Mayor of the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar, Ivan Penava, met with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic in Zagreb on Friday, telling N1 television after the meeting that the protest that he had announced for October 13 in that town is not meant to be a protest against Plenkovic.
Penava made the comment in response to recent media speculations describing the event - billed as a protest against "the silence of institutions" about the failure to solve war crimes committed in 1991 in Vukovar - as yet another right-wing pressure on Plenkovic and his centre-right government led by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), which Penava is also a member of.
"I came here to talk with Prime Minister Plenkovic about what is being said by the media. We exchanged views on the matter... Of course all sorts of actors are trying to use this issue one way or another, humiliating victims again... That was what we discussed in this meeting, which I attended as both a member of HDZ and as mayor of Vukovar, and in which I tried to assure the leader of HDZ and Prime Minister (Plenkovic) that this protest is not meant to be against HDZ, or against Plenkovic. Its only goal is to find war criminals who committed atrocities in Vukovar and all over Croatia. Every attempt to use this occasion for somebody's (political) goals is in poor taste, and pretty much amounts to firing another shot at Vukovar and the victims," Penaca told N1 about his meeting with Plenkovic in Zagreb.
The eastern Croatian town of Vukovar was besieged by combined forces of the Yugoslav Army and Serbian paramilitaries for almost three months in late 1991. The siege had reduced the once prosperous town to rubble before it fell in November 1991. After its fall, many civilians and captured soldiers were summarily executed, including some 200 civilians and prisoners of war taken from the town hospital and killed at the Ovcara farm south of town, with many perpetrators thought to have been involved in the executions never arrested and tried, with some even living today side-by-side with survivors in the town itself or nearby areas.
"Prime Minister Plenkovic is in my opinion the best prime minister so far, and he leads the best government so far. Whether I succeeded in convincing him that this is not directed at him, that is of less importance. What's important is that he sees this in the bigger picture, and I think he understood the whole context of this," Penava said, and added that "this is not meant to be a blow to the prime minister and the government - this is my government, this is my prime minister - and, prime minister for all of us, after all."
According to Vecernji List daily, a source from HDZ party leadership commented on Thursday the fact that on October 12-14 Vukovar is meant to host the 24th All-Croatian Sports Games of Disabled War Veterans organised by the national association of disabled veterans Hvidra - meaning that on Saturday, October 13, the day of Penava's protest, Vukovar will host war veterans from all over the country.
"Of course, this was intentionally timed so that the protest happens while there are (large numbers of) disabled war veterans in Vukovar. Who might be behind this? Only our own people from HDZ could be behind it. This was probably (the idea of) the same group that was against the ratification of the Istanbul Convention (earlier this year) joined by war veterans - and together they are preparing a blow to the government," unnamed source at HDZ party leadership told Vecernji List.
Also on Thursday, the ultra-conservative group U Ime Obitelji ("In the Name of Family"), which had taken part in protests against the ratification of the Istanbul Convention earlier this year, had expressed support for Penava's announced protest.
Hvidra had organised its sports games last year on October 13-15 in and around the southern city of Makarska. Considered the largest and one of the most influential war veterans' associations, it is led by Josip Djakic, also a member of HDZ, who did not reply to media requests for comment on Thursday.
Although Penava said on Friday that Hvidra's sports games taking place at the time of the protest is just a coincidence, Prime Minister Plenkovic seems to have seen it differently when he was asked for comment on Thursday.
"To use emotions of people who had suffered the most, in a situation where the crimes happened 27 years ago, by giving an excuse to those whose interest lies in bringing down the parliament majority - now that's a whole different kind of sport," Plenkovic said.