Crimes Without Punishments and Damaged Collective Identities

The Example of the Dvor Massacre
Seminars and Colloquia

The lecture briefly presented the circumstances of the massacre committed in the town of Dvor during the Croatian Army’s Operation Storm, which crushed the secessionist Serb Republic of Krajina. In the early afternoon of August 8, 1995, nine (possibly ten) mentally ill and handicapped people were executed in Dvor’s primary school, where they had found shelter. Twenty-five years after the massacre, the killers have still not been prosecuted and it is even unclear to which army they belonged. In the vicinity there were both Croatian and Serbian units, while the Bosnian Army was only a few kilometers away. In addition, the massacre happened in front of Danish UN soldiers, whose base was on the school’s playground a mere 20 meters away from the massacre.

The attitude of state institutions as well as of the public towards this case is a perfect illustration of ethnototalitarianism, as political scientist Dejan Jović characterized the dominant public discourse in Croatia. Building on Aleida Assman’s writings on the politics of memory and the work of sociologist Helmut Dubiel, who held that Germany’s post-1945 identity was shaped by “inability to accept the guilt,” the collective identities of both Croats and Serbs seem to be shaped by their inability to understand their historical responsibility. Both societies greatly suffer because they are unable to implement the honest and fact-based process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung. Elites play an important role in this process, since they directly profit, symbolically and materially, from the current situation.

Jerko Bakotin is a freelance journalist from Croatia, writing mostly for Novosti. He is a Milena Jesenská Visiting Fellow from March to May 2021.

Comment and moderation by Ivan Vejvoda, IWM Permanent Fellow.