The Death of War Hero Stjepan Mlakar

In early August of 1991, leaders from the village of Orahovica met with a dozen townspeople from Slatinski Drenovac to discuss concerns of the Serbs living in the area. The locals complained about police checks and the presence of the Croatian coat-of-arms which reminded them of the letter “U” associated with the World War II Ustaša regime. Nonetheless, the talks were considered successful because the Serbs expressed their loyalty and readiness to cooperate with representatives of the Croatian government. However, the next day on August 5, the Serbian flag was raised in the center of Slatinski Drenovac. The police did not intervene as the villagers themselves resolved the situation and removed the flag.

Tensions peaked on this day in 1991 when Stjepan Mlakar was killed in an ambush, He was the first veteran killed during the Homeland War in the Virovitica-Podravina County area.

Stjepan Mlakar

As a police officer stationed with the Orahovica Police Unit, Mlakar and his fellow officers Josip Jurković and Franjo Sterle set out from Orahovica on a routine patrol towards Slatinski Drenovac. On the outskirts of the town of Pušina, local Serb insurgents set up an ambush and unleashed a burst of gunfire in which riddled their vehicle with 61 bullets.

Stjepan Mlakar died on the spot, Franjo Sterle was seriously wounded and Josip Jurković was fortunate to be only slightly wounded. He recalled that day in the book, Heroes of the Homeland War:

It was a regular patrol in which we were to monitor the crisis area. We had bulletproof vests but did not wear them because expect anything like this to happen. We saw four of the letter “S” in the Cyrillic script (representing the slogan “Only Unity Saves the Serbs” adopted by Serbian ultranationalists and Chetnik paramilitary units) on the town sign at the entrance to Pušina and even joked that we should prepare to present our passports. The joke was on us however as we immediately came under attack. To this day I do not know how but I fell out of the car. Even though they kept firing at us, I grabbed my rifle and fired three short bursts at them, which was enough to stop them only briefly.

Twelve terrorists led by Milenko Stanković were tried in absentia in the Osijek County Court. It is a crime for which nobody has been held responsible. Franjo Sterle who was severly wounded in the attack recalled the event in the newspaper Glas Slavonije:

We went on patrol between Humljani and Pušina and suddenly we were pinned down by bursts of gunfire. I took 13 bullets, Josip Jurković who was driving somehow managed to get out and although turned towards Stjepan Mlakar and called out to him, he was dead on the spot. I called out for help to cars who drove past us towards Pušina but no one stopped. A man on a bicycle approached us from Humljan and then a man with his wife and twin children in a red Yugo coming from Pušina. He went to get an ambulance, returned with Nurse Zdenka Jurenac from Čačinci who provided me with first aid and then I was taken to the hospital.

Stjepan Mlakar was 30 years old when he laid his life on the altar of the Homeland, leaving behind his wife Dragica and sons Robert and Renato. His death was a precursor to the terrible crimes that would take place in the area around Balinci, Četekovac and Čojlug where less than a month later more than twenty Croats were murdered, including Stjepan Mlakar’s younger brother  Milan.

Memorial at the ambush site

Sources
Runtić, Davor. Junaci Domovinskog rata (knjiga četvrta). Vinkovci – Šibenik: Neobična naklada, 2003.
Žarković, Petar, prir., Pismo ratniku – Knjiga sjećanja na poginule branitelje u Domovinskom ratu slatinskoga i orahovičkog područja. Slatina: Udruga roditelja poginulih branitelja Domovinskog rata Slatina, 2000.
Vladimir Grgurić, “Osnovci posjetili spomen-obilježje u Pušini”, Glas Slavonije, visited july, 11 2020, http://www.glas-slavonije.hr/333993/4/Osnovci-posjetili-spomen-obiljezje-u-Pusini

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