Deserters and Soldiers in Croatia (tekst iz 1992)
Evo teksta kojeg sam prenio u prethodnom postu na engleskom, kako je bio objavljen (skenirano).
Deserters and soldiers in Croatia: or, how can you be a pacifist in a country under siege?
On the occasion of. International Conscientious Objectors' Day, the DFG-VK [a German section of the WRI] placed an anti-war appeal in newspapers in Europe and in the warring Republics of ex- Yugoslavia. The appeal calls on people to "Stop the war!" and to "Refuse participation in it!" It calls on the Serbian and Croatian authorities to introduce an amnesty for all who have refused military service, refused mobilisation or deserted, and that no new call-up letters be sent. It calls for rejection of participation in the war and sees this as an effective means of stopping it.
Bui is this really true? The text of the appeal raised doubts among members of the Croatian Anti-War Campaign and led to debates. The first observation was that one and the same text couldn't be used for an appeal in both the aggressor country (Serbia) and the country under attack (Croatia). But that explanation is shallow and could lead discussion off on the wrong track.
The essence of the misunderstanding became clear to me when 1 imagined myself in the position of the appeal's authors. They perceive the war as something far away at the front where two armies are pounding each other. They feel that leaders start wars to further their own interests and use the tools of manipulation or sheer torce to mobilise their subjects. Ordinary people are sent call-up letters.
That's exactly how many people in Serbia perceive the war, especially in Voj-vodina. The war is being waged on foreign territory; Serbia itself isn't threatened. There are a lot of deserters, and they are active in public. To them the ethical dilemma of how to react to the war poses itself in simple form.
War comes uninvited
For a majority of Croatians this war is something quite different. They are not called up, but rather the war has come uninvited into their cities and homes. The war was preceded by a decade of gradually-deepening crisis: economic decline, social paralysis, the legitimacy crisis of the existing system, social anomie, the conflicts of factions within the ruling elite, the growth of nationalism and distrust towards other national-ethnic groups, the eversharper rhetoric of political leaders, demonstrations and dictatorship in Kosovo, isolated outbursts of inter-ethnic conflict, a stepped-up phase of armament, the tendency to break away from co-existence with "hostile" peoples, more and more inter-ethnic incidents ...
The first calls to arms were in Serbia, as early as 1987. From 1989 on many political lenders were enthusiastically calling for war. In Croatia the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) came to power at elections in 1990, and an authoritarian system of power began to be established. According to the lucid words of a prominent member of the opposition, the system in Croatia isn't chauvinist and doesn't have anything against Serbs in particular: rather, it's equally irritated by everyone who's "different". Although the Croatian regime hasn't been as aggressive as the Serbian one, it too accepted the logic of violence being a normal means of resolving problems.
Thinking it wouldn't come to war
Initially we all knew that the situation was bad and that there would be violence with loss of life. But we didn't think that it would come to war. We thought there would be a situation like the one in Northern Ireland, in Corsica or among the blacks in the USA, where violence is always present, but life goes on.
It is largely the so-called "Yugoslav People's Army" which is to blame for this situation having descended into war. It bears the responsibility for terrible, senseless destruction. Directly or indirectly it is the culprit for 90 per cent of the deaths and 99 per cent of the material destruction in Croatia. The same is now true in Bosnia-Herzegovina too. Right from the start it armed and protected the one side — the Serbian-ethnic rebels and the extremists sluiced in from Serbia. From the middle of 1991 it has stood openly on their side and gone on the offensive against Croatia.
From that moment on, the situation changed drastically. Some young Croatian men fled the country prior to that and have avoided the horrors that have become part of our everyday life. Many of those who have left could not understand how two or three months later some of their friends were in the army and had in some cases had even joined up voluntarily.
The aggressor descended upon Croatia, destroying all in his path without any military logic (a "normal" military objective would have been to take objects, not destroy them). They claimed that Vukovar was a Serbian city, and then proceeded to raze it to the ground.
The aggressor destroys houses, economic targets, churches, libraries. It uses the "burned earth" tactic to "clear the terrain" of all Croatians and other non-Serbs, Today in the occupied territories there are practically no more Croatians — 300,000 have had to flee.
Face to face with evil
We've come face to face with terror, with madness, with concentrated evil. If 1 were religious, I would talk about work of the Devil, and that explanation would make life easier for rne. In explaining this situation to people from abroad, I used the analogy of Poland and Germany in the Second World War. The regime in power in Poland was detestable and authoritarian, but it was a joke compared with the one in Nazi Germany. Wnen Hitler invaded Poland it was obvious who was the aggressor. Democratic Europe rose in defence of the country under attack, and Poles who had until then been in opposition to the regime (for example, Communists) became ardent patriots.
Croats weren't "called up" to fight — the war has been thrust upon them. Bombs began falling on their homes, the lives of their friends and family were at risk. In the critical summer months of 1991 the heaviest burden of defence was borne by people who organised themselves when directly in the face of danger. In Vukovar, for example, several well-to-do inhabitants used their money to buy up several thousand automatic rifles and other weaponry which allowed three months resistance. Here is an excerpt from "A man from Vukovar: a veteran's tale", the text of a conversation in ARKzin .5/6 (May 1992) with someone who survived that fighting:
"We felt that we had no friends, neither in Zagreb nor anywhere else. Everyone knew that we felt deserted. And Zagreb was just as guileful towards us as the enemy. The only forces close to us were the attacking Chetniks! So you can imagine what we thought of those who didn't send us any anti-tank weapons, even after we'd made public submissions to get some. For more than a month we defended the city by crawling up to their dead just to get a few rounds of ammunition."
The first call-up — and the paramilitaries
The State was in chaos and regular mobilisation didn't start until the autumn. And regular Croatian troops weren't formed until early 1992. Around 30 per cent of those called up for service refused. For the time being there's no atmosphere of mass persecution and repression against them. Irregular armed bodies continue to exist, such as HOS (the armed wing of the Croatian Party of the Right, HSP).
In such a situation many opponents of the war and critics of the authorities changed their stance and went into the army. But they didn't necessarily change their convictions. They didn't take up arms to fight for grand words and slogans, but rather in defense of their loved ones. My old friend Deni expressed this well in his article "How 1 killed two men" in ARKzin 4 (February 1992):
"I'm fighting on the side of Croatia: not for the sake of territory, not for some new democracy, not for a leader of a flag, not out of hate. I went to war as a volunteer because of the humanist ideals I've been indoctrinated with (can a soldier be a humanist?), because of all those who've been brutally attacked, subject to persecution, slaughter and massacres, for all those who cry and suffer and despair in this war. And also because of those on the other side — Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro — who have been driven into this war and forced by others to burn and kill and now deserve nothing but contempt."
Deni describes himself as a "Croatian by blood, a Yugoslav and cosmopolitan by conviction, a Communist with a symbolic bond with the five-pointed star." I've known him for five or six years, a young worker and a fighter for workers' rights. He's a Communistln the way the workers' leaders were in the olden days. He's been in the army for quite some time now and I've heard no news from him for the last few months, 1 don't know if he's still alive.
Coming to terms
with terror and madness
We've had to come to terms with terror and with absolute madness. Perhaps it was once possible to change things without offering armed resistance, but now a time has come where it's simply no longer possible. Today in the Croatian army you can meet people who say quite seriously that they're pacifists. Indeed, ideas of peace often meet with more understanding there than they do in the structures of civilian authorities.
The closest front line to where 1 live is along the river Kupa, 30-40km from Zagreb. Regular Zagreb bus services to the outskirts take you to within a few hundred metres of the front line. Is it right to call on soldiers holding defensive positions there to "refuse participation in the war" when I know that on the other side of the river all the Croatian villages are burned and Croatian refugees have filled Zagreb's hotels, student hostels and gymnasiums for the best part of a year?"
In this tragedy everyone has to make their own, existential choice. There are no general ethical principles which could tell us what to do in such a situation. Everyone will have to answer to their conscience for everything they do or don't do, no-one is "innocent". This is where 1 see one of the main tasks of pacifists in Croatia today: to convey to people that the madness, the terrors of war and the forces of evil are not just on the other side, just as fascism didn't just exist in Germany and Italy. We have to face up to the madness in ourselves and create a new sense of unity in which we can defeat it.
Have we all become wild animals?
As said by the veteran we mentioned from Vukovar: "We have all become wild animals in this war. Both them and us. Them more so, because they had more to fuel their madness with, and they were fed with this obsession more systematically. Though we should be careful: this is not a war of Serbs against Croats, nor of Serbia against Croatia. At least in Vukovar it wasn't. Among those who were on our side in Vukovar were Serbs, ordinary people from off the streeet who fought against the Serbian aggressors because they realised that the attackers wanted to destroy Vukovar and everything in it."
He's convinced of the rightness of his cause, but he hasn't become a fanatic. At the end of the conversation, when asked "What about God? Don't they say this is also a religious war?", he answered after some hesitation: "After all that I've done I'll never be forgiven."
The author of the text in ARKzin says of this man from Vukovar: "The most frightening thing of all is that he was and is an absolutely normal man" — a normal person who will have to live with such a terrible dilemma. The madness is in all of us and we have to come to terms with it, otherwise it will destroy us and we'll become just like those who've attacked us — people (and a people) worthy of contempt. The symptoms of this illness have been visible in Croatia for the last few months. Those in power are assured that they're right and convinced of their ability to judge what is right and what is wrong. It's all the normal people, pacifists and veterans, who'll have to live with doubt.
Evidence that this illness has also afflicted those in power is provided by the fact that the appeal mentioned at the beginning of this article couldn't be published in Croatia. We sent it to Dtiuas, the liberal and supposedly independent weekly, we paid for the advertisement in advance, but it was never published because it didn't meet with their approval. In Belgrade it appeared in the independent weekly Vreme. At present in Croatia the last vestiges of the independent media are under assault (such as the daily Slobodna Dalmacija) no one is allowed doubt. Our strle has only just begun.
ARKzin, Centre for Peace, Nonviolence, and Human Rights, Tkalciceva 38, 41000 Zagreb, Croatia (tei +38 41422 495; fax 271143;
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