In the time before it was held the military parade in Zagreb, comemmorating the 20-year anniversary of operation “Storm”, was a controversial project, but after that it turned into an unquestionable success. Media and people of Zagreb unanimously hailed the parade as a dignified way to commemorate one of the most important dates in their newest history – the operation of August 5 1995 that reinstated Croatia’s territorial integrity. As euinside already wrote, the organization of the parade included a fair amount of domestic politics, but hardly anyone expected its tremendous success. Its magnitude, however, was guaranteed by something else – the traditional commemoration of the anniversary of the operation in the town of Knin. The parade was held on August 4 in Zagreb at 6 pm, and the celebrations in Knin started on the next day. And if there was not a hint of separation in Zagreb, in Knin you could immediately notice separation along party lines.
The parade in the Croatian capital was brief and accompanied by an even shorter, but very stylish cultural programme. All political and state leaders stood together at the tribune. For the first time since the operation at the anniversary there were diplomats present as well. All citizens that the media interviewed were ecstatic with the parade. Seniors were in tears, younger people were exalted. It was the same with the people I spoke to. And in the group of lovers of Zagreb on Facebook people were sharing their impressions and were really happy about something that some of them witnessed for the first time in their life. This created the feeling of a real national holiday like August 5th is. According to many analysts the parade has succeeded in uniting the nation for the first time in many years.
Alas, this was not the feeling left by the celebration in Knin. Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanović laid wreaths very early in the morning, completely separate from the President, who was elected as a candidate of the opposition rightist party of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). She laid wreaths in the afternoon. The evening celebrations were marked by Ustashian and anti-Serbian chanting. As a tradition, in the Knin celebration there was a concert of the famous Croatian singer Marko Perković Thompson, considered to be a nationalist. He always arrives for his concerts leading a motorcade of bikers. At his concert in the foot of the fortress of Knin gathered almost 60 000 people. He was wearing a military camouflage t-shirt and often urged the audience into shouting “Ready for the Motherland” (Za dom spremni), considered to be an Ustash slogan. It is because of this slogan that famous Croatian football player Josip Šimunić was banned from playing ten games in a row, practically ending his football career.
Šimunić used this slogan during the qualifying game between Croatia and Iceland, the win in which granted Croatia’s participation in the World Cup in Brazil. The slogan is a symbol of the Ustash nazi movement from WWII and is considered shameful by the country’s democratic elite. The problem is it causes severe separation between the Croats, many of whom consider it to be a fully legitimate and even harmless slogan. Apart from that one in Knin you could also hear “Kill the Serb” during the speeches of famous war veterans. All of this was left with no comment by the leadership of the HDZ and Mrs Kitarović.
The columnist of the left-centrist Rijeka daily Novi List Boris Pavelić wrote [in Croatian] on this occasion that the celebrations of “Storm” have turned into a traditional summer hint for how little is needed to inflame military passions. “Today’s Balkan problem is that political Croatia and political Serbia refuse to accept the common and obvious fact that they will forever remain neighbouring states and thus it would be beneficial, insightful, and wise to live in a lasting and true peace.” For this to happen, however, Serbia needs to stop refusing to accept responsibility for the manipulation of Croatian Serbs and the Yugoslav People’s Army in 1991 and Croatia needs to take responsibility for its resistance to their return in Croatia and for the current atmosphere of triumphalism.
The famous, if controversial journalist Domagoj Margetić also came out with a commentary [in Croatian] in the regional agency SEEBIZ in which he wrote: “Finally, as the neo-Ustash always underline that 'Ready for the Motherland' is not Ustash, but rather an 'old Croatian slogan', does that mean that the mass war-cry for the murder of Serbs in Knin, twenty years after 'Storm' 'Kill the Serb' has also turned into an 'old Croatian slogan' that is an expression of patriotism, rather than fascism?! Society cannot cleanse itself from the fact that yesterday [August 5th] hundreds if not thousands both young and old chanted 'Kill the Serb!'. This is a horrible monster that is obviously secretly hiding somewhere in the shadow of the contemporary Croatian state just waiting for a new opportunity to come out of the dark. If we allow it. If we let them! If we let them chant 'Kill the Serb!'. If facing their hate crime we turn our heads, then we are nothing more than accomplices in their crimes and helping these hate crimes turn into a dominating political force in the country.”
In a commentary for the section “Barometer” the highly circulated Večernji list pointed out [in Croatian] that the Zagreb parade was much more appropriate for commemorating the “Storm” as opposed to Knin, because “At the end, everyone with good intentions must understand why such things should not be a part of the state programme for commemoration of Victory Day, when during the speech of Đure Glogoški [leader of the protesting war veterans] there was chanting of 'Kill the Serb!'. Unfortunately, as seen in the footage, children joined in the chanting that have not even seen the war”, says the commentary. Other analysts also believe that the celebrations in Knin have turned into a rightist-Ustash party and a place to start the election campaigns of the HDZ.
This is why there is full unanimity, even among the ones that were against the parade, that it was a much more suitable way to commemorate the round anniversary, for instead of separation it instilled a spirit of unity. Something the Croats desperately need at the moment.
Exactly how the “Storm” should be commemorated so that it does not cause separation on ideological grounds is a question that comes more and more to the agenda, especially after the baffling to the outside observer division that accompanied the marking of the anniversary of the fall of Vukovar in 2013. Then some of the veterans, joined by the leaders of the HDZ broke the column in two, so that the governing leaders would fall into a separate column. This provoked sharp reactions and discontent among many in Croatia. Prime Minister Zoran Milanović and the members of his government are often booed during their speeches in Vukovar or Knin. This is why last year the Prime Minister had no speech in Vukovar, and in Knin he only laid wreaths this year. Regardless of whether a government is doing well or not, there are national celebrations that should not be used for partisan battles, commented some of the most prominent columnists and analysts in Croatia.
The “Storm” is not just national
Ever since the government of Aleksandar Vučić came to power the “Storm” has been provoking sharp reactions in Serbia. This year, for the first time, August 5th was named national day of mourning in memory of the dead Serbs during the military operation. The usual media hysteria that the Serbian government creates at every occasion of regional scale would have remained exactly that if not for the excesses in Knin, which gave a good cause to the first Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dačić to excuse the torching of the Croatian flag in front of the Croatian embassy in Belgrade by Vojislav Šešelj, who was indicted for war crimes. The leader of the Serbian Radical Party was surprisingly set free earlier this year by the tribunal for war crimes in former Yugoslavia in The Hague due to a health condition, but was later requested back.
Considering the Thompson concert and generally the commemoration of the 20-year anniversary of operation “Storm” in Knin Mr Dačić said in an interview for the Serbian Kurir: “I have not noticed the authorities in Zagreb thinking about arresting the singer Thompson, who advocated openly to Ustashianism with fascist messages. Let them clean up their own yard, rather than requesting we arrest Šešelj”. Considering the torching of the Croatian flag the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Croatia sent a protest note to Belgrade, and Serbia answered likewise against the celebrations of “Storm”. The echo from this year’s commemoration of “Storm” are sure to keep coming for a long time, because the most important issues that Boris Pavelić talks about in his commentary, as well as many other analysts, remain in the background. To the front come out the political points that everyone in or out of Croatia want to score for a short term Pyrrhic victory. Nevertheless, the parade showed that celebrations can have a different face, one that could change notions about operation “Storm” for good both in Croatia and in Serbia.
Translated by Stanimir Stoev