Croatia Independence Demonstration, London

Radio Croatia, Zagreb – 06-10-1991

The Balkan Conflicts of 1991-1999 were sparked by little-reported events in Kosovo in 1989. However, they came to a head in the summer and autumn of 1991 when Slovenia and Croatia made bids for independence from Serb dominated 'oppression' of the Yugoslav government in the capital, Belgrade. These independence bids resulted in a knee-jerk reaction by Belgrade which immediately resorted to military repression and 're-occupation' of its own territory. The Yugoslav army and airforce were mobilised to counter civil unrest in its northern and north-eastern provinces, closing Yugoslav borders with Europe and meeting protest with force and armed assaults. Yugoslav military forces, based in their barracks in Ljubliana (Slovenia), Zagreb (Croatia), Sarajevo (Bosnia-Hercegovina) and Skopje (Macedonia) found themselves surrounded and in conflict with their own compatriots. The scene was set for what the West regarded as 'civil war' (officially recognised as civil unrest within the recognised sovereign entity of Yugoslavia). Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia regarded the impending events as wars of independence. Throughout the period June-October 1991, demonstrations by expatriate Slovenes, Croats, Macedonians and Bosnians (such as this one in London) put pressure on governments throughout Europe to recognise their claims for independence from Yugoslavia. Several such demonstrations were largely misunderstood or ignored by European Union governments who were still reeling from collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1990 and from the implications of the implosion of the Russian empire earlier in 1991. Most European governments were in any case preoccupied by the impending talks at Maastricht, intended to re-establish the future of the European Union. Few politicians and policy advisers in Europe's capitals were prepared to listen to, let alone accept, warnings from journalists and independent observers that widespread war in the 'former' Yugoslavia was about to occur.

Filed, on same day, 6 Oct 1991, at request of Branco Magorj and Alan Birinac of Radio Croatia — a report on the Croat demonstration in Trafalgar Square.

A large and impressive demonstration, organised by the Croatian Peace Forum, took place in Trafalgar Square, London, today (06-10-91) with about 1,000 mixed Croatians, Slovenes, Bosnians, Macedonians and Albanians demanding Croatian independence.

The speakers included Drago Stambuk for Croatia, Robin Harris representing Mrs Thatcher, spokespersons for Albania, the British Conservative and Green parties and Keith Miles for Slovenia.

There was a unanimous call for the recognition of Serbia as the aggressor, for the immediate recognition of the sovereign independence of Slovenia and Croatia and the guaranteeing of Croatia's "known borders".

Croatia should take note that there has been a persistent and vocal campaign on behalf of Croatia by its community in Britain. Nearly all the speakers stressed that the British government was behaving as it had done in the 1930s and that it was about three months behind public opinion in the UK.

The demonstration, which was larger and more angry than any seen here during the Slovene crisis, then moved to Downing Street where a petition was delivered to John Major demanding the immediate withdrawal of the British ambassador in Belgrade and an order for the Yugoslav ambassador to be suspended. This was, in effect, a call for the UK to cease recognition of Yugoslavia which would then require, of necessity, the immediate recognition of Croatia. Only by recognising Croatia immediately could Britain, France or Germany successfully intervene in the affairs of Croatia, Serbia or other Balkan states it was stressed.

In bright sunlight, as the news of the attack on Zagreb was received, Croats in London appeared to be happy, nevertheless.

"This is mass insanity," said one woman. "But I'm tired of worrying for my family and friends in Croatia. Now I feel we've done something! Do they know in Croatia how much we all worry about them. Please, if you can tell our radio and our press, tell them how much we worry about them - that we have been doing all we can in London to make the British recognise us."

Mrs Thatcher's representative, Robin Harris, said "I'm ashamed to be British today" as he explained the weakness of the European attempt to act decisively as a political unity.

The demonstration, which was the fourth held in London since June, was attended by a significantly larger number of ethnic minorities than on previous occasions. Shortly afterwards BBC television reported the recognition by EC countries that Serbia was the aggressor and that Serbian oppression was "intolerable".

The Croatian Peace Forum, established in London in July [1991], organised today's demonstration which was filmed for Croatian television. Christopher Long, a British journalist and a contributor to Globus (Zagreb) was asked to make the final speech on behalf of the British people. He appealed to the British to unite with Macedonians, Croats, Slovenes, Bosnians, Albanians and all national/ethnic groups to demand, through their MPs, that the British government recognise the independent sovereignty of Croatia and Slovenia.

(A copy of the letter delivered to prime minister John Major was filed, with this report, to Alan Birinac at Radio Croatia, within minutes of the end of the London demonstration. It was followed by a two-way interview with the author from London.)

The author subsequently spent eight years reporting events in the Balkans as a war reporter, until Spring 1999.

© (1991) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.

Christopher Long

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