Thousands Attend Vukovar Protest

Total Croatia News

ZAGREB, October 14, 2018 – The Vukovar-Srijem County Police Department said that the protest rally against inefficiency in war crimes prosecution, held in Vukovar on Saturday, drew around 9,000 people and was peaceful, with no reports of disturbance of public order.

The protest rally was initiated by Vukovar mayor Ivan Penava slightly over a month ago because of discontent with the work of state institutions in prosecuting war crimes. The town authorities said the rally was attended by some 20,000 people from around the country.

In his address at a protest rally in Vukovar on Saturday, Mayor Ivan Penava criticised the executive, legislative and prosecutorial authorities for inaction in the prosecution of war crimes committed during the aggression on Croatia in 1991 and the ensuing occupation of parts of the country, calling on state institutions to wake up and finally start working to the benefit of the victims and not war criminals.

“If you don’t know how to do it, we will help you. Change the laws that refer to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes, set up a special court, a special prosecutorial department and a special investigative team… whose staff will be selected on the basis of their performance and which will not include people who fought against this country and did not want it,” said Penava.

He also called for setting up a truth commission, a mechanism which, he said, European law was familiar with, consisting of independent people who had dedicated their lives to the truth about the Homeland War. The mayor also called on state authorities to set conditions for Serbia’s accession to the EU. “… Set up a truth commission. Don’t let crimes committed on Croatian soil be prosecuted outside Croatia. Make Serbia’s accession to the EU conditional on these reasonable demands,” said Penava.

The past 27 years has been a torture for Vukovar and all its residents, regardless of their ethnic background, Penava said. “A state that tolerates such a thing is not a state we want and we will fight it… The road will be long and difficult but not as nearly as long as the past 27 years, and not as nearly as difficult as the testimonies we have heard. That road is just, based on our values,” he said, calling on all those attending the rally as well as those who did not come to Vukovar to join them “in the fight for a fairer Croatia.”

Penava said that over the past month he had witnessed “panic and shameless attempts by state institutions to shift responsibility onto one another” and learned of different tools that were used in the judicial system to help criminals evade justice, such as shelving court cases, delaying them through frequent changes of judges, repeating witnesses questioning, and tipping-off indictees so they can flee the country.

“The responsibility of intelligence services in that context is of huge importance. All the time in the world won’t be enough for our state institutions to do their job if they continue doing it as they are doing it now. Is it true and how is it possible that the Ovčara case was opened only last year? Who is responsible for that?” he asked.

Penava added that the chief state prosecutor, who has been in office for about six months, could not be responsible for the situation in the past 27 years. “But if he chooses his predecessor as his deputy, his responsibility increases. If he chooses the man who was the chief state prosecutor from 2002 to 2014 as his second deputy, then we have the right to ask based on which achievements he was appointed,” said Penava.

Penava’s speech was accompanied by shouts of approval as well as of disapproval when he spoke about dissatisfaction with the work of state institutions and mentioned Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović. Protests were especially loud at the mention of the name of Vladimir Šeks, from whose book Penava read an excerpt.

The mayor said a new protest rally in Vukovar would be held on October 12, 2019.

Poignant testimonies of victims of the Serb aggression were shown at a rally that drew thousands of people from around Croatia to the eastern city of Vukovar, to protest against the inefficiency of state institutions in the prosecution of war crimes committed during the aggression on Croatia and the occupation of parts of its territory.

Participants in the two-hour protest watched on a video wall testimonies of a number of Homeland War victims from the 2003 documentary “Testimonies”.

The testimonies included one by a Croatian soldier who was captured and witnessed torture and killings in Serb-run prison camps set up in Vukovar. Another war veteran spoke about crimes committed on the premises of the Borovo Commerce company, in Trpinja, the village of Vera, in Dalj and in the prison camp Stajićevo in Serbia.

The testimonies included one by a woman who was raped by a man whom she knew from before the war and one by a 91-year-old man who spoke about crimes at Borovo Commerce and a farm in Dalj, where many detainees were killed by knife and thrown into a ditch, while the witness survived. He spoke about the man who tried to kill him and other people who were at the crime scene and whom he knew.

One witness spoke about the murder of his two brothers and about a woman, whom he named, and who castrated three Croatian soldiers.

A video was shown with the testimony of a Vukovar defender who was captured while at the Vukovar Hospital and taken to a prison camp in one of the local companies, where he witnessed the torture and killing of prisoners.

The rally was addressed by the president of the Vukovar mayor’s council for war veterans, Tomislav Josić, the leader of the Croatian Association of Inmates of Serb-Run Concentration Camps, Danijel Rehak, and Mayor Ivan Penava.

Josić said that over the past month there had been much speculation as to who was behind the rally and why it was being organised now, to which he said that the protest was organised “because we did not have a mayor in the past 27 years”, a statement that was met with a round of applause, with protesters chanting Penava’s name. Josić said that after the occupation of Vukovar, more than 2,000 people were killed and that no one had answered for those crimes.

Rehak said that about 30,000 people, both defenders and civilians, had passed through Serb-run prison camps and that those camps operated in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. He noted that that number referred to registered detainees. He called for dealing with the issue of war reparations and noted that during the aggression on Vukovar and its occupation, around 5,000 people, including around 1,000 defenders, were killed.

Rehak warned that in the period from 2002 to 2011 his association had filed dozens of criminal reports against people suspected of war crimes but never received any response from the Office of the Chief State Prosecutor (DORH).

Frequently interrupted by shouts “Traitors” and “Treason”, speakers at the rally criticised Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, as well as DORH and courts, which they described as particularly inefficient.


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