How We Present
Croats, Serbs still nurture antagonisms
by Snjezana Vukic
The Associated Press Translate This Article
8 August 2006
ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) - Two years ago, Croatia's prime minister dropped in on Sofia Skoric's home and munched on bread she had baked for him. It was a gesture intended to show that the hard feelings many harbored toward minority Serbs after the country's bloody 1991 war were gone.
But late last month, Skoric and her husband, Svetozar, woke up in horror in the middle of the night. Stones were shattering the windows of the elderly Serb couple's home in the southern Croatia village of Biljani Donji, and a menacing fire was blazing in the garden.
``Why are they doing it to us?'' said Svetozar Skoric, whose house was also attacked on four previous occasions. ``We just want to live here in peace. We never harmed anyone.''
Four of the alleged attackers—all from the nearby village of Skabrnja—were arrested and charged with committing a crime of racial or other discrimination and intimidating Serbs with the aim of forcing them to move out. All four pleaded not guilty.
The incident, one of the most violent in the last 15 years, quickly raised tensions in southern Croatia, scene of some of the worst wartime killings. It also showed that while politicians often speak of reconciliation, anti-Serb sentiment still runs high in small communities.
The attack occurred after someone drew butterflies over graffiti that had been scribbled on a store in Biljani Donji that said ``Don't forget Skabrnja,'' enraging Croats in the village. Some even swore they recognized a Serb emblem —infamous since the war—in the butterflies' wings.
At least 34 people were slain in Skabrnja by rebel Serbs in the early days of the conflict, which was triggered by a Serb rebellion against Croatia's independence from ex-Yugoslavia.
After the butterflies appeared, the four suspects allegedly drove to Biljani Donji—just a mile away—to throw stones at Serb houses and shout anti-Serb offenses. Some abandoned barns were set on fire, and new graffiti appeared that warned: ``God forgives, but Skabrnja does not.''
Prime Minister Ivo Sanader's government swiftly condemned the attack, and President Stipe Mesic traveled to Biljani Donji, insisting that Croatia's Serbs ``have a right to live in peace.'' Police have since been patrolling the village to thwart any other possible attacks.
The community's residents—supported by the local priest and their mayor —say part of the reason tensions remain is that no Serbs were ever held responsible for the Skabrnja massacre. While Croatian courts have tried at least 600 Serbs for war crimes committed in 1991, many Croats believe scores of others escaped justice.
Serbs claim they are being persecuted for crimes committed by others. They insist they are still discriminated against and that the attacks on them often go unpunished.
``This was a hate crime,'' said Milorad Pupovac, the Croatian Serbs' leader, who visited Biljani Donji in the wake of the attack on the Skorics' home. ``One can't get justice for the tragedy in Skabrnja by carrying out a shameful revenge on innocent people. Crimes like this should be prevented and punished.''
The Croatia office of the European Union, which Croatia is trying to join, urged the government to take measures to prevent similar attacks. It said it would ``closely monitor'' Croatia's actions—driving home the point that the country's treatment of its Serb minority is a key condition for EU membership.
Some believe the incident was orchestrated by nationalists who want to ruin Sanader's pro-EU policies and, ultimately, oust him from power. Sanader's pro-Western government began reaching out to Serbs a few years ago, including them in parliament and local governments and approving grants for their education, housing and social welfare.
Yet the government is reluctant to alienate its rightist supporters by appearing to give the Serbs too much support.
After the attack, Sanader's deputy, Jadranka Kosor, went to Skabrnja to soothe passions and promise that the perpetrators of the massacre will be found and punished.
Sanja Modric, a political analyst, believes the government should do more.
``The government does condemn the violence and it frequently meets officials from Serbia, but it's just for show and it's not enough,'' Modric wrote in the Jutarnji List daily.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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