Persecution of Croats in Serbia during Yugoslav Wars
Following the beginning of the Yugoslav wars, especially the War in Croatia in 1991, members of Serbian Radical Party and Serbian Chetnik Movement have been accused to have conducted a campaign of intimidation and persecution of Croats of Serbia in Vojvodina, Serbia, through hate speech and threats by various parties, including by the ICTY and United Nations Commission on Human Rights. These acts forced a part of the local Croat population to leave the area in 1992. Most of them were resettled in Croatia. The affected locations included Hrtkovci, Nikinci, Novi Slankamen, Ruma, Šid, and other places bordering Croatia. According to some estimates, around 10,000 Croats left Vojvodina in 1992.
Vojvodina is a province of Serbia. According to the 1991 census, its population was 2,012,517. Serbs comprised 57.2%, Hungarians 16.9% of its population, or 1,151,353 and 430,946 members, respectively. Croats numbered 74,226 members or 3.7% of Vojvodina's population (down from 109,203 from the 1981 census).
In 1991, Hrtkovci was an ethnically mixed village with Croatian plurality (40.24%), located roughly 40 miles west of Belgrade. Vojislav Šešelj, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party, made numerous public threats to Croats in May 1992. Radicals replaced all Latin signs with Cyrillic ones and even renamed Hrtkovci to "Srbislavci" - 'place of Serbs' - though only for a short amount of time. Šešelj personally visited Hrtkovci on 6 May 1992 and gave a hate speech by publicly reading out a list of 17 Croat "traitors" who must leave the village. Incoming Serb refugees labeled Croats as "fascists".
Following the threats, one part of local Croats rushed to Croatia to see the houses which were offered to them in the planned population transfer. One Croat was even murdered by the radicals. Šešelj's party even crafted a slogan for their campaign: "All Croats out of Hrtkovci". In 1991, Hrtkovci had 2,684 residents, including 1,080 Croats (40.2%), 555 Serbs and Montenegrins (20.7%), 515 Hungarians (19.2%), and 445 Yugoslavs (16.6%). By the end of 1992, 75% of its residents were Serbs.
The number of Croats who left from the village of Hrtkovci was 722. Their empty homes were settled by Serb refugees from Croatia and Bosnia. Likewise, some Serbs tried to protect their Croatian neighbors. After the events, Yugoslav authorities arrested five radicals who were responsible for harassment of Croats.
In its 1993 report, published during its 49th session, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights wrote that Hungarians and Croats in Vojvodina were subjected to "verbal and physical threats and other acts of intimidation, including setting houses on fire and destroying cultural and religious monuments", and thus left their homes in large numbers after Vojvodina lost its autonomy. Another reson for their departure was that many were refusing to be drafted in the Yugoslav army, fearing they might be sent to the battle front. Besides Hrtkovci, the report documented an exodus of Croats from Kukujevci and Novi Slankamen, as a result of threats and the bombing of their houses. The villages of Beška and Golubinci were said to have lost their entire respective Croat population. Other means of intimidation included threatening telephone calls and letters. The report alleged that "the police have acquiesced in some of the incidents which have been attributed to individuals." On 23 February 1993, the Commission adopted a resolution expressing its "grave concern" at the "violations of human rights occurring in Sandžak and Vojvodina, particularly acts of physical harassment, abductions, the burning of homes, warrantless searches, confiscation of property and other practices intended to change the ethnic structure in favour of the Serbian population."
On 29 August 1992, the BBC reported bombings of Croatian homes in the village of Nikinci. In Golubinci, twenty cases were recorded where bombs were planted inside Croat houses. A 28-year old Croat woman was killed in her home on 7 February 1994.
In 2003, Vojislav Šešelj was indicted by the U.N. established International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). On 11 April 2018, the Appeals Chamber sentenced him to 10 years in prison under Counts 1, 10, and 11 of the indictment for instigating deportation, persecution (forcible displacement), and other inhumane acts (forcible transfer) as crimes against humanity due to his speech in Hrtkovci on 6 May 1992, in which he called for the expulsion of Croats from Vojvodina.
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