By Dave Holmes
MELBOURNE — Some 5000 supporters of Croatian independence gathered here on March 22. Footscray Park on a wonderfully sunny Sunday afternoon was the scene for the very relaxed and successful picnic-rally.
The event was organised by the recently formed Friends of Vukovar and the Croatian Coordinating Committee. Vukovar is the Croatian city whose long and heroic resistance to the besieging Serbian army earlier in the conflict made it a symbol of Croatia's will to independence. Today, under occupation by the forces of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, it serves as a reminder that one-third of Croatia's historic national territory remains in foreign hands.
FOV president Jure Lasic chaired the rally. It began with singer Ivica Fonti singing the Croatian national anthem. Fonti later brought tears to the eyes of many with a moving rendition of the "Song to Vukovar". He was backed by the group Vukovar, the leading Croatian band in Australia.
Among those addressing the gathering were Ljubomir Devic, secretary of the FOV, Maria Puric, a survivor of the Vukovar siege, Vinko Duvnjak of the Croatian Democratic Union and Dave Holmes of the Democratic Socialist Party. Catholic priest Marte Krizanac appealed to the crowd to support the FOV's fundraising appeal for Croatian refugees.
There was a strong Macedonian presence during the afternoon. Nick Anastasovski, secretary of the United Macedonians of Victoria, addressed the rally. Two lengthy performances by a Macedonian folk group were well received, and the Macedonian national flag with its distinctive sunburst emblem was very much in evidence.
State Labor MP George Seitz spoke on behalf of premier Joan Kirner. Federal MP Andrew Theophanous represented prime minister Paul Keating on the platform. While his remarks were well received, he was obviously discomfited by the very definite Macedonian accent over the afternoon.
Theophanous, federal MP for Calwell (which includes areas with heavy concentrations of Croatians), heads a parliamentary group supporting Croatia and Slovenia. However, he recently featured on the platform of one of the anti-Macedonian rallies organised by right-wing forces in the Greek community. It can be assumed that not a few Croatians are beginning to see the opportunism of some of their professed friends in the ALP.