President Vučić: We mourn and bear witness to crimes
In the presence of the President of the Republic and Supreme Commander of the Serbian Armed Forces, Aleksandar Vučić, the Day of Remembrance of the Serbs who were killed and expelled during Operation Storm, which was carried out by the Croat armed formations in 1995, was marked tonight at Novi Sad’s Freedom Square.
Besides the President of the Republic, the event was attended by Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Nebojša Stefanović, PhD, and Chief of the Serbian Armed Forces General Staff, General Milan Mojsilović.
The Serbian member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik, and the President of Republika Srpska, Željka Cvijanović, also paid tribute to the victims of Operation Storm. His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Mr. Porfirije and the archbishops served the mass for the victims.
"For the ninth consecutive year, we are commemorating a pogrom, a serious crime and the biggest ethnic cleansing after the Second World War," Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said tonight in Novi Sad, emphasizing that the reasons for this event were to mourn the killed and the exiled and to remind of the crime committed.
"There are two reasons why we have gathered here today. The first is to express grief for the murdered children, women, old people, 250,000 exiles. The second one is to testify to the crimes committed, so that everyone would hear about them," Vučić explained at the 27th anniversary of Operation Storm.
He said that this was the only cure for indifference, and reminded that there was a burden of guilt over all the years of silence and consigning the victims to oblivion.
"For years in Serbia, it was as if there were no witnesses to the crime. No one talked about the civilians killed, their houses looted and burned, about the beating and stoning of Serbs, about the bombing of refugee columns killing children, little brothers and sisters, and elderly people. In that way, we justified the crime ourselves," he emphasized.
He pointed out that we ourselves had thrown a stone at the saddest refugee column in history.
"We were doing it for 18 years. We burdened our own people with an eternal sense of guilt, which implied that it was our own fault that our people were expelled and killed. We justified the crime against people whose only fault was being Orthodox Serbs who wanted to live in their homes," explained Vučić.
During the time of oblivion, he says, Serbia decayed in silence, apologizing to everyone for everything, even for the things it should not have apologized for.
According to Vučić, the time of oblivion is over, there is no more silence, and we are witnesses to the fact that there will be no more crimes, which is our most sacred duty that we will not give up, even though it is not easy to fulfil.
"They used different names for our people, depending on where we came from, calling us Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin Serbs, and now they use the term Kosovo Serbs... And the only thing we have always wanted is to be ordinary Serbs, regardless of where we come from. And we are, we are all Serbs, there is no difference between us. The fact that we live in different countries does not mean that we belong to different nations", said Vučić.
They didn't succeed, although they tried hard to do it to us, he added.
Serbia and the Serbian people are being attacked every day, Vučić says, and no matter how silent we are, it is not loud enough, no matter how much we pray for peace, it is not enough, because some would like us to kneel and pray stronger and stronger.
"And no matter how clearly we acknowledge someone else's sacrifice, and express reverence and sympathy, it is not good enough, because the Serbs have to pay double, they have to humiliate us, make us disappear, in order to be satisfied with our behaviour," said the President of Serbia.
"We can give in once, twice or three times, because we want peace at any cost, we do not want anyone’s life to be threatened, we want to protect others, hoping that they will protect us, but there is no end to that," Vučić pointed out.
He also referred to the events that took place over the past few days which affected him the most. According to him, he has told everyone in the world that they have pushed us to the edge and cornered us, that we have nowhere else to go.
"We no longer have to give in to anyone and we have nowhere else to go. That being the case, we will protect and defend our people. See if you can cope with us when we stand up like this proud and wonderful, all of us together, Serbs from Krajina, Šumadija, Pirot, Herzegovina... when we stand with our people as one", Vučić said.
Quoting Lenin, who said "there are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen", he says that we live in a time when many think that this is the right moment for a general attack on Serbia and the Serbian people.
Misusing the situation in Ukraine, he says, many people around us have united, thinking that this is the moment when they can get the support of the entire world and start destroying the Serbian people.
"They might have found a good moment, they might have thought it was time for them to do what Mile Budak and Franjo Tuđman had promised, but they were wrong about one thing. This is not the same Serbia that can be defeated, this Serbia is not afraid of you and will oppose you", said Vučić and added:
"You are terribly wrong. We will protect Serbia, and we will respond to their hysteria, lies and threats with peace, patience, tolerance and determination".
President Aleksandar Vučić said that Serbia was no longer weak, that it would not bow down before anyone and would defend itself from everyone’s attack.
"We will protect and defend Serbia from anyone who dares to attack it - and what is more important we will manage to defend it and we will win. Let everyone hear - we will defend and we will win, don't threaten us, we do not pay attention to your threats anymore", said Vučić.
Serbia is no longer weak, he said, and it no longer intends to bow down before anyone who has done something to it and its people, and not vice versa.
"We are not afraid of you, this the largest number of people in the last nine years who have gathered on this square in Novi Sad tonight, showing that Serbia is coming to its senses and that it remembers and shows respect for other people's sacrifices, and preserves the memory of its own victims," emphasized Vučić.
He says that it is always easiest to take the line of least resistance. It is difficult to withstand blows and there are few people who can endure them.
"And we have withstood so many, our backs are so badly beaten that it doesn't matter anymore, they can beat us as much as they want. We have nowhere to go, you have cornered us, you have taken everything you could from us and we have nowhere to go. We will protect our Serbia with factories, by working in the fields and in every possible way, and we will improve Serbia," the President said.
According to him, neither the forbidden city of Jasenovac, nor Operation Storm, nor any other crime is a myth for us. Those are facts that we live with and that we will never forget.
"We are not doing this to threaten anyone, we do not dream of revenge or changing the borders, we are just announcing that we have learned our lesson, and that silence will never again cover the crimes against our people, nor will we ever again agree to go into the darkness without a voice. At the same time, our policy remains peace, and nothing but peace, at almost any cost, we will pray for that peace and do everything and talk to everyone to achieve it. We want to see our people work and build, we want factories, hospitals and schools".
Vučić said we had no intention of forcing anyone into conflicts.
"Just don't expect us to be silent and play dead when someone tries to kill and expel our people," Vučić pointed out.
That policy, he said, is not and must not be the one that some Serbian leaders talked about, accusing Serbia of forcing Serbs living outside Serbia to lash out, and then tie them to a fence and let the others beat them up.
"We will never allow anyone to beat up Serbs again. We do not call for conflicts, we even ask our people to cool down, but we have no intention of leaving them tied to a fence and letting them suffer someone’s violence," emphasized Vučić.
He says that we want to build the best possible relations with everyone, including those who have wronged us in the past.
"We will always own up to and repent for the crimes that some people have committed in our name. We will always extend the hand of friendship to everyone who wants to accept it, but we will never again be silent and ashamed of the crimes committed against our people.
He says that the wonderful people from Krajina were welcomed differently after Operation Storm and that the then government was ashamed of the defeat it was partially responsible for.
"The then government didn't let the refugees turn off the motorways, so that they wouldn't upset the citizens of Serbia, as if it wasn’t aware of the tragedy that they had suffered. And then it helped those people little by little, but was publicly ashamed of them and made sure that they didn't talk about it so that Serbia would not come to bad terms with the Croats or anyone else. But I'm telling you now - we will never forget the suffering of the Krajina Serbs who were expelled and lost their land, homes, children and parents", said Vučić.
Vučić says that trust is important, that it is a binding promise. He is not sure how realistic it is, but he says that talks and cooperation are necessary.
"Despite all our disagreements, we have to look to the future together," Vučić says, but he points out that there is only one condition for that, we don’t mind them celebrating, but they can't prevent us from mourning and remembering the people who lost their homes, their children and their parents.
"Just don't forbid us from grieving and remembering. We don't ask you for admission or reconciliation; just let us live with our misery, pain and suffering. We don't want anything from you and we don't ask for anything. Don't expect the Serbs to renounce their dead and their identity," said Vučić.
He says that the Serbs have survived both Jasenovac and Operation Storm and have stood up again, which is most important.
After the requiem mass for the victims, which started the commemoration, Patriarch Porfirije said that we must forgive, because it was one of the commandments of the gospel, but that we would not forget the suffering of our people, that we would remember them in prayer, and in every other way.
He pointed out that we must also gather at the place where holy martyr Vukašin Jasenovački had died, and at every other place where our innocent brothers and sisters had died, but also at the places where innocent people of other nationalities and religions had died.
He recalled the words Vukašin said while a monster was tearing off parts of his body: "Just keep doing your job, child."
"Hence, to put it mildly, it is humanly unreasonable, wrong and unjust to find a reason to prevent anyone, be it a beggar or an emperor, a rich or poor man, a native or a foreigner, an ordinary citizen or an official, the prime minister or the president, from visiting the place of Vukašin's death, from lighting a candle and offering a humble prayer to God. We will gather for prayer in places like Novi Sad - Serbian Athens and others," said the patriarch.
According to the Serbian member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik, Serbs must stand united and preserve their national identity, because that is the only way they can live.
"We have gathered here for the ninth time to say that we will not forget," said Dodik and added that if it had not been for President Aleksandar Vučić, who had initiated the commemoration of Operation Storm, it would have been completely forgotten and only personal memories of those who had suffered, and the memories of their families, would have remained.
According to him, Operation Storm was the continuation of the Second World War, the "final solution", as Franjo Tuđman said, but Serbs did not disappear.
Sanja Vulić, who fled Croatia as a twelve-year-old girl and was part of the refugee column, addressed the leaders of the Republic of Serbia and Republika Srpska and tens of thousands of gathered citizens.
She said that even after 27 years since that criminal operation, her feelings were mixed, and that sadness and pain for her home, homeland and family were still present.
Members of the Defence Minister’s and the Chief of the Serbian Armed Forces General Staff’s collegiums were also in attendance at the commemoration held at Freedom Square in Novi Sad, which also included a cultural and artistic program.