Lest We Forget
By Jerry Blaskovich MD
The former police chief of the Croatian town of Slatina, Djuro Matovina, testified in early October 2002 at the Haag War Crimes Tribunal that the White Eagles, a Serb paramilitary force, massacred 45 civilians in the village of Vocin. While Matovina's statements about the December 1991 slaughter had little meaning for the average reader, it most likely caused a great deal of consternation for the present Croatian government who are trying to downplay and distance themselves from any event that occurred during Croatia’s fight for independence and particularly anything that negatively depicts the Serbs. Matovina’s testimony, however, brought the crime to the attention of the international community, who heretofore are reluctant to acknowledge that war crimes were committed on the Croats by the Serbs.
Initially the report of the heinous atrocity received a tiny one-day squib in the press. Only after the Foreign Press Bureau raised a hullabaloo a week after the event did the international media get involved. Prior to the Vocin slaughter, all reports of atrocities on Croatians were ill-reported and viewed with skepticism by the international media. One must ask, who committed the greater crime--the perpetrators or those who ignored it.
The White Eagles were under the direct command of Vojislav Seselj. Seselj now serves as a member of the loyal opposition in the Serbian parliament despite the fact that a little more than a year after the Vocin massacre, Seselj was named a war criminal by U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. Interestingly, the Serbian government and its parliament is now the darling of the European Union and is getting the same sort of adulation that was heaped on the Tito government.
What happened at Vocin was no worse than what the Serbs did elsewhere in Croatia. However, Vocin was unique. Serb soldiers who participated in the slaughter confessed to their deeds and directly implicated Seselj.
After receiving orders to retreat, the Serb forces who had occupied Vocin for four months and inhumanly abused and harassed the non-Serb villagers, unleashed evil incarnate on a cold December day in 1991. Using tanks, mortars, and grenades they devastated the town. Not one Croatian structure was spared. A stump of masonry wall, standing among the rubble like a sentinel, was all that remained of the 750 year-old Roman Catholic Church. The church’s destruction acted as a catalyst for the human mayhem that ensued. The Serbs than went on a orgiastic killing spree.
Although Matovina testified that 45 Croats perished, fifty-five was the actual number. In situ examination revealed that most of the victims had been tortured and mutilated. Half the victims were over 62, the eldest was 84! Many were killed in ways that defied imagination. None of the victims had succumbed to wounds normally found in warfare.After the bodies were identified and photographed, extensive forensic studies were carried out.
Probably the Serbs’ most grotesque act was when they handcuffed a 23 year-old Croatian and hung him by his arms high on a tree limb across the road from the Catholic church. According to witnesses, the Serbs toyed with him by cutting his face with a chain-saw several times. They then proceeded to amputate his lower limbs. While still alive they chain-sawed him in half. His body parts were doused with gasoline and set afire.
A husband and wife were killed by a solitary gun shot below their eyes at close range. Several victims were found chained to chairs and burned in increments to prolong their agony. Chemical analysis of the charred remains -- in reality, nothing but chunks of carbon -- verify that the victims were burned while still alive. The victims only crime was to be born Croatian.
According to a number of credible eyewitnesses, which the Serbs left behind in their haste to retreat, the Serbian forces went on a drinking spree after the killing orgy. A few passed out and were inadvertedly left behind in the evacuation. When the Croatian forces arrived, there were captured.
During interrogation they admitted their roles in the slaughter and being members of Seselj's infamous "White Eagles". But what was most damning is that they stated they were acting under direct orders from Belgrade. A U.S. Congressman, Frank McCloskey, was present at the interrogation and saw the bodies while still warm. He summed up to the affair as " ghastly and beyond words". The Texas Court of Appeals Judge Bill Bass also witnessed the aftermath and described Vocin as a "mindless orgy of violence". Their testimony lends objective credence to the incident.
The Vocin slaughter was not a spontaneous event, rather it was an implementation of a calculated Serbian policy. In the global sense, Vocin may be insignificant, but the gallons of blood shed there became part of the ocean of blood the Serbs caused to be spilled in the former Yugoslavia.
Perhaps Matovina’s testimony about Vocin may cause the Tribunal to rescind its decision to limit its findings to Bosnia and Kosovo and ignore crimes committed on the Croats. But the policy, most likely, will continue to remain in lockstep with U.N. and American government who never condemned the Serbian war policy, the ethnic cleansing, and their concentration camps in Croatia.
Dr. Blaskovich led the medical investigation at Vocin for the Foreign Press Bureau.
THE NEW GENERATION Hrvatski Vjesnik--English supplement 1 November 2002