The Death of Marijan Celjak, Sisak’s Greatest Hero of the Homeland War

Marijan Celjak, hero of the Homeland War and city of Sisak died on 16 September 1991.

Born in Sisak on 1 May 1957, Celjak grew up, received his education and started a family in his hometown. He worked at the Sisak Thermal Power Plant and with the arrival of democratic change in Croatia, Celjak became involved in the political life of the city. He was one of the founders of the Croatian Democratic Union (CDU) in Sisak and he was actively involved in organizing the defense of the city when war broke out in Croatia.

In the summer of 1991, the 57th Independent Battalion of the National Guard Corps was established with its headquarters in Sisak. Antun Bobetko was appointed commander while Marijan Celjak became deputy commander. In his book “All My Battles”, General Janko Bobetko recalled how Celjak imposed his authority in the unit as a good commander. He soon became one of the key links in the defense of Sisak and began to establish the city’s defense in the nearby village of Komarevo.

It was Marijan Celjak who played a key role in capturing Sisak’s Barutana military barracks, the first Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA) military facility to be taken over by Croatian forces in the Homeland War. He skilfully negotiated the surrender of the YPA and guaranteed their safe transfers to any other YPA base. Once they selected to move to the base in Petrinja, Celjak personally boarded a bus with YPA troops and escorted them to their destination. The blockade of all YPA facilities in Croatia began shortly thereafter.

Celjak also attempted to persuade the YPA to peacefully surrender the Žažina missile base near Sisak. He was briefly detained but that did not discourage him from conducting negotiations again at the YPA radar base in Šašna Greda on 16 September 1991. Celjak was particularly aware that families with spouses and children of military personnel were present and he did not want any harm to come to innocent people on the base.

He had great confidence in us volunteers because he was an extremely proper and brave man, Croatia was in his heart, he took care of every person, his people were all equal and wherever it was necessary to go, Marijan went first and led us. Marijan never sent us anywhere without him. It was the same for Šašna Greda as Marijan attended the negotiations. He could have sent an envoy but he didn’t want to and instead went alone.

Jurica Devčić, 57th Independent Battalion of the Croatian National Guard

Unfortunately, Marijan died under mysterious circumstances in Šašna Greda. Shortly afterwards, his comrades named the 57th Independent Battalion in his honour. Today, one of Sisak’s streets bears his name and an award bearing his name is given annually on the Day of the City of Sisak to someone who played a prominent role in the defense of Sisak. Celjak was survived by his wife Marica and three children Marijana (10), Ivan (8) and Ana (7).

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