Croatian leaders have celebrated a victorious military operation at the end of the country’s 1991-95 war for independence, while Serbia’s president accused Croatia of intentionally expelling Serbs from the country because of their ethnicity.
"[Adolf] Hitler wanted a world without Jews; Croatia and its policies wanted Croatia without Serbs,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said in the northwestern town of Backa Palanka late on August 4.
Croatia split from the former Yugoslavia in 1991 and fought Belgrade-backed Croatian Serb forces for four years to establish its sovereignty.
In August 1995, Croatian forces retook the self-proclaimed republic of Srpska Krajina from rebel Serbs in a military offensive code-named Operation Storm (Oluja).
In addition to many hundreds of civilian deaths, some 200,000 Serbs were forced to flee their homes as a result of the operation, in what was described as the war’s largest exodus of Serbs.
Speaking at a ceremony marking the 23rd anniversary of Operation Storm, Vucic said Anne Frank, the famous Jewish diarist who died in the Holocaust, was persecuted for the same reason as Croatia’s Serbs.
An estimated 6 million Jews were killed in the genocide carried out by Nazi Germany during World War II.
Lawmaker Branko Bacic of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) called Vucic’s comments a "historic lie."
On August 5, the Croatian political leadership gathered in the town of Knin to mark the anniversary of Operation Storm, hailing it as a victory that reunited the country’s territory and ended the war.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said in a speech that the Oluja operation "brought much-desired freedom, the end of war, and peace."
"[Operation Storm] has become a textbook successful military operation," Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said. "It was the time of total unity of the Croatian people and Croatian soldiers."
U.S. and Israeli military envoys were among the guests attending the event in Knin, while Israeli jets took part in a flyby, Croatia’s Defense Ministry said.
Relations between Serbia and Croatia — an EU and NATO member – remain volatile.
Vucic has pledged to boost cooperation with other Balkan states and lead Serbia toward EU membership, while improving ties with Russia.
With reporting by AP and dpa
Source: Radio Free Europe