Photo: Quahadi Añtó/Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Quahadi Añtó/Wikimedia Commons

At dawn on April 16, 1993, members of the Military Police and the “Jokers”, a special unit of the Croatian Defense Council (HVO), attacked the central Bosnian village of Ahmici near Vitez. About 800 Bosniaks lived in the village. During several hours of horror, more than a hundred people were killed, mostly civilians: women, children, the elderly. The youngest victim was three months old, the oldest 81 years old. More than 150 houses and stables were demolished and set on fire, two mosques in Ahmici were blown up, and a photo of one of them, completely obliterated by dynamite, went global. All those who were convicted for the crime in Ahmici have since been released from prison, including Dario Kordic, the warlord of the Croat-controlled part of central Bosnia, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in The Hague. In prison – where, according to his own testimony, Jesus Christ appeared to him twice – Kordic completely devoted himself to religious fanaticism and, after his release, became a welcome guest at Catholic events and in monasteries throughout Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Thirty years later, the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Croatia still don’t have the moral strength and intelligence to face the truth about the massacre in Ahmici, one of the most terrible crimes in the Yugoslav wars. Even if we could accept the dubious explanation that the massacre itself was the result of the frenzy of individuals charged with hatred and the spiral of evil and revenge upon revenge that swallowed both the HVO and the Army of B&H in central Bosnia in 1993, where both armies brutally killed and terrorized the civilian population, the Republic of Croatia – together with the political representatives of the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina – has made an effort to nationalize the crime in Ahmici, that is, to burden their entire nation’s soul with the crime committed by a group of bloodthirsty HVO soldiers. Even after thirty years, that nation hasn’t learned how to deal with its own sins responsibly, maturely and self-reflexively. The same goes for the crimes committed by the Croatian Army against the Serbs after Operation “Storm”: what the state authorities did – or did not do – after learning about the murders, arson and looting clearly indicated that these were not individual incidents and acts of revenge. It was clear that these actions had the tacit approval of the authorities, just as the administrative measures to prevent the return of the Serbs after “Storm” confirmed that the goal of this operation, in addition to liberation of territories, was to drastically and permanently reduce the percentage of Serbian population in Croatia.

The Croatian political leadership in the nineties, led by Franjo Tudjman, initially tried to portray the crime in Ahmici as an anti-Croatian hoax or as a construction of British peacekeepers who first reported the massacre. Then came the theories that Ahmici was a legitimate military target because it was a stronghold of the B&H Army, which should suggest that the massacre itself wasn’t a part of the plan, but that things spiraled out of control. Dario Kordic and several more important commanders and immediate perpetrators enjoyed political protection and received state decorations until, in the second half of the nineties, international pressures on Zagreb became unbearable. In 1997, Tudjman surrendered Kordic and his companions to The Hague, but the military counterintelligence service and the civilian intelligence agency, managed by Miroslav Tudjman, Franjo’s elder son, simultaneously launched an operation to obstruct the work of The Hague Tribunal and alter documents in order to place the blame on people who were less meaningful for the regime than Kordic and his circle. The families of the “Hague prisoners” were financially cared for at the expense of the Croatian state budget. Several people connected with the crime in Ahmici lived under false identities in Croatia until the fall of 2000: they were given houses by the state and the protection of the military security service. The state conspiracy was uncovered mainly thanks to the efforts of Zagreb lawyer Ante Nobilo. In the Hague, he represented Tihomir Blaskic, the HVO general, whom the powers that be in Zagreb and Mostar had decided to sacrifice as the only high-ranking culprit for HVO crimes in Central Bosnia.

Croatian President Ivo Josipovic visited Ahmici in April 2010 and bowed before the memorial to the victims of the massacre. Cardinal Vinko Puljic from Sarajevo was also part of this visit. The cardinal, however, also visited Kordic twice while he was serving his sentence in Graz, Austria. “In the troglodyte type of morality, the victims of others are not worthy of any attention or sympathy, they are the easiest to overlook, in fact, they never existed, they are lies and propaganda, and if they did exist, the attribution of their victimization to us is the work of some perfidious foreign factor, powerful and permanently conspiring against us. We have seen this type of morality in action many times in the Croatian public when it comes to the case of the massacre of Muslims in Ahmici, to which Kordic’s indictment and conviction are connected: it was not done by ‘our knights’, but by the British, our old enemies, to demonize the Croatian people. None of these manifestations ever included any thought about the victims and their sufferings, or empathy towards them”, said writer Ivan Lovrenovic in the text “Jesus in Ahmici”, which is also the title of his book of essays published in 2015. “The Jesus we know from the Gospels – a living and radical negation of the tribal morality of our ‘heroes’ and their Catholic priests, focusing on people as such and their suffering – would have been interested in innocent children, women and men who were left murdered in Ahmici houses and streets. We can safely imagine that. I can’t imagine such a Jesus in the visions of the ‘heroes of the Croatian Homeland War’.”

Josipovic’s act did not, however, leave a deep mark on Croatian society. After the Hague acquittal of Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac in 2012 and the accession to the European Union in 2013, Croatia has completely forgotten the war crimes committed by members of the Croatian army and police and the Croatian Defense Council, including Ahmici. In recent years, political conflicts between Croats and Bosniaks in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina contributed to Ahmici being completely forgotten. There are no investigations or court proceedings, no public awareness at any level about the fact that “our” side also committed gruesome crimes, there are no streets and squares named in honor of the Ahmici victims, no books, films, conversations… it’s as if nothing happened. It is no consolation – quite the opposite! – that all nations and societies involved in the post-Yugoslav wars of the 1990s behave according to more or less the same pattern.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 26.04.2023.