Zagreb, Croatia (GVO) – On May 29, a protest movement that has already lasted more than 225 days reached a climax when a small group of veterans from the Croatian War of Independence blocked one of the main streets in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. The veteran protesters, who have expressed dissatisfaction with their treatment by the government for years, blocked Savska street in the center of Zagreb with a couple of gas cylinders in order to gain the attention of Croatian media and decision makers.
Since the Croatian War of Independence, several protests have occurred centred on veterans’ rights and compensation for serving in the 1990s, notably in 2001 and 2011.
The rally in 2001 was organized as a show of support for General Mirko Norac, who was accused of killing Serbian civilians in Ogulin, Croatia, during the war. Ten years later veterans demanded to “stop the prosecution of Croatian veterans”, one of whom, Tihomir Purda, was accused by Serbian authorities of committing war crimes in Vukovar in 1991.
Veterans have also claimed that many of their numbers were not reimbursed for their service during the war and that a large proportion were left to fend for themselves, having been denied pensions by the government.
Both the Croatian National Parliament and the main government buildings are located on St. Marko’s Square. After the gas cylinders incident on May 29, the veterans subsequently barricaded themselves in Saint Marko’s church, which is situated in the Upper Town of Zagreb.
The situation on St. Marko’s square divided a country. Some people considered the gas cylinders threats and self-imposed captivation as a form of terrorism while others viewed it as the veterans’ right in the context of unfulfilled demands.
Veterans from all over Croatia began pouring into their local veteran associations to join the protest the following day.
The leaders of the protests, Đuro Glogoski and Josip Klemm, as well as a few of their closest associates spent the night in the church. The veterans clashed with police three times during Saturday night as police tried to enter the building.
On Sunday, Glogoski made a statement:
Last night, the police tried three times to get into the church, but they had to go back because we didn’t let them. We are expecting, from the heads of the people of this country, to call us for a conversation. This situation is serious. Because of what happened last night, we think that our lives are at stake. Gentlemen from the police tried to kidnap Josip Klemm, but they failed.
Minister of Veterans’ Affairs Predrag Matic managed to speak with the protesters on May 30, a Saturday, and heard their demand for an audience with Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic. But with Croatia’s bureaucracy closed for business at the weekend, the meeting took place on Monday.
Since no agreement was reached during the meeting with Milanovic, Matic, and other officials on Monday, Đuro Glogoski announced that the veterans — who are pushing for the resignations of Matic and his deputy Bojan Glavasevic — will stay in their camp on Savska Street in downtown Zagreb and wait for the next meeting with government officials scheduled for Monday, June 8.
Prime Minister Milanovic told media after the first meeting with the veterans that the issues the protesters raised “are small for Croatia and [they] are making too much noise about them.”
Written by Marinella Matejci for Global Voices Online.