War in Croatia

Croatian War of Independence
Part of the Yugoslav Wars
Drniš
Date 31 March 1991 – 12 November 1995[A 1]
(4 years, 7 months, 1 week and 5 days)
Location Croatia[A 2]
Result Croatian victory
Territorial
changes
The Croatian government gains control over the vast majority of Croatian territory previously held by rebel Serbs, with the remainder coming under UNTAES control.[A 3]
Belligerents
Republic of Serbian Krajina Republic of Serbian Krajina[A 4]

 Republika Srpska[A 5]
(1992–95)


Yugoslav People's Army (controlled by Serbia Serbia)[A 6]
(1991–92)

Croatia Croatia[A 7]

Bosnia and Herzegovina Bosnia and Herzegovina[A 8]
(1995)

Commanders and leaders
Jovica Stanišić Croatia Franjo Tuđman
Croatia Gojko Šušak
Croatia Anton Tus
Croatia Janko Bobetko
Croatia Zvonimir Červenko
Croatia Petar Stipetić
Bosnia and Herzegovina Atif Dudaković
Strength
90,000–100,000 soldiers 70,000 (1991)[18]-200,000 soldiers (1995)[19]
Casualties and losses
JNA: 1,279 soldiers killed
RSK: 8,039 combatants and civilians killed or missing
12,000–13,583 combatants and civilians killed or missing
See the Casualties and refugees section

The Croatian War of Independence was fought from 1991 to 1995 between Croat forces loyal to the government of Croatia—which had declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY)—and the Serb-controlled Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and local Serb forces, with the JNA ending its combat operations in Croatia by 1992. In Croatia, the war is primarily referred to as the Homeland War (Domovinski rat) and also as the Greater-Serbian aggression (Velikosrpska agresija).[20][21] In Serbian sources, War in Croatia (Rat u Hrvatskoj) is the most commonly used term.[22]

Croatia aimed to leave Yugoslavia as a sovereign country, while the Serbs, supported by Serbia,[23][24] opposed the secession and wanted Croatia to remain a part of Yugoslavia. The Serbs effectively sought a new Serb state with new boundaries in areas of Croatia with a Serb majority or significant minority,[25][26] and attempted to conquer as much of Croatia as possible.[27] The goal was primarily to remain in the same state with the rest of the Serbian nation, which was seen as an attempt to form a "Greater Serbia".[28][29] In 2007, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) returned a guilty verdict against Milan Martić, one of the Serb leaders in Croatia, stating that he colluded with Slobodan Milošević and others to create a "unified Serbian state".[30] Between 2008 and 2012, the ICTY had also prosecuted Croatian generals Ante Gotovina, Mladen Markač and Ivan Čermak for alleged involvement in the crimes related to Operation Storm, but all three were ultimately acquitted.[31][32]

At the beginning of the war, the JNA tried to forcefully keep Croatia within Yugoslavia by occupying the whole of Croatia.[33][34] After they failed to do this, Serbian forces established the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) within Croatia. After the ceasefire of January 1992 and international recognition of the Republic of Croatia as a sovereign state,[35][36] the front lines were entrenched, United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) was deployed,[37] and combat became largely intermittent in the following three years. During that time, the RSK encompassed 13,913 square kilometers (5,372 sq mi), more than a quarter of Croatia.[38] In 1995, Croatia launched two major offensives known as Operation Flash and Operation Storm,[3][39] which would effectively end the war in its favor. The remaining United Nations Transitional Authority for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium (UNTAES) zone was peacefully reintegrated into Croatia by 1998.[4][8]

The war ended with a total Croatian victory, as it achieved the goals it had declared at the beginning of the war: independence and preservation of its borders.[3][4] However, much of Croatia was devastated, with estimates ranging from 21–25% of its economy destroyed and an estimated US$37 billion in damaged infrastructure, lost output, and refugee-related costs.[40] The total number of deaths on both sides was around 20,000,[41] and there were refugees displaced on both sides. While Croatia and Serbia progressively cooperated more with each other on all levels, some tension still remains because of verdicts by the ICTY and lawsuits filed against each other.[42][43]

Background

Political changes in Yugoslavia

The war in Croatia resulted from the rise of nationalism in the 1980s which slowly led to the dissolution of Yugoslavia. A crisis emerged in Yugoslavia with the weakening of the Communist states in Eastern Europe towards the end of the Cold War, as symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In Yugoslavia, the national communist party, officially called the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, had lost its ideological potency.[44]

In the late 1980s, as the Kosovo Albanians were being repressed in the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo,[45] the more prosperous republics of SR Slovenia and SR Croatia wanted to move towards decentralization and democracy.[46] SR Serbia, headed by Slobodan Milošević, adhered to centralism and single-party rule, and in turn effectively ended the autonomy of the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina by March 1989, taking command of their votes in the Yugoslav federal presidency.[24][45][47][48] The nationalist ideas started to grow within the ranks of the still-ruling League of Communists, while Milošević's speeches, notably the 1989 Gazimestan speech in which he talked of "battles of quarrels", favored continuation of a unified Yugoslav state—one in which all power would be centralized in Belgrade.[24][49][50] In the fall of 1989, the Serbian government pressured the Croatian government to allow a series of Serb nationalist rallies in the country, and the Serbian media and various Serbian intellectuals had already began to refer to the Croatian leadership as "Ustaše", and began to make reference to crimes committed by the Ustaše during World War 2. This rhetoric was approved by the Serbian political leadership, and it accused the Croatian leadership of being "blindly nationalistic" when it objected.[51]

Having completed the anti-bureaucratic revolution in Vojvodina, Kosovo, and Montenegro, Serbia secured four out of eight federal presidency votes in 1991,[49] which rendered the governing body ineffective as other republics objected and called for reform of the Federation.[52] In 1989, political parties were allowed and a number of them had been founded, including the Croatian Democratic Union (Croatian: Hrvatska demokratska zajednica) (HDZ), led by Franjo Tuđman, who later became the first president of Croatia.[53] In January 1990, the League of Communists broke up on the lines of the individual republics, with the Croatian and Slovenian factions demanding a looser federation at the 14th Extraordinary Congress. At the congress, Serbian delegates accused the Croatian and Slovene delegates of "supporting separatism, terrorism and genocide in Kosovo".[54] The Croatian and Slovene delegations, including most of their ethnic Serb members, eventually left in protest, after Serbian deligates rejected every single one of their proposed amendments.[49][55]


In February 1990, Jovan Rašković founded the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) in Knin, whose program aimed to change the regional division of Croatia to be aligned with ethnic Serb interests,[56] echoing Milošević's position that internal Yugoslav borders should be redrawn to permit all Serbs to live in a single country.[26] Prominent members of the SDS included Milan Babić and Milan Martić, and Babić would later testify that Belgrade directed a propaganda campaign that portrayed the Serbs in Croatia as being threatened with genocide by the Croat majority.[57] On 4 March 1990, a meeting of 50,000 Serbs was held at Petrova Gora. People at the rally shouted negative remarks aimed at Tuđman,[56] chanted "This is Serbia",[56] and expressed support for Milošević.[58][59]

The first free elections in Croatia and Slovenia were scheduled for a few months later.[60] The first round of elections in Croatia were held on April 22, and the second round on May 6.[61] The HDZ based its campaign on an aspiration for greater sovereignty for Croatia and on a platform opposed to Yugoslav unitarist ideology, fueling a sentiment among Croats that "only the HDZ could protect Croatia from the aspirations of Milošević towards a Greater Serbia". It topped the poll in the elections (followed by Ivica Račan's reformed communists, Social Democratic Party of Croatia) and was set to form a new Croatian Government.[61]

A tense atmosphere prevailed in 1990: on 13 May 1990, a football game was held in Zagreb between Zagreb's Dinamo team and Belgrade's Red Star. The game erupted into violence between football fans and police.[62]

On 30 May 1990, the new Croatian Parliament held its first session. President Tuđman announced his manifesto for a new Constitution (ratified at the end of the year) and a multitude of political, economic, and social changes, notably to what extent minority rights (mainly for Serbs) would be guaranteed. Local Serb politicians opposed the new constitution. In 1991, Croats represented 78.1% and Serbs 12.2% of the total population of Croatia,[63] but they held a disproportionate number of official posts: 17.7% of appointed officials in Croatia, including police, were Serbs. An even greater proportion of those posts had been held by Serbs in Croatia earlier on, which created a perception that the Serbs were guardians of the communist regime.[64] This caused discontent among the Croats despite the fact it never actually undermined their own dominance in SR Croatia.[44] After HDZ came to power, some Serbs employed in public administration, especially the police, lost their jobs and were replaced by Croats.[65] This, combined with some of Tuđman's clumsy remarks — such as the one that he is 'glad that his wife is not a Serb'[66] which was taken out of context[67]— were deliberately distorted by Milošević's media in order to artificially spark fear that any form of an independent Croatia is a new 'ustashe state': in one instance, TV Belgrade showed Tuđman shaking hands with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, accusing them of plotting to impose 'a Fourth Reich'.[68] The new Tuđman government was nationalistic and insensitive towards Serbs, but did not pose a threat to them before the war.[69]

Civil unrest and demands for autonomy

Immediately after the Slovenian parliamentary election, 1990 and the Croatian parliamentary election, 1990 in April and May 1990, the JNA announced that the Josip Broz Tito-era doctrine of "general people's defense", in which each republic maintained a Territorial defense force (Croatian: Teritorijalna obrana) (TO), would henceforth be replaced by a centrally directed system of defense. The republics would lose their role in defense matters and their TOs would be disarmed and subordinated to JNA headquarters in Belgrade, but the new Slovenian government acted quickly to retain control over the TO.[70] On May 14, 1990, the weapons of the TO of Croatia, in regions with Croatian majorities, were taken away by the Army,[71] preventing the possibility of Croatia having its own weapons like it was done in Slovenia.[72] .[73] Borisav Jović, Serbia's representative on the Federal Presidency and a close ally of Slobodan Milošević, claimed that this action came at the behest of Serbia.[74]

According to Jović, on 27 June 1990 he and Veljko Kadijević, the Yugoslav Defence Minister, met and agreed that they should, regarding Croatia and Slovenia, "expel them forcibly from Yugoslavia, by simply drawing borders and declaring that they have brought this upon themselves through their decisions". According to Jovic, the next day he obtained the agreement of Milošević.[75]

The Serbs within Croatia did not initially seek independence before 1990. On 25 July 1990, a Serbian Assembly was established in Srb, north of Knin, as the political representation of the Serbian people in Croatia. The Serbian Assembly declared "sovereignty and autonomy of the Serb people in Croatia".[76]

In August 1990, an unrecognized mono-ethnic referendum was held in regions with a substantial Serb population which would later become known as the RSK (bordering western Bosnia and Herzegovina) on the question of Serb "sovereignty and autonomy" in Croatia.[77] This was an attempt to counter the changes in the constitution. The Croatian government sent police forces to police stations in Serb-populated areas to seize their weapons. Among other incidents, local Serbs from the southern hinterlands of Croatia, mostly around the city of Knin, blocked roads to tourist destinations in Dalmatia. This incident is known as the "Log revolution".[78][79] Years later, during Martić's trial, Babić would claim that he was tricked by Martić into agreeing to the Log Revolution, and that it and the entire war in Croatia was Martić's responsibility, and had been orchestrated by Belgrade.[80] The statement was corroborated by Martić in an interview published in 1991.[81] Babić confirmed that by July 1991 Milošević had taken over control of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA).[82] The Croatian government responded to the blockade of roads by sending special police teams in helicopters to the scene, but they were intercepted by SFR Yugoslav Air Force fighter jets and forced to turn back to Zagreb. The Serbs felled pine trees or used bulldozers to block roads to seal off towns like Knin and Benkovac near the Adriatic coast. On 18 August 1990, the Serbian newspaper Večernje novosti said that almost "two million Serbs were ready to go to Croatia to fight".[78]

On 21 December 1990, the SAO Krajina was proclaimed by the municipalities of the regions of Northern Dalmatia and Lika, in south-western Croatia. Article 1 of the Statute of the SAO Krajina defined the SAO Krajina as "a form of territorial autonomy within the Republic of Croatia" in which the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, state laws, and the Statute of the SAO Krajina were applied.[76][83]

On 22 December 1990, the Parliament of Croatia ratified the new constitution[84] which was read as taking away some of the rights that Serbs had been granted by the previous Socialist constitution, and fueled extremism among the Serbs of Croatia.[85] However, the constitution did define Croatia as "the national state of the Croatian nation and a state of members of other nations and minorities who are its citizens: Serbs ... who are guaranteed equality with citizens of Croatian nationality ..."[76]

Following Tuđman's election and the perceived threat from the new constitution,[84] Serb nationalists in the Kninska Krajina region began taking armed action against Croatian government officials, many of whom were forcibly expelled or excluded from the SAO Krajina. Croatian government property throughout the region was increasingly controlled by local Serb municipalities or the newly established "Serbian National Council". This would later become the government of the breakaway Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK).[76]

After an affair involving Martin Špegelj, who pursued a campaign of acquiring arms through the black market, in January 1991 an ultimatum was issued requesting disarming and disbanding of Croatian military forces considered illegal by the Yugoslav authorities.[86][87] Croatian authorities refused to comply, and the Yugoslav army withdrew the ultimatum six days after it was issued.[88][89]

Military forces


Serbian forces

The JNA was initially formed during World War II to carry out guerrilla warfare against occupying Axis forces. The success of the Partisan movement led to the JNA basing much of its operational strategy on guerrilla warfare, as its plans normally entailed defending against NATO or Warsaw Pact attacks, where other types of warfare would put the JNA in a comparatively poor position. That approach led to maintenance of a Territorial Defense system.[90]

On paper, the JNA seemed a powerful force, with 2,000 tanks and 300 jet aircraft (all either Soviet or locally produced). However, by 1991, the majority of this equipment was 30 years old, as the force consisted primarily of T-54/55 tanks and MiG-21 aircraft.[91] Still, the JNA operated around 300 M-84 tanks (a Yugoslav version of the Soviet T-72) and a sizable fleet of ground-attack aircraft, such as the Soko G-4 Super Galeb and the Soko J-22 Orao, whose armament included AGM-65 Maverick guided missiles.[92] By contrast, more modern cheap anti-tank missiles (like the AT-5) and anti-aircraft missiles (like the SA-14) were abundant and were designed to destroy much more advanced weaponry. Before the war the JNA had 169,000 regular troops, including 70,000 professional officers. The fighting in Slovenia brought about a great number of desertions, and the army responded by mobilizing Serbian reserve troops. Approximately 100,000 evaded the draft, and the new conscripts proved an ineffective fighting force. The JNA resorted to reliance on irregular militias.[93] Paramilitary units like the White Eagles, Serbian Guard, Dušan Silni, and Serb Volunteer Guard, which committed a number of massacres against Croat and other non-Serbs civilians, were increasingly used by the Yugoslav and Serb forces.[94][95] In addition, there were foreign fighters supporting the RSK, most of them from Russia.[96] With the retreat of the JNA forces in 1992, JNA units were reorganized as the Army of Serb Krajina, which was a direct heir to the JNA organization, with little improvement.[12][97]

By 1991, the JNA officer corps was dominated by Serbs and Montenegrins; they were overrepresented in Yugoslav federal institutions, especially the army. 57.1% of JNA officers were Serbs, while Serbs formed 36.3% of the population of Yugoslavia.[64] A similar structure was observed as early as 1981.[98] Even though the two people combined comprised 38.8% of the population of Yugoslavia, 70% of all JNA officers and non-commissioned officers were either Serbs or Montenegrins.[99] In 1991, the JNA was instructed by Slobodan Milošević and Borisav Jović, through the federal defense secretary Kadijević, to "completely eliminate Croats and Slovenes from the army."[100]

Croatian forces

The Croatian military was in a much worse state than that of the Serbs. In the early stages of the war, lack of military units meant that the Croatian Police force would take the brunt of the fighting. The Croatian National Guard (Croatian: Zbor narodne garde), the new Croatian military, was formed on 11 April 1991, and gradually developed into the Croatian Army (Croatian: Hrvatska vojska) by 1993. Weaponry was in short supply, and many units were either unarmed or were equipped with obsolete World War II-era rifles. The Croatian Army had only a handful of tanks, including World War II-surplus vehicles such as the T-34, and its air force was in an even worse state, consisting of only a few Antonov An-2 biplane crop-dusters that had been converted to drop makeshift bombs.[101] However, since the soldiers were by and large defending, the army was very motivated.[102]

In August 1991, the Croatian Army had fewer than 20 brigades. After general mobilization was instituted in October, the size of the army grew to 60 brigades and 37 independent battalions by the end of the year.[103][104] In 1991 and 1992, Croatia was also supported by 456 foreign fighters, most of them British (139), French (69), and German (55).[105] The seizure of the JNA's barracks between September and December helped to alleviate the Croatians' equipment shortage.[106][107] By 1995, the balance of power had shifted significantly. Serb forces in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were capable of fielding an estimated 130,000 troops; the Croatian Army, Croatian Defence Council (Croatian: Hrvatsko vijeće obrane) (HVO), and the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina could field a combined force of 250,000 soldiers and 570 tanks.[108][109]

Course of the war

1991: Open hostilities begin

First armed incidents

Ethnic hatred grew as various incidents fueled the propaganda machines on both sides. During his dissident testimony at the ICTY, one of the top-Krajina leaders, Milan Babić, stated that the Serb side started using force first.[110]

The conflict escalated into armed incidents in the majority-Serb populated areas. The Serbs attacked Croatian police units in Pakrac in early March,[1][111] while one Josip Jović is widely reported as the first police officer killed by Serb forces as part of the war, during the Plitvice Lakes incident in late March 1991.[2][112]

In March and April 1991, the Serbs within Croatia began to make moves to secede from that territory. It is a matter of debate to what extent this move was locally motivated and to what degree the Milošević-led Serbian government was involved. In any event, the SAO Krajina was declared, which consisted of any Croatian territory with a substantial Serb population. The Croatian government viewed this move as a rebellion.[76][113][114]

More than 20 people were killed by the end of April. From the beginning of the Log Revolution and the end of April 1991, nearly 200 incidents involving the use of explosive devices and 89 attacks on the Croatian police were recorded.[24]

The Croatian Ministry of the Interior started arming an increasing number of special police forces, and this led to the building of a real army. On 9 April 1991, Croatian President Tuđman ordered the special police forces to be renamed Zbor Narodne Garde ("National Guard"); this marks the creation of a separate military of Croatia.[115]

Significant clashes from this period included the siege of Kijevo, where over a thousand people were besieged in the inner Dalmatian village of Kijevo, and the Borovo Selo killings, where Croatian policemen engaged Serb paramilitaries in the eastern Slavonian village of Borovo and suffered twelve casualties.[116] Violence gripped eastern Slavonian villages: in Tovarnik, a Croat policeman was killed by Serb paramilitaries on 2 May, while in Sotin, a Serb civilian was killed on 5 May when he was caught in a crossfire between Serb and Croat paramilitaries.[116] On 6 May, the 1991 protest in Split against the siege of Kijevo at the Navy Command in Split resulted in the death of a Yugoslav People's Army soldier.

On 15 May, Stjepan Mesić, a Croat, was scheduled to be the chairman of the rotating presidency of Yugoslavia. Serbia, aided by Kosovo, Montenegro, and Vojvodina, whose presidency votes were at that time under Serbian control, blocked the appointment, which was otherwise seen as largely ceremonial. This maneuver technically left Yugoslavia without a head of state and without a commander-in-chief.[117][118] Two days later, a repeated attempt to vote on the issue failed. Ante Marković, prime minister of Yugoslavia at the time, proposed appointing a panel which would wield presidential powers.[119] It was not immediately clear who the panel members would be, apart from defense minister Veljko Kadijević, nor who would fill position of JNA commander-in-chief. The move was quickly rejected by Croatia as unconstitutional.[120] The crisis was resolved after a six-week stalemate, and Mesić was elected president—the first non-communist to become Yugoslav head of state in decades.[121]

Throughout this period, the federal army, the JNA, and the local Territorial Defense Forces continued to be led by Federal authorities controlled by Milošević. Helsinki Watch reported that Serb Krajina authorities executed Serbs who were willing to reach an accommodation with Croat officials.[24]

Declaration of independence

93.24%
6.76%
For
Against

On 19 May 1991, the Croatian authorities held a referendum on independence with the option of remaining in Yugoslavia as a looser union.[122] Serb local authorities issued calls for a boycott, which were largely followed by Croatian Serbs. The referendum passed with 94% in favor.[123]

The newly constituted Croatian military units held a military parade and review at Stadion Kranjčevićeva in Zagreb on 28 May 1991.[124]

Croatia declared independence and dissolved its association with Yugoslavia on 25 June 1991.[14][125] The European Community and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe urged Croatian authorities to place a three-month moratorium on the decision.[126] Croatia agreed to freeze its independence declaration for three months, which eased tensions a little.[15]

In June and July 1991, the short armed conflict in Slovenia came to a speedy end, partly because of the ethnic homogeneity of the population of Slovenia.[125] It was later revealed that a military strike against Slovenia, followed by a planned withdrawal, was conceived by Slobodan Milošević and Borisav Jović, then president of the SFR Yugoslavia presidency. Jović published his diary containing the information and repeated it in his testimony at the Milošević trial at the ICTY.[100]

Escalation of the conflict

Further information: Battle of Vukovar, Siege of Dubrovnik, Battle of Osijek, Battle of the barracks, Battle of Gospić, Operation Orkan 91 and Battle of the Dalmatian channels
In the first stages of war, Croatian cities were extensively shelled by the JNA. Bombardment damage in Dubrovnik: Stradun in the walled city (left) and map of the walled city with the damage marked (right)

"We will soon gain control of Petrinja, Karlovac and Zadar because it has been shown that it is in our interest and the interest of the army to have a large port."

Milan Martić, August 19, 1991, on the expansion of Republic of Serbian Krajina at Croatia's expense[81]

In July, in an attempt to salvage what remained of Yugoslavia, the JNA forces were involved in operations against predominantly Croat areas. In July the Serb-led Territorial Defence Forces started their advance on Dalmatian coastal areas in Operation Coast-91.[127] By early August, large areas of Banovina were overrun by Serb forces.[128]

With the start of military operations in Croatia, Croats and a number of Serbian conscripts started to desert the JNA en masse, similar to what had happened in Slovenia.[127][129] Albanians and Macedonians started to search for a way to legally leave the JNA or serve their conscription term in Macedonia; these moves further homogenized the ethnic composition of JNA troops in or near Croatia.[130]

One month after Croatia declared its independence, the Yugoslav army and other Serb forces held something less than one-third of the Croatian territory,[128] mostly in areas with a predominantly ethnic Serb population.[131][132] The JNA military strategy partly consisted of extensive shelling, at times irrespective of the presence of civilians.[133] As the war progressed, the cities of Dubrovnik, Gospić, Šibenik, Zadar, Karlovac, Sisak, Slavonski Brod, Osijek, Vinkovci, and Vukovar all came under attack by Yugoslav forces.[134][135][136][137] The United Nations (UN) imposed a weapons embargo; this did not affect JNA-backed Serb forces significantly, as they had the JNA arsenal at their disposal, but it caused serious trouble for the newly formed Croatian army. The Croatian government started smuggling weapons over its borders.[138][139]

In August 1991, the Battle of Vukovar began.[140][141] Eastern Slavonia was gravely impacted throughout this period, starting with the Dalj massacre of August 1991;[142] fronts developed around Osijek and Vinkovci in parallel to the encirclement of Vukovar.[143][144][145][146]

In September, Serbian troops completely surrounded the city of Vukovar. Croatian troops, including the 204th Vukovar Brigade, entrenched themselves within the city and held their ground against elite armored and mechanized brigades of the JNA, as well as Serb paramilitary units.[147][148] Vukovar was almost completely devastated; 15,000 houses were destroyed.[149] Some ethnic Croatian civilians had taken shelter inside the city. Other members of the civilian population fled the area en masse. Death toll estimates for Vukovar as a result of the siege range from 1,798 to 5,000.[95] A further 22,000 were exiled from Vukovar immediately after the town was captured.[149][150]

Some estimates include 220,000 Croats and 300,000 Serbs internally displaced for the duration of the war in Croatia. In many areas, large numbers of civilians were forced out by the military. It was at this time that the term ethnic cleansing—the meaning of which ranged from eviction to murder—first entered the English lexicon.[151]

On 3 October, the Yugoslav Navy renewed its blockade of the main ports of Croatia. This move followed months of standoff for JNA positions in Dalmatia and elsewhere now known as the Battle of the barracks. It also coincided with the end of Operation Coast-91, in which the JNA failed to occupy the coastline in an attempt to cut off Dalmatia's access to the rest of Croatia.[152]

On 5 October, President Tuđman made a speech in which he called upon the whole population to mobilize and defend against "Greater Serbian imperialism" pursued by the Serb-led JNA, Serbian paramilitary formations, and rebel Serb forces.[104] On October 7 the Yugoslav air force attacked the main government building in Zagreb, an incident referred to as the bombing of Banski dvori.[153][154] The next day, as a previously agreed three-month moratorium on implementation of the declaration of independence expired, the Croatian Parliament severed all remaining ties with Yugoslavia. October 8 is now celebrated as Croatia's Independence Day.[16] The bombing of the government offices and the Siege of Dubrovnik that started in October[155] were contributing factors that led to European Union (EU) sanctions against Serbia.[156][157] The international media focused on—and exaggerated—the damage to Dubrovnik's cultural heritage; concerns about civilian casualties and pivotal battles such as the one in Vukovar were pushed out of public view. Nonetheless, artillery attacks on Dubrovnik damaged 56% of its buildings to some degree, as the historic walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sustained 650 hits by artillery rounds.[158]

Peak of the war

"Croats became refugees in their own country."

Mirko Kovač on the 10th anniversary of the end of the Croatian War[159]

In response to the 5th JNA Corps advance across the Sava River towards Pakrac and further north into western Slavonia,[160] the Croatian army began a successful counterattack in early November 1991, its first major offensive operation of the war. Operation Otkos 10 (October 31 to November 4) resulted in Croatia recapturing an area between the Bilogora and Papuk mountains.[161][162] The Croatian army recaptured approximately 270 square kilometers (100 sq mi) of territory in this operation.[162]

The Vukovar massacre took place in November;[163][164] the survivors were transported to prison camps such as Ovčara and Velepromet, with the majority ending up in Sremska Mitrovica prison camp.[165] The sustained siege of Vukovar attracted heavy international media attention. Many international journalists were in or near Vukovar, as was UN peace mediator Cyrus Vance, who had been Secretary of State to former US President Carter.[166]

Also in eastern Slavonia, the Lovas massacre occurred in October[94][167] and the Erdut massacre in November 1991, before and after the fall of Vukovar.[168] At the same time, the Škabrnja massacre occurred in the northern Dalmatian hinterland; it was largely overshadowed by the events at Vukovar.[169]

On 14 November, the Navy blockade of Dalmatian ports was challenged by civilian ships. The confrontation culminated in the Battle of the Dalmatian channels, when Croatian coastal and island based artillery damaged, sank, or captured a number of Yugoslav navy vessels, including Mukos PČ 176, later rechristened PB 62 Šolta.[170] After the battle, the Yugoslav naval operations were effectively limited to the southern Adriatic.[171]


Croatian forces made further advances in the second half of December, including Operation Orkan 91. In the course of Orkan '91, the Croatian army recaptured approximately 1,440 square kilometers (560 sq mi) of territory.[162] The end of the operation marked the end of a six-month-long phase of intense fighting; 10,000 people had died, hundreds of thousands had fled, and tens of thousands of homes had been destroyed.[172]

On 19 December, as the intensity of the fighting increased, Croatia won its first diplomatic recognition by a western nation—Iceland—while the Serbian Autonomous Oblasts in Krajina and western Slavonia officially declared themselves the Republic of Serbian Krajina.[27] Four days later, Germany recognized Croatian independence.[35] On 26 December 1991, the Serb-dominated federal presidency announced plans for a smaller Yugoslavia that could include the territory captured from Croatia during the war.[28]

However on 21 December 1991 for the first time in the war Istria was under attack.[173] The Serbian Forces attacked the airport near the city of Vrsar, situated in the south-western of the peninsula between the city of Poreč and Rovinj, with two MiG-21 and two Galeb G-2.[174] Afterwards, Yugoslav airplanes carpet bombed Vrsar's "Crljenka" airport, resulting in two deaths.[175]

Mediated by foreign diplomats, ceasefires were frequently signed and frequently broken. Croatia lost much territory, but expanded the Croatian Army from the seven brigades it had at the time of the first ceasefire to 60 brigades and 37 independent battalions by 31 December 1991.[103]

The Arbitration Commission of the Peace Conference on Yugoslavia, also referred to as Badinter Arbitration Committee, was set up by the Council of Ministers of the European Economic Community (EEC) on 27 August 1991, to provide the Conference on Yugoslavia with legal advice. The five-member Commission consisted of presidents of Constitutional Courts in the EEC. Starting in late November 1991, the committee rendered ten opinions. The Commission stated, among other things, that SFR Yugoslavia was in the process of dissolution and that the internal boundaries of Yugoslav republics may not be altered unless freely agreed upon.[13] Factors in Croatia's preservation of its pre-war borders were the Yugoslav Federal Constitution Amendments of 1971, and the Yugoslav Federal Constitution of 1974. The 1971 amendments introduced a concept that sovereign rights were exercised by the federal units, and that the federation had only the authority specifically transferred to it by the constitution. The 1974 Constitution confirmed and strengthened the principles introduced in 1971.[176][177] The borders had been defined by demarcation commissions in 1947, pursuant to decisions of AVNOJ in 1943 and 1945 regarding the federal organization of Yugoslavia.[178]

1992: Ceasefire

"Greater Serbian circles have no interest in protecting the Serbian people living in either Croatia or Bosnia or anywhere else. If that were the case, then we could look and see what it is in the Croatian constitution, see what is in the declaration on minorities, on the Serbs in Croatia and on minorities, because the Serbs are treated separately there. Let us see if the Serbs have less rights than the Croats in Croatia. That would be protecting the Serbs in Croatia. But that is not what is sought. Gentlemen, what they want is territory".

Stjepan Mesić on Belgrade's intentions in the war.[179]

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Zagreb
Peruća Dam
Croatian controlled
Serb controlled
Bosniak controlled
Occupied areas in Croatia (January 1992)