Demand for establishment of truth comission in Croatia for war-period 1991 - 1995

Term Paper, 2010

17 Pages



Why truth commission?

Croatian Serbs and Croatian-Serbian conflict

Facing with the past and the truth

Is reconciliation possible?

Pre-war “mixed” families, friendships and marriages as a social capital


ICTY and Croatian public opinion

Truth Commission in Serbia

Final comment


In this paper, I want to show that Croatia should establish a truth commission which aim should be to investigate crimes and events, committed on its territory in 1990s, during Croatian-Serbian conflict. My idea is related to Nenad Dimitrijević’s proposal of establishment of a new truth commission in Serbia, expressed in his article “Serbia after the Criminal Past: What Went Wrong and What Should Be Done” (2008).

Firstly, I will present truth commission as a non-juridical mechanism which deals with mass-atrocities and contributes to transitional justice. Secondly, I will give a brief outline of Croatian-Serbian conflict from 1991-1995 and its consequences because crimes which should be subject of investigation by the truth commission, as I propose it, were committed in this period. Thirdly, I will present public opinion surveys which will support my claim that truth commission could be successful, if wider political, public and media support is also provided, in Croatian local context for reconciliation between Croats and Croatian Serbs. I will also compare it with similar public opinion surveys in Serbia. Fourthly, I will present and reflect on only relevant initiative for establishment of truth commission in Croatia, called REKOM, Croatian and Serbian public attitude toward ICTY’s work and on Serbian experience with their failed project of the Truth Commission (2001-2003). It should serve as a warning on mistakes which Croatian truth commission, as well as potential new Serbian truth commission must avoid. Finally, I will assert my vision of the truth commission in Croatia with critical reflection on potential issues and specific characteristics, even though I will connect my idea with every topic, assessed throughout text.

I think that establishment of such commission in Croatia is necessary for several reasons – it will contribute to reconciliation between Croats and Croatian Serbs, stop the prescription of collective guilt to Croatian Serbs, increase public sensitivity on human rights and humanitarian law violations, break with a past and national ideology of victimization and prevent new conflicts. For successful project, it should have wider public, political and media support, and should be organized properly as an independent non-juridical body to satisfy minimal requirements, as Priscilla B. Hayner defined them:

“I would venture the following minimal requirements: a commission must operate impartially and in good faith, independent from political forces, with the resources and free access to information to full investigation as it sees fit; it should be implemented as soon after the resolution of a conflict, a government transition, or other aspects of a political situation allows; and operate for a limited, specific period of time; and it should include in its mandate the power to make recommendations that can be expected to be given serious consideration. The commission report should be published immediately and be readily available to the public. The agreement to establish a truth commission should coincide with a commitment on the part of the government (and opposition, where relevant) to significant improvements in human rights policies and practices.” (Hayner, 1995; 259)

Why truth commission?

Truth commissions are recognized as one of the most relevant mechanisms which are organized to contribute to transitional justice. South African Truth Commission serves as one of its best examples. As Priscilla B. Hayner (1995) explains, its definition could be divided into four elements: firstly, commission is past-oriented, secondly, it is not focused on certain event, then to give general picture about human rights and humanitarian law violations within one period of time, thirdly, its findings are published in report at the end of its work which is limited by certain period of time, fourthly, it has authority to collect information and its work is protected by its sponsors. (Hayner, 1995; 225, 226) Hayner continues: “Most truth commissions are created at the point of political transition within a country, used either to demonstrate or underscore a break with a past record of human rights abuses, to promote national reconciliation, and/or to obtain or to sustain political legitimacy.” (Hayner, 1995; 226) It has no prosecutor powers and it can publish names of perpetrators in its report, but cannot make a judicial decision to proclaim a certain individual guilty. (Hayner, 1995; 230)

In her article, after presenting and analyzing fifteen cases, she concludes, although there is a list of issues on which every agents must reflect when establishing a commission such as pre-definition of time in which commission will work, pre-definition of time which commission will investigate and so on, that:

“There need be no fixed model: in the unique circumstances of each country, other new and innovative models for a truth commission may yet be developed.” (Hayner, 1995; 227)

This claim I find very important if organizing this project in the case of Croatia because such flexibility is necessary when taking into consideration its specific context. For example, fifteen years after the conflict passed, but I will claim that it is the best time for establishment of truth commission in Croatia, although Hayner claims that best period for it is soon after the conflict or government transition. Another one is that even with very explicit and detailed report, truth commissions’ work is always evaluated positively, contributing to national reconciliation and increasing sensitivity on human rights and humanitarian law violations. (Hayner, 1995; 230) One of the arguments against such project could be that it might worsen already fragile social relations between two groups, but Hayner’s analysis shows that truth commission never resulted negatively on conflict-sides relations.

Croatian Serbs and Croatian-Serbian conflict

I will not enter into analysis of Croatian-Serbian conflict because it is a topic per se, only I will give brief outline to situate it within particular historical and political framework, and present Croatian Serbs as a national minority because in continuation of the text I will express some ideas, and such outline will provide better understanding of my claims. I will focus on consequences of the conflict and its implications which contain main reasons why idea about establishment of a truth commission should be welcomed in Croatia.

Serbs are the most numerous national minority living in Croatia, making up for 4.5% of its total population, according to the census conducted in 2001, or 201,631 residents. However, according to the census of 1991, before Croatia became independent and prior to the conflict, they made up over 12.2% of the Croatian population, or 581,663 residents. They mostly live in the area of the Dalmatian Background, Lika, Kordun and Banovina, Eastern Slavonia as well as the larger towns. Unlike the majority of the population, which belongs to the Roman-Catholic faith, the Serbs are Eastern Orthodox.

After the dissolution of Yugoslavia, there was a resurgence of the potential antagonism between Croatian and Serbian people in Croatia which started in 1991. The initial result of the armed conflict was the separation of a part of the Croatian territory which was mostly inhabited by the Serbian national minority, declaring it the Serbian Autonomous Region Border Krayina, with Knin as its center. The main reasons for the separation were the refusal to allow the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the repudiation of the new Croatian governänt led by the Croatian Democratic Party (HDZ), the fear of reviving the values and politics of the era of the Independent State of Croatia (1941-1945; 330-390 000[1] Serbs were killed) and lastly, Serbian nationalism.

The new, internationally recognized Croatian government has reclaimed the greater part of the territory under its sovereignty with two military operations – Bljesak (1994) and Oluja (1995), and Eastern Slavonia was reclaimed through a process of peaceful reintegration under the supervision of the international community. The consequence of these events was the mass emigration of the Serbian population from the Republic of Croatia, mostly into Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (especially to the area of the Serb Republic.) Many have emigrated to the United States of America, Canada, Australia, and so on. Though there are many cases where Croatian Serbs have either sold their possessions or traded them with the Croats from neighboring countries who have moved to Croatia, a part of the Serb population returned to Croatia, as they were bound by their property or/and family-kinship relations, or/and the country itself.

When talking about loses on Croatian side, according to Croatian government’s report, 13.538 were killed or disappeared, 37.180 injured, 550.000 were forced to leave their homes and became refugees, 54 percent of Croatian territory was devastated and/or directly affected by the war. (Perkovic, 2001) According to report of non-governmental organization Veritas[2] (established in 1993 by the citizens of the former Republic of Serb Krayina), 6.780 were killed or disappeared on Serbian side in the same period (35 percent of them were civilians). Amnesty International report (2005)[3] states that 300.000 Croatian Serbs were displaced 1991-1995, and only 117.000 are officially registered as having returned, while around 200.000 still live abroad.


[1] Estimated by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (


[3] eur640022005en.html

Excerpt out of 17 pages


Demand for establishment of truth comission in Croatia for war-period 1991 - 1995
Central European University Budapest
Transitional justice - the war in Ex-Yugoslav area
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ISBN (Book)
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Demand, Croatia
Quote paper
Dijana Erakovic (Author), 2010, Demand for establishment of truth comission in Croatia for war-period 1991 - 1995, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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