Just Settlement: The Return of Eastern Slavonia to Croatia

By Zuzul, Miomir | Harvard International Review, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview
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Just Settlement: The Return of Eastern Slavonia to Croatia

Zuzul, Miomir, Harvard International Review

MIOMIR ZUZUL is Croatian Ambassador to the United States.

In January of 1998, the area known as Eastern Slavonia was restored to full Croatian authority after an arduous two-year process. The successful conclusion to the peaceful reintegration of Eastern Slavonia represents a major achievement for Croatia, US diplomacy, and the UN member states who contributed troops to the reintegration efforts. Today, the process of reintegration of Eastern Slavonia is, in fact, complete. Automobiles

carry Croatian license plates, shop owners accept the Croatian kuna, retirees receive Croatian pensions, doctors treat the sick under the Croatian health system, and Croatian and local Serb policemen maintain order and enforce Croatian law. The return of refugees both to and from Eastern Slavonia has begun. For Croatia, the end of the UN mandate in Eastern Slavonia represents an important milestone on the road to an important destination: reintegration into Western economic, political and security institutions, namely the European Union (EU) and NATO. For the international community, the successful end to the mandate represents the most successful UN mission in history. The model that was employed in Eastern Slavonia may serve as an example to future peace-keeping operations throughout the world.

To understand the obstacles confronted by the UN mission in Croatia as well as the challenges that lie ahead, it is necessary to briefly examine the historical background of two previous failed UN missions in Croatia--the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) and the United Nations Confidence Restoration Operation in Croatia (UNCRO). In such a context, the success of the United Nations Administration in Eastern Slavonia, Baranja, and Western Sirmium (UNTAES) can be understood and employed as a model elsewhere in the world.

Historical Background

Croatia declared independence from the former Yugoslavia on June 25, 1991, in an effort to promote democratic and market reforms and to move closer to membership in European institutions. Serbia, however, chose to expand its borders by annexing parts of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. With the aid of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), Serbia launched a massive attack on Croatia. In August 1991, the Croatian town of Vukovar, with more than 45,000 inhabitants, was shelled by Yugoslav troops and Serb paramilitary forces. Vukovar resisted a three-month siege from land, air, and the Danube River--a siege that took the lives of thousands and reduced the town to rubble. This pattern of aggression was repeated across Croatia, resulting in the deaths of more than 10,000 people and forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes. The war against Croatia reached its peak with the shelling of the defenseless historic city of Dubrovnik, an attack which flouted international legal and moral norms.

The aggression against Croatia lasted nearly six months before an effective cease-fire was achieved and the United Nations agreed to deploy peace-keeping troops within the framework of the Vance Plan. Cyrus Vance, the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for peace negotiations, conducted several grueling rounds of shuttle diplomacy to forge this agreement which would have brought peace to Croatia. The mechanisms for negotiating the peaceful reintegration of the occupied areas into Croatia's constitutional and legal system were based on the principles established at the international peace conference in The Hague and the guiding principle that any agreement must ensure respect for Croatia's independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. The Croatian Constitution and constitutional law offered broad guarantees of ethnic and minority rights to Serbs, including local self-government and autonomy in areas where they constituted a majority. The Vance Plan enabled the United Nations to deploy its "blue helmets" to the areas occupied by rebel Serbs and the Yugoslav military.

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