By Ray Fulcher
MELBOURNE — The Croatian community turned out in large numbers on September 22 to protest against the war in their homeland. After rallying in the city square amid a sea of Croatian flags, they set up a seven-day, 24-hour vigil was set up in the square to disseminate information and collect signatures. Another march and rally were set for September 29.
Community spokesperson Drago Juric told Green Left Weekly that, contrary to popular belief, the conflict between Croats and Serbs has not been going on for centuries. "The two peoples have existed side by side for over a thousand years", said Juric. The basis of conflict can be traced to 1918 with the formation of a common state (later called Yugoslavia) and imposition of Serbian authority by force.
"Yugoslavism is a racist concept", said Juric "based on the argument of common origins, but Croatia and Serbia are two countries, not one; with different religion, culture, alphabet."
According to Juric the present conflict was brought about by a combination of Yugoslavism and totalitarianism which did not allow the nations to develop their own identity.
"The message we want to get across is that this is not a war between Croats and Serbs, even though they are the principle players. It has been imposed by a privileged few — the Serbian Socialist Party — to reverse the push towards democracy." Juric said that democratic parties in Serbia find it very difficult to get into the media and have few places in parliament.
"We want to raise the Serbian people's consciousness that they are the ones who can stop the war and, as our history shows, we can live side by side in separate states", said Juric.
There have already been cases of Serb conscripts refusing to be drafted, and a Serb unit in Baranja has refused orders and returned to Serbia.
The aim of the vigil and the rallies is to stop the war. The Croatian community wants Australia to withdraw recognition of Yugoslavia and recognise Croatia, Serbia and any other republic which wants independence. "This will allow a cease-fire and political negotiations for a settlement under international law", said Juric.