In the 1980’s the communist regimes were replaced by multi-party systems and democracy in the majority of East European countries. The process of democratisation of the society and establishment of multi-party system spread in the majority of the republics of the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, except in Serbia.
New associations and political parties were established in Croatia in 1989. However, contrary to Slovenia and Croatia that argued in favour of confederative restructuring of Yugoslavia, Serbian political leaders resisted peaceful development of democracy with aspirations to create a centralised unitarianist state according to Great Serbia programme that has become a threat to all other republics.
Political differences culminated on the 14th extraordinary congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (20th – 22nd January 1990) when the Slovene and subsequently the Croatian delegation left the congress because Serbian delegation enforced its decisions. That was the end of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia and a new incentive to democratisation of the Croatian society. The first free multi-party elections in Croatia took place in April and in the beginning of May 1990. The winner was the Croatian Democratic Union.
The first inaugural meeting of the multi-party Parliament of the Republic of Croatia took place on 30th May 1990. The amendments to the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Croatia were adopted in July, removing the adjective “socialist” from the name of the state, and returning the historical Croatian coat of arms instead of five-pointed star on the flag, together with return of other official symbols.
Before Christmas, on 22nd December 1990 the Parliament of the Republic of Croatia adopted a new Constitution (the so-called Christmas Constitution) which was the basis to pass the major consitutional decisions related to the establishment of the sovereign Croatian state. After the Constitution was passed, and based on the results of referendum, the Parliament of the Republic of Croatia passed the Declaration on the Proclamation of the Sovereign, Independent Republic of Croatia on 25th June 1991. The final severance and disruption of all state-legal connections with Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia took place on 8th October 1991, due to three month delay imposed to Croatia by the international community.
2. Insurrection and aggression against the Republic of Croatia
After legal multi-party elections, the Serbs in Croatia made it seem as if they were threatened and they provoked disruptions and unrests using them to avoid participation in the work of the Croatian Parliament. In accordance with the policy of the creation of Great Serbia, and with the support of Serbian political leaders, they initiated anti-constitutional activities and tried reshaping territorial and administrative structure of Croatia.
Already in June of 1990 they established the Association of Communities of Northern Dalmatia which was restructured by the end of the year into Serbian Autonomous Region of Krajina (SAO Krajina). The so-called log revolution started in the Knin area on 17th August 1990. Armed Serbian civilians blocked with logs and rocks the main roads from continental Croatia towards Dalmatia. The attempts of Croatian police to quell the insurrection and establish law and order were prevented by air force of the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA). After that, Croatia lost control over Knin and insurrection spread to other areas where the Serbs were the majority population. The YPA established the so-called buffer-zone between the opposed sides in these areas, but actually it openly took side of the insurgents.
At the end of the summer of 1991 the YPA became openly involved in the aggression against Croatia with participation of voluntary units from Serbia and Montenegro. The insurgent Serbs, with the military help and domination of the YPA, thus managed to occupy almost one third of the territory of the Republic of Croatia. On 19th December they proclaimed the parastatal entity Republic of Serbian Krajina, and the ancient Croatian royal town of Knin was chosen for its centre. During the fiercest period of aggression, on 7th October 1991 the YPA aeroplanes bombed Banski dvori – the seat of the Government of the Republic of Croatia in Zagreb.
The aggression of the YPA, dissident Croatian Serbs and voluntary units from Serbia and Montenegro against Croatia caused a big refugee crisis in 1991. An ethnically clean area was created by intimidation, relocation, capturing and killing of Croatian and non-Serbian population. The aim was secession from Croatia to join the so-called “great Serbia”.
The first movement of refugees from occupied Croatian settlements to free areas of Croatia begun in Spring of 1991, first from north Dalmatia and Lika, and then from Slavonia. Towards the end of 1991, some 550.000 persons were exiled from their homes and settlements. They found temporary accommodation in free areas of Croatia. Another 150.000 persons went abroad.
Expulsion of Croatian and non-Serbian population started in the Knin area in May 1991. During summer and especially during autumn, at the time of violent aggression towards Croatia, the number of refugees from the Knin area increased considerably. A small number of Croats continued living in the occupied territory in extremely difficult conditions and fearing for their lives daily. The United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) did not manage to provide safety and protection either. Those forces were placed in four (UNPA) zones, from 4th April to 12th June 1992. Accordingly, after the Maslenica liberation operation of the Croatian Army in Zadar hinterland at the beginning of 1993, the power-holders of parastatal entity Republic of Serbian Krajina managed to exile nearly all Croats from the Knin area.
The refugees were looked after and registered by the Office for Displaced Persons and Refugees of the Government of the Republic of Croatia. The refugees were provided with accommodation, food, health care, education for children, psychological and other kinds of help. The refugees did not lose heart; living in the hope of imminent return they embraced the issues of daily life in new surroundings. They got organised and established clubs to meet and keep up their traditions, published refugee papers and bulletins in order to maintain links with their native places. Thus the Croats from Knin established already in 1992 the”Zvonimir” club for Croats from Knin with seats in Split and Zagreb.
4. Peace initiatives and appeals for peace
Croatian leadership made every effort to reach a peaceful solution of the exiting crisis and avoid armed conflict with the considerably stronger YPA that openly took the Serbian side.
Croatian citizens also publicly displayed their discontent with the role of YPA in the solution of the crisis. The citizens organised numerous peace initiatives, sent out appeals for peace, but they also demonstrated and publicly confronted the YPA. By organising anti-war demonstrations the citizens tried to prevent the YPA units to leave the barracks. Mothers and parents whose sons spent their military service in YPA were organised in the peace movement “Mothers for Peace” and demanded that military leaders dismissed their children from the army.
During open and ruthless aggression against the Republic of Croatia visual artists made war posters as a strong media promotion tool for the international audience. The posters contained powerful visual and textual messages inviting the international community to stop the war and recognise Croatia as an independent state.
5. Liberation actions and operations before “Operation Storm 1995”
Towards the end of 1994 and in spring and summer of 1995 Croatian forces undertook several liberation actions and operations to create conditions to free the occupied territory of the Republic of Croatia.
“Operation Cincar” (1st – 3rd November 1994)
Croatian forces (Croatian Defence Council) liberated a geo-strategically important town of Kupres in Bosnia and Herzegovina in “Operation Cincar” at the beginning of November.
“Operation Winter 1994” (29th November – 24th December 1994)
The Operation lasted 27 days during which the Croatian forces captured the major part of Livanjsko polje, weakened Serbian offensive towards Bihać and created an important strategic area for further liberation of occupied parts in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Operation Leap” 1 (7th April 1995)
Croatian forces liberated an area of 75 km2 on Dinara mountain on 7th April 1995 and thus established control over enemy strongholds in the area of the village Uništa and the river Cetina in the Knin hinterland.
Military-police operation “Flash” (1st to 2nd (4th) May 1995
The operation resulted in liberating around 600 m2 of the remaining occupied territory in west Slavonia (Okučani, Jasenovac, Stara Gradiška and Pakrac). Croatian forces reached the Sava river, the internationally recognised border of the Republic of Croatia. Thus the motorway Zagreb – Lipovac was open for traffic.
“Operation Leap 2” (4th to 11th June 1995)
During “Operation Leap 2” Croatian forces liberated east and west part of Livanjsko polje, and the communication routes Glamoč – Bosansko Grahovo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Cetinska dolina and Vrličko polje in Croatia were put under control of Croatian artillery. Some 450 km2 of occupied area was liberated.
Split agreement (22nd July 1995)
Because of several months long siege of Bihać and a new strong offensive by Serbian forces, including the units of Serbs from Croatia, the president of the Republic of Croatia Franjo Tuđman, PhD, the president of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Alija Izetbegović the president of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Krešimir Zubak and the prime minister of the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina Haris Silajdžić met in Split and signed the Declaration on the implementation of the Washington agreement, joint defence against Serbian aggression and achievement of a political solution in accordance with the efforts of the international community.
“Operation Summer 1995” (25th to 30 July 1995)
During “Operation Summer 1995” Croatian forces liberated Bosansko Grahovo (28th July) and Glamoč (29th July), stopped enemy offensive towards Bihać, cut the transport route between Knin and Drvar and thus created the conditions for the liberation of Knin and the remaining occupied areas in north Dalmatia and Lika.
Negotiations in Genthod near Geneva (3rd August 1995)
The last attempt for the peaceful reintegration of occupied areas of the Republic of Croatia was made on 3rd August 1995, at the meeting of the representatives of Croatian government and the representatives of insurgent Serbs which took place in Genthod near Geneva. The delegation of insurgent Serbs refused to accept the propositions made by the Croatian party. Thus the Croatian army was charged with the task to reintegrate the occupied areas.
6. “Storm” – liberating military-police operation
After four-year long occupation of almost one third of Croatian territory, and consequently a great number of refugees and displaced persons, economic problems caused by disrupted communication routes between north and south of Croatia via Knin, numerous unsuccessful negotiations with leaders of insurgent Serbs about a peaceful reintegration of occupied Croatian territory, Croatia decided to liberate the occupied territory with its own armed forces.
From 4th to 8th August 1995 the military-police “Operation Storm” was successfully performed. Croatian army and joint forces of special police units of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia liberated the occupied territories in north Dalmatia, Lika, Kordun and Banovina. The front line was 700 km long, and the operation started with a coordinated action of Croatian air force and the Croatian artillery towards enemy communication system and military targets. After that Croatian forces advanced from thirty directions.
The greatest success was achieved in the afternoon hours of 5th August when the members of 4th and 7th guard brigades liberated Knin, ancient Croatian royal town. Due to its strategic and symbolic significance the day when Knin was liberated was pronounced Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day and subsequently the Day of Croatian Defenders.
In the first hours of the operation the president of the Republic of Croatia, Franjo Tuđman, PhD, invited the citizens of Serbian ethnic affiliation to stay in their homes and wait for the Croatian rule without fear. He also invited the members of enemy units to surrender their weapons, guaranteeing amnesty according to Croatian laws to those who have not committed war crimes.
Despite that, before and during the operation, before the arrival of Croatian forces, the majority of Serbian population fled from the occupied areas or they were evacuated by Krajina rulers. During and after the operation some dishonourable actions were performed towards Serbian population for which criminal proceedings were opened and many of those proceedings have been already conducted.
6.1. Croatian forces in military-police operation “Storm”
All operational zones directly participated in attacks during “Operation Storm” except operational zone Osijek and Southern front which participated in the defence part of the operation.
Operational zone Split
Liberation of Knin and wider area of north Dalmatia was entrusted to operational zone Split (commanded by colonel general Ante Gotovina) and the units of the Croatian Army and Special Police units of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia deployed in four operation groups: North, Sinj, Šibenik and Zadar.
The main operation force was the operational group North which consisted of 4th and 7th guard brigades of the Croatian Army, 81st guard battalion, 1st Croatian guard brigade of Croatian Defence Council with third tactical group, 3rd guard brigade of Croatian Defence Council and Second tactical group.
Operational group Sinj: 6th home guardsman regiment Split, 126th home guardsman regiment Sinj and 144th brigade Sesvete of the Croatian Army.
Operational group Šibenik: 142nd home guardsman regiment, 15th home guardsman regiment, 113th infantry brigade.
Operational group Zadar: second battalion of 9th guard brigade, 112th brigade, 7th home guardsman regiment and 134th home guardsman regiment.
Special forces of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia
Joint forces (some 3100 members) of Special forces of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia (commanded by colonel general Mladen Markač) also participated in
Operational zone Gospić
Under the command of operational zone Gospić (commanded by senior brigadier Mirko Norac) in the operation participated: 1st guard brigade “The Tigers”, 9th guard brigade “The Volves”, 111th infantry brigade (Rijeka), 119th brigade (Pula), 128th brigade (Rijeka), 150th brigade (Zagreb-Črnomerec), 8th home guardsman regiment, 118th home guardsman regiment (Gospić), 133rd home guardsman regiment (Otočac), 138th home guardsman regiment (Delnice), 154th home guardsman regiment (Pazin), 71st battalion of Military police (Rijeka).
Operational zone Karlovac
Under the command of operational zone Karlovac (commanded by major general Miljenko Crnjac) in the operation participated: 14th home guardsman regiment (Slunj), 110th home guardsman regiment (Karlovac), 137th home guardsman regiment (Duga Resa), 143rd home guardsman regiment (Ogulin), 13th counter-armour artillery-missile battalion (Bjelovar), 70th company of Military police (Karlovac), 10th missile battalion and parts of 16th artillery-missile battalion, 99th brigade (Zagreb-Pešćenica), 104th brigade (Varaždin) and from 6th August 1st guards brigade as well.
Operational zone Zagreb
Under the command of operational zone Zagreb (commanded by major general Ivan Basarac, and from 5th August by colonel general Petar Stipetić) in the operation participated: 2nd guards brigade “Thunders”, 57th brigade (Marijan Celjak-Sisak), 101st brigade (Zagreb-Susedgrad), 102nd brigade (Zagreb-Novi Zagreb), 103rd brigade (Krapina), 145th brigade (Zagreb-Dubrava), 148th brigade (Zagreb-Trnje), 149th brigade (Zagreb-Trešnjevka), 151st brigade (Samobor), 153rd brigade (Velika Gorica), 1st home guardsman regiment (Zagreb), 12th home guardsman regiment (Petrinja), 17th home guardsman regiment (Sunja-Dvor na Uni), 20th home guardsman regiment (Glina), 140th home guardsman regiment (Jastrebarsko), 67th battalion of Military police (Zagreb), 202nd artillery-missile air defence brigade (Zagreb), 5th counter-armour artillery-missile battalion, 252nd communications company, 502nd mechanised company for nuclear-biological-chemical defence, battalion of the 33rd engineering brigade, 31st engineering battalion, 36th engineering-pontoon battalion and 1st river brigade Sisak.
Operational zone Bjelovar
Under the command of operational zone Bjelovar (commanded by major general Luka Džanko) in the operation participated: 52nd home guardsman regiment (Daruvar), battle group of 24th home guardsman regiment (Varaždin), 121st home guardsman regiment (Nova Gradiška), 125th home guardsman regiment (Novska), 69th company of Military police (Bjelovar), 505th company for nuclear-biological-chemical defence (Bjelovar), 265th reconnaissance-commando company (Bjelovar), 34th engineering battalion (Čakovec), 202nd artillery-missile air raid defence battalion and 312th logistics base (Varaždin).
Air Force in “Storm”
The entire air force participated in the operation from all airports and airfields in the Republic of Croatia: 17 combat planes, 5 combat helicopters, nine transport helicopters, three transport aircrafts, 1 An-2 aircraft and Mi-24 helicopter for electronic-thermal imaging activities.
A total of five guard brigades of the Croatian Army, one guard brigade, one guard battalion, 23 home guardsman regiments, 18 brigades of the Croatian Army, three antiaircraft defence brigades, four centres for electronic activities, parts of artillery-missile brigade, parts of counter-armour artillery-missile brigade, communications regiment, the entire Croatian Air Force and Air Defence, parts of Croatian Navy (for transport of units) and from 2500 to 3100 members of special forces of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia – a total of 127,000 people participated in the operation.
6.2. Chronology of liberation of the occupied territory of the Republic of Croatia during “Operation Storm” (4th – 8th August 1995)
4th August 1995
Croatian Air Forces destroyed enemy radio-relay centre Ćelavac and communication system on Petrova gora and Zrinska gora mountains.
Liberated were: Sveti Rok, Čista Mala, Čista Velika, Uništa, Gornji Baljci, Dabar, Sibić, Gora, Strašnik, Graberje, Višnjica, Predore, Uštica, Tanac, Mali Alan pass and the area Dulibe – Tulove grede on Velebit mountain.
5th August 1995
Liberated were: Knin and its surroundings, Gračac, Dubica, Drniš and its surroundings, Benkovac, Obrovac, Ljubovo, Žitnić, Lovinac, Novi Lički Osik, Široka Kula, Ostrovica, Primišlje, Plaški, Vrlika, Kijevo, Zemunik Gornji, Biljane Gornje, Biljane Donje, Škabrnja, Nadin, Smilčić, Karin, Saborsko, Lička Jesenica, Vaganac, Ličko Petrovo Selo, Željava, Rakovica, Drežnik Grad, Medak, Petrinić Polje, Trnavec, Lički Ribnik, Gornji Poloj, Glinsko Novo Selo, Župić and Župić hill, Šanja, Vilusi, Pecki, Luščani, Križ, Cepelin, Strmen and other places.
6th August 1995
Liberated were: Petrinja, Hrvatska Kostajnica, Slunj, Glina, Udbina, Kistanje, Muškovac, Kaštel Žegarski, Vrhovine, Krbava, Bunić, Bročanac, Plitvice, Otrić, Bruvno, Malovan, Rudopolje, Stražbenica, Blinja, Umetić, Slabinje, Čaira, Utorica, Rusovac, Gornja and Donja Bačuga, Jabukovac, Banski Grabovac, Šaš, Veliki Šušnjar, Majski Trtnik, Barlete, Vrebac, Mogorić, Ploča and other places. Croatian Army units (major general Marijan Mareković) and units of the 5th corps of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina (general Atif Dudaković) met at Tržačka Raštela, on the Korana river, by the frontier.
7th August 1995
Liberated were: Cetingrad, Gornji and Donji Lapac, Mazin, Dobroselo, Boričevac, Veljun, Krnjak, Vojnić, Gornje Mekušje, Kamensko, Tušilović, Turanj, Šanac, Jelaš, Skakavac, Sjeničak and other places. Gojko Šušak, Minister of Defence of the Croatian Army gave a statement that the operation ended at 18:00 o’clock and confirmed that the final victory of Croatian forces is unquestionable. However, a few enemy “pockets” still had to be brought under control.
8th August 1995
Surrender of colonel Čedomir Bulat, commander of 21st corpus of the so-called Serbian army of Krajina, near Topusko at 14:00 o’clock marked the end of the operational part of “Operation Storm”, but also the end of the Homeland War on the territory of the Republic of Croatia, the war for freedom and independence lasting from 1991 to 1995. However, military activities continued, aimed at scouring the terrain and breaking the remains of enemy army. For instance, Croatian forces entered Srb on 8th August and Vrginmost and Dvor na Uni on 9th August. After defeating the enemy, the armed forces of the Republic of Croatia took their place on the internationally recognised frontier between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
6.3. Geopolitical significance of “Operation Storm 1995”
Liberation of the occupied territory of the Republic of Croatia in north Dalmatia, Lika, Kordun and Banovina made possible the return of great number of refugees and establishment of legal order of the Republic of Croatia. In addition to liberation of its own territory Croatian forces enabled the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina to break the siege of Bihać and liberate part of its territory. This prevented a new humanitarian crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The placement of Croatian Army on internationally recognised frontier of the Republic of Croatia marked the end of war operations. A part of east Slavonija, Baranja and west Srijem remained occupied. Due to these events the representatives of insurgent Serbs in those areas, aided by the mediation of the international community, agreed to peaceful reintegration of Croatian Danube region to the administrative and legal order of the Republic of Croatia. Military successes of Croatian and Bosnian forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina made possible the Dayton peace agreement on 21st November 1995.
6.4. Reactions of the international community
After numerous unsuccessful negotiations of the representatives of the Republic of Croatia with the representatives of insurgent Serbs, that usually took place in the presence and with the mediation of the international community, and especially after the negotiations in Genthod near Geneva on 3rd August 1995 when the Serbs refused to accept the Plan Z-4 which demanded peaceful reintegration of occupied territory and establishment of constitutional and legal order on the entire territory of the Republic of Croatia, and granted Serbian minority wide autonomy, a “state within state”, it was decided to use the military force to free the occupied areas.
The UN Security Council was informed about the operation, but they disapproved and demanded that all military activity be stopped. Despite initial disapproval they themselves acknowledged the legitimacy of the operation on 10th August. During and especially after the military-police operation many high ranking officials and statesmen of leading states expressed their understanding for legitimate reasons of this fast and efficient operation for liberation of the territory that had been occupied for several years.
I understand Croatian actions. They have waited four years for the United Nations to integrate their territories, and the United Nations failed to do so, as they failed in Bosnia.
(Bob Dole, American senator, 5th August 1995)
Croatian action for liberation of occupied territories re-established the balance in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
(Bill Clinton, American president, 7th August 1995)
I deem that this is the first possibility after many months to reach a peace agreement.
(William Perry, Secretary of Defence of the USA, 8th August 1995)
Intensive endeavours to implement Croatian sovereignty on the area through negotiations lasting almost three years failed because of compromised attitude of the Serbs from Krajina.
(Thomas Klestil, Secretary General of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Austria)
Croatia has given enough time to the international community to resolve the conflict with negotiations. Croatia legally decided in favour of the offensive and cannot be compared to savage armies of Radovan Karadžić.
(Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic)
Great offensive of the Croatian Army on area populated with Serbs annuls the international negotiations.
(Andrej Kozirjev, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation)
6.5. Military-police operation “Storm” in the media
Success, organisation, implementation and importance of the military-police operation have become the main piece of news in all media (television, radio and daily papers). Starting from 5th August till the end of the operation, and even later, almost continuously, in all Croatian daily papers, many front pages were devoted exclusively to “Storm”. Around 300 reporters and photographers wrote and reported about “Storm” (Vjesnik, Večernji list, Novi list from Rijeka and Slobodna Dalmacija). Some newspapers quoted texts from foreign daily papers (Washington Times and others). Article titles and expressions that reporters used, photographs of liberated places, Croatian Army and police showed eruption of enthusiasm with the magnitude and successful termination of the operation. Naturally, all breaking news on Croatian Television and Croatian Radio pertained to “Storm”.
7. Celebration of victory
Magnificent, liberating military-police operation “Storm”, a symbol of victory and successful termination of defence war is the affirmation of military art and organisation, courage and resolve of Croatian officers and soldiers. Each participant, regardless of his/her contribution, deserves recognition of the fatherland and gratitude of its citizens.
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