Deputy Prime Minister Boris Milosevic, in charge of social affairs and human rights, said on Monday that Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic attending the commemoration for Serb civilian victims in Varivode was a strong symbolic gesture and that those victims, too, deserved empathy and respect.
"This is the first time after 25 years that a prime minister attended a commemoration in tribute to innocent victims who had been killed in Varivode," Milosevic said after the commemoration for nine Serb civilians killed in Varivode in the aftermath of the 1995 Operation Storm.
He said that victims in Varivode deserved empathy and respect from all members of society and that they were no different from other victims across Croatia.
Milosevic said that it was time after 25 years to finally "hear each other", as it was because of lack of dialogue and whitewashing that those responsible for the crimes in Varivode had not yet been identified.
The Croatian state failed to act in the right way when the crime was committed, and over time it has become increasingly difficult to find evidence about the perpetrators, he said.
"There is only hope that all those who have knowledge of it will break the vow of silence and say that what happened is dishonorable, shameful and cannot be justified and that they will say who did it," Milosevic said.
Milosevic expects small steps forward
He said he did not expect any revolutionary progress in relations between Croatia and Serbia in the context of new commemorative practices, but that he expected "small steps forward", such as talks held between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and representatives of the Serbian Croat community in August.
The Serbian president's special envoy, Veran Matic, in charge of cooperation with the Republic of Croatia in relation to the search for people gone missing in the war, also attended the commemoration in Varivode. According to him, joint commemorations in Knin, Grubori and Varivode, as well as those to follow, are helpful in finding the disappeared.
"I had several good conversations about the changes we could make with regard to the search for the disappeared (...) I hope that citizens and institutions who have information will cooperate," Matic said.
Vesna Terselic, head of Documenta -- The Centre for Dealing with the Past NGO, warned that despite the Prime Minister's attendance, which was a step towards building trust, the fact remained that it had been 25 years since the crime in Varivode and the criminal proceedings had still not been completed, nor had all families that sued Croatia received damages.
"The question remains how we as a society are going to implement those meaningful steps in the local communities that suffered damage in the Homeland War," Terselic said.