Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he hopes Serbs will forgive but never forget the crimes committed against murdered and exiled victims of the Croatian military’s Operation Storm 22 years ago.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Milorad Dodik, the president of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska, commemorated on Friday evening the 22nd anniversary of Operation Storm during the war in Croatia in 1995.
“When I see how many of us are commemorating… in peace and with dignity, without the desire for revenge and ugly words, I feel proud of my nation,” Vucic said at the commemoration in the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad.
The ceremony, attended by several thousand people, was held in a neighbourhood where large numbers of refugees settled after fleeing Croatia in 1995.
Dodik meanwhile accused the international community of being responsible for ‘anti-Serbian’ projects all over the former Yugoslavia that led to the persecution of Serbs during the 1990s wars.
“Storm was the final act of the official policy of the Independent State of Croatia [Croatia’s World War II Nazi-allied regime] to kill, convert or banish the Serbs,” he said at the commemoration.
The ceremony was also attended by the prime ministers of Serbia and Republika Srpska, Ana Brnabic and Zeljka Cvijanovic, Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej and state officials.
On Saturday, commemorations for the victims of Operation Storm will be held in churches all over Serbia, and sirens will be sounded at noon.
Zagreb views Storm as a military triumph that liberated its territory from Serb rebels – the crowning victory of what Croatia calls its ‘Homeland War’ for independence from 1991-95.
Many Serbs however regard Operation Storm as a crime, describing the exodus of more than 200,000 refugees who fled the Croatian offensive as ethnic cleansing.
After the majority of Serb civilians fled, the Croatian military and police killed 677 mainly elderly Serbs who had remained behind, according to the Croatian Helsinki Committee.
In 2001, the Hague Tribunal indicted three Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina, Mladen Markac and Ivan Cermak for war crimes perpetrated during Operation Storm, but all of them were eventually acquitted.
Only one Croatian soldier has been convicted of committing war crimes during the operation – Bozo Bacelic, who was sentenced to seven years by a Zagreb court for killing an elderly couple in August 1995, in front of their house on Lake Prokljan.
Croatia is holding its official commemoration of its victory during Operation Storm on Saturday in the town of Knin.