By Tracy Sorensen
SYDNEY — Senior SBS television reporter Vladimir Lusic spent seven weeks in Croatia and Serbia until early October. He drank with journalists at Zagreb's Hotel Intercontinental, went out into the battle zones with units of the Croatian Guard, travelled extensively in the battle region between Vinkovci and Osijek — and watched a lot of television.
Lusic brought back hours of television tape to use as the basis for an SBS program. Those tapes, he says, reveal much about the true character of the war in Yugoslavia.
Too often, says Lusic, the bloody conflict is said to involve the Yugoslav federal army's defence of the 600,000 Serbians living in Croatia.
In fact, he says, the war is about a campaign for a Greater Serbia, absorbing Croatia's strategic Dalmatian coastline and the oil fields of Slavonia. While many Serbs living in Croatia support this campaign, a significant proportion of them are opposed to the war and in favour of "joining Europe" in an independent Croatia.
In Lusic's tapes, not yet publicly shown in Australia, Serbian military leaders are implored by their relatives in Croatia to think twice about their actions.
Serbian extremist politicians are shown calling on rank and file Serbian soldiers to attack officers and generals who appear to "mellow" after such family pressures.
In an interview with Green Left, Lusic said he had encountered young Serbians who had joined the Croatian National Guard.
Most Serbs in Croatia do not live in the areas currently under attack from the federal army and rebel Serb forces, says Lusic. Seventy per cent of Serbs in Croatia live in three major cities: Zagreb, Split and Rijeka. The majority of these, Lusic says, consider themselves to be Serbian citizens of Croatia.
Proof of this is to be found in the December referendum in which 94% of people living in Croatia had favoured independence. Serbs make up approximately 12% of the 4.2 million inhabitants of the Croatian lands.
"If 94% voted for independence, surely that means that a large proportion of the Serbian population, in a secret ballot, opted for Croatia's independence", said Lusic.
While many were afraid to speak out because of the threat of "punishment by militant Serbs", during Lusic's stay some prominent Serbs publicly expressed their support for Croatian independence and demanded an end to the war.
In a 10-minute open letter read on Croatian television, the brother of Serbian military leader General Uzelac, commander of the Banja Luka egovina, said: "Remember, General, both you and I were born in Croatia. This is my homeland ... I love it the way it is, and I will defend it with all other decent people. You can help us to achieve democracy and freedom if you want to."
The son of Serbian General Trifunovic read a similar letter on Croatian radio.
"This man lives in Varazdin, where not many Serbs live, perhaps one per cent", said Lusic. "For no reason at all, they have been attacking this town."
Trifunovic's son said: "Father, I can't believe that you are attacking the ancient city of Varazdin in the name of the notorious lie that we Serbs are oppressed in Croatia".
General Trifunovic later surrendered to the Croatian National Guard, giving the Croat forces their first tank unit. "Coincidence or not, this happened only a couple of days after the letter was read", said Lusic.
The sister-in-law of General Kadijevic, the Yugoslav minister for defence, made an amateur video which she sent to Croatian television. Also a Serbian living in Croatia, she told the general: "In this mad war that has enveloped our homeland, your name stands out as that of a war criminal".
Shortly after this, says Lusic, Kadijevic signed a cease-fire agreement with Croatian President Tudjman.
"After this letter was sent to Kadijevic, he sort of mellowed. That's how it appeared", said Lusic. After that, Serbian chauvinist leader Vuk Draskovic, impatient with the course of the war, told a public rally that unless the job was done properly, the drive for Greater Serbia could leave that nation "well plucked, and stuffed from all sides with refugees".
Going even further, extremist Serbian politician Vojislav Seselj announced in parliament that there were Serbian traitors in the federal army. In a pointed remark, Seselj said: "Throughout history, Serbian soldiers killed treacherous Serbian officers on the spot and went on to fight alone".
During Lusic's stay, Croatian television ran interviews with ordinary Serbs who had joined the Croatian Guard. These people said that they felt themselves to be victims of the war along with their Croatian neighbours.
Lusic met Spanish, Italian, Swiss and German citizens who volunteered to join the Croatian Guard (and heard of English mercenaries prepared to fight for either side).
A Spanish newspaper reporter Lusic met had been outraged by the number of journalists being killed by Serbian forces. (It has been noted that journalists displaying "press" signs had been deliberately shot at.)
"When this Spanish guy said he was going to volunteer, we thought he was drunk. But three days later, there is news from Osijek that he is in the Guard and he has given up journalism 9S>n