A Week in Croatian Politics – Operation Storm and Controversy

Lauren Simmonds

Hrvoje Jelavic/PIXSELL

August the 4th, 2023 – This week in Croatian politics, we’re gearing up to commemorate Operation Storm (Oluja) on the 5th of August in Knin, Defence Minister Mario Banozic has come under fire, and the bizarre arrival of Milorad Dodik on Hvar in a Serbian Interior Ministry helicopter is still a hot topic.

Preparations are underway for the marking of the anniversary of Operation Storm (Operacija Oluja)

Photo: Hrvoje Jelavic/PIXSELL

Operation Storm (Oluja) was the last major battle to take place during the Homeland War/Croatian War of Independence. It is marked each year on August the 5th. Having also had a major effect on the Bosnian war, actually leading to a strategic victory, Oluja also secured victory for the Croatian Army at long last. The Serbian Republic of Krajina, which was a self-declared proto-state within the newly independent Republic of Croatia, was attacked by Croatian forces at dawn on August the 4th, 1995. By the evening hours of the 7th, Oluja had been completed.

Oluja was launched to restore a massive 10,400 square kilometres of what was rightfully Croatian territory and put it back under Croatian control. The Croatian special police supported the army in its aim, and Oluja became the largest battle on European soil since WWII.

The ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) did put three Croatian Generals on trial and charged them with war crimes, but all three were later acquitted and released. The tribunal entirely refuted the charges and the ICTY eventually ruled that Operation Storm did not have the aim of ethnically cleansing the area of the former Srpska Krajina of Serbs.

Each August (the 5th), Operation Storm’s anniversary is marked in Knin in the Dalmatian hinterland. Knin was recaptured by Croatian forces on this date in 1995. The day, called Homeland Thanksgiving Day and the Day of Croatian Defenders, and it is a public holiday for the celebration of Operation Storm across the country.

Croats and Serbs are naturally divided on the issue of Operation Storm, and figures in Croatian politics are too. While Croatia officially celebrates the day in Knin each year, the Serbs have a day of mourning for the ethnic Serbs who suffered as a result. It isn’t as plain as Croatian v Serbia, however, as some Croats also condemn it.

Members of an anti-war group protest the commemoration of Operation Storm in the centre of Zagreb, holding signs which read: “The crimes committed during Operation Storm are the responsibility of all of us” “Not in our name” and “Nationalism kills” Photo: Neva Zganec/PIXSELL

The Milorad Dodik on Hvar saga continues as Plenkovic says he only knew about the event after seeing Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic giggling about it

Photo: Goran Kovacic/PIXSELL

Yes, it sounds like something from the playground, not from Croatian politics, but Plenkovic claims he only knew that Dodik had arrived on the island of Hvar to see Croatian President Zoran Milanovic in a private helicopter after seeing Vucic laughing about it.

You can read about Dodik’s bizarre arrival on the aforementioned Central Dalmatian island by helicopter here.

Andrej Plenkovic addressed the media after a recently held conference on tourism in Opatija. Journalists asked him about the visit of Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik to Croatian President Zoran Milanovic on the island of Hvar, which caused very understadable controversy.

“We have absolutely no idea why Dodik was there, nor do we know what they talked about”

Plenkovic first spoke about Milanovic’s initial statements on Dodik’s odd visit to the island.

“The comments he made were based on the basic premise that he thinks his management model is the one we have in Croatia. When his Protocol Office sends a letter to the Department of the Interior Ministry (MUP), he assumes that in that particular department of the Interior Ministry, there’s an instant reflex among employees and officials who, whenever anything arrives, immediately inform me as the prime minister. Maybe it was like that back during his time as PM, but it doesn’t work that way with our government. If his protocol addresses MUP by letter, then it all remains at that level.

MUP isn’t a group of gossip mongers who want to inform anyone and everyone about such information, not even me. That isn’t their job. There are other ways of communication when foreign guests arrive in Croatia. I’m more interested in whether it’s normal for the Croatian public to accept that Dodik is coming to Croatia or not, but Milanovic doesn’t inform the public about it, either. What kind of secret conversations are these? I found out about Dodik arriving on Hvar after seeing Vucic giggling about whether he was on Brac or Hvar, and the only thing that matters to him is that the flight he arrived on was a Serbian Interior Ministry helicopter.

When Milorad Dodik comes into Croatia, the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina usually provides details to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but that didn’t happen

He emphasised the claim that he didn’t know what the meeting was about: “We don’t know what they discussed, we didn’t even know that he was coming, nor did he consult us on any of it. Milanovic’s followers often accuse us of not consulting them, and yet here you have an example of an elected official of Bosnia and Herzegovina coming to Croatia in an official Serbian MUP helicopter, and you ask me if we’d receive him if he’d announced himself? Of course we would have. Ask Milanovic what the nature of their little meeting is – was it about business? Was it informal? I don’t know on whose initiative he was invited to Hvar, so ask Milanovic.”

Will Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic be invited to Croatia soon?

When asked if he would soon invite Vucic, he recalled that Ana Brnabic, Serbia’s prime minister, recently visited and that he himself was in Serbia back at the end of June: “There’s always a need for meetings. We have to try and deal with numerous unresolved issues through dialogue, we always discuss these things at our meetings. Relations have been burdened since the time of Milosevic’s aggression against Croatia. But we (referring to people in Croatian politics more than the public) have an interest in having some sort of economic cooperation.”

Defence Minister Mario Banozic resigns from his position as associate professor: “To say I’m shocked is an understatement”

Photo: Zeljko Hladika/PIXSELL

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding Defence Minister Mario Banozic of late, and such hype isn’t unusual when it comes to figures in the world of Croatian politics. He has now decided to withdraw the application for election to the post of associate professor. He posted about his decision on the matter on Facebook, complaining along the way that he was “shocked by the amount of negativity pouring in” about his “academic work”.

Accusations of alleged plagiarism have been pouring in from numerous sources. Despite the noise surrounding him at this moment in time, Banozic also wrote that he doesn’t intend to give up his academic career, and that he’s only giving up on his application for associate professor while he is a minister in the government.

His Facebook post

“Dear friends,

After a lot of thinking, I have made the decision to withdraw my application for the position of titular associate professor. I’m doing this primarily out of a sincere desire to spare the Faculty of Economics in Osijek, its employees, Council members and appointed members of the Commission for the implementation of my election from further media, public and political pressure.

To say I’m shocked by the amount of negativity that has poured in regarding my academic and scientific work, which I’ve been engaged in for almost 15 years, as well as the attempts to portray me as unprofessional, dishonourable and as someone who works to the detriment of my students – is an understatement. I’ve satisfied the required conditions that every associate professor must satisfy, and I’m not going to give up on my academic career. That said, I will leave this part of it aside while I perform my duties as a minister and a member of the Croatian Government,” reads his Facebook post.


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