Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Lika Anniversary #2

Having historian for president can at times have really bad consequences. In 1993 Franjo Tudjman was probably aware of 500th anniversary of Battle of Krbava, so that might have played the role in his decision to start the attack on Medak Pocket – probably the most harmful of all Croatian military actions during 1991-95 war. The idea was to reduce "Medak Pocket" –Serb-controlled salient withiun the Croatian lines around city of Gospić (Gospic). The action, conducted by Army and Special Police, went flawlessly; with Serb forces apparently being completely taken by surprise and Croatian breech of months-long UN-sponsored ceasefire.

However, UN diplomats – already busy with Croat-Muslim complications in Bosnia – demanded not only immediate halt of the action, but also for Croatian forces to retreat (and thus prevent Serb counter-attack). Under enormous diplomatic pressure Tudjman caved in, but his forces didn't retreat fast enough, at least not for Canadian UNPROFOR contingent that was supposed to work as a buffer between warring parties. That led to the massive firefight that left tens of Croatian soldiers dead – probably the most lethal engagement between peacekeepers and local forces in all ex-Yugoslav wars. Soon it became apparent why Croatian forces were hesitant to retreat; they needed time to cover traces of massive atrocities committed against Serb civilians in Medak pocket – mostly elderly people, too ill and too frail to flee. Years later, every senior Croatian Army and police commander involved in the operation would be subjected to interrogations by Hague Tribunal.

So, the offensive against Medak Pocket was disaster – Croatian territory wasn't liberated, Croatian relations with UN and major world powers fell to all-time low, dozens of men were pointlessly killed and Croatian forces had major stain on their war record. That didn't prevent authorities in Gospić from marking the 10th anniversary of the offensive by praising the actions and everyone involved in it. Due to unfortunate historical circumstances, people of Gospić should be forgiven for their not particularly objective view of the matter, but this celebration nevertheless leaves bad impression of another dangerous historical myth in the making. This part of the world had too many such myths and it doesn't need another one.


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