A Guarantee of Repetition

In June, I called both the minister and the chief of staff, and in early July, I pleaded with them. I told them that there is currently a war going on in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the territory of the Croatian state border. Therefore, everything must be done to help maintain that territory. It’s not the same for us whether the Croatian state border will be Jajce with Travnik or only with Novi Travnik, Vitez, Busovača… With a unified Bosnia, we would lose Bosnia completely – all of Bosnia would be against us. But this way, we will have, listen, Croatian state borders that we perhaps never had in history.

Franjo Tuđman at the meeting with the Ministry of Defense leadership on November 6, 1993.

Between June 12th and June 16th, 1993, units of the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) carried out attacks in the villages of Grahovci, Han Ploča, Tulica, and Radanovići. These villages were part of the Kiseljak municipality, located about fifteen kilometres south of Kiseljak, towards Sarajevo. The first attacked village was Tulica on June 12th and 13th, with intense shelling, after which the HVO infantry units Apostoli and Maturice entered the village. Witnesses describe how HVO soldiers sang and shouted while burning houses, looting property, killing civilians (including the elderly and women), and forcing the population to leave. The survivors were loaded onto trucks and taken to the barracks in Kiseljak, where they endured torture and were later taken to the front lines to dig trenches, under to crossfire.

Han Ploča and Grahovci are connected villages also located south of Kiseljak, towards Sarajevo. After Tulica, these villages were attacked in the same manner, starting with shelling. In this case, the HVO established cooperation with the Army of Republika Srpska, which was located on the other side of these municipalities, so the units of both armies synchronized their shelling of the village and set fire to a larger number of houses. Afterward, the HVO infantry units entered the village, shot the civilians they found, looted the population, and witnesses claim they also set fire to a garage full of people. In Han Ploča, a mosque was destroyed and looted, and women and children were taken into captivity in the barracks in Kiseljak.

In the attacks on these municipalities, 78 people were killed, many of whom were tortured and abused before their deaths.

Captain Jean Marc Lanthier of UNPROFOR, who visited numerous villages in the Kiseljak enclave after the offensive in June 1993, testified before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia as follows:

What occurred in the Kiseljak pocket was what is referred to as ethnic cleansing, because only citizens of Muslim ethnic origin were targeted; no one else was touched… These operations were carried out in a similar manner. The tactics used, the use of the terrain, and all the other factors I have already mentioned clearly show that this was not a mere case of a group of peasants who deced to kill their neighbors… History has shown that the same thing happened in Stupni Dol. It was done systematically, organized, and in my opinion, there is no doubt: it was a military operation directed against the civilian population.

Criminal and political responsibility

The crimes committed in the southern villages of Kiseljak were the subject of investigations in the Blaškic and Kordić cases before the ICTY. These verdicts established that the crimes were committed and that the attacks were directed against civilians and had no military justification because there were no military targets or threats in these villages. The attacks were conducted according to a premeditated plan by the military and political leadership, widespread and systematic, with the aim of persecution and destruction of the Muslim population in that area. The offensives were mainly led by the same brigade, and the Croatian residents were warned of the attacks and evacuated the areas before hostilities.

Dario Kordić was sentenced by the ICTY to 25 years in prison for crimes committed in Central Bosnia, including the crimes in Tulica, Han Ploča, and Grahovci. As a significant political leader within the structures of the HVO and Herzeg-Bosnia (president of the HDZ Bosnia and Herzegovina and member of the Presidency of the self-proclaimed Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia), he was connected to the orders to attack these villages and was present in Kiseljak during the attacks.

In the Rajić case verdict, it was confirmed that Ivica Rajić was the commander of HVO units involved in the attack on the villages in the Kiseljak municipality and that they committed crimes, including murder, rape, destruction of property, and physical attacks.

In addition to the International Criminal Tribunal for the crimes in the southern municipalities of Kiseljak in June 1993, trials were also held before courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The most significant verdict related to these events is the one against Miroslav Anić, the commander of a unit in the special Maturice unit, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Anić personally admitted guilt for the murder of 25 civilians in Tulica, Han Ploča, and Grahovci, confirming that the order to attack these municipalities was issued by Ivica Rajić. It was emphasized that crimes were also committed by Marinko Ljoljo, Dominik Ilijašević Como, Ljupko Anić Šmrljo, Marinko Stojanović, and other members of “Maturice” and other units of the HVO. Apart from Anić, Dominik Ilijašević, Zdravko Mihaljević, and Tibor Prajo were also convicted for crimes in Tulica, Grahovci, or Han Ploča.

The trials before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia confirm perhaps the most important aspect of the crimes in the Kiseljak municipalities, which is that they were committed within the context of the international conflict between the Republic of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Meaning that the leadership of Croatia at the time had effective control over the political and military leadership of Herzeg-Bosnia and the HVO, and a plan was devised in Zagreb for the systematic expulsion of Bosniaks from the territories of Central Bosnia and Western Herzegovina, which would be ethnically cleansed and politically closely connected to the Republic of Croatia. This plan was implemented by the political and military representatives of the HDZ Bosnia and Herzegovina, HVO, and the so-called Herzeg-Bosnia.

The voice of crime

Today, Croatia refuses to accept the fact that it acted aggressively in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1993 and 1994, and that the President at the time, Franjo Tuđman, Defense Minister Gojko Šušak, General Janko Bobetko, and others abused Croatian institutions and the military to carry out a plan to remove Bosniaks from the areas they wanted to control. Even after the end of the war, the official policy chose to ignore this conflict and even celebrate and assist the criminals and defendants who were part of the persecution mechanism. A good example is Dario Kordić, whose verdict mentions the crimes in Tulica, Han Ploča, and Grahovci, and who now holds decorations such as the Order of Prince Branimir with Necklace, the Order of Nikola Šubić Zrinski, and the Order of Ante Starčević.

Another interesting figure is Dominik Ilijašević, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes in the Kiseljak municipalities and Stupni Dol, and who stood out for his particularly brutal mistreatment of civilians. In 2013, he fled Bosnia and Herzegovina to Croatia while serving his sentence in the Mostar prison. As a citizen of Croatia, he could not be extradited to Bosnia and Herzegovina and found refuge there, which allowed him to be released from prison earlier after serving two-thirds of his sentence, which is permitted by the Croatian judiciary, unlike the one in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ilijašević was also awarded the Order of Nikola Šubić Zrinski by President Franjo Tuđman in 1996 for his heroic actions during the war.

The voice of the victims of the crimes in Grahovci, Han Ploča, Tulica, and Radanovići is not heard far and wide, even 30 years after the atrocities. Despite the verdicts and the evidence, there is no sense of responsibility among the political leadership of representatives from Croatia and Bosnian Croats for the crimes in the Kiseljak municipalities and other places in Bosnia and Herzegovina. An official apology has never been issued, and the victims have no possibility of seeking reparations under the Croatian Law on Civilian Victims because it excludes all individuals who are not citizens of Croatia.

Instead, political representatives join in humiliating the victims, with Croatian President Zoran Milanović leading the way. He has repeatedly downplayed and denied the nature of the crimes committed by members of the HVO, decorated those accused of crimes against Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and boasted about hosting in his office convicted individuals responsible for their persecution. The continuation of these activities is exemplified by Deputy Prime Minister of the Croatian Government, Tomislav Medved, whose ministry, responsible for military veterans, is currently funding the construction of an HVO museum on the site of the former Heliodrom camp where Bosniaks were held captive. So it’s no wonder that the subconsciousness of such an attitude towards the past was perhaps best described and emphasized by Dario Kordić in his recent statement. In a video that was shared by many regional media outlets, when asked if the prison sentence and the war were worth it, he replied, I said it already, I would do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a second. Every second was worth it.

Nikola Puharić was born in 1990 and graduated from the Faculty of Political Science and the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Zagreb. He works as an advisor in the Department of Culture of the Serbian National Council in Zagreb.

Translated by Luna Đorđević