By Jolyon Campbell
Despite diplomatic recognition by the countries of the European Community and others including Australia, one-third of Croatia remains occupied, and sporadic fighting continues. Green Left spoke to journalist Alemka Mirkovic of the Slobodini Tjednik (Free Weekly) newspaper in Zagreb about the current situation.
Mirkovic said that recognition is only the first step in winning self-determination and peace for Croatia. "Recognition in a lot of cases didn't mean much for the federal army — they have continued their attacks, breaking agreements with the Croatian forces."
She was sceptical of the army's intention to honour cease-fire agreements and come to the negotiating table. "We have information that around Osijek the federal army are bringing new reinforcements, making new trenches — preparing for new attacks."
Even if fighting dies down following recognition, Croatia is still far from securing real sovereignty. Areas running through Krajina and Slavonia, along the central and northern sections of the border with Bosnia-Hercegovina, remain under Serbian occupation. The actions of the occupying forces reveal one of the key objectives of the war — a land-grab directed toward the establishment of a "Greater Serbia".
"Most of the Croats in those areas are expelled — forced to leave their own homes", Mirkovic said. "Many are killed, especially if they have relatives in the Croatian National Guard." There are now 750,000 refugees from the occupied zones, about one-sixth of the population of Croatia.
Federal activities in the occupied territories are reminiscent of Israel's strategy for permanent land acquisition in occupied Palestine. "The Serbian forces and their government politicians don't show much intention to leave Croatia. On the contrary they are bringing Serbians into the occupied zones to live there.
"The Serbian army is doing everything it can to destroy any sign of Croatian culture and existence in those places. I have information that in Vukovar, for example, they destroyed the city graveyard." Croatian churches and schools have also been widely targeted.
Mirkovic says that the Serbian regime is still deliberately inciting racial hatred and expansionist sentiment among Serbs throughout Yugoslavia. "The regime has strong reasons for causing trouble and continuing the war. If the war stops, all the soldiers will go back to Serbia — they have no other place to go. So they will have to feed and pay them, and the Serbian economy is already very weak. News from Serbia says that living standards are now very low, and that social unrest is on the rise."
Mirkovic believes the Belgrade bureaucrats and generals have largely economic motives for war. "They stand to lose their positions in the federal government and in the army, and losing positions means losing the money and losing the high status. For the last 50 years, Serbia weaker republic than Slovenia and Croatia, and they were using the federal money for their own purposes. When Slovenia and Croatia said 'Enough of it, we want to run our own countries, we want to use the money we earned', then the current troubles began."
There has been significant resistance to the war from within Serbia. Opposition leaders, intellectuals and journalists have openly declared their opposition to the war, and Mirkovic says that the government has responded with censorship and even the bombing of a television station.
The war has become increasingly unpopular since it became clear how many lives were being lost. The Serbian Army is not releasing figures, but Mirkovic cites a figure of 6000 Serbian deaths in the capture of Vukovar alone. Soldiers have increasingly fled the mobilisation, but deserters are pursued relentlessly by the military police, and Serbian escapees have related stories of military prisons and "re-education camps".
Mirkovic says that permanently ending the war and reclaiming the occupied territories will require external assistance. The United Nations is expected to oversee the cease-fire and facilitate negotiations.
"But most Croatians do not see the UN forces as a long-term solution. We have our country, we have the borders to that country, and we know what belongs to us. They are here to help us do just that — to bring those parts of the country back."
Croatia's aim now is to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, and begin the huge task of reconstruction after the war. This means that Serbia must be forced to make a negotiated withdrawal. The intransigence of the Milosevic regime leaves the Croatians with no option but to demand a total economic blockade of Serbia and request stronger measures against Serbia from governments around the world.
The longer the occupation continues, the less possible a peaceful solution becomes. Croatia is already seeking to use its recognised status to buy arms to replace those confiscated by the federal army upon Croatian secession. Mirkovic sums up the frustration of the Croatian position: "If there is someone who can make them leave in a peaceful way, we are waiting for it. If not, we have to do what we have to do."