In the conditions of the Russian military aggression the experience of other countries that have faced similar challenges became actual for Ukraine. In this context, they often referred to the experience of Croatia, one of few countries which managed to repel military aggression and to recapture its territory within the administrative boundaries.
This experience is especially interesting because it includes both military operations and political dialogue and peaceful reintegration. In Ukraine we decided to talk more about the military components of Croats success. The political component is less likely to say or we almost do not say about it.
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Results of reintegration
Until today, this reintegration is one of the few successfully implemented plans to end the armed conflict. However, there is an ambiguous attitude in Croatia to it.
On the one hand, considerable funds were spent on the restoration of the former occupied territories. In the area of the fighting almost nothing reminds of those events; affected houses have been restored with the help of the state; traces of bullets are present only in some places on the facades; on the other hand there is difficult economic situation in these territories, and the pre-war production has not been fully restored.
In Vukovar, there are such houses, but few of them
The famous water tower of Vukovar which was not recovered. It became one of the main symbols of the Serbian-Croatian war which the Croats called Patriotic
Peaceful reintegration assessments can be ranged conditionally along the line European Union - Zagreb - Vukovar - other territories that were occupied.
In the EU, they are glad that at that time it has managed to stop the next stage of the carnage at the EU borders (currently Croatia is a member of the EU and NATO).
In Zagreb and other occupied territories which were liberated through military means, the peaceful reintegration is assessed positively in general; it has allowed the war to end without new victims. In these areas, the victory was apparent, representatives of the Serbian armed forces who were suspected of war crimes, have been forced to leave the liberated territory for fear of reprisals, including extrajudicial, on the part of the Croatian army. Many people who actively supported the separatists left this territory, too.
The open air museum in the Karlovočka županija (Karlovocka Region). This area is reintegrated by military means
In the Vukovarska županija (Vukovar region), the center of the territory that was peacefully reintegrated, assessments a little bit differ. Many representatives of the local authorities which were in the Croatian army during the war, say that this world can be successful "for Zagreb and Kiev", although some people who live directly in the conflict zone, have a different opinion. For them, this peace is theatrical and hard to live in.
The most painful point was amnesty. The specifics of the investigation of crimes is such that in order to prove a person guilty, the evidence base is needed. Naturally, no one has collected it during the war, and it is physically impossible after the war. The most odious personalities were forced to leave the territory of Croatia, but there was a so-called "gray zone" of the law where others have been harbored.
In Vukovar there were cases when a victim recognizes in the street the tyrant and could not do anything. In some villages there are people for whom the whole village knows that they killed the Croats, but it is not possible to prove. Among the Croats, this situation causes powerless outrage, which, in part, is compensated by the state policy in the public sphere of immortalizing the victims of war.
Memorial complex at Vukovar (House of Memory) dedicated to perpetuate the memory of the hospital patients shot. Students come there from the entire country
Inside the complex
Another monument near the mass grave place
The national monument near that place
We cannot say that the remaining Serbs got any advantage over the Croats, or even some sort of autonomy in the peacefully reintegrated territory. In Vukovar you never find a flag of Srpska Krajina, and its army veterans do not receive any payments.
Recently, the issue of using the Cyrillic alphabet for the duplication of street names in the region was discussed. The initiative was rejected. Local authorities have decided that this an ordinary step at first glance, can have unpredictable consequences in terms of reintegration. Many city residents still perceive the Cyrillic alphabet as a symbol of violence.
The town and its surroundings are true Croatia and in this respect country certainly won; it has managed to avoid additional casualties among both military men and civilians, but there is a feeling of incompleteness and vagueness.
Memorial cemetery of the victims of the Patriotic War under the Vukovar
One of the local officials, a former soldier of the Croatian Army, said he orderly fulfilled all that it has been required of him in the reintegration, although it was very hard, and if to suggest him to do this again he would have refused. A visible peace and order cover pain and anger of thousands of ordinary people that were not splashed out and get out. They just tried to draw the curtain.
When some eyewitnesses of the war remember its events their hands quivered so far. Nevertheless, many say they are ready to forgive, but not to forget. It seems that upon successful implementation of the Minsk agreements a similar situation can be expected in Donetsk, too.
They will consider this peace as a peace for Brussels and Kiev, and most important peace in their hearts would not come for a long time.
We could not talk to representatives of the local Serbian institutions, but perhaps they had something to say, too. During the visit to Croatia we have heard several times from different people the phrase that the amnesty is a privilege of the winner. There is no amnesty without a victory. There was not a military victory in this part of the Croatia, but was a political one and many people have something to put in to each other as if they have been pulled apart from a fight. Good thing that no one was hurt, but in the end everyone feels lost. Some are lost, and the other had not fully defeated them.
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