Anniversary of SRS rally in Vojvodina town

BELGRADE -- 18 years ago today the Serb Radical Party (SRS) held a rally in the village of Hrtkovci in Vojvodina.

Ethinic Croats from Vojvodina are associating this rally with the beginning of their persecution from the region of Srem in northern Serbia.

A list with the names of 17 local ethic Croats who were threatened to move out was publicly read then, while 20 families were forced out of their homes.

While SRS leader Vojislav Šešelj is standing trial before the Hague Tribunal, among other things accused of persecution of non-Serb population in Vojvodina, similar proceedings still have not been initiated before domestic courts.

Many eyewitness testimonies have been recorded so far, as well as persons who were brutally intimidated and whose properties were invaded, so it is estimated that about 1,200 non-Serb inhabitants of Hrtkovci left their homes.

They received phone threats and the local authority changed the name of the village to Srbislavci.

Democratic League of Croats in Vojvodina (DSHV) leader Petar Kuntić says that similar incidents were happening throughout Vojvodina, in Slankamen, Golubinci, Nikinci, Kukujevci, but that Hrtkovci remains a synonym for the persecution of Vojvodina’s Croats from their homeland here.

“The pressure was put on the doctors in the village, on the veterinarian, the teacher, the director of cooperative and other respectable farmers or village officials, after which they left and the entire village left after them. The result is actually that the number of Croats reduced drastically through that process from 1992 and especially after Operations Blaze and Storm (against ethnic Serbs in Croatia). There were 121,000 of Croats in Serbia until those pressures on the locals and after those events 71,000 remain” Kuntić explained.

Completely different statements are coming from the opposite side. Zoran Krasić of SRS does not deny that a list of 17 ethnic Croats was revealed, but he claims that those persons had already left Hrtkovci at the time. According to his version of events, those people were in the service of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and former Croatian President Franjo Tuđman in Croatia.

“Nobody moved from Hrtkovci under pressure. If there was outward migration it was done based on exchange of real estate with the persecuted Serbs from the Croatian territory,” he said.

“Hrtkovci is in the indictment against Vojislav Šešelj, as well as crime against humanity and persecution by hate speech, however, it went down the drain considering what 15 witnesses said and what the legal expert wrote. From this documentation and everything that has been introduced before the Hague Tribunal it can’t be concluded that there was persecution,” Krasić stressed.

It is estimated that the largest number of ethnic Croats left Novi Slankamen, about 1,600, the same as from Zemun, while 850 Croats left Beška.