President Milanović at Knin Fortress: Wars are Over and Croatia Won Them

04. August 2020.

The President of the Republic of Croatia and Commander in Chief of the Croatian Armed Forces Zoran Milanović hosted a reception for wartime commanders at the Knin Fortress on the occasion of marking Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day, Day of Croatian Defenders and the 25th Anniversary of the Military-Police Operation Storm.

President Milanović also presented the decisions conferring the decoration ‘Grand Order of King Petar Krešimir IV with Sash and Star’ to retired generals of the Croatian Armed Forces for extraordinary contributions to the creation of war strategy and military doctrine, for services in the establishment of the Armed Forces and for outstanding successes in the leadership and command of units of the Croatian Armed Forces, as well as decisions conferring the decoration ‘Order of Nikola Šubić Zrinski’ to Croatian Defence Council (HVO) guard brigades and a Special Police unit for deeds of valour demonstrated by their members in the Homeland War.

The ‘Grand Order of King Petar Krešimir IV with Sash and Star’ was awarded to Retired Lieutenant General Miljenko Crnjac, Retired Lieutenant General Đuro Dečak, Retired Lieutenant General Marijan Mareković, Retired Major General Rahim Ademi, Retired Major General Luka Džanko, Retired Major General Nojko Marinović, Retired Major General Damir Krstičević, Retired Major General Vinko Vrbanac and Retired Brigadier General Ante Kotromanović.

The ‘Order of Nikola Šubić Zrinski’ was awarded to the 1st HVO Guard Brigade Ante Bruno Bušić – Livno, the 2nd HVO Guard Brigade – Mostar, the 3rd HVO Guard Brigade Jastrebovi – Vitez, the 4th HVO Guard Brigade Sinovi Posavine and the MUP HR HB Special Police unit.

President Milanović delivered the following speech during the reception for wartime commanders at the Knin Fortress:

“Ladies and gentlemen, commanders, defenders, dear friends,

The preacher in the Old Testament says that to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven. A time of forgiveness and a time of resentment, a time of planting and a time of harvesting, a time of war and a time of peace, a time of love and a time of hatred. There is a time for everything. Twenty-five years after a great victory of the Croatian Army in the Homeland War, it is time for us to come together and repeat that a small group of good people has done a great thing for a large group of people – the Croatian nation and the Croatian State – by putting themselves, their lives and their safety, in jeopardy.

This is an opportunity for us to come together, to talk with each other and to repeat that the war we waged – a war that was imposed on us – was just and unfortunately necessary and inevitable, and that never, despite certain lapses, did we fall into an abyss of moral catastrophe. That didn’t happen to us. This separates the great from the insignificant, people from non-humans.

There were attempts – intentional, unintentional, inert, conceived in some places, or not – to portray the Croatian war of liberation as a criminal enterprise. We know that. Luckily, and I say that because luck was a factor, this didn’t work out.

The Croatian war was a just war, hard and bloody like any war. Not every human being, human destiny, family, not even every group sees this war with the same eyes and it cannot expect everyone else to experience it in the same way.

What is significant, I believe, is that tomorrow in these days of gathering, our society will become wider and more of our people and citizens than ever before will join Croatia’s success on the European path, on the path of progress and enlightenment. Twenty-five years after the war, I am honoured to also award a medal, to decorate – perhaps by luck, perhaps the time was ripe – the Croatian units from Bosnia and Herzegovina, the units of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO). It is our debt of honour. It’s a somewhat nicer way of expressing civic gratitude, big gratitude. And the fact that it hasn’t been done so far doesn’t really mean anything. It is never too late for such things. This is not directed against anyone and the motivation to do such a thing lies exclusively in the human gesture of gratitude. I would call this a debt of honour.

The people who will be decorated today and the people who were decorated this morning, the first Croatian police officers who gathered thirty years ago, stubbornly despite the fear and danger of death, are people who in some other times – if we were not a democratic republic – would be aristocracy, nobility. The nobility was acquired, as a rule, in two ways: one was by extortion, purchase and plunder, and the other was by bravery and honour, what the English would call “valour” in war.

The aristocracy does not exist today, but there is something we can call nobility and nobleness. It obliges us at the same time. It obliges us to do better, to be more worthy, more honest, to set the same big and incredible tasks for ourselves, which the Croatian soldiers set for themselves in the 1990s on that difficult, uncertain, but nevertheless bright and ultimately clear path – the path of justice and victory. It includes the people who died in the war and the people who were wounded, the people who patiently and gradually paved the way for Croatia’s victory on the nearby mountains of Dinara, Vještičja Gora and Antića Glavica, while protecting their lives and even the lives of the enemy. People from Dalmatia and Zagorje and Varaždin died up there in the hills. In fact, I think that anyone who can and who has the time should visit that area on Mount Dinara and see what the war looked like and what the people, a small group of people, a few good people, did for Croatia.

I will repeat what I said this morning. Perhaps this is not a good time to draw comparisons with 1940 and the Battle of Britain, but it was said then that ‘never was so much owed by so many to so few’. The situation was similar in our country.

Today, 25 years on, we are here. We are looking back, but most of all we are looking forward, aware of all the challenges, pitfalls and unknowns. What I can certainly say with a deep conviction and sincere hope is that wars are over and that Croatia won these wars for a long time to come.

Once again, I am greatly honoured, in a way by luck and by chance, for the opportunity to decorate these people today. Long live Croatia and I wish you good health!

All the best!”

PHOTO: Office of the President of the Republic of Croatia / Marko Beljan