Serbs Converted Local Church into a Night Club and Parish Hall into a Brothel
by Renato Ivanus
Vecernji List, Zagreb, Croatia, September 11 1999
Croats and Serbs in the Croatian Danube Valley Region [Podunavlje] are separated by an invisible, but enormous divide, which is almost never crossed these days. Inter-ethnic contacts are rare and, as far as our team could see, are mostly set up when politicians and high state and international officials visit that part of Croatia. Differences in Podunavlje are visible immediately upon entry into any village: demolished and burnt houses are those owned by Croats, while those mostly untouched (since in most of these villages there was no fighting) belong to their Serb neighbors. However, the general impression is that increasingly no one lives in Serb houses: window shades are down and doors are firmly locked.
Stories about alleged terror of returning Croats against Serbs who haven't left their houses after the re-establishment of the Croatian authority are spreading through Podunavlje. Two recent, still unsolved, murders are taken by Serbs as another proof of pressures by Croats. Even some Croat newspapers have published articles saying that there are "a lot" of such murders but that our media do not report about them. Because of that, our team headed first to the village of Berak, a small village in Podunavlje, which has during the last few weeks, after the murder of Serb Djuro Mutic, been described as a best illustration of the current relations between Croats and Serbs.
We Just Want to Give Them a Decent Burial!
Berak appeared deserted at the time of our arrival. We met two policemen on a patrol and several locals who refused to talk to us. A large concrete cross was erected in the center of the village last year. Photographs of 16 Croats from Berak for whom their families are still searching are hanging on the cross. On a nearby shop window, we spot a death notice for 13 Croat victims killed in October 1991. Their remains were found this June in a mass grave near Berak. Walking around the village we reached the local Catholic cemetery with 13 new graves of the victims from the mass grave and a large wooden cross with a sculpture which commemorates victims of the Chetnik aggression. At the bottom of the memorial we notice the inscription: "God, forgive us! Our only sin was our love for Croatia!"
"There are not many Serbs left in Berak. They live in only about ten houses. We only demand from them to tell us where our loved ones are, where they dug them in, so that we could give them a decent burial. We know that all of them know who killed our loved ones and where they lie, but no one is talking. Besides, they should leave. We do not care," explains Ljubica Zunabovic. We met her at the cemetery where her brother had been buried. He was also killed in 1991. Croats cannot get information from anyone about what took place in Berak during the occupation.
"Even the local Serbs do not want to tell us anything. The same applies to many international organizations, although we know that they frequently sent their representatives to the village during the war," explains Stanko Penavic, a local from Berak, and the head of the Tompojevci Municipality (which includes the village of Berak). He came to the cemetery with the former Berak priest Borislav Romic. The two of them offered prayers in front of the large cross. To our question about the murder of Serb Djuro Mutic, Penavic told us that it was the result of a fight under influence of alcohol, and that it would not have received any attention had it taken place only 20 kilometers away from Berak.
"All those who wrote about that murder did not want to listen to the Croat side. But, believe me, the local Croats suffered a lot from their Serb neighbors. At the very beginning the Serbs said - either Croats or Serbs shall live in this village! There can be no common life!" says Fr. Romic.
Altar Converted to Dance Podium
The inhabitants of Berak are slowly collecting pieces of the mosaic about the situation in their village under the occupation. And that mosaic is turning increasingly horrible with every new day. Immediately after the takeover of power, the Serbs removed all Catholic crosses from the village, removed the fence around the Catholic cemetery and allowed weeds to cover the graves. However, the true surprise awaited us in the church of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist in the center of the village. Namely, the Serbs converted that church into a nightclub! "I don't know, it's hard for me to describe what was going through the heads of people who did something like that. Serbs were not the only guests of that nightclub. Many of its regular patrons were members of UNPROFOR, OSCE and other international organizations. They even used to say that there was no better nightclub in all of eastern Slavonija," relates Fr. Romic while guiding us through the devastated Berak church.
The church was converted into a renowned nightclub "Galerija" by the inhabitant of Berak Milorad Momic. In the front yard of the church, he pulled down a cross and built an outdoors patio. The sacristy was converted to a bathroom. Holes were bored through the walls in order to install toilets. The main dancing room was inside the church. A bar and a mirror were installed and the altar served as a dancing podium. The choir gallery was converted into a sort of a balcony, probably for those who wanted to keep away from other guests.
Parish Hall Became a Brothel
"They painted over the walls and carried away everything from the church. But that's not the worst of that, because they even killed each other in the church," says Fr. Romic showing holes in the wall. Since blood was spilt in the church, it was desecrated and had to be blessed again last year. Momic has in the meantime escaped to Vojvodina where, as the inhabitants of Berak have found out, he is currently on trial by the Yugoslav authorities because of crime and smuggling. "Entrepreneurial" M. Momic even for a while "converted" the parish hall into a brothel! Later, that house was converted into a local health center. "We tried to find out who stole church bells. The local Serbs responded that they did not know anything about that. All of that has embittered the Croats from Berak," says Fr. Romic.
They "Helped" Them to Leave
Serbs, on the other hand respond that they are not guilty for anything and that those who wronged Croats in some way have left the village a long time ago. Croats do not believe them. Thus, recently Croats gathered with candles in front of the house of Djuro Postic for whom it was believed for a long time that he really had done nothing. However, then it was found out that he had brought and hosted three Montenegrins in his house and organized the rape of the mother of the head of the Tompojevci Municipality. Those three Montenegrins were also connected with the massacre of three Croats from Berak, who had been thrown into a well and recently exhumed. After the gathering of the Croats in front of his house, Postic left Berak. Ilija Milovic, who wounded his neighbor and was the first one to set up Serb barricades in Berak had a similar fate. His behavior during the war probably helped him to become a Serb policeman. Later he was also in the so-called transition police. However, everyone was surprised when they saw Milovic after the return to Berak as a Croat policeman! When Milojevic's (mis)deeds committed during the war became known, Croats also gathered in front of his house. He, however, ended up somewhat worse than Postic. One day, when he was returning from fieldwork he was ambushed by Croats who threw eggs on him. The message was clear and he also moved away.
"We are not hiding that we 'helped' them to move away. We all know each other, things are slowly clearing up and it is becoming known who did what during the war. All Serbs understand that and we believe that Berak will soon become a real Croat village," explain Croats from Berak.
Attempts of the International Community and Croatian authorities to enable common life in former occupied territories of Croatia will, it seems, meet their hardest test exactly in Podunavlje, around Vukovar. "Serbs who are leaving Podunavlje haven't been touched by anyone. Maybe someone may characterize our gatherings in front of their houses as some sort of psychological pressure that they cannot bear. However, our Croats murdered in 1991 were not under psychological pressure but under real terror. They were murdered and no one gave them a chance to simply leave. Our loved ones, 200 wounded and medical workers from the hospital in Vukovar who were killed in Ovcara, as well as more than a thousand Croatian fighters who were thrown into a mass grave in New Cemetery in Vukovar did not have that chance. We simply cannot forget that," conclude the inhabitants of Berak.
They Celebrated With Shooting Every Time Yugoslavs Scored
It is well known that Borovo Selo was one of the main Serb strongholds even before the beginning of the aggression against Croatia. Nothing changed during the occupation, and even now Croats are not exactly welcome in that village. While we were passing through the village we noticed the graffiti which compared NATO and Nazism. A camera immediately drew attention of several passers by. After we explained who we were and what we were doing they snapped at us: "Go to your crowd in Dalj. You have no business taking pictures here!" Nevertheless, we managed to take a picture of the graffiti. At the same time, in Dalj, where we had been "sent", the locals were revealing a memorial to victims from their mass grave. In Dalj in 1991, Chetniks massacred 20 Croat policemen who remained surrounded by the enemy. In Borovo Selo, we noticed that all street names were written in both Latin and Cyrillic [i.e. "Serb"] alphabets, that there are not too many abandoned houses in the village and that only a few of them are on sale. The inhabitants of Vukovar later told us that during the soccer match between FR Yugoslavia and Macedonia one could here celebratory shooting from Borovo Selo every time the Yugoslavs scored.
Translated on 12/10/99