The Destruction of the Village of Smoljanac

Smoljanac, a small village located on the northern border of the Plitvice Lakes National Park, is one of many in the area that suffered greatly during the Homeland War. Before the war, it was a picturesque village with approximately 85 houses, a district school and the St. John the Baptist Church. Croats made up the vast majority of the population as only 3 of the 249 villagers were Serbs.

After the “Bloody Easter” violence in Plitvice on 31 March 1991, the villagers of Smoljanac organized a local defense and were later joined by six police officers from the Drežnik Grad Police Station whose commander allowed them to defend their village.

The Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA) and local rebel Serbs combined in Territorial Defense (TD) units attacked and conquered Smoljanac on 8 October 1991. They found two senior citizens, Ana Bujadinović and Josip Matovina and killed them. Nikola Cvjetićanin and Milan Milošević, both members of the Udbina TD, were charged with their murder. Cvjetićanin was convicted but released pending an appeal while Milošević was never tried for his role in the murders.

Most of the Croatian forces returned to Smoljanac on 9 October and some civilians followed a week later to feed their livestock. During the day they hid in the woods and entered the village in the evening. Over time, residents stayed in the village during the day which ultimately cost some their lives. On 4 December 1991, unknown military units stormed the village in two YPA Campagnola military vehicles and spread out among the residential homes.

In one house they found Marko Vuković, Marko Mesić and Mira Vuković who came to the village from nearby Mukinje to check on her family. She hoped that nothing would happen as her two sisters were married to Serbian soldiers but all three were killed by shots from automatic weapons. Ivica Rosandić and Ante Rumenović were found taking up residence in a second house and were immediately killed. Jure and Roža Bićanić were found in a third house and after their murder, enemy soldiers burned their bodies along with the home.

After the murder of seven innocent residents of Smoljanac, soldiers and civilians fled in small groups towards neighbouring Bosnia over the following days and the last group left the village on 11 December for Tržačka Raštela. Smoljanac was subjected to repeated looting that escalated in December 1991 until everything from cattle to toilets were stolen by the enemy. The village was then wiped off the face of the earth as 85 houses and their farm buildings were burned to the ground along with the school and St. John’s Church.

The people of Smoljanac returned to their destroyed village only after the area was liberated in Operation “STORM” in August 1995 and it was frightening how few people could say with certainty where their homes had stood before the war. Thick brush had grown over the rubble and there was little reminder that people had lived there only years earlier.

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