Tudjman's gamble pays off - for now

Croat victory/ Belgrade the key

FOR REPORTERS it was a replay of 1991 - driving at breakneck speed down winding rural roads in eastern Croatia to the tune of gunfire - with one enormous difference: the Croatian army has become a disciplined, effective and well-armed fighting force. For Croats it was a new and glorious chapter; for Bosnians an encouraging sign; for Serbs a disastrous and shocking loss, not just of land but of belief in Serb brotherhood.

"This is the first significant loss of land for the Serbs since the war began," said a Western diplomat, "and I think it comes in the context of a reversal of fortunes." The Croatian blitzkrieg on western Slavonia has an importance far beyond the recapture of a small, thinly populated area of farms and orchards.

The question is whether it will lead to the defeat of secessionist Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia, in battle or diplomacy, or whether it will force Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic to embrace his former clients in the Serb statelets and opt for all-out war in the Balkans. It has certainly sharpened the dilemma facing contributors to the UN peace-keeping effort.

Croatian forces are now mopping up die-hards who have taken to the hills, and processing 1,200 Serb men taken prisoner in Pakrac (in violation of a UN-brokered ceasefire).

In Okucani and Pakrac, Croatian soldiers sat around outside Serb homes brewing coffee, their orderly behaviour at variance with the usual victorious brutality of organised looting and violent reprisals.

Croatia, long overshadowed by its Serbian neighbour, seems to have gained a bit of confidence. President Franjo Tudjman protests that Croatia seeks the peaceful re-integration of its territories; the truth is it seeks the re-integration by any means necessary. The difference now is that the military option has suddenly become far more plausible.

The ruling HDZ faces parliamentary elections next year, and, before the offensive, was thought likely to lose its majority. Now voters are returning in droves to the nationalists, angered in particular by two Serb rocket attacks on Zagreb that killed six and wounded 180. "We have to push them all out of Croatia," said Marija Baric firmly, shortly after she was caught on the street when a rocket loaded with cluster bombs crashed into the park opposite. "We don't want revenge, we just want to be left in peace."

It is a reflection of official attitudes: Croatian television on Friday showed pictures of the Serb prisoners from Pakrac interwoven with four- year-old footage of the Serb destruction of Vukovar.

Serb television, for its part, showed its tribute to VE Day: Second World War-era pictures of Croatian Fascists and Serb victims of the concentration camp in Jasenovac were juxtaposed with pictures of Mr Tudjman and then Hitler. Jasenovac was the first town taken by the Croats in western Slavonia.

Serb television also broadcast threats of total war issued by Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, and his Croatian Serb counterpart, Milan Martic, and their view that the UN, having failed to defend western Slavonia, no longer exists. Such words must strike fear into the hearts of politicians in Paris, London and Moscow who have soldiers in Bosnia.

The armies of Zagreb and Sarajevo are beginning to co-operate ever more closely; the Serb forces of Knin and Pale would like to, but are short of fuel and manpower. The response of Belgrade so far has been discouraging for them: Mr Milosevic condemned the shelling of Zagreb and has made no move to help his former clients. Some suspect the loss of western Slavonia received a nod from Belgrade, which is eager to see peace deals in Croatia and Bosnia so that it can escape the economic embargo.

That is the optimistic view: that four years have brought a sea change in the Serbian leadership that prosecuted the first Croatian war. The pessimists fear that either Knin or Zagreb will up the ante so far that Belgrade feels compelled to turn out for another round of the 1991 war.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Written protest: Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo, has sent an open letter to the Culture Secretary
books
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
News
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
Sport
footballDoes Hodgson's England team have an identity yet?
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss