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The Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) ( ; sometimes translated as Republic of Serb Krajina) was a self-proclaimed Serbian-dominated entity within Croatiamarker during the 1990s. Established in 1991, it was not recognized internationally. Its main portion was overrun by Croatian forces in 1995; a rump remained in eastern Slavonia under United Nations (UN) administration until its peaceful reincorporation into Croatia in 1998. "Krajina" is an old Serbian and Croatian word for "frontier".


The name Krajina was adopted from the Military Frontier that was carved out of parts of the crown lands of Croatia and Slavonia by Austria between 1553–1578 as a means of defending against the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. Many Croats, Serbs and Vlachs immigrated from nearby parts of Ottoman Empire (Ottoman Bosnia and Serbia) into the region and helped bolster and replenish the numbers of Croats as well as the garrisoned German troops in the fight against the Ottomans. The Austrians controlled the Frontier from military headquarters in Vienna and did not make it a crown land, though it had some special rights in order to encourage settlement in an otherwise deserted, war-ravaged territory. The abolition of the military rule took place between 1869 and 1871. In order to attract Serbs to be part of Croatia on the 11th of May, 1867 the Sabor solemnly declared that "the Triune Kingdom recognizes the Serbian/Vlach people living in it as a nation identical and equal with the Croatian nation." After that, the Military Frontier was reincorporated in Croatia in 1881.

Following World War I, the regions formerly part of the Military Frontier became part of Kingdom of Yugoslaviamarker where it was in the Sava Banovina with most of old Croatia-Slavonia. Between the two world wars the Serbs of the Croatian and Slavonian Krajinas, as well as the Bosnian Krajina and other regions west of Serbiamarker, organized a notable political party, the Independent Democratic Party under Svetozar Pribićević. In the new state there existed much tension between the Croats and Serbs over differing political visions, with the campaign for Croatian autonomy culminating in the assassination of their leader Stjepan Radić in the parliament and repression by the Serb dominated security structures.

Between 1939–1941, in an attempt to resolve the Croat-Serb political and social antagonism in the first Yugoslaviamarker, an autonomous Banovina of Croatia was created incorporating (amongst other territories) much of the former Military Frontier as well as parts of Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker. In 1941, the axis powers invaded Yugoslavia and in the aftermath the Independent State of Croatiamarker (which included whole of today's Bosnia and Herzegovina and parts of Serbia (Eastern Syrmia) as well) was declared. The Ustaše (who were allegedly behind the assassination of the Serbian king of Yugoslaviamarker) were installed by the Germans as rulers of the new country and promptly pursued a genocidal policy of persecution of Serbs, Jews and Croats (from opposition groups) leading to hundreds of thousands being killed. During this period, Croats coalesced around the ruling authorities or the communist anti-fascist Partisans. Serbs from around the Kninmarker area tended to join the chetniks, whilst Serbs from the Banijamarker and Slavoniamarker regions tended to join the Partisans.

At the end of the war, the communist dominated Partisans prevailed and the region was part of the People's Republic of Croatia until 7 April 1963, when the federal republic changed its name to the Socialist Republic of Croatia. The autonomous political organisations of the region were also suppressed by Tito (along with others such as the Croatian Spring); however, the Yugoslav constitutions of 1965 and 1974 did give substantial rights to national minorities including the Serbs in SR Croatia.

The Serbian "Krajina" entity to emerge upon Croatia's declaration of independence in 1991 would include three kinds of territories:
  • a large section of the historical Military Frontier, in areas with a minority of Serbian population;
  • areas such as parts of northern Dalmatia, that were never part of the Frontier but had a majority or a plurality of Serbian population, including the self-proclaimed entity's capital, Kninmarker;
  • areas that bordered with Serbia and where Serbs are significant minority (Baranja, Vukovarmarker).

Large sections of the historical Military Frontier were outside of the Republic of Serb Krajina and contained a largely Croat population including much of Likamarker, the area centred around the city of Bjelovarmarker, central and south-eastern Slavoniamarker.


Serb-populated areas in Croatia (according to the 1981 census)
The Serb-populated regions in Croatia were of central concern to the Serbian popular movement of the late 1980s, led respectively by Slobodan Milošević. The incidents started in 1988 and turned into full-scale Serbian political rallies in 1989. The Croatian pro-independence victory in 1990 made matters more tense, especially since the country's Serbian minority was supported both politically and militarily by the Yugoslav People's Army, especially Serbian President Milošević. At the time, Serbs comprised about 12.2% of Croatia's population: 581,663 people declared themselves Serbs in the census of 1991.

Serbs became increasingly opposed to the policies of Franjo Tuđman, elected president of Croatia in April 1990, due to his overt desire for the creation of an independent Croatia. On May 30, 1990 the Serb Democratic Party of Jovan Rašković broke all ties to the Croatian parliament. The following June in Knin, the Serbs-led by the Serb Democratic Party-proclaimed the creation of the Association of Municipalities of Northern Dalmatia and Lika. In August 1990, the Serbs began what became known as the Log Revolution, where barricades of logs were placed across roads throughout the South as an expression of their secession from Croatia. This effectively cut Croatia in two, separating the coastal region of Dalmatia from the rest of the country. The Croatian constitution was passed in December, 1990 putting Serbs in a minority category along with other ethnic groups such as Italians, Hungarians, and others. Some would later justify their claim to an independent Serb state by arguing that the new constitution contradicted the Constitution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, because in their view, Croatia was still legally governed by the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslaviamarker. This was contradicted by the increased signs of fragmentation within the Yugoslav republics. Croatian leaders officially insisted on the goal of an independent Croatia as a member of Yugoslav confederation of independent states.

Serbs in Croatia had established a Serbian National Council in July 1990 to coordinate opposition to Croatian independence. Their position was that if Croatia could seceded from Yugoslavia, then the Serbs could secede from Croatia. Milan Babić, a dentist from the southern town of Kninmarker, was elected president. At his ICTYmarker trial in 2004, he claimed that "during the events [of 1990-1992], and in particular at the beginning of his political career, he was strongly influenced and misled by Serbian propaganda, which repeatedly referred to the imminent threat of a Croatian genocide perpetrated on the Serbs in Croatia, thus creating an atmosphere of hatred and fear of Croats."

The rebel Croatian Serbs established a number of paramilitary militias under the leadership of Milan Martić, the police chief in Knin.

In August 1990, a referendum was held in the Krajina on the question of Serb "sovereignty and autonomy" in Croatia. The resolution was confined exclusively to Serbs so it passed by a majority of 99.7%. As expected, it was declared illegal and invalid by the Croatian government, who stated that Serbs had no constitutional right to break away from Croatian legal territory.

Babić's administration announced the creation of a Serbian Autonomous Oblast of Krajina (or SAO Krajina) on 21 December 1990. On 16 March 1991 another referendum was held which asked "Are you in favour of the SAO Krajina joining the Republic of Serbia and staying in Yugoslavia with Serbia, Montenegro and others who wish to preserve Yugoslavia?". With 99.8% voting in favour, the referendum was approved and the Krajina assembly declared that "the territory of the SAO Krajina is a constitutive part of the unified state territory of the Republic of Serbia". On 1 April 1991, it declared that it would secede from Croatia. Other Serb-dominated communities in eastern Croatia announced that they would also join SAO Krajina and ceased paying taxes to the Zagrebmarker government, and began implementing its own currency system, army regiments, and postal service.

Croatia held a referendum on independence on 19 May 1991, in which the electorate—minus many Serbs, who chose to boycott it—voted overwhelmingly for independence with the option of confederate union with other Yugoslav states. On 25 June 1991, Croatia and Slovenia both declared their independence from Yugoslavia. As the JNA attempted unsuccessfully to suppress Slovenia's independence in the short Slovenian War, clashes between rebelled Croatian Serbs and Croatian security forces broke out almost immediately, leaving dozens dead on both sides. Serbs calling themselves Chetniks were supported by the remnants of the JNA (whose members were now only from Serbia and Montenegro), which provided them military arms. Many Croatians fled their homes in fear, or were forced out by the rebel Serbs. The European Union and United Nations attempted to broker ceasefires and peace settlements, but all to no avail.

Around August 1991, the leadership of the Serbian Krajina, and that of Serbia, allegedly agreed to embark on a campaign which the ICTY prosecutors described as a "joint criminal enterprise" whose purpose "was the forcible removal of the majority of the Croat and other non-Serb population from approximately one-third of the territory of the Republic of Croatia, an area he planned to become part of a new Serb-dominated state." The leaders are documented to have included Milan Babić, and other rebelled Croatian Serbs' figures such as Milan Martić, the Serbian militia leader Vojislav Šešelj and Yugoslav Army commanders including General Ratko Mladić, who was at the time the commander of JNA forces in Croatia.

According to testimony given by Babić in his subsequent war crimes trial, during the summer of 1991 the Serbian secret police—under Milošević's command—set up "a parallel structure of state security and the police of Krajina and units commanded by the state security of Serbia". Shadowy groups of paramilitaries with names such as the "Vukovi sa Vucjaka" ("Wolves from Vucjak") and the "Beli Orlovi" ("White Eagles"), funded by the Serbian secret police, were also a key component of this structure.

A wider-scale war was launched in August 1991. Over the following months, a large area of territory, amounting to a third of Croatia, was controlled by the rebel Serbs. The Croatian population suffered heavily, fleeing or evicted with numerous killings, leading to ethnic cleansing. The bulk of the fighting occurred between August and December 1991 when approximately 80,000 Croats were expelled (and some were killed). Many more died and or were displaced in fighting in eastern Slavoniamarker (this territory along the Croatian/Serbian border was not part of the Krajina, and it was the JNA that was the principal actor in that part of the conflict). The Gospić massacre was one of the war crimes committed by Croatian military against the Serbian civilians.

On 19 December 1991, the SAO Krajina proclaimed itself the Republic of Serbian Krajina. On 26 February 1992, the SAO Western Slavonia and SAO Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srem were added to the RSK, which initially had only encompassed the territories within the SAO Krajina. The Serb Army of Krajina (Српска Војска Крајине / Srpska Vojska Krajine ; abbreviated СВК / SVK) (or the Republic of Serbian Krajina Army) was officially formed on 19 March 1992. The RSK occupied an area of some 17,028 km² at its greatest extent. Croatia then was beginning to form an army and their main defenders, the local police, were overpowered by the JNA military who supported rebelled Croatian Serbs. The RSK was located entirely inland, but they soon started advancing deeper into Croatian territory. They shelled the Croatian coastal town of Zadarmarker killing over 80 people in nearby areas and damaging the Maslenica bridge that connected northern and southern Croatia. They also tried to overtake Šibenikmarker, but the defenders successfully repelled the attack by JNA. The main city theatre was also bombed by JNA forces. The city of Vukovarmarker, however, was completely devastated by JNA attacks. The city of Vukovar that warded off JNA attacks for months eventually fell. 2,000 defenders of Vukovar and civilians were killed, 800 went missing and 22,000 were forced into exile. The wounded were taken from Vukovar Hospital to Ovcara near Vukovar where they were executed.

1992 ceasefire

A ceasefire agreement was signed by Presidents Tuđman and Milošević in January 1992, paving the way for the implementation of a United Nations peace plan put forward by Cyrus Vance. Under the Vance Plan, four United Nations Protected Areas (UNPAs) were established in Croatian territory which was claimed by RSK. The Vance Plan called for the withdrawal of the JNA from Croatia and for the return of refugees to their homes in the UNPAs. The JNA officially withdrew from Croatia in May 1992 but much of its weaponry and many of its personnel remained in the Serb-held areas and were turned over to the RSK's security forces. Refugees were not allowed to return to their homes and many of the remaining Croats and other nationalities left in the RSK were expelled or killed in the following months. On 21 February 1992, the creation of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) was authorised by the UN Security Council for an initial period of a year, to provide security to the UNPAs.

The agreement effectively froze the front lines for the next three years. Croatia and the RSK had effectively fought each other to a standstill. The Republic of Serbian Krajina was not recognised de jure by any other country or international organisation. Nevertheless it gained support from Serbia's allies, Greecemarker, Russiamarker, and Romaniamarker.

With the creation of new Croatian counties on 30 December 1992, the Croatian government also set aside two autonomous regions (kotar) for ethnic Serbs in the areas of Krajina. However, Serbs considered this too late, as it was not the amount of autonomy they wanted, and by now they had declared de facto independence.

War in former Yugoslavia, 1993
UNPROFOR was deployed throughout the region to maintain the ceasefire, although in practice its light armament and restricted rules of engagement meant that it was little more than an observer force. It proved wholly unable to ensure that refugees returned to the RSK. Indeed, the rebel Croatian Serb authorities continued to make efforts to ensure that they could never return, destroying villages and cultural and religious monuments to erase the previous existence of the Croatian inhabitants of the Krajina. Milan Babić later testified that this policy was driven from Belgrade through the Serbian secret police—and ultimately Milošević—who he claimed were in control of all the administrative institutions and armed forces in the Krajina. This would certainly explain why the Yugoslav National Army took the side of the rebelled Croatian Serbs in spite of its claims to be acting as a "peacekeeping" force. Milošević denied this, claiming that Babić had made it up "out of fear".


The partial implementation of the Vance Plan drove a wedge between the governments of the RSK and Serbia, the RSK's principal backer and supplier of fuel, arms and money. Milan Babić strongly opposed the Vance Plan but was overruled by the RSK's assembly.

On 26 February 1992, Babić was deposed and replaced as President of the RSK by Goran Hadžić, a Milošević loyalist. Babić remained involved in RSK politics but as a considerably weaker figure.

The position of the RSK eroded steadily over the following three years. On the surface, the RSK had all the trappings of a state: army, parliament, president, government and ministries, currency and stamps. However its economy was wholly dependent on support from the rump Yugoslavia, which had the effect of importing that country's hyperinflation.
1992 RSK 5,000,000 Dinar banknote
In July 1992 the RSK issued its own currency, the Krajina dinar (HRKR), in parallel with the Yugoslav dinar. This was followed by the "October dinar" (HRKO), first issued on 1 October 1993 and equal to 1,000,000 Reformed Dinar, and the "1994 dinar", first issued on 1 January 1994, and equal to 1,000,000,000 October dinar.

The economic situation soon became disastrous. By 1994, only 36,000 of the RSK's 430,000 citizens were employed. The war had severed the RSK's trade links with the rest of Croatia, leaving its few industries idle. With few natural resources of its own it had to import most of the goods and fuel it required. Agriculture was devastated, and operated at little more than a subsistence level. Professionals went to Serbia or elsewhere to escape the republic's economic hardships. To make matters worse, the RSK's government was grossly corrupt and the region became a haven for black marketeering and other criminal activity. It was clear by the mid-1990s that without a peace deal or support from Yugoslavia the RSK was not economically viable. This was especially evident in Belgrade, where the RSK had become an unwanted economic and political burden for Milošević. Much to his frustration, the rebel Croatian Serbs rebuffed his government's demands to settle the conflict.

The RSK's weakness also adversely affected its armed forces, the Vojska Srpske Krajine (VSK). Since the 1992 ceasefire agreement, Croatia had spent heavily on importing weapons and training its armed forces with assistance from American contractors. In contrast, the VSK had grown steadily weaker, with its soldiers poorly motivated, trained and equipped. There were only about 55,000 of them to cover a front of some 600 km in Croatia plus 100 km along the border with the Bihaćmarker pocket in Bosnia. With 16,000 stationed in eastern Slavonia, only about 39,000 were left to defend the main part of the RSK. Overall, only 30,000 were capable of full mobilization, yet they faced a far stronger Croatian army. Also, political divisions between Hadžić and Babić occasionally led to physical and sometimes even armed confrontations between their supporters; Babić himself was assaulted and beaten in an incident in Benkovacmarker.

In January 1993 the revitalized Croatian army attacked the Serbian positions around Maslenicamarker in southern Croatia which curtailed their access to the sea via Novigradmarker. In a second offensive in September 1993 the Croatian army overran the Medak pocket in the southern Krajina in a push to regain Serb-held Croatian territory. This action was halted by international diplomacy but although the rebel Croatian Serbs brought reinforcements forward fairly quickly, the strength of the Croatian forces proved superior. Hadžić sent an urgent request to Belgrade for reinforcements, arms and equipment. In response, around 4,000 paramilitaries under the command of Vojislav Šešelj (the White Eagles) and "Arkan" (the Serb Volunteer Guard) arrived to bolster the VSK. They found the RSK government and military in a chaotic state.

Operation Storm

August 4th order by the RSK Supreme Defence Council ordering evacuation of civilians from towns along the front line in the Knin area.
Following the rejection by both sides of the Z-4 plan for reintegration, the RSK's end came in 1995, when Croatian forces gained control of SAO Western Slavonia in Operation Flash (May) followed by the biggest part of occupied Croatia in Operation Storm (August). The Krajina Serb Supreme Defence Council met under president Milan Martić to discuss the situation. A decision was reached at 16:45 to "start evacuating the population unfit for military service from the municipalities of Kninmarker, Benkovacmarker, Obrovac, Drnišmarker and Gračacmarker." The RSK was disbanded and most of the Serb population fled. Only 5,000 to 6,000 people remained, mostly the elderly. Historian Ivo Goldstein wrote, "The reasons for the Serb exodus are complex. Some had to leave because the Serb army forced them to, while others feared the revenge of the Croatian army and whose homes they had mostly looted".

Most of the refugees ended in Serbia, Bosnia and eastern Slavonia. Some of those who remained were murdered, tortured and forcibly expelled by the Croatian Army and police. Croatia celebrates this victory on 5 August as Victory Day. There was also widespread arson committed by the Croatian soldiers, judged by the ICTY to be an action organised to prevent the Serbs from returning.

A number of Croatian army officers (such as general Ante Gotovina) were indicted by the ICTY in the Hague for command responsibility for the atrocities committed by Croatian soldiers against the civilian Serb population.

The parts of the former RSK in eastern Croatia (along the Danube) remained in place as the Republic of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Syrmia (previously the SAO Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Syrmia, or sometimes called Sremsko-Baranjska Oblast). The national and local authorities signed the Erdut Agreement in 1995, sponsored by the United Nations, that set up a transitional period during which the UNTAES peacekeepers would oversee a peaceful reintegration of this territory into Croatia. This process was completed in 1998. After the peaceful reintegration Croatian islands of Šarengradmarker and Vukovarmarker remained under Serbian military control. In 2004, Serbian military was withdrawn from the islands and replaced with Serbian police. Thus, the islands remain an open question.


According to the indictment of prosecutor Carla Del Ponte against Slobodan Milošević at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslaviamarker (ICTY), the Croat and non-Serb population from the 1991 census was approximately as follows:
SAO Krajina SAO Western Slavonia SAO SBWS
  • 70,708 Croats (28%)
  • 13,101 others (5%)
  • 6864 Croats (29%)
  • 2577 others (11%)
  • 90,454 Croats (47%)
  • 40,217 others (21%)

Thus Serbs comprised 67%, 60% and 32% of the population of SAO Krajina, SAO Western Slavonia, and SAO SBWS respectively in 1991.

According to data set forth at the meeting of the Government of the RSK in July 1992, its ethnic composition was 88% Serbs, 7% Croats, 5% others.


Towns which were at one point part of RSK or occupied by the RSK's army:

War crimes


Several Croatian military leaders were indicted by the ICTYmarker of various war crimes, including persecution, murder, plunder and planning the ethnic cleansing.

  • Ante Gotovina is charged with ranking responsibility for the murder of about 150 Serbs and persecution and deportation of thousands.

  • Mladen Markač and Ivan Čermak are charged with planning, establishing, implementing and/or participating "in a joint criminal enterprise, the common purpose and objectives of which were the permanent removal of the Serb population from the Krajina region, by force, fear or threat of force, persecution, forced displacement, transfer and deportation, appropriation and destruction of property and other means, which constituted or involved the commission of crimes".


Several members of the RSK leadership ended up being indicted of war crimes by the ICTYmarker.

  • Milan Babić, president of the RSK, was sentenced to 13 years for persecution on political, racial and religious grounds as a crime against humanity, to which he pleaded guilty. He was found dead in his ICTYmarker prison cell on 6 March 2006, having apparently committed suicide.
  • Milan Martić, president of the RSK, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for multiple war crimes, including persecution, torture, deportation, and attacks on civilians.
  • Goran Hadžić is still at large .
  • Jovica Stanišić, head of Serbia's State Security Service, and Franko Simatović, a commander of the State Security Service, are indicted on several accounts of persecution as a crime against humanity and murder.
  • Momčilo Perišić, Chief of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army, is awaiting trial on counts of murder.
  • Veselin Šljivančanin, Lieutenant Colonel of the Yugoslav Army, convicted of his role in the Vukovar massacremarker.

Legal status

During its existence, this entity did not achieve international recognition. In January 1992, the Badinter commission concluded that Yugoslavia was "in dissolution" and that the republics - including Croatia - should be recognized as independent states when they asked so. They also assigned these republics territorial integrity. For most of the world this was a reason to recognize Croatia. However, Serbia did not accept the conclusions of the commission in that period and recognized Croatia only after Croatian military actions (Oluja and Bljesak) and Dayton agreement.

Government in exile

There exists a self-proclaimed government in exile for the Republic of Serbian Krajina. This government existed for a short time period after Operation Storm, but was reconstituted in 2005. This self-proclaimed government has changed the official name of the Republic of Serbian Krajina to Republic of Serb-Krajina.

See also


  1. Milan Babic - Sentencing Judgement. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Accessed 8 July 2009.
  2. Prosecutor v. Milan Martić Judgement. p. 46. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Accessed 13 September 2009.
  3. Profile: Vojislav Seselj. BBC (7 November 2007). Accessed 13 September 2009.
  4. Judge Rodrigues confirms Indictment charging Slobodan Milosevic with Crimes committed in Croatia. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Accessed 13 September 2009.
  5. Seselj indictment
  6. ICTY evidence; Babic pleads guilty to crimes
  7. Croatian refugees
  8. Sibenik theatre destroyed
  9. Tanner, Marcus (1997) Croatia: A Nation Forged in War.
  10. Vukovar death toll
  11. Croatia marks massacre in Vukovar. BBC (18 November 2006). Accessed 13 September 2009.
  12. Partos, Gabriel (13 June 2003). Vukovar massacre: What happened. BBC. Accessed 13 September 2009.
  13. BBC NEWS | Europe | Babic admits persecuting Croats
  14. Babic testifies against Milosevic
  15. Milosevic and the JNA
  16. Testimony from RSK generals
  17. Republika Hrvatska i Domovinski rat 1990. - 1995. dokumenti
  18. Amnesty International, Croatia: Operation "Storm" - still no justice ten years on, 04.08.2005
  19. Goldstein, Ivo (1999). Croatia: A History. p. 253–254. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers. ISBN 1850655251.
  20. Gotovina indictment
  21. [1] Serbian refusal of Badinter Arbitration Committee decision on Serbian
  22. The Prosecutor of the Tribunial Against Slobodan Milosevic. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Accessed 13 September 2009.
  23. BBC, Croats in Hague war crimes trial
  24. Trial Watch: Mladen Markač
  25. Trial Watch: Ivan Čermak
  26. List of ICTY Indictments
  27. "RSK" (IT-03-72) Milan Babić
  28. Summary of Judgement for Milan Martić
  29. Hadzic at large
  30. The Prosecutor of the Tribunal Against Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic
  31. The Prosecutor v. Momcilo Perisic
  32. ICTY-Appeals Chamber Increases Sentence Against Šljivančanin
  34. The Opinions of the Badinter Arbitration Committee: A Second Breath for the Self-Determination of Peoples


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