On August 4, 1995, Croatian units, relying on NATO support, launched Operation Tempest against the Republika Srpska Krajina. As a result, about 200-250 thousand Serbs were forced to leave their homes, several thousand more were killed.
"Legacy of the Ustasha"
“Today in the Western media one can find such assessments of Operation Tempest and the war in Croatia in general:“ Liberation of Serb-occupied territories ”. This is completely incorrect. Serbs have lived compactly on the territory of modern Croatia since about the 14th century, "said the head of the Department of Political Science and Sociology of the PRUE named after G.V. Plekhanov Andrey Koshkin.
According to him, peace reigned between Serbs and Croats for centuries. Tensions between them began only at the end of the 19th century - against the background of the growing popularity of nationalist ideas in the Balkans. Disagreements intensified especially before the Second World War.
“The Croatian far-right, known as the Ustashi, became one of the most brutal fascist movements in Europe and one of Adolf Hitler's most loyal allies. In the death camps and during punitive operations, they killed about 800 thousand Serbs from 1941 to 1945, ”said Koshkin.
He noted that in the post-war period, Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito, who was trying to find compromise solutions to political and cultural problems, was able to smooth over the contradictions for some time. However, in the 1980s, politicians representing the population of the national republics of Yugoslavia, seeking to gain popularity, began to play the national card.
“Even the legacy of the Ustasha went into action. Croatian leader Franjo Tudjman, who later became president, once said that the collaborators of the Second World War expressed the millennial aspirations of the Croatian people, "Koshkin explained.
- Former President of Croatia Franjo Tudjman
He noted that nationalist rhetoric contributed to the victory of Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Commonwealth party in the 1990 elections in Croatia and the establishment of an authoritarian right-wing regime in the republic. The new authorities passed legislation that deprived local Serbs of the status of "constituent nation", limited the activities of the Serbian media, and removed the Cyrillic letter from official circulation. Serbs, who made up about 12% of the population of Croatia, began to be ousted from public service.
In early 1991, Croatia created its own National Guard and began to buy weapons abroad. The seizure of the barracks and arsenals of the Yugoslav army began, clashes began between the Serbs and the Croatian security forces. In June 1991, the Croatian authorities adopted a declaration of independence for the republic. Yugoslav forces in response began to take control of Croatian territories with a predominantly Serb population. Zagreb did not control about 30% of modern Croatian lands.
In the summer of 1991, individual clashes escalated into full-scale war. There were casualties among the civilian population, war crimes against prisoners were recorded. In the fall of 1991, there were several massacres of the Serbian civilian population by the Croatian security forces. A camp was created in Pakrachka Polyana, which the Serbian media call a death camp: it carried out executions of both Serbs and the Croatian population in opposition to the official Zagreb. As a result of ethnic cleansing, tens of thousands of Serbs fled from Western Slavonia. At the end of 1991, the Republic of Serbian Krajina, with its center in the city of Knin, was created on the part of the territories of compact residence of Serbs.
In 1992, with the participation of international mediators, a ceasefire agreement was reached. According to the UN Security Council resolution, peacekeepers were sent to the region. At the same time, Western countries began to massively recognize the independence of Croatia.
The fighting did not stop completely, although its intensity decreased. Croatian forces took control of a number of Serb areas. However, in 1993, fighting resumed. Croatian units pushed Serbian units back from the Adriatic coast.
- Fighting in the Republika Srpska Krajina
In 1994, there was a temporary lull in the Croatian War. However, at the end of the year, Zagreb began to prepare for a decisive attack on the Republic of Serbian Krajina. American instructors were training the Croatian army, NATO aircraft were striking Serbian positions, and the Croatian Armed Forces were preparing a bridgehead for themselves in Bosnia.
According to Andrei Koshkin, Zagreb only imitated negotiations with Knin, refusing to discuss fundamental issues - the status of the Republic of Serbian Krajina and the extension of the mandate for the UN peacekeeping mission in the region. On May 1, 1995, the Croatian army, as part of Operation Lightning, attacked Serbian settlements in the Western Slavonia region. Several hundred Serbs, including women and children, have either been killed or gone missing. Thousands of people fled, leaving their homes. In July, the Croatian authorities entered into a joint action agreement with the leadership of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
On August 4, Croatian security forces launched Operation Tempest, the purpose of which was to establish control over the entire territory of the Serbian Krajina. As Andrei Koshkin noted, residential areas of settlements, including Knin, were subjected to fierce artillery fire.
“There was a crisis in the Republic of Srpska Krajina. There were endless sessions of parliament, new people came who did not have time to orient themselves. There was a split in the leadership. Some advocated gradual integration, while others advocated the continuation of hostilities, "Elena Guskova, head of the Center for the Study of the Modern Balkan Crisis of the Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told RT.
According to her, the 100-thousandth professional army of Croatia was opposed by the 30-thousandth army of Serbs. At the same time, the Yugoslav officers from the Republic of Serbian Krajina were recalled.
“The sanctions regime exhausted Yugoslavia, and Milosevic tried to get them lifted. Therefore, official Belgrade did not support Knin, "Pavel Kandel, head of the ethnopolitical conflicts sector at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, explained in an interview with RT.
According to Andrei Koshkin, on the morning and afternoon of August 4, the forces of the Republic of Serbian Krajina were able to hold most of the front line, but Croatian units nevertheless penetrated the defenses in several places. NATO aircraft also attacked Serbian positions.
In the evening, the authorities of the Republic of Srpska Krajina decided to evacuate residents of settlements that were under enemy fire. On August 5, 1995, Croatian units entered Knin. The capture of the city was accompanied by murder and looting. The flight of the civilian population took on an avalanche-like character.
Serbian troops also gradually retreated from their positions. Their resistance only slowed down the advance of the Croatian troops and made it possible for the civilian population to leave the battle area. On August 7, the Croatian command announced the end of Operation Tempest, but for two more days the Croatian army suppressed individual pockets of resistance, and air strikes were noted on clusters of Krajina Serbs.
- Serbian refugees
“From the point of view of humanitarian law, crimes against humanity, against the population were carried out during the operation,” stressed Pavel Kandel.
According to Elena Guskova, Croatian security forces killed the Serbs they overtook on the territory of the Republic of Serbian Krajina. The number of victims of these crimes is assessed differently in different sources. Elena Guskova speaks about 8 thousand people who died in the course of ethnic cleansing in 1995, including women, old people and children, as well as about 12 thousand people whose fate remains unknown.
“Serbia has accepted refugees. Partially they were sent to Kosovo, 60 thousand - to Vojvodina, in Serbia about 180 thousand settled in camps. By the way, these camps still remain, and many of their inhabitants do not have to talk about their own housing yet, ”the expert emphasized.
According to her, as a result of the 1995 operations, the number of Serbs in Croatia decreased by 90%.
“We have resolved the Serbian issue: there will be no more than 12% of Serbs or 9% of Yugoslavs, as it was. And 3%, how many there will be, will no longer threaten the Croatian state, ”Franjo Tudjman said later.
According to Andrey Koshkin, "The Tempest" has become the largest-scale ground military operation in Europe since the Second World War.
“This is one of the largest ethnic cleansing in modern European history. And we must learn many lessons from it, ”the specialist emphasized.
“For example, about how much you can trust the West, which cynically refused to notice war crimes and violations of international law by Croatia. And the Balkans, as they were the powder magazine of Europe, have remained. The contradictions there seem to have calmed down, but at any moment they can gain strength again, ”summed up Andrey Koshkin.