HARPER'S MAGAZINE, November 01, 2001
Planning Croatia's Final Solution
HARPER'S MAGAZINE, December 2001, pp. 20-22 READINGS
From minutes of the September 12 and September 19, 1993, meetings of the
Council for Defense and National Security of the Republic of Croatia. That
year, Croat forces murdered up to 400 Serb civilians in the town of Gospic;
in 1995 almost 600,000 Serbs were driven from the Krajina region. This
transcript is the first proof that President Franjo Tudjman planned and
directed ethnic cleansing and other war crimes. The minutes were obtained by
Chris Hedges of the New York Times. Tudjman died in December 1999.
SEPTEMBER 12, 1993
PRESIDENT FRANJO TUDJMAN: Gentlemen, it seems that during the last few days
we have had a great military success with the Gospic operation. At the
moment when the whole world is recommending - those from the friendly
countries as well as the others - that we pursue extreme caution and
political flexibility, we nevertheless let ourselves be drawn, both by the
Serbs' provocations as well as by our own decision, into a situation that,
momentarily, no matter how we interpret it, we have commenced an attack,
which they have survived, and, given our own preparations, that cannot be
hidden. Croatia can be held to a charge that it is preparing a war with the
Serbs in Croatia.
I must admit, that this is my responsibility, as I have permitted the Gospic
operation. When General Bobetko came to me with the proposal I took into
account the Serb provocations - small provocations; for example, their
entrance into the Velebit Range, where they killed some three special
policemen, cutting off an ear of one, then the placing of mines at Pakrac,
thereby creating a certain political climate both in the public and the
parliament - so I accepted the proposal that we are going into this
operation, although I was not informed, as I later found out, about all the
elements. For example, I knew that Divoselo is Serb, but I did not know that
all of these villages, which we conquered, were Serb.
In that way, too, considering that we were carrying on the negotiations
about a cease-fire, we brought ourselves into a situation that we can
justify only with difficulty, that at a moment when we were discussing a
cease-fire we turned to a war operation. The members of the international
community followed what is happening and why it is happening. And then we
gave them a little bit of different material. Do not think that what General
Bobetko is proposing, that we prepare two attacks, that they do not observe
this and they do not have the exact information. And then, in addition, in
our statements we brought ourselves into a very unfortunate situation.
General Bobetko, I told you that after this operation it should be explained
that they attacked first - that is, in the Velebit - and that they did what
they did, etc. I said that one has to go before the TV cameras and show the
GEN. JANKO BOBETKO: That will be this evening.
PRESIDENT: Therefore, we have to attempt to put our actions in harmony with
international policy in order to regain sovereignty over the whole territory
with international support and in a peaceful way. Of course, I am not an
illusionist to think that we shall succeed in this, but then we should not
make our tasks more difficult. We have to get ready.
PRIME MINISTER NIKICA VALENTIC: Mr. President, I have to say a word.
President, with the Serbs in Croatia we shall not solve the problem. The
only question is when is the time to solve it in another way.
PRESIDENT: Yes, I know that.
VALENTIC: Therefore, and this is something of which I want to convince you,
as a man who spent his whole life down there [in the Gospic area], the Serbs
do not accept any political solution. I think that all we need to do is to
prepare better and hit them from several sides. Thank you.
PRESIDENT: Prime Minister Valentic, with the Serbs in Croatia, those who are
now leading Knin and Baranja, no. But that is just a small group, and they
still depend on Belgrade. And the problem is, will the international
community force Belgrade to stop supplying them?
The moment when Serbia is forced to do this, then we are going to solve the
question of Serbs in Croatia. Then that miserable group of some 10 to 20
percent will leave Croatia and then we shall solve that.
And it is clear that we shall not be able to solve it. But should we begin
only with that premise, then that means war, which the world will not
permit. That is not the only focal point, only the question of national
minorities in Croatia. Such problems exist throughout the world, in the
Soviet Union, Africa, the Middle East, etc. The international community is
oriented toward the resolution of these questions in a peaceful way - for
example, as the relations between the Arabs and Israel are being resolved -
and that directs us to follow that path, not by war; whereas in our country
there is a growing understanding that Croatia must resolve the problem by
war, contrary to international norms, meaning by ethnically cleansing the
Serbs from Croatia. That is happening in practice because we cannot hide
that they have the information that in Slavonia, western Slavonia, some
thirty Serb villages disappeared from the face of the earth, and that now
these three, four Serb villages were eradicated. This creates a certain
picture of Croatia on which we cannot build our political status or economic
relations with the world. Understand that.
VALENTIC: That is not the issue, President, but this awaits us in a year
again. It is only the question of timing. This awaits us.
PRESIDENT: Yes, if it awaits us then it means that we have to prepare also
politically, that we have to prepare ourselves better militarily, and then
we also have to prepare so that after our future operation they will no
longer be able to hit Zagreb.
VALENTIC: President, as you know, there are many mixed marriages in Gospic;
several civilians and old ladies are in Senj, where there is a certain
concentration camp, and that is where we should take those that we captured
at Citluk and Pocitelj. We should place them there in an acceptable way and
then show them off and say a few things. Because I know this for sure -
because they asked me to intervene, a granddaughter of one of these is
married to my cousin - that in Senj there is a concentration area where you
have these refugees from Citluk, Divoselo, and Pocitelj. Then we show them
that we do it in this fashion.
PRESIDENT: That would be very good, very good.
VALENTIC: And then when we display them, we pretty them up, wash them, etc.
SEPTEMBER 19, 1993
PRESIDENT: Gentlemen, I open this meeting of the Council for Defense and
National Security with the agenda: the development of the situation
concerning Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croat-Serb relations. In addition,
these UNPROFOR people [U.N. peacekeepers] and others tell us that we did not
have to leave the cleanest clearance behind us after we retreated.
MATE GRANIC [Foreign Minister]: That is the last news, the main news of the
last twenty-four hours on the SKY News and CNN.
BOBETKO: We turned over fifty-two, so it was said, usable Serb bodies, and
the rest were removed. There are some fifty, sixty, in the forest, because
it is more difficult to collect them in the forest. But it could happen that
they [UNPROFOR] entered a little bit too fast. However, that was cleansed,
absolutely. They cannot find anything over there, at least I think so.
PRESIDENT: Gentlemen, to conclude, I have another obligation. Three things:
no military actions from our side now and no provocations; prepare to
swallow, because now things are being solved in the United Nations and it is
important to know whether the Croats are for a peaceful solution or not.
Therefore, continue the conversations with Serbs on all levels. That is one
thing. Second, Mate [Granic], in Bosnia and Herzegovina under all
circumstances carry through the agreements [with the Bosnians], particularly
everything that we did there - concentration camps, etc., etc.
[John R. MacArthur, President and Publisher of Harper's Magazine, is the
author of "Censorship and Propaganda" in the Gulf War, New York: Hill and
Note: During this period of Tudjman's meetings of Sept 12 and 19, 1993,
Croatian forces attacked Canadian peacekeepers in a UN-protected area, the
Medak Pocket. Medak is south of Gospic and near Pocitelj, mentioned in the
transcript of the meetings.
This battle is described in the following sources:
MPs listen in awe to story of battle: The Vancouver Sun
The Ottawa Citizen, Canada, Monday, October 7, 1996, pp. 6-7
"Canada's Secret Battle"
By DAVID PUGLIESE, CITIZEN Defence Writer
After the Ottawa Citizen broke the story, other newspapers in Canada printed
the full story or a shorter version. The following excerpt is from the
Toronto Star summary of the battle:
The Toronto Star, Tuesday, October 15, 1996, p. A1,13
"Honor for our troops in Canada's secret battle"
OTTAWA (CP) - In 1993, Canadian soldiers fought their biggest battle since
the Korean War. The action pitted Canadian personnel and French troops under
Canadian command against the war-hardened Croatian army in a tiny corner of
the former Yugoslavia. When the shooting stopped, there were four Canadian
and seven French soldiers wounded. Croatian media put their army's
casualties at 27 dead or wounded. But until now few Canadians outside of the
military knew of the engagement or the performance of their troops.It is
Canada's secret battle....
On Sept. 9, 1993, the Croatian army had attacked near the town of Medak in
the Krajina, an area controlled by Serbs in eastern Croatia. More than 2,500
Croatian troops, backed by tanks, had advanced into a 35-square-kilometre
area known as the Medak Pocket. After several days of heavy fighting with
the Serbs, the Croats had agreed to a UN-brokered ceasefire that required
them to pull back to their original lines.
Calvin and French Gen. Jean Cot., head of the U.N. mission, had agreed that
the Patricias would establish a buffer zone between Serb and Croatian
armies. Cot told Calvin the UN had a credibility problem and needed a
successful mission in Yugoslavia. No more would UN troops pull back each
time the Croats or Serbs attacked. It was now time to enforce the peace.
Calvin and his men had already endured a 24-hour Croatian artillery and
mortar barrage, and some Canadians were still shaken. In Medak, where
Canadians manned an observation post, 525 bombs had landed, and four of
Calvin's soldiers had been wounded.
About noon on Sept. 15, 250 Canadian troops and 500 French soldiers under
Calvin's command started to move in between the Serb and Croat front lines.
They were supported by another 375 Canadian soldiers, including engineers,
medics and anti-tank teams. More than half the Canadians were reservists.
The Serbs watched as the UN troops advanced but did nothing. The Croats
Sgt. Rod Dearing's men of 8 Platoon, Charlie Company, were digging in around
the village of Sitlik when the Croats attacked.
"The whole place just lit up," said Dearing, a native of Armstrong, B.C.
"They started firing at us with everything - 20-millimetre cannon, mortars,
machine guns, everything. It was crazy." The Canadians scrambled into their
trenches and returned fire. During a second attack, the platoon spotted the
Croats. Flashes from their machineguns could be seen from a hedgerow and
trees 150 metres away. After a fierce firefight, the shooting on the
Croatian side died down.
Dearing and his troops weren't the only Canadians fighting back. Twenty
separate gun battles would be fought that day and night with the Croats.
At 9 a.m. the following morning [Sept. 16], French troops who were in the
rear started moving forward. Backed by armored vehicles, they moved up past
the Canadians and toward the Croatian positions. By then the Croats were
falling back. Later that morning, the Canadians heard small-arms fire and
explosions, and saw smoke rising from Serb villages behind the Croatian
lines. The Croats were killing Serb civilians.
An armored platoon started toward the burning villages but was stopped for
90 minutes by a heavily armed Croatian unit which apparently wanted to delay
the Canadians, to enable their ethnic cleansing units to finish their
killing and looting. "That was the hardest thing - to sit there and watch
that and be essentially helpless to do anything," recalled Calvin, who had
moved up to the barricade.
Calvin didn't have the firepower to match the Croats, but he did have
another weapon: A European television crew and several Serb journalists were
with the column. Calvin gave an impromptu news conference in the middle of
the road, telling reporters the Croats were killing civilians just on the
other side of the barricade. The Croatian commander, worried about his
country's image, opened the roadblock and let the Canadians pass.
When they finally reached the villages, the Canadians found 16 bodies of
civilian victims. Every single building in the Medak Pocket, 312 houses and
barns, had been destroyed. More than 130 large farm animals had been
slaughtered. Scattered on the ground were hundreds of pairs of surgical
gloves. It appeared that more people had been murdered and the Croats wore
the gloves when piling bodies into trucks for removal from the area. Days
later, the Croats turned over 50 bodies.
Another source is Tested Mettle, by Scott Taylor and Brian Nolan (Ottawa:
Esprit de Corps Books, 1998), Chapter Eight, "Medak Pocket."
Cedric Thornberry, Deputy Head of UNPROFOR in the former Yugoslavia from
1992 to 1994, also described the Croatian war crimes in the Medak Pocket in
"Saving the War Crimes Tribunal," Foreign Policy, Fall 1996.
THE SUNDAY (TORONTO) SUN: The Medak Massacre: Canada's trial by fire
The New York Times: War Crimes Panel Finds Croat Army 'Cleansed' Serbs