days before the Mt. My initial thought was that this was perhaps due to the Serb exodus 25 years ago, but I was told locally that the population of the Knin workforce has declined 20% in the last 12 months alone. Firstly, many Croats fled from the newly-established Krajina Republic, which brought the Serb population up to 88%, before Oluja completely reversed those numbers, as Serb civilians took the path of their retreating army towards Belgrade. Some historians point to Storm and its substantial reversal of Serbian gains as the game-changer, and it was a game-changer of a different magnitude. In 1992, 1993, 1994, you talk ground troops, you talk American troops. As I left my house in Varazdin at 4am to pick up my press accreditation by 9am, I was sure that this was going to be a difficult day, and not one I was going to enjoy. At that time, we heard from one of Tudjman’s closest advisers that they too, Tudjman’s inner circle, were convinced Zagreb wouldn’t be rocketed. It fairly quickly became clear that we hadn’t been hit, but we didn’t know about possible casualties outside the Embassy, those who’d been out and about when the Serbs struck. But, the idea that there are limits to what was acceptable was an important message to send. We may have continued to do visa work at the Embassy downtown for a few hours a day. NILES: I can’t ever recall that that point was emphasized. Croatia might have won its independence, but the cost was high, and the pain and memories remain. NEITZKE: I’m not sure what they’d have been capable of, other than perhaps bombing missions. But frankly, if we’d taken a hit in that period it wouldn’t have much mattered where you were sitting. BEECROFT: The Croatian army pushed the Serbs out of Krajina in 1995, Operation Storm. NEITZKE: As we’d done for nearly four years at that point, we urged Tudjman to show restraint. They drove them out, took that place in a day and a half, or something like that, kicked the Serbs who lived in Western Slavonia, across the Sava River into Bosnia. The success of this remarkable military action by Croatia came after four years of … Ever since the military-police liberation operation Storm brought victory and freedom to Croatia 25 years ago, August 5th has been celebrated as Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day and Croatian Veterans Day, a national holiday in the country. introduction. While the main event was in Knin's central square and timed to include the 09:43 arrival of Croatian troops in the city, all eyes were on its imposing fortress, where the flag of liberation was raised at exactly 09:46. Although there were roughly six discrete Yugoslav conflicts, the first major war was the Croatian War for Independence. ‘Operation Storm’ in August 1995, when Croatia overran the Serb-inhabited territory of Krajina, was the biggest single instance of ethnic cleansing in the Yugoslav Wars, Because the attack was backed by the US, however, it was never treated as a crime. There were some arms going into Croatia, but not very much, during our time. Impressive stuff. I remember Senator [Claiborne] Pell, in my confirmation hearing, asked me about it. My mantra has been “Balkans is as Balkans does” and boy, did the Croatians behave like Balkans. One of the things I often get tarnished with as a Brit here is the actions and meddling of the British Government both here and elsewhere. impunity for abuses committed during "operation storm" and the denial of the right of refugees to return to the krajina. It must have been an intense day for General Gotovina, who hid his emotions well, but clearly felt the name of each fallen soldier as their names were read out. by Dan McLaughlin @DanMcL99. Obviously it was much more than that, but the point I wanted to make is that before the press or international observers of any stripe could descend on newly-liberated – the Serbs would say “cleansed” — Sector West, the Croats had rapidly and systematically – reportedly using refrigeration vans in some cases – cleaned up much of the physical evidence of the fighting and nearly all evidence of non-combatant casualties, including removing the bodies and hosing away the blood. 6. With so many perspectives and experiences that were much more involved and painful than my own, there would have been little of value to add, as well as the inevitable offence taken by the words of a Brit who either did not understand or had an alleged agenda. BEECROFT: What you’ve got there is a cross-border problem, Croatia vs. Bosnia, that is exacerbated by the fact that Croatia would like to pretend it’s not part of the Balkans at all. President Franjo Tuđman in the liberated Croatian town of Knin. Authorized departure had been in effect for Zagreb for some time prior to May 1. Krajina is the perfect example. And after it was rocketed on May 2, they told us they were convinced it wouldn’t be rocketed again, but it was. Starting in 1991, when Croatia declared its independence as a nation-state, the war was fought between forces loyal to the Croats and the Serb-controlled JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army). Serbian media claim that approximately 2,000 people had been killed or gone missing during and in the aftermath of Operation Storm. Croatia this week celebrates its defeat of Serb rebels during Operation Storm 20 years ago, but Serbia will mourn the hundreds killed and the 200,000 who became refugees. Washington, and we, still didn’t fully appreciate how strong the Croats had become militarily, and there were fears that any move by Tudjman would be met by a stronger countermove by Serbian forces. How it would have been read by Milosevic, who knows. That Grubori visit took place three weeks after Oluja 2020 - I was trying to find it on my own on the day. After the Vietnam War, the United States was determined to review and revise the way it … At that point the Embassy community was in a high state of alert. The question before Peter and me and the rest of the country team [representatives from the key offices and agencies present at an embassy] as we considered our security options on that eerily quiet May 1 afternoon was whether to seek a Department-ordered evacuation of all family members and non-essential personnel. You have around 20,000 Krajina Serbs in the Republika Srpska [RS] with claims in Kriena. The Serbian army would intervene, the war would get worse, and there would be a new and even bloodier phase. Krajina Forces, the Serbian-dominated JNA and mercenaries attacked Croatia. Some fled instantly for the safety of the thick-walled, cavernous Embassy basement. Okay, so now what do you have? Did my perspective change somewhat with a visit to Oluja 2020? But then last November, just before the annual Vukovar Remembrance Parade on November 18, I decided to visit. NEITZKE:. After this failed, Serb forces established the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) within Croatia. Marija Ristic, Ivana Nikolic, Sven Milekic BIRN Belgrade, Zagreb Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and general Ante Gotovina during Operation Storm. Operation Storm marked the end of the self-proclaimed Serb Republic of Krajina, where Serb rebels had staked out territory amounting to about a quarter of Croatia at the beginning of the break-up of Yugoslavia. From Grubori to Cavoglave, a focal point of the Oluja celebrations each year, as well as a reminder of the fierce fighting and suffering that took place here. We should have gone in, not just with one strike, but with some serious military actions, that would have been a powerful signal. Why Serbs can't comprehend why Croats celebrate Operations Storm is beyond me. That is not a debate for me to get into, but what is undisputed is that the population shifts from 1991 to 1995 were significant. This building overlooking the main square was a symbol of another more immediate problem once the celebrations of independence subside. Perspective is usually heavily influenced by personal experience, and never was this more true than in this most divided of regions. Every country has its different viewpoints from those who live and visit it, but this region seems to excel in that regard. It was quite a day. During Operation Storm, Croatian forces regained territory controlled since late 1991 by rebel Croatian Serbs, who had been helped by the Yugoslav People’s Army and Serbian paramilitaries. At the same time, the Serbs were bombarding Dubrovnik from near Trebinje in southwestern Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bob is said to have referred to the Croats as “junkyard dogs” we had “hired” because we were “desperate,” urging Holbrooke that we not order them to stop their offensive. Operation Storm was a decisive factor in ending the war and the largest battle of the Homeland War. KNIN, Croatia — August is the toughest month for Anja Raskovic and the Serbs of Knin, a dusty town of 10,000 people in Croatia’s southeast. We did stop one effort by the Iranians to send arms to the Bosnians. So the U.S. made clear its view that the Croatians and Bosniaks should not push on to Banja Luka – and they stopped the offensive. But, you couldn’t be absolutely sure. About 200,000 ethnic Serbs fled Croatia during Operation Storm; less than a quarter returned. In retrospect, the fact that Croatia encountered stiff resistance in Petrova Gora from the Krajina Serbs illustrates that if Belgrade had made the conscious decision to defend the Serbian Krajina, the Croatian Army would have been hard pressed to achieve the desired results it had sought in Operation Storm. The downtown area was much quieter than before; it seemed almost deserted at times. And was he likely to do so? As a further symbol of some seeds of reconciliation, the government announced that Milosevic, the Croatian Government's Vice-President for Social Affairs and Human Rights, would accompany Veterans Minister Tomo Medved to lay a wreath in the village of Grubori, north of Knin, where several elderly Serbs were killed less than 3 weeks after Operation Storm. And, not for the first time in Croatia, what I found on the ground in Vukovar was very different to the perceptions that I had been given from second-hand sources. But he kept his cool, opting instead for Storm and a bet that Milosevic wouldn’t respond directly, that he would abandon the Krajina. Indeed, the only other person I saw in the entire area was a Serb woman sitting in her yard cleaning vegetables, a rusting washing machine for company. There was no pressure from within the Administration that I can recall at that time that we should do anything. His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Irinej officiated a memorial service for the killed Serbs in the armed operation “Storm” in Croatia in 1995. Overall, it would not have been a militarily difficult thing to do. While I now completely understand the raw emotions of the occasion, for years, this day in Jelsa left me cold and I avoided the town on that day. August 5 is the date that this is celebrated, and the focal point each year is in Knin, the liberation of which in 1995 was part of the biggest land battle in Europe since World War II. I think I got to the right place, but if not, it was one of several very similar. © 2020 Total Croatia News. While moves towards reconciliation are welcome, there are more pressing problems to deal with. Actually the RS government was in Pale, outside Sarajevo, but Banja Luka was the key Serb-controlled city. August 2020 - 8:49. The explosions sounded like very loud, sharp, cracks, right next to us or very close by. I don’t know whether it was a quarter, a third, or a tenth, or what, but they took their part. Ronald J. Neitzke, interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning December 2006, was Deputy Chief of Mission in Embassy Zagreb from 1992-1996. J. neitzke, interviewed by Kennedy beginning September 2006, was launched other than bombing... 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