Zagreb, 5 August 2021 (Hina/MIA) — Croatia marks Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day as well as Croatian Veterans Day on Aug. 5 to remember Operation Storm, a joint military and police operation that ended a Serb armed rebellion in August 1995, and restored Croatian sovereignty over occupied central and southern parts of the country.
The central ceremony is being held on Thursday in Knin and the celebration program was drawn up in cooperation with the Croatian Public Health Institute, given the specific circumstances caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, with no more than 1,000 people attending.
The entire state leadership is expected to attend the ceremony in Knin, without representatives of the Serb minority who announced earlier they would not attend the event.
Operation Storm was a combined military and police operation that ended a Serb armed insurgency in August 1995 and restored Croatian sovereignty over occupied central and southern parts of the country, paving the way for the peaceful reintegration of eastern Croatia in January 1998.
The offensive was launched at 5 am on Aug. 4 along the line running from Bosansko Grahovo to the south to Jasenovac to the east, the front line being more than 630 kilometers long. Within the next 84 hours slightly less than 10,500 square kilometers of territory, almost a fifth of the country, was liberated.
The operation culminated on Aug. 5, when the Croatian Army’s 4th and 7th Guard Brigades liberated Knin, the heart of the Serb rebellion, displaying a 20-meter-long Croatian flag on the town’s fortress at noon.
About 200,000 Croatian soldiers and police took part in the biggest operation of the Homeland War. According to the Homeland War Memorial and Documentation Center, 196 Croatian personnel were killed, at least 1,100 were wounded and 15 went missing, while losses among Serb forces were several times higher.
Operation Storm marked the end of the war in Croatia, created conditions for the peaceful reintegration of the eastern Danube River region, helped break the siege of the northwestern Bosnian town of Bihać, and enabled the return of refugees and displaced persons.
The legitimacy of Operation Storm has been proved before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.
On Nov. 16, 2012, the Appeals Chamber reversed the Trial Chamber’s convictions of General Ante Gotovina, commander of the Split Military District, and General Mladen Markac, special police commander, and ordered their immediate release. The generals were in the ICTY’s custody on charges of involvement in a joint criminal enterprise and excessive shelling of Knin, Gračac, Obrovac and Benkovac.
Croatian President: Celebration in Knin confirms validity of Croatia’s path
On Wednesday evening, Croatian President and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces Zoran Milanović presented Croatian generals with high state decorations at the Knin fortress, saying the point was to celebrate Croatia’s successes and not to gloat over the defeat of others.
President Milanović decorated retired Lieutenant General Mladen Kruljac, retired Major General Ivan Ivan Kapular, retired Major General Jozo Miličević and retired General Zvonko Peternel. He also decorated the Military police of the Bosnian Croat Defense Council (HVO) and the HVO special purpose unit “Ludvig Pavlović.”
“There had been too much blood and heavy emotions for this to be turned this into some kind of gloating. We are here to decorate the best among you. The decorations I am bestowing here today (…) are not aimed at hurting anyone, they are aimed at underlining the validity and greatness of our path,” Milanović said.
“In 1995, we put an end to Croatia’s occupation and to everything that was bothering, hurting and destroying us for several years. The bravest, the smartest, the most determined among you have made that battle possible.
“The Americans were and still are our friends, but if it hadn’t been for you, soldiers and police, and the then political and military leaders, we would not have this,” Milanović added.
“Here, for the second year in a row, I will decorate our brothers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, our fellow-fighters and members of our people living in another country who made sacrifices for the common goal,” Milanović said.
Also present was Defense Minister Mario Banožić who said he was honored to be in the company of people who were part of the Homeland War and who participated in many operations including Operation Storm.
“When I became defense minister I spoke to many of you (…) and I realised then that when you enter the system of defense and the Croatian Army, you must stop dealing with daily politics. Why? Because this is the only way for the Croatian Army to move forward, get modernized and develop. And that is what you fought for,” Banožić said.
He said that during his recent trip to the United States he talked to U.S. officials about the 25 years of partnership between the two countries, adding that the U.S. was and remained the most important ally in forming and transforming the Croatian Army.
“Today we can proudly say that we stand shoulder to shoulder with the biggest army in the world,” Božinović concluded.
Croatian PM: We will not allow anyone to question legitimacy of Operation Storm
Magnanimity in victory does not mean that Croatia will ever allow anyone to question the legitimacy of Operation Storm or the defensive nature of the Homeland War, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković told the ceremony in Knin on Thursday marking the 26th anniversary of the operation that ended a Serb armed insurgency in 1995.
“It is always a special feeling to come to Knin on this day, because it is an opportunity for us to remember the days of pride and victory which are deeply impressed on the hearts of all Croats, but which are also an expression of lasting gratitude to all those who gave their lives so that Croatia could live and be free,” Plenković said in his speech, extending his best wishes for Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day and Croatian Veterans Day.
“Today we pay tribute to the victorious Croatian army and police who, under the leadership of President Franjo Tuđman, defeated in battle the criminal policy of the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milošević, which secured Croatia’s survival, ended the war and established lasting peace.
“That victory and our legitimate right to live as free people in our own country was, unfortunately, paid in the lives of the bravest of Croatian sons to whom we are forever grateful, as we are to many members of the ethnic minorities who also defended Croatia,” Plenković said.
“Today we are in thoughts with the families of the defenders who were killed, Croatian disabled war veterans and many civilian casualties,” he said, stressing that the Homeland War and the victories won in Operation Storm, as well as in Operation Flash and other military operations that preceded it, were the foundations of the present Croatian state.
“That’s why shedding light on the truth about missing persons, the prosecution of war crimes and the attainment of justice for everyone who was caused pain remains our lasting duty,” the prime minister said, adding that “we will always celebrate Operation Storm in dignity so that future generations would also foster the values of the Homeland War.”
He said that after symbolic gestures made at last year’s anniversary, his government would continue to pursue the policy of reconciliation, co-existence and understanding, respecting the historical truth and paying respects to all innocent victims.
“But magnanimity in victory does not mean that we will ever allow anyone to question the legitimacy of Operation Storm and the defensive nature of the Homeland War. This is also a message to our neighbor, Serbia, which in my opinion should abandon the futile rhetoric of the past, face up to its own responsibility, pursue a policy of reconciliation and look to the future,” Plenković said.
He said that the sacrifices made oblige Croatians to strengthen the Croatian state in the political, economic, defense and security aspects and to respond to the challenges facing the nation, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the recovery after the economic crisis, the imperative of demographic survival, post-earthquake reconstruction, climate change and natural disasters.
He said that Croatia would continue to act in its national interests by pursuing the policy of modern sovereignty based on its membership of NATO and the European Union. Here he cited the construction of the Pelješac Bridge, which will provide a direct road link between southern Croatia and the rest of the country, the completion of the motorway in Istria County, forthcoming membership of the Schengen area and the euro area, and the purchase of fighter jets.
“We are doing all this while strengthening our international position and using the benefits of EU membership and at the same time taking care of Croatian war veterans and their families,” the prime minister said.