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November 20, 1995
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 216
Eastern Slavonia

Peace Storm

by Filip Svarm

The thoughts that went through the minds of Serb Democratic Party (SDS) activists when they formed the Serb National Council for Slavonia, Baranja and western Srem in Sidski Banovci on January 7, 1991 are hard to imagine. Did any of them imagine that after four years of combat that main goal of negotiators standing under the shadow of the Croatian Army (HV) cannon would be "peace and the safety of the Serb population, their survival and the possibility of finally getting a lucky break".

Hardly. And why should they have? At that time, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic felt that "the legitimate right and interest of the Serb people is to live in one state. That is the beginning and the end." Mihailo Markovic, a ranking Serbian Socialist Party (SPS) official was even more specific: "The army should be concentrated on the borders between areas where Serbs are a majority and the rest of Croatia. We know which areas those are: the Krajina, Slavonia, Baranja and western Srem". Vojislav Seselj, their favorite opposition leader at the time and interpreter of Serb interests regularly visited the Serb activists, called them to fight against the other nation and offered "an unlimited number of volunteers".

In the end, the only thing left is the basic 14-point agreement on Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and western Srem.

The Eastern Slavonian and Croatian authorities agreed on a one year transition period which can be extended for another year. The UN Security Council will appoint a transitional authority and international peacekeeping forces will be deployed to make sure the agreement is respected and the area demilitarized within 30 days of their deployment.

Official Zagreb interpreted the agreement as the start of peaceful reintegration with no autonomy. The Eastern Slavonia Serb authorities say it isn't and add that nothing has been decided. The overall assessment is that the implementation of the agreement will run into serious difficulties and anything is possible. The one certain thing is that this is the end of official Belgrade's policies waged over the past five years.

Seselj and Milan Paroski announced the evil to come in 1990. At a rally in the village of Jagodnjak, Paroski told the locals that they had the right to kill anyone who told them that this isn't Serb land. The Krajina was covered in barricades at the time and practically out of the reach of the Croatian authorities. Seselj became what he is now in that region and that's no accident. On his return from Jagodnjak he was arrested by the Croatian police and released only after an intervention by Federal Interior Minister Radmilo Bogdanovic and Petar Gracanin.

Very soon, the barricades spread to Slavonia and it was partly thanks to them that greater-Croats like Branimir Glavas and Tomislav Mercep gained in importance. Osijek police chief Josip Reihl Kir negotiated, talked and assured and seemed to calm extremists on both sides. But, in April 1991 he admitted: "Yesterday, a clash occurred between locals and outsiders in Borovo Selo; they beat a man who refused to give them a pig and threatened to burn his house. They collect fines from anyone who doesn't want to stand guard at the barricades. They came from Vojvodina under Seselj's patronage."

Just a month later blood flowed in the streets of Borovo Selo. Four Croatian undercover police officers came into the village and were captured on May 1, 1991. An ideal opportunity for the hawks in the ruling HDZ to show themselves for what they are: a large number of policemen attacked Borovo Selo a day later and were ambushed. The final balance: 12 dead and 30 wounded. The echo: Seselj bragged that his volunteers ambushed the police.

The fighting was stopped by the Yugoslav National Army (JNA). Dusan Loncar, then the local Colonel and now commander of the Serb army in Eastern Slavonia said: "When the situation calmed down, locals helped get the dead and wounded into their vehicles and out of the village. They criticized me for rescuing Ustashi."

The war had practically broken out. Vojislav Soskocanin "the legendary commander of Borovo Selo" bragged to Belgrade TV that he "killed six Ustashi" and "that if I have to I'll kill six more". He went on state TV twice: the last time before he drowned in the Danube (May 15, 1991) alongside writer Matija Beckovic and Bishop Lukijan. Few in Serbia opposed that. Even Vuk Draskovic said on May 2: "With no hesitation at all and with no formal excuses, we should recognize the Krajina as part of Serbia if our people decide that at a May 12 referendum."

Raih Kir was killed on July 1 while desperately trying to avoid a confrontation in Tenja. He was killed by Ante Gudelj, a Croatian extremist who he had personally disarmed just days earlier. Local Serb-Croat clashes escalated in Bobota, Mirkovci, Sotin, Tenja. Early in August, the JNA took control of Erdut, Dalj, Aljmas. Tanks moved on the Drava river and Osijek, towards Vinkovci, Vukovar was surrounded. The non-Serb population was expelled. The entire area was flooded by local warriors, young JNA soldiers, army reserves from Serbia, various para-military formations, Chetniks, volunteers, criminals. They killed, robbed and burned in the name of Serbdom. Para-militaries in Lovas village forced the non-Serb population into a minefield. Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan gained his glory on Osijek front. Mihalj Kertes toured the area in uniform armed with a Heckler and Koch rifle: the rumor is that he supplied meat to the army. Serbian police special forces were there along with Serbian assistant police minister Radovan Stojcic. Not to mention Seselj, Mirko Jovic and others.

"The Serbian royal army took Skadar and Jedrene," Matija Beckovic said in 1991 and added "this army can't take Borovo Selo and Tenja".

Vukovar was liberated with huge casualties on both sides until it became a ghost town. General Zivota Panic bragged that he raised "the flag of freedom" there.

Along with many others, Goran Hadzic, then President of Slavonia, Baranja and western Srem, walked through the ruins alongside his information minister Rade Leskovac.

Unlike the Krajina, Eastern Slavonia had no authentic political leaders. Hadzic became one by accident because someone had to be president. The authorities in that area were mainly appointed by the Serbian police.

Hadzic later became President of the United Republic of Serb Krajina. When Milan Babic rejected the Vance plan early in 1992 and the deployment of peacekeepers, Milosevic toppled him and brought in Hadzic.

Hadzic spent his presidency smuggling lumber, vacationing in Sveti Stefan, arguing with the elders in Knin and gaining negotiating experience. His right and left arm was Arkan who described him: "he never reached into his pocket to pay for anything. What president doesn't go to restaurants?"

Eastern Slavonia was a gold mine for everyone with any power there.When Babic and Milan Martic proclaimed the union with the Bosnian Serb Republic (RS), Hadzic became active again and formed new authorities in the form of the coordination board for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and western Srem and threatened to break away. At the same time, the area was the mainstay of Krajina prime minister Borislav Mikelic, a Milosevic man. Arkan and the Serbian police let the Krajina leaders know that they had nothing to do with Eastern Slavonia after defying the Serbian president.

We know what happened after the fall of the Krajina. In August this year, following operation Storm, the Eastern Slavonia front calmed down after two days of artillery duels. Negotiations started soon afterwards as well as the hunt for army age Slavonia men in Serbia and their return home.

Serb negotiators became the men on whose behalf villages were burned, towns leveled, non-Serbs expelled and anarchy imposed. The policies that brought them to power are bankrupt and it's no wonder the state media said the agreement they signed is what the Serbs fought for from the beginning. The whole thing could possibly be ruined by the Croatian authorities who used all means available to cleanse the Krajina of Serbs. Can the Eastern Slavonian Serbs really be sure their fate won't be the same?

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