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The Croatian War of Independence was a war fought in Croatiamarker from 1991 to 1995. It was fought between the Croatian government, having declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslaviamarker, and both the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Serb forces, who established the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) within Croatia.

Initially, the war was waged between Croatian police forces and Serbs living in the Yugoslav Republic of Croatia. As the JNA came under increasing Serbian influence in Belgrademarker, its units began assisting the Serbs fighting in Croatia. The Croatian side aimed to establish a sovereign country outside Yugoslavia, and the Serbs, supported from Serbia, opposed the secession and wanted to remain a part of Yugoslavia, effectively seeking new boundaries in Croatia with a Serb majority or significant minority or by conquering as much of Croatia as possible. NIN, Dec 23, 1991
(referred in) Ivan Strižić: Bitka za Slunj - obrana i oslobađanje grada Slunja i općina Rakovice, Cetingrada, Saborsko i Plitvička Jezera od velikosrbske agresije, Naklada Hrvoje, Zagreb, 2007, p. 124, ISBN 978-953-95750-0-5 The goal was primarily to remain in the same state with the rest of the Serbian nation, which was interpreted as an attempt to form a "Greater Serbia" by Croats (and Bosniaks). At the beginning of the war, the JNA tried to forcefully keep Croatia in Yugoslavia by occupying the whole of Croatia.

In Croatia, the war is referred to as the Homeland War (Croatian: Domovinski rat). In the Serbian language, the phrase War in Croatia (Serbian: Rat u Hrvatskoj) is the most common name.


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 symbolised by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In Yugoslavia, the national communist party, officially called Alliance or the League of Communists had lost its ideological potency.

In the 1980s, Albanian secessionist movements in the Autonomous Province of Kosovo, Republic of Serbia, led to the repression of the Albanian majority in Serbia's southern province. The more prosperous republics of Sloveniamarker and Croatiamarker wanted to move towards decentralisation and democracy. Serbia, headed by Slobodan Milošević, adhered to centralism and one party rule through the Yugoslav Communist Party. Milošević effectively ended the autonomy of the Kosovo and Vojvodina autonomous regions.

As Slovenia and Croatia began to seek greater autonomy within the Federation, including confederate status and even full independence, the nationalist ideas started to grow within the ranks of the still-ruling League of Communists. It was apparent that Yugoslavia would soon be replaced by numerous successor states. As Slobodan Milošević rose to power in Serbia, his speeches favoured the continuation of a single Yugoslav state, but one in which all power would be centralized and devolved to Belgrade.

1989: Crisis begins

In March 1989, the crisis in Yugoslavia deepened after the adoption of amendments to the Serbian constitution. This allowed the Serbian republic's government to re-assert effective power over the autonomous provinces of Kosovomarker and Vojvodina. Before this point, a number of political decisions were legislated from within these provinces. They also had a vote on the Yugoslav federal presidency level (six members from the republics and two members from the autonomous provinces). Serbia, under president Slobodan Milošević, gained control over three out of eight votes in the Yugoslavmarker presidency and this was used in 1991 when the Serbian parliament changed Riza Sapunxhiu and Nenad Bućin, representatives of Kosovo and Vojvodina, with Jugoslav Kostić and Sejdo Bajramović.

The last vote was given by Montenegromarker whose government survived a first putsch in October 1988 but not second in January 1989. Serbia was thus with 4 out of 8 presidency votes able to heavily influence the decisions of the federal government. This situation led to objections in other republics (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedoniamarker and calls for reform of the Yugoslav Federation.

1990: Electoral and constitutional moves

The weakening of the communist regime allowed nationalism to spread its political presence, even within the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (CY). In January 1990, the League of Communists broke up on the lines of the individual republics. At the 14th Extraordinary Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, on January 20, 1990, the delegations of the republics could not agree on the main issues in the Yugoslav federation. The Croatian delegation demanded a looser federation, while the Serbian delegation, headed by Milošević, opposed this. As a result, the Slovenian and Croatian delegates left the Congress. This is considered by some to be the beginning of the end of Yugoslavia.

The first free elections were then scheduled a few months later in Croatia and Slovenia. The elections in Croatia were held in April/May, the first round on 22 April, and the second round on 6 May.

In 1989 a number of political parties had been founded, among them the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ - Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica), led by Croatian nationalist Franjo Tuđman. The HDZ based its campaign on an aspiration for greater sovereignty of Croatia and on a general anti-Yugounitarist ideology, fueling the sentiment of Croats that "only the HDZ could protect Croatia from the aspirations of Serbian elements led by Slobodan 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 formed a new Croatian Government.

An important factor in Croatia's preservation of its pre-war borders was the Yugoslav Constitution change in 1974 which allowed all republics inside Yugoslavia to become independent through elections. These borders were agreed on all sides during AVNOJ in 1945. Many future HDZ politicians, including Tuđman, made international visits during the late 1980s and early 1990s in order to garner support from the Croatian diaspora for the Croatian national cause. In Serbia, the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) president Vojislav Seselj visited the US and was awarded the honorary title of ‘Vojvoda’ (duke) by Momčilo Đujić, a WWII Chetnik leader. This caused an outrage across Yugoslavia. Years later, Milan Babić (Croatian Serb leader) testified that Momčilo Đujić financially supported the Serbs in Croatia in the 1990s.

On 13 May 1990, a football game was held in Zagreb between Zagreb's Dinamo team and Belgrademarker's Crvena Zvezda team. The game erupted into violence, between groups of supporters and the police.

On 30 May 1990, the new Croatian Parliamentmarker held its first session, and President Tuđman announced his manifesto for a new Constitution (ratified at year-end - see below) 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, on the grounds that the local Serb population would be threatened. Their prime concern was that a new constitution would not any more designate Croatia a "national state of the Croatian people, a state of the Serbian people and any other people living in it" but a "national state of the Croatian people and any people living in it". This indeed happened once the Constitution was passed by the year's end, which made the Serbs, who comprised 12% of the total population, a national minority. They felt that as a people explicitly mentioned in the constitution they had a separate right to veto the decisions of the common parliament and of the common referendum and thus deny Croatia separation from Yugoslavia, or in the case of an independence move, to separate themselves from the new Croatian state and unilaterally set the new borders.

In August 1990, an unrecognized referendum was held in regions with a substantial Serb population (which would later become known as the Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK)) (bordering western Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker) on the question of Serb "sovereignty and autonomy" in Croatia. This was to counter the changes in the constitution. The Croatian government tried to block the referendum by sending 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 Kninmarker, blocked the roads to the tourist destinations in Dalmatia. This incident is known as the "Log revolution". Years later, during Milan Martić's trial, Milan 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, orchestrated by Belgrademarker. The Croatian government responded to the blockade of roads by sending special police teams in helicopters to the scene, but they were intercepted by Yugoslav Army fighter jets and forced to turn back to Zagreb.

The Serbs within Croatia did not initially seek independence before 1990. On 30 September 1990, the Serbian National Council declared "the autonomy of the Serbian people in ethnic and historic territories on which they live and which are within the current boundaries of the Republic of Croatia as a federal unit of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia".

Following Tuđman's election and the perception of a threat from the new constitution, Serb nationalists in the Kninska Krajina region began taking armed action against Croatian government officials. Many were forcibly expelled or excluded from the RSK. 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. It was led by Milan Babić, who later would be convicted for war crimes and would openly show remorse for his role (and testify against other Serb leaders).

On 22 December 1990, the Parliament of Croatiamarker ratified the new constitution, changing the status of Serbs in Croatia to a 'national minority' from a 'constituent nation'. The percentage of those declaring themselves as Serbs, according to the 1991 census, was 12% (78% of the population declared itself to be Croat). This was read as taking away some of the rights from the Serbs granted by the previous Socialist constitution, thereby fueling extremism among the Serbs of Croatia.

Consequently, many Serbs began to lose their government jobs in Croatia, particularly after the ratification of the new constitution. This further escalated tensions. Furthermore, Sloveniamarker was also well into its own process towards independence. On 23 December 1990 — one day after the new Croatian Constitution was passed — Slovenia held a referendum on independence. This passed with 94% of the vote.

Immediately after the Slovenian referendum and the new Croat constitution, the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) announced that a new defense doctrine would apply across the country. The Tito-era doctrine of "General People's Defense", in which each republic maintained a Territorial defense force (Teritorijalna obrana or 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.

1991: Military forces

The Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) was initially formed during World War II to carry out guerrilla warfare against Axis occupation. The success of the Partisan movement led to the JNA basing much of its operational strategy on guerrilla warfare. Due to the unique political stance of Yugoslavia in Europe, the strategic planners of the Army expected to face an attack by either NATOmarker or Warsaw Pact forces. Expecting to be badly outmatched, the JNA decided to pursue a guerrilla strategy, which would prove disastrous in the upcoming war, since the JNA found itself in a position of an attacker without local civilian support - the very role they intended for invaders of Yugoslavia.

Still, on paper, the JNA looked like a powerful force with 2,000 tanks and 300 jet aircraft (all either Soviet or locally produced). However, by 1991, majority of this equipment was over 30 years old: the main T-54/55 tank and the MiG-21 aircraft made up 60% and 40% of the tank force and air-force respectively. By contrast, more modern cheap anti-tank (like AT-5) and anti-aircraft (like SA-14) missiles were abundant, which were designed to destroy much more advanced weaponry. Furthermore, the JNA was a multinational force: the political infighting meant that desertion of men (especially educated cadre from Yugoslavia's more developed northern areas) would ruin the Army's effectiveness. 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 JNA organization with little improvement. During 1991, an important role in the Yugo/Serb military assault forces was filled by paramilitary units like Beli Orlovi, Srpski Četnički Pokret, etc. that committed numerous massacres against Croat and other non-Serbs civilians.

By contrast to this force, the Croatian Army was in much worse state. At the early stages of the war, lack of military units meant that the Croatian police force would take much of the brunt of fighting - eventually the police would form the core of the new military force - initially named "Zbor Narodne Garde" (ZNG), later "Hrvatska Vojska" (HV) - that was formed in 1990, but not really developed until 1993. Weaponry was always lacking and many units were formed either unarmed or with WW2-era rifles. The Croatian Army had just a handful of tanks (even older WW2 veterans like the T-34) and its air-force was even worse: a few old Antonov An-2 biplane crop-dusters were converted to drop makeshift bombs. However, since the soldiers were defending their homeland the army was exceptionally motivated, and was formed into local fighting units - so people from a village would defend their own village - which meant they were fairly effective in their home grounds. In August 1991, the Croat Army had fewer than 20 brigades, which would grow to 60 by the end of the year through general mobilization which was initiated in October. Seizing of JNA's barracks in the Battle of the barracks would slightly alleviate the problem of equipment shortage. Local volunteers and organizations like HOS were formed early on to ease the problem of lack of units, but were later integrated into the regular army.

By 1995, the Croatian Army would develop into an effective fighting force centered on the elite "Guard Brigades" (eight) and less effective "Home Defence Regiments" and regular brigades (most of which were reorganized into Regiments in 1992). This organization meant that in later campaigns, the Croatian army would pursue a variant of blitzkrieg tactics, with Guard brigades taking the role of punching holes in the enemy lines, while other units simply held the front at other points and completed the encirclement of enemy units.

1991: Preparations, followed by war

Ethnic hatred grew and various incidents fueled the propaganda machines on both sides, thereby causing even more hatred. The conflict soon escalated into armed incidents in the majority-Serb populated areas. Serbs began a series of attacks on Croatian police units, killing more than 20 by the end of April. The Plitvice Lakes incidentmarker in late March 1991 stands out, with Josip Jović from Aržanomarker being the first police officer killed by Serb forces.

In April 1991, the Serbs within the Republic of Croatia began to make serious moves to secede from that territory, that in turn seceded from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslaviamarker. It is a matter of debate to what extent this move was locally motivated and to what degree the Milošević-led Serb government gave the push to self-declare. In any event, the Republic of Serbian Krajina was declared consisting of Croatian territory with a substantial Serb population — which the Croatian government saw as a rebellion. This is often seen as the beginning of the Croatian War of Independence.

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

Meanwhile, the federal army, the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and the local Territorial Defense Forces(Mainly Montenegrin) remained led by the nominally Federal government under Milošević. On occasion, the JNA sided with the local Croat Serb forces.

In May, Stipe Mesić, a Croat, was scheduled to be the chairman of the rotating presidency in Yugoslavia, but Serbia upped the ante by blocking the installation of him, so this maneuver technically left Yugoslavia without a leader.

On 19 May 1991, the Croatian authorities held a referendum on independence with the option of remaining in Yugoslavia as a looser union. Serb local authorities issued calls for a boycott, which were largely followed by Croatian Serbs, so the referendum was passed with 94.17% in favor. Croatia declared independence and "razdruženje" (departnerising) from Yugoslavia on 25 June 1991, but the European Commissionmarker urged them to place a three-month moratorium on the decision. Croatia thereby agreed to freeze its independence declaration for three months, helping to calm tensions a little.

One month after the declaration of independence, Greater Serb forces held about a quarter of the country, mostly parts with a predominantly ethnic Serb population. They had obvious superiority in weaponry and equipment. The military strategy of the Greater Serbian forces partly consisted of extensive shell, at times irrespective of civilians. As the war progressed, the cities of Dubrovnikmarker, Gospić, Šibenikmarker, Zadarmarker, Karlovacmarker, Sisakmarker, Slavonski Brodmarker, Osijekmarker, Vinkovcimarker and Vukovarmarker all came under attack by the Yugoslav forces. The UN imposed a weapons embargo, which didn't affect JNA-backed Serb forces, but caused serious trouble for the newly-formed Croatian army. This led the Croatian government to start smuggling weapons over its borders.

In June/July 1991, the short armed conflict in Slovenia came to a speedy and fairly peaceful conclusion, partly because of the ethnic homogeneity of the Slovene population. During the war in Slovenia, a great number of Croatian and Slovenian soldiers refused to fight and deserted from the JNA. In July, in an attempt to salvage what remained of Yugoslavia, the JNA forces found themselves involved in operations against predominantly Croat areas - such as the Dalmatian coastal areas in the Battle of Dalmatia. Full-scale war erupted in August. As in Slovenia, where Croatian soldiers had refused to take part in the fight, with the start of military operations in Croatia, Croats started to desert the JNA in mass (especially since some kind of ceasefire was agreed at the end of War in Slovenia, and the alert level was lowered). Albanians and Macedonian started to search for a way to legally leave the JNA. Bosnian Muslims still romantically believed in Yugoslavia. After this, an estimated 90% of JNA soldiers were Serbs and the Yugoslav army was seen to be a de facto Serbian army.

In August 1991, the border city of Vukovarmarker came under siege and the Battle of Vukovar began. Serbian troops eventually completely surrounded the city. The Croat population of Vukovar, Croatian troops including the 204th Vukovar Brigade, entrenched themselves within Vukovar and held their ground against JNA elite Armoured and Mechanized brigades, as well as Serb paramilitary units. A certain number of ethnic Croatian civilians had taken shelter inside the city. Other elements of the civilian population fled the areas of armed conflict en masse: generally speaking, Croats moved away from the Bosnian and Serbian border, while the Serbs moved towards it.

There is evidence of extreme hardship imposed on the population at the time. Some estimates include 220,000 Croats and 300,000 Serbs internally displaced for the duration of the war in Croatia. However, at the peak of fighting in late 1991, around 550,000 people temporarily became refugees on the Croatian side. The 1991 census data and the 1993 RSK data for the territory of Krajina differ by some 102,000 Serbs and 135,000 Croats. In many places, large numbers of civilians were forced out by the military. This was labelled ethnic cleansing, a term whose meaning at the time ranged from eviction to murder. It was at this time that the term "ethnic cleansing" first entered the English lexicon.

President Tuđman made a speech on 5 October 1991 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. On 7 October, an explosion occurred within the main government building in Zagrebmarker while Tuđman, Mesić and Marković were present. The explosion destroyed several rooms of Banski dvorimarker, but failed to kill any of the leaders. The government claimed that it was caused by a JNA air raid. Apparently, the Croatian army received information from Bihaćmarker (Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker) JNA airfield the day before, about a top secret air mission being prepared for the next day, but these were not taken seriously due to lack of details. The JNA denied the responsibility and in turn claimed that the explosion was set up by the Croatian government itself. It is claimed by some that the few embassies and consulates in Zagreb at the time had withdrawn some of their staff for that day — suggesting that there was prior information about a pending air attack or bomb. The next day, the Croatian Parliament cut off all remaining ties with Yugoslavia. 8 October is now Croatiamarker's "Independence Day". The bombing of the government and the Siege of Dubrovnik that started in October were contributing factors to EU sanctions against Serbia.

The situation for Croats in Vukovar over October and early November became ever more desperate. Towards the end of the battle, an increasing number of Croat civilians in hospitals and shelters marked with a red cross were hit by Serb forces. As of 2006, three former Yugoslav army officers are on trial for a massacre at the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia ICTYmarker in The Hague. Veselin Šljivančanin, Mile Mrkšić, and Miroslav Radić deny the charges of murder, torture, and persecution. Prosecutors say that after the capture of Vukovar, the Yugoslav Army (JNA) handed over several hundred Croats to rebel [sic] Serbian forces. Of these, at least 264 (including injured soldiers, women, children and the elderly) were murdered and buried in mass graves in the neighbourhood of Ovcara on the outskirts of Vukovar. The city's mayor Slavko Dokmanović was also brought to trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, but committed suicide in 1998 in captivity before proceedings began.

On 18 November 1991, Vukovarmarker fell to the Serbs after a three-month siege and the Vukovar massacremarker took place, while the survivors were transported to prison camps, the majority ending up in Sremska Mitrovica prison camp. The town of Vukovar was almost completely destroyed. The sustained focus on a siege facilitated the attraction of heavy international media attention. Many international journalists were present at the time in or near Vukovar, as was the UN peace mediator, Cyrus Vance (former US President Carter's Secretary of State). Ironically the siege, despite its brutality, contributed to the beginning of a resolution to the war towards year-end (see below). Allegedly, said the Croat authorities at the time, the Vukovar surrender was an attempt to prevent further devastation of Dubrovnik and other cities.

On 19 December, during the heaviest fighting of the war, the Serbian Autonomous Regions in Krajina and western Slavoniamarker officially declared themselves the Republic of Serbian Krajina. In early November 1991 the Croatian army began a successful counter-attack in Western Slavonia, marking a turning point of the war. Operation Otkos 10, lasting from 31 October until 4 November, resulted in Croatia recapturing 300 km² in area from Bilogora Mountain to Mount Papukmarker. Further advances were made in the second half of December - Operation Orkan 91 - but at that point a lasting cease-fire was about to be signed (in January 1992). In six months, 10,000 people had died, hundreds of thousands had fled, and tens of thousands of homes had been destroyed.

In late 1991, all the Croatian democratic parties gathered together to form a government of national unity and to confront the Yugoslav Army and Serbian paramilitaries. Ceasefires were frequently signed, mediated by foreign diplomats, but also frequently broken. This was part of the tactics on both sides. The Croatians lost much territory, but profited by being able to expand the Croatian Army - from the seven brigades it had at the time of the first cease-fire to the 64 brigades it had at the time the last one was signed.

1992: Ceasefire holds

The final UN-sponsored ceasefire, the twentieth one, was reached in January 1992.From December 1991, after a series of unsuccessful cease-fires, the United Nations deployed a protection force in Serbian-held Croatia. The United Nations Protection Force was deployed to supervise and maintain the agreement. On 7 January 1992, JNA pilot Emir Šišić shot down a European Community helicopter in Croatia, killing five truce observers. Croatia was officially recognised by European community on 15 January 1992. The JNA began to withdraw from Croatia—even Krajina—although Serb paramilitary groups clearly retained the upper hand in the newly occupied territories. The warring parties mostly moved to entrenched positions as The Yugoslav People's Army soon retreated from Croatia into Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker where a new conflict was on the rise. Croatia became a member of the United Nations on 22 May 1992, which was conditional upon Croatia amending its constitution to protect the human rights of minority groups and dissidents.
 United Nations, Criminal Tribunal, April 2007, PDF file:

Armed conflict in Croatia continued intermittently at a smaller scale. There were several smaller operations undertaken by Croatian forces, in order to relieve the siege of Dubrovnik, and other Croatian cities (Šibenik, Zadar and Gospić) from sporadic Serb shelling that wasn't prevented even by the presence of the UN troops (for example, Osijek, the fourth biggest city in Croatia, lived under a constant official bombing alert until mid-1993, while Šibenik, one of the larger coastal tourist centres, was exposed to weekly shelling, especially during late spring and summer). A partial list includes:

  • at the Miljevci plateau (between Krka and Drnišmarker), 21-22 June 1992
  • in the Dubrovnik hinterland:
    • Operation Tigar, 1-13 July 1992
    • at Konavle, 20-24 September 1992
    • at Vlaštica, 22-25 September 1992
    • what followed was the withdrawal of JNA from Konavlemarker and Prevlakamarker, 30 September - 20 October 1992
  • at the Križ hill near Bibinje and Zadar.

Also, Slavonski Brodmarker and Županjamarker were often shelled from Serb-held parts of Bosnia.

1993: Further Croatian military advances

Intermittent armed conflict in Croatia continued in 1993 at a smaller scale than in 1991 and 1992. There were more successful operations by Croatian forces, to recover territory and relieve Croatian cities (e.g. Zadar and Gospić) from Serb shelling attacks, but between the 1992 ceasefire and 1995 Croatian offensives, fighting was limited and total effective military action in those three and a half years was only about two weeks.

In early 1993, there were three notable operations:

While most of these above operations were a relative success for the Croatian government, the successful Operation Medak pocket in 1993 caused sharp reactions of countries and organizations that had anti-Croatian and pro-Serb attitude during the war. This led the Croatian army to undertaking no offensive action during the subsequent 12 months. The ICTY later indicted Croatian officers Janko Bobetko, Rahim Ademi, Mirko Norac and others for the alleged crimes committed during this operation. Norac was later found guilty by the Croatian court.

There were many UN resolutions that required Croatia to retreat to previous positions and that Croatia must restrain from military operations. Some Croat elements felt aggrieved, as no such resolutions had prevented the Serbian forces from attacking Croatia in the earlier stages of the war (when the disturbances were considered national, not international). In October 1993, the United Nations Security Council affirmed for the first time that the United Nations Protected Areas were an integral part of the Republic of Croatia.

During 1992 and 1993, an estimated 225,000 Croats, including refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina and others from Serbia settled in Croatia. A notable number of Bosniaks also fled to Croatia (which was the largest initial destination for Bosniak refugees). Croatian volunteers and some conscripted soldiers participated in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some of President Tuđman's closest associates, notably Gojko Šušak and Ivić Pašalić, were from Croat-dominated Herzegovina, and aimed to help the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, financially and otherwise.

During the same period, Croatia also accepted 280,000 Bosniak refugees from the Bosnian War. The large number of refugees was significantly straining Croatian economy and infrastructure. The Americanmarker Ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith, tried to put the amount of Muslim refugees in Croatia into proper perspective in an interview on 8 November 1993. He said the situation would be the equivalent of the USA taking in 30,000,000 refugees.

On 18 February 1993 Croatian authorities signed the Daruvar Agreement with local Serb leaders in Western Slavonia. The Agreement was kept secret and was working towards normalizing life for the locals on the battlefield line. However, the Knin authorities learned of the deal and arrested the Serbian leaders responsible for it. It was widely believed that the Serb leaders there were also willing to accept peaceful reintegration into Croatia.

In 1993, the Croats and Bosniaks then turned against each other, just as each was fighting with the Bosnian Serbs. Franjo Tuđman participated in the peace talks between the Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Bosniaks, which resulted in the Washington Agreement of 1994. This led to the dismantling of the statelet of Herzeg-Bosnia and reduced the number of warring parties in Bosnia to two.

1994: Erosion of support for Krajina

In March 1994, the Krajina authorities signed a cease-fire. In late 1994, the Croatian Army intervened several times in Bosnia: 1-3 November in the operation "Cincar" near Kupres, and 29 November - 24 December in the "Winter 94" operation near Dinaramarker and Livnomarker. These operations were undertaken in order to detract from the siege of the Bihaćmarker region and to approach RSK capital Knin from the north, de facto encircling it on three sides.

During this time, unsuccessful negotiations were under way between Croatian and RSK governments mediated by the UN. The disputes included opening the Serb-occupied part of the Zagreb-Slavonski Brod highway near Okučanimarker to through traffic, as well as the putative status of majority Serbian areas within Croatia. Repeated failures on these two issues would serve as triggers for the two Croatian offensives in 1995.

1995: End of the war

In early May 1995, violence again erupted. RSK lost support from the Serbian government in Belgrade, partly in response to international pressure. At the same time, the Croatian army reclaimed all of what was previously occupied territory in western Slavoniamarker during Operation Flash. As a retaliation, Serb forces attacked Zagreb with rockets, killing 7 and wounding over 175 civilians.In August 1995, Croatia started Operation Storm and quickly overran most of the RSK, except for a small strip near the Serbian border. In four days, approximately 150-200,000 Serbs left Croatia.

RSK sources (Kovačević, Sekulić, Vrcelj, documents of HQ of Civilian Protection of RSK, Supreme Council of Defense) have confirmed that evacuation of Serbs was organized and planned beforehand. (citing: see section "Literature") Foreign reporters such as from the BBC reported the once heavily Serb-populated city of Knin to be almost completely abandoned and discovered that some Croatian army forces were burning down abandoned Serb property and remaining Serbs reported looting by Croatian forces. According to Amnesty International (AI), the operation led to the ethnic cleansing of over 200,000 Croatian Serbs. The BBC noted 200,000 Serb refugees at one point.

The nature of this exodus is still disputed among Serbs and Croats: the former tend to claim the ethnic cleansing was planned by the Croatian government, while the latter pinpoint Tuđman's promise not to attack civilians and attribute the cases of killing of the Serb civilians that remained to revenge by groups and individuals outside of the Croatian Army's control. However the real number of refugees is difficult to establish because according to many sources the number of refugees exceeds the population that lived in these parts of Croatia. In support of this, they point to interviews conducted with Americanmarker General Robert Brown and the American writer Roy Gutman. These are said to have defended the Croat government by clarifying the extent of ethnic cleansing, and arguing that any war crimes or ethnic cleansing were committed outside of control by Croatian officials at the time.

A few months later, the war ended with the negotiation of the Dayton Agreement (in Dayton, Ohiomarker). This was later signed in Paris in December 1995.

Timeline of major events

Date Event
31 March 1991 Plitvice Lakes incidentmarker
2 May 1991 Borovo Selo killingsmarker
1 August 1991 Dalj killings
August 1991 Battle of Dalmatia
September 1991 Battle of Vukovar begins
14–19 September 1991 Main part of the Battle of the barracks
1 October 1991 Start of the Siege of Dubrovnik
4 October 1991 Dalj massacre
5 October 1991 Croatia commences general mobilization
7 October 1991 JNA bombs Croatian government
10 October 1991 Lovas massacre
10–13 October 1991 Široka Kula massacre
16–18 October 1991 Gospić massacre
20 October 1991 Baćin massacre
31 October 1991 – 4 November 1991 Operation Otkos 10
7 November 1991 Ethnic cleansing of Lipovaca, Vukovići and Saborsko
18 November 1991 Battle of Vukovar ends, Vukovar massacremarker
18 November 1991 Škabrnja massacre
12 December 1991 – 3 January 1992 Operation Orkan 91
13 December 1991 Voćin massacre
21 December 1991 Bruška massacre
21 June 1992 Miljevci plateau battle
22 January 1993 Operation Maslenica
9–17 September 1993 Operation Medak Pocket
January 1995 Creation of Z-4 plan
1–3 May 1995 Operation Flash
2–3 May 1995 Zagreb rocket attack
4–7 August 1995 Operation Storm
12 November 1995 Signing of Erdut agreement

Nomenclatorial note

The 1991–1995 war in Croatia is variously called:
Croatian War of Independence Memorial
  • Homeland War – a direct translation of Croatian Domovinski rat
  • Patriotic War – a stylistically different translation, reminiscent of the fact that the 1991–95 conflict was as defining for Croatia as 1812 and 1941-45 wars were for Russia and USSR
  • War of Independence & War in Croatia – generic terms
  • Civil war in Croatia – a direct translation of Serbian and Croatian Građanski rat u Hrvatskoj.

Type of war: Two conflicting views exist as to whether the war was a civil or an international war. Since neither Croatia or Yugoslavia declared war on each other, a prevailing view in Serbia was that it was a civil war between Croats and Serbs in Croatia. By contrast, the prevailing view in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia is that the war was a war of aggression from Serbia and Montenegro against Croatia, supported by local Serbs. The ICTY (in its indictments) characterized the war to have been civil war until 8 October 1991, when Croatia declared independence, and international war after that date, since another country, Yugoslavia, held its troops (JNA) there.

See also

Casualties notes

 Serbian sources:
  • 447,316 displaced:
    • 120,000 displaced in 1991–1993.
    • 250,000 displaced after Operation Storm

 International sources:
  • Amnesty International: 300,000 displaced from 1991–1995 of which 117,000 are officially registered as having returned as of 2005.
  • OSCE: 300,000 displaced of which 120,000 are officially registered as having returned as of 2006. However, it is believed the number does not reflect the de facto number of returnees because many return to Serbia, Montenegro, or Bosnia and Herzegovina after officially registering in Croatia. According to the UNHCR in 2008, 125,000 are registered as having returned to Croatia, of whom 55,000 remain permanently.

 In March 1995, 196,000 were displaced. According to the OSCE in 2006, 221,000 were displaced of which 218,000 had returned.


  3. Veljko Kadijević: Moje viđenje raspada, Belgrade, 1993., p. 134-135
  4. Yugoslav crisis and the world
  6. Leaders of a Republic In Yugoslavia Resign
  7. ICTY indictment
  8. ICTY transcript, case NO. IT-94-1-T.
  9. ICTY transcript, Milošević's trial.
  10. ICTY transcript, Milošević's trial, p4.
  11. Fond za humanitarno pravo, Suđenje Miloševiću, Transkripti, 4 December 2002, Svedok C-061.
  12. IWPR news report: Martic "Provoked" Croatian Conflict
  13. [1]
  14. Blaskovich, Jerry (1997). Anatomy Of Deceit, Realities Of War In Croatia, New York: Dunhill Publishing. ISBN 0-935016-24-4.
  15. Martin Špegelj: "Memories of a Soldier" ("Uspomene Vojnika"), Zagreb 2nd edition
  16. SENSE
  18. (Croatian) War in Croatia 1991-95, Part II.
  19. Jerry Blaskovich, Anatomy of Deceit: An American Physician's First-hand Encounter With The Realities Of The War In Croatia
  20. Barić, Nikica: Srpska pobuna u Hrvatskoj 1990.-1995., Golden marketing. Tehnička knjiga, Zagreb, 2005
  21. Drago Kovačević, "Kavez - Krajina u dogovorenom ratu", Beograd 2003., p. 93.-94
  22. Milisav Sekulić, "Knin je pao u Beogradu", Bad Vilbel 2001., p. 171.-246., p. 179 [2]
  23. Marko Vrcelj, "Rat za Srpsku Krajinu 1991-95", Beograd 2002., p. 212.-222.
  24. RSK Evacuation Practise one month before Operation Storm
  25. YouTube - Knin after "Storm", August 1995
  26. Croatia: "Operation Storm" - still no justice ten years on by AI.
  27. "Evicted Serbs remember Storm", Matt Prodger, BBC News
  28. "Croatia marks Storm anniversary", BBC News, 5 August 2005.
  29. Bilten. Veritas (December 1999). Accessed 5 September 2009.
  30. Croatia: Operation "Storm" - Still No Justice Ten Years On. Amnesty International (4 August 2005). Accessed 5 September 2009.
  31. Croatia: Selected Developments in Transitional Justice. International Center for Transitional Justice. Accessed 5 September 2009.
  32. Croatia. Human Rights Watch. Accessed 5 September 2009.
  33. Civil and Political Rights in Croatia. Human Rights Watch (October 1995). Accessed 5 September 2009.


  • Barić, Nikica: Srpska pobuna u Hrvatskoj 1990-1995., Golden marketing. Tehnička knjiga, Zagreb, 2005. (from this book are references under, until Vrcelj)
  • RSK, Vrhovni savjet odbrane, Knin, 4. avgust 1995., 16.45 časova, Broj 2-3113-1/95. Faksimil ovog dokumenta objavljen je u/The faximile of this document was published in: Rade Bulat "Srbi nepoželjni u Hrvatskoj", Naš glas (Zagreb), br. 8.-9., septembar 1995., p. 90.-96. (faksimil je objavljen na stranici 93./the faximile is on the page 93.).
Vrhovni savjet odbrane RSK (The Supreme Council of Defense of Republic of Serb Krajina) brought a decision 4 August 1995 in 16.45. This decision was signed by Milan Martić and later verified in Glavni štab SVK (Headquarters of Republic of Serb Krajina Army) in 17.20.
  • RSK, Republički štab Civilne zaštite, Broj: Pov. 01-82/95., Knin, 02.08.1995., HDA, Dokumentacija RSK, kut. 265
  • RSK, Republički štab Civilne zaštite, Broj: Pov. 01-83/95., Knin, 02.08.1995., Pripreme za evakuaciju materijalnih, kulturnih i drugih dobara (The preparations for the evacuation of material, cultural and other goods), HDA, Dokumentacija RSK, kut. 265
  • Drago Kovačević, "Kavez - Krajina u dogovorenom ratu", Beograd 2003., p. 93-94.
(Note: Drago Kovačević was during the existence of so-called RSK the minister of informing and the mayor of Knin, the capitol of self-proclaimed state)
  • Milisav Sekulić, "Knin je pao u Beogradu", Bad Vilbel 2001., p. 171-246., p. 179.
(Note: Milisav Sekulić was a high military officer of "Srpska vojska Krajine" (Republic of Serb Krajina Army). Book review with excerpts
  • Marko Vrcelj, "Rat za Srpsku Krajinu 1991-95", Beograd 2002., p. 212-222.

  • Silber, Laura and Little, Allan (1997). Yugoslavia : Death of a Nation. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-026263-6. Accompanies the BBC series of the same title.
  • Zimmermann, Warren, ed. (1999). War in the Balkans: A Foreign Affairs Reader, Council on Foreign Relations Press (June). ISBN 0-87609-260-1.


  • Harrison's Flowers (2000), directed by Elie Chouraqui. When a Newsweek photojournalist disappears in war-torn Vukovar, his wife travels to find him.
  • The Death of Yugoslavia (1995). A BBC series with extensive interviews of prominent Croat and Serb protagonists.
  • Truth (director unknown). A Serbian-produced documentary with a brief history of the war from a Serb point of view, while examining in detail atrocities committed against Serbs.
  • Hrvatska Ljubavi Moja Jakov Sedlar, movie by Jakov Sedlar showing accounts by Jews and American officials about the Oluja and the war as a whole.
  • ER. The character of Dr. Luka Kovač, played by Goran Višnjić, who first appeared on the series in 1999 and is still a main character as of 2007, lost his wife and children in the war. They were killed when a grenade shell hit their house.

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