|Croatian officials pay their respects in Knin in 2015. Photo: Beta.|
Croatia commemorates the 21st anniversary of Operation Storm on Friday with an official celebration in the southern town of Knin, marking what is known in the country as Victory Day and Homeland Thanksgiving Day.
During Operation Storm, Zagreb’s forces seized back 18 per cent of Croatian territory which had been under Serb rebel control since 1991. During and immediately after the operation, several hundred Croatian Serb civilians were killed and around 200,000 more fled the country.
The main ceremony starts at 8am with a military choir singing patriotic songs, followed by the raising of the Croatian flag on the fortress by President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic. The event will be followed by a ceremonial gun volley and aerobatics by military jets.
There will be a small military parade from the fortress to the town centre, where wreaths and candles will be placed at the central memorial, before a Catholic mass at a local church and various cultural and sports events.
The last event of the day will be a concert entitled ‘Victory for the Heroes’ at Knin football stadium in the evening, which is organised and will be screened by public broadcaster Croatian Radio-Television, HRT.
Profits from ticket sales and a phone-in telethon will be used for the restoration of the iconic water tower in Vukovar, which is a symbol of the wartime fall of the eastern town in November 1991.
Nationalist singer Marko Perkovic, alias Thompson, will perform at the concert.
Thompson is controversial for songs in which he uses a Croatian WWII fascist slogan ‘Za dom spremni’ (‘Ready for the Home[land]’), as well other songs promoting Croatian Ustasa fascist units.
Last year’s Thompson concert in Knin attracted around 80,000 people but was marred by anti-Serb chanting.
|Thompson fans at last year’s concert. Photo: BIRN/Sven Milekic.|
Serbia meanwhile is staging its own official commemoration to mourn the Serb victims of Operation Storm in the village of Busije near Belgrade on Thursday evening.
The organisers of the events in Knin – the first town seized back from rebel Serbs during Operation Storm in August 1995 – said they expect around 100,000 visitors throughout the day, the same number as last year.
Government officials, parliamentarians and most representatives of political parties are expected to attend, but Zoran Milanovic, president of the Social Democrats and leader of the opposition, said on Wednesday that his party will not be present at the ceremony in Knin.
Milanovic said the event had “turned into a pre-election rally for the HDZ [centre-right Croatian Democratic Union]”.
“Unfortunately, a decent event was turned into a party’s party, a situation in which incidents occur, and why would we participate in that?” he asked.
He said the SDP would pay its respects at the memorial in the Mirogoj cemetery in Zagreb instead.
The Serbian National Council, an NGO which represents Serbs in Croatia, called on the authorities on Wednesday to commemorate the Operation Storm “with awareness and respect for the suffering of Serbs, their exile, the destruction of their villages and the prevention of their return”.
The Council said that events held to mark the anniversary of Operation Storm should aim to promote “a culture of peace and a politics and culture of tolerance”.