by Davor TOLJ
We are listening to Stanka Dudukovic from the village of Veljun, near Slunj. Kordun [region] is in bloom. We are in mid May, the mountains are green again, shimmering in numerous shades of green. Meadows, hills, valleys, forests, all beckon to a man. The clear Korana River peacefully flows. Life could be good here, if only devil kept away.
It's been ten days since the incident, but the tension in the hills around Slunj is still high. While they are calm, people are prepared to be open minded, but when blood starts boiling, it brings up memories and memories are not nice. Kordun is truly covered by graves.
A group of Croats did not like that Serb gathering, so that they prevented the holding of the commemoration. A Police intervention possibly prevented a bloody incident. The incident was marked by a shameful outburst of Biserka Legradic, who settled in Veljun a few years ago. She pulled down her trousers and in front of everyone present urinated on the monument. Witnesses stated that later she said that in her country she could piss wherever she liked.
The incident had all the elements of passionate madness: two groups of opposing convictions, Police, placards, shouts, curses, threats and a lot of adrenaline in blood. It makes sense to ask why all of that happened.
"They celebrated a Chetnik [Serb royalist guerrillas in WWII; committed crimes against Croats and Bosnian Muslims] uprising. They were not commemorating victims of fascism. Serbs want to establish some sort of their cantons in Croatia and threaten us by saying that we Croats are here only temporarily. Only four elderly grannies remained in Veljun after the 'Storm', and today there are already 400 returnees in the village. Some of them are proven enemies of our state," believes Vladimir Legradic, a defender of Croatia and Biserka's husband.
There were several motives for the action "monument", and the history goes back 60 years. According to Dragan Hazler, the president of the Slunj branch of Croatian Domobran [armed forces of the Croat puppet pro-Nazi state in WWII], the key of the problem is in the date chosen for the commemoration for the Veljun victims.
"Serbs gathered on May 6, on the Serb Orthodox holiday St. George's day, but we know that the victims were slain on May 9, 1941. Furthermore, on the eve of St. George's day fifty nine years ago, Chetniks slaughtered several members of the Mravunac family. Only a minor, Milka Mravunac, survived and she is still alive," says Hazler.
According to him, Serbs from Kordun are not loyal to Croatia, they are nationalists and serve to Serbia as a fifth column. They celebrate their Chetniks and the Kosovo myth. Croats are bitter. The inhabitants of Slunj claim that the original plaque on the monument in Veljun was written in Latin script and had anti-fascist marks. At the same spot, early in the Homeland War, Chetniks set up a bunker and shot and killed Croats.
Not all Serbs from Veljun are prepared to speak in public about the local events. They say that they would gladly talk about everything, but they are afraid. They are afraid of a handful of extremists among the Croats, who have settled in Veljun and occupied other people's property. They mention Tomislav Turek as an example. He keeps a restaurant and three Serb houses. He has severely beaten up the real owner and his son when they came to discuss the property. Allegedly a whole slew of charges against Turek exists, but nothing has been done about them so far.
"Some of them are trouble, but most Croats do not bother us. If we knew what was going to happen, we would not have even touched the monument. It would be better if they totally demolished it during the war and buried it, so that we didn't even know where it was. We just wanted to pay our respects to 520 slain persons and nothing else," says a Serb and tells us his name and surname but requests to remain anonymous.
The returnees claim that commemorations have always been held in Veljun on May 6, since the massacre took place on that day in 1941. May 6 was the official day of the local commune and the local school, and the local soccer club was also named May 6. Serbs claim that the whole story has nothing to do with the celebration of St. George's day, and emphasize that the original plaque was also written in the Cyrillic script.
Now, say the Serbs, the situation is absurd. The Police guard the monument non-stop, and if the policemen have to guard every monument in the country, then we are in trouble. The inhabitants of Veljun do not understand why the same people provoke an incident on one day and then the following day show up to place a wreath.
The Police check on the local Serbs and inquires whether there are any problems, but Serbs do not trust the Police. Why? Because, they say, the same policemen eat, drink and make plans every day with the extremists.
I ask them whether they have the support of Serb politicians from Croatia, for example Milorad Pupovac or Milan Djukic, and whether they have visited Veljun?
"What politicians, what Pupovac? He was the first one to run away once it got dangerous. He came in a new car and left, and we stayed behind. We are supposed to continue to live in Veljun. If we did not recognize Croatia we would not have come back to Veljun. We must keep quiet and bear this," they respond, demanding to remain anonymous in order to avoid any future problems.
Croats claim that Serb returnees are encouraged by the change of authorities in Croatia and that that is why the local Serbs in Veljun have rebuilt the monument and organized a commemoration this year on St. George's day. Our interlocutors claim that elderly returnees are simply checking the situation on behalf of the younger ones who participated in the war and today live in Serbia.
"Why am I to suffer because of thieves who stole and did crimes? May God punish me if I hurt a single Croat. And God will punish evil people both among the Serbs and Croats. My nine children are in this grave. I took flowers to their grave and extremists greeted me with curses and insults. I was saved by the Police," elderly woman Stana Mrkalj says quietly.
The local inhabitants say that Croat extremists put together a fake flier and distributed it as if it were a Serb flier. The flier stated that all Serbs were invited to the commemoration in Veljun on St. George's day in honor of Chetniks died between 1941 and 1945 as well as patriots slain in the war between 1991 and 1995. The goal was to provoke anger among Croats.
"Extremists are organized and sent here with the goal of stopping and preventing the return, but the hatred of Serbs also plays a role," says Mileta Stipic, a Serb, a defender of Croatia and a war veteran, while his uncle Dusan Stipic adds that every citizen of Croatia must have been hurt by the scene of urination on the monument for the victims of fascism.
May is going by and everywhere you look, everything is green. A lot of clear water will flow in the Korana River until tolerance takes root in Kordun. Next year is the 60th anniversary of the massacre in Veljun and everyone is waiting to find out whether the commemoration will take place and on which day it will be held.
"I think that this is the swan's song of the extremists, who are ignored by most Croats. The people will marginalize extremists. 70 percent of local inhabitants have family links or friendly relations with Croats," claims Kelebarda.
The teacher admits that mistakes were made by the Serbs as well. At the beginning of the last war, the Serbs totally destroyed the village of Hrvatski Blagaj, which, according to Kelebarda, should have been prevented.
"The Serbs could have been proud if they did not set the village on fire. I told them that then, and they did not like that. Fortunately, the Croats did not retaliate in the same way during the operation 'Storm'. Veljun was preserved, only a few houses were destroyed," emphasizes the teacher.
Although all the newspapers published that she is a mother of a slain defender of Croatia, she denies that. Her son died, but not in the war. "I do not have a problem with honest Serbs, nor with coexistence. You can ask my neighbors. But I have a problem with Chetniks. If they intend to again establish their Chetnik Krajina, then they should not be here. Why did we fight, why did our boys die, and we even cannot find their graves," emphasizes Legradic.
According to her, the Serbs provoked Croats by gathering around the monument on St. George's day. If they held the commemoration on May 9, when the victims were slain, there would have been no problems. Biserka claims that on several occasions they begged Serbs and all the Croat officials in Zagreb to postpone the gathering to May 9, but without success. All of them later claimed that they hadn't received our faxes.
"Lately, true Chetniks are coming back, instead of elderly and the poor. The Government says that we are extremists and rightists, while at the same time they allow proven Chetniks to walk around. I'd rather die this very moment than watch my grandchildren becoming Communist Pioneers. Communists and Chetniks are coming back. What sort of people are we, Croats? Are we stupid? We forget everything," believes Legradic.