Croatia's War for Independence
War in Croatian is "rat," peace in Croatian is "mir." October 8th is Croatia's National Independence Day. This is the day Croatia's parliament officially declared independence from what was Yugoslavia in 1991. In war, everyone involved has a story and it is not always the most comfortable thing to talk about, but as an American who has never witnessed a war in my own country, a lover of history and now of course, a wife of a Croatian that was in the war, I find it deeply compelling.
I was only four years old when this war began and eight by the time it ended, so I did not know anything about the war as an adult. We didn't learn about more current Eastern European wars in school. So, after a couple glasses of wine, when Igor and I were only a couple months into our relationship, he decided to share his experience in the war with me. It showed a completely different side of Igor and I gained a profound respect for him as a soldier and police officer protecting his people, his culture and his country.
Here is Igor's story:
Igor went to Yugoslavia's military training camp at 18 years old, as all men did at that time, unless you went straight from grade school into college and in this case you would complete military training after college, like his brother, Goran, did. His training took place in Belgrade, Serbia in 1989.
During training, he was awarded Best Shooter Award and Best Solider Award and was part of the President's Personal Guard to protect the government and President Borislav Jovic of Yugoslavia.
In May 1990, when Igor's year of training was up, he was supposed to return home, but because violent conflicts against Croatians by Serbians were increasing, the army did not let anyone leave.
One day, his platoon commander asked Igor, "When are you supposed to go home?"
Igor replied, "11 days ago."
"Be ready to leave tomorrow morning," he said.
At sunrise, Igor was dressed in civilian clothing and a higher ranking commander saw him and said, "Where do you think you're going?"
Igor replied, "I am supposed to go home today."
"We will see about that," he said.
Igor stood outside his office waiting as the commander walked in and out ignoring him and then sometime several hours later, the commander asked, "What are you still doing here?"
Igor replied, "Waiting."
The commander ordered him to come into his office, immediately signed Igor's release papers and waved him out the door. The camp gates opened and Igor ran to the train station, but the last train had just left for the day. So, he ran to the bus station and a bus to Zagreb was driving away in the distance. Luckily, there was a final bus to Zagreb that day and Igor was on it to go home to Croatia.
More and more hostilities between the two republics were mounting. About two months after Igor arrived home from Belgrade, his parents got a knock on the door asking for Igor to come join the Croatian National Police force. In March 1991, the war had officially begun.
Many of Igor's schoolmates who had their training only a couple months later than him were not as lucky getting out of Belgrade. Some were taken by Serbians as prisoners or were killed trying to escape back to Croatia.
In the beginning of the war, Croatia did not have their own army or their own weapons. Residents offered their own guns and ammunition to be used in the fight. Igor ended up with a hunting rifle from a man living down the street from his parent's house. As the war gained momentum, foreign supporters of Croatia's battle for independence began to smuggle supplies into Croatia to help. Eventually, Croatia's national police had their own uniforms and weapons.
The police's function during the war was to patrol and keep order during this chaotic time. The police were rotated every few months to go home and then wait to be called back again. During one of Igor's breaks, he found a job in the city of Rijeka working as an HVAC service technician.
Luckily, combat never made it to Igor's parent's home or the city of Rijeka. People in this area of Croatia tried to continue living their daily lives as best as they could, but remained ready to defend at a moments notice. Igor had his first child during the war.
In August of 1995, Igor was stationed in the mountains south of Plitvička Jezera where the police helped free occupied areas and take control of Croatia's territory during Operation Storm. By November 1995, the war was officially over and Croatia could now finally have peace.
There are countless other war stories Igor has shared throughout our eight plus years of being together. Some funny, some sad, some while in training and some while in the police. Some of Igor's close friends lost their lives and some have never been the same since. All gave some and some gave all. When you vacation in Croatia you will see what remains of the war. Some areas are still off limits because they may contain landmines that have not been discovered yet. Buildings and homes in some villages still have visible bullet holes in their exterior. This serves as a reminder of what Croats fought for.
Croatia's rat i mir.