By Sean Malloy
"The war is the most recent act of a tragic play" said Damion Buterin, referring to the war in Yugoslavia. Damion is a founding member of Combined Croatian University Societies (CCUS) and a postgraduate student at Sydney University.
The CCUS group is an amalgamation of Croatian societies from NSW tertiary institutions. The group aims to inform students about the plight of Croatia and to promote Croatian national rights.
Talking about the attacks on Croatia, Damion said, "It's what I would call the last Stalinist power play in Europe, where the Yugoslav army has become the military arm of Serbian imperialism."
Tanya Krizmanic, an undergraduate student at Wollongong University, added, "The Yugoslav army is acting in contravention of the Yugoslav constitution. The constitution gives any nation in Yugoslavia rights to secede if there is a majority vote to secede."
A referendum on May 19 resulted in a 93% vote for Croatian independence. The Croatian parliament then held an extended sitting between June 18 and 25 to draft the legal framework for an independent Croatia.
Part of the CCUS's work is to counter clouded media coverage of the war against Croatia and the promotion of Serbian chauvinism.
Says Tanya, "The newspapers especially are quite biased against Croatians. There's been a lot of Serbians giving their side of the story on television, but not enough Croatians putting their view of what is happening."
Damion adds, "That's the thing that disturbs me about the Australian media; there are too many historical inconsistencies, too many gaps which, if not filled, leave a poor picture of what's going on".
The Croatian students see a solution based on the May 19 referendum and international recognition of Croatia as an independent state.
"The solution is already there. The Croatian people want to be their own people, they voted for it and that desire for self-determination should be respected", Damion said.
"It's also minority groups within Croatia that want secession", Tanya points out.
The CCUS is looking to increase pressure on the Australian government to change its position to support for Croatian independence. "If they can recognise Lithuania, Estonia and other states, why not Croatia?", Tanya asks.
Damion says, "In Lithuania five people died in achieving independence. Official figures on Croatian deaths tally to over 500. How many more deaths must there be before the Australian government recognises Croatian independence?"
Tanya says, "The Australian government always states that they won't recognise Croatia because it doesn't fulfil the criteria for an independent state. The only criteria Croatia isn't fulfilling is that it cannot control its borders."
Croatia is unable to control its borders because of Yugoslav army occupation.
The CCUS is working to increase support and awareness of the Croatian situation on campus and in the broader community. Rallies and demonstrations are planned in combination with a flow of information to students about the events in the region and its history. The group has prepared a petition, a letter writing campaign and a lobbying kit.
Croatian students have experienced racism on campus. A Serbian club announcing a meeting was allowed to print "be there or be Croatian" in the Sydney University daily bulletin. Academics who support Croatian independence have been threatened with loss of promotion and position.
One of the problems Damion sees is the stigma that has been associated with being Croatian. "Many of us grew up through the school system being taught that Croatia is a dirty word. The only way you could say you were Croatian was under your breath."
The recent events have played a role in changing this. Damion says, "It's an awakening", and that young Croatians are saying "Yes, Croatia has a democratic right to self-determination and nationhood. Yes, I will march in Australian streets to support that."