President Milanović’s Speech on the Occasion of Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day, Day of Croatian Defenders and the 25th Anniversary of the Military-Police Operation Storm

05. August 2020.

The President of the Republic of Croatia Zoran Milanović participated in the official celebration in Knin marking Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day, Day of Croatian Defenders and the 25th Anniversary of the Military-Police Operation Storm. Below is the full text of the speech delivered on that occasion by President Zoran Milanović:

“I wish a happy Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day and Day of Croatian Defenders to all Croatian people, Croatian citizens, Croatian soldiers and defenders, and wartime commanders.

Mr. Speaker (of Parliament), Mr. Prime Minister, General Gotovina and all other high-level guests and hosts, 

It is truly an honour for me, and this is not an empty phrase, to speak on the special occasion of the 25th Anniversary of Croatia’s liberation, our great victory. Twenty-five years is a very long time in the formation and life of a human being. The children who were born then are grown-up today and they have pretty much been formed. In a span of 25 years, relations between states and relations in the world change. We have come a long way and we are not the same society we were 25 years ago.

This is something the Prime Minister, too, spoke about in his address, which I warmly welcome and hope will become a reality and a part of life and the ‘culture of the heart’, that will characterize us as a nation and as an advanced, open, civil, but also ethnic society of the state of the Croatian people.

Twenty-five years is a long time. It is time for us to reflect and not necessarily talk about unity, because in a democracy unity is not always entirely possible, but to be together, to come together and talk about the things that unite and divide us, the things we view differently – from the perspective of someone from a big city, a small town or from the viewpoint of a Croat or a Serb. Those views are not necessarily always the same.

What is important is to talk, to raise issues and discuss them, and that is why I will not repeat here what the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament and General Ante Gotovina, the commander of our armed forces in this region, have said. Much of what has been said, everything that has been said was good and I agree with it.  

I will talk about two things. I will talk about the stages of Croatia’s path to victory and about the relations between Croats and Serbs, something that has always been a great burden, a great challenge, but also a great opportunity in our region.

Many years ago during the greatest war, one prominent statesman described his country’s path to victory through a four-phase dictum. He said: ‘In war: resolution, in defeat: defiance and resistance, in victory: magnanimity, in peace: good will.’ How universal and relevant to our journey!

In a war that was imposed on us, a war in which we were attacked with weapons that we and the Slovenes were paying for, in a war we didn’t want because no normal person wants war, we were startled from the very start and faced with a situation for which no one was prepared. Those young men whom I had the honour yesterday to decorate in Šimunska Street between Maksimir and Zagreb’s Dubrava district showed up in August 1990 with the noble intention of serving their country. Guys from Herzegovina, from the vicinity of Tomislavgrad, my fellow Vlachs [from the Dalmatian Hinterland], Dalmatians, Slavonians, and a few from Zagreb – they had no idea what awaited them. They loved the Croatian state and the war happened in the blink of an eye.     

It was very difficult, very difficult – I say that as someone who has been around for a while and as a statesman who has some experience – to know what stands before you, to anticipate others’ reactions, the reactions of the international community, and to build the Croatian Army.

That task was conducted for a full five years and it was led by Croatia’s first President, and more importantly wartime President Franjo Tuđman. The organisation and the job performed back then with love and a vision is something Croatia could learn from today. If we acted in such a way in public affairs, we would be stronger as a country. That victory did not fall into our hands, it was not accidental. It was a result of the work, planning, concentration and intelligence of hundreds of thousands of people, but not millions of people. All of us who did not participate in it should be grateful to them – to the fallen, the injured and their families. Because, as in many wars, a few good and brave people make the difference. Others watch, comment, and eventually reap the fruits of someone else’s war. So it was and so it will remain. That is all I have to say about work and determination.

In fact, the war started with a defeat and with great suffering, torment and displaced people. To those who did not have enough faith and strength it seemed like a defeat. Defiance and resistance in defeat. And that requires character, firmness, strength, faith, human faith, or religion for those whom it helps, and that is true for most people – it is healthy, noble and has never taught anyone anything bad, only good. Resistance at the beginning of the war seemed futile, but later victory began to take shape and success was well on the way, as on every great journey. Croatia did not merely do what was required in that period; it experienced it in a powerful and magnificent way.

And victory came, but not by itself. Victory was achieved; it was captured by our brave soldiers and their commanders throughout Croatia – here in the immediate vicinity, from where the Mount Dinara wind blows, at positions such as Vještić Gora and Antića Glavica, where young soldiers from Varaždin, Međimurje and Dalmatia gave their lives, as well as members of the 7th Guard Brigade, the 4th Guard Brigade from Split and the 126th Home Guard Regiment of Sinj that practically lived up there for months, almost the entire time.   

Victory was achieved and in that victory we should have been more magnanimous and better organised – that is something the Prime Minister, too, has talked about. Fortunately, we never sank into an abyss of moral catastrophe, and this has happened to some in history, to some peoples and nations and their leaders. There were mistakes and there were also crimes – unfortunate from a human and Christian standpoint – and they cost us later.

All those stories about a joint criminal enterprise that do not deserve a more detailed rational analysis are the result of mistakes, which we unfortunately made by our actions, but they also came about due to our inaction in the first months of our glorious victory. This is a major lesson for us, but not for another war, as I do not believe in another war. But it is a major lesson in the human sense, for us to remain vigilant at all times and not let our guard down when it comes to state affairs.

Croatia later rectified that mistake, but unfortunately a burden remains. That is why I especially appreciate the presence here today of Deputy Prime Minister Boris Milošević, who was my associate in my Government some six, seven, eight years ago. This is a celebration, not a commemoration. We rejoice here and celebrate our successes. To come here and join Croats in celebrating a date, that is not an equation, that is the ‘architecture of a heart’ and a deep emotional issue. It is not a minor thing.

In peace, the fourth stage and the fourth part of the aforementioned dictum, we must show good faith and good will. Croatia has come a long way. We are a European state, we are getting better in public affairs and we should do even better and make use of every euro of European money allocated to us, every single euro. That must be our goal. Of course, not every goal can always be met in every war, in every operation, in every human struggle and endeavour. But our goals should be set high.

I now turn to the relations between Croatia and Serbia. For more than a hundred years, since the beginning of the de facto and even the legitimate statehood of Serbia and Belgrade, these relations have been complicated, to say the least. There was Yugoslavia, which will never exist again. In the beginning, it was the only possible way for the Croatian people to remain whole in one state – regardless of its name – in order for us not to be torn between the Italians, Hungarians, Budapest, the Karađorđević dynasty, and in order for us to all be in one state because we are, according to the Constitution, its spirit and its wording, a state of the Croatian people. Those efforts were thwarted very quickly. There were conflicts, bloodshed, wars, a civil war from 1941-45, there was aggression in 1991 and after that we seem to be unable to enter a phase of normal relations in which respect and constructive behaviour will prevail. It is as if we are still burdened by things that are the consequence of the 1990s aggression.

I am aware that I am speaking as a Croat. And I know that when I say that I think that the bigger problem lies in the policy Belgrade is pursuing today, that this is not objective and that my words will be interpreted as those of a Croat and a Croatian President who is practically saying this ex officio. But we are here. We have good will and faith and we want to cooperate, work and do business together. We want to know, should problems arise, that when our people do business in Serbia that the courts there will be as impartial as they would be, I believe, in Croatia. We should simply enter a boring, long constant, a new paradigm of relations, because relations between our two peoples in this part of Europe are very important. And when we trade accusations and argue, as is sometimes the case, no one is scheming against us; they simply do not notice us. Our relations must be better and I will do all I can and am allowed to do as the Croatian President in this regard, because protecting Croatia’s interests and Croatia’s constitutional and legal order is my first duty. But I will do everything to improve those relations. It is up to the other side to try to do the same as well. I see that the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament and many others in the Croatian Government and public affairs are currently thinking, and I believe also acting, in the same way.

Dear friends, once again I extend my congratulations to you on this great day. The past twenty-five years have been a wonderful journey, a great journey, and life is – above all – a journey. The words and ambience of today, to quote a famous Croatian poet, bring sparkle back to my eyes.

Long live Croatia, as mighty as the people, as high as the sun!”