A wave of refugees from the area of the self-proclaimed “Republic of Serbian Krajina” in Croatia poured into Banja Luka and western Bosnia in early August of 1995. Approximately 130,000 people who were ordered to evacuate Serbian occupied areas by their leaders in Knin fled to the Serbian Republic in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) which until then had avoided war even though Croats and Bosniaks were regularly discriminated against and harassed there during the conflict in BiH.
The first Serbs from Croatia arrived in Banja Luka on 3 August 1995. In the following days, when the volume of refugees outgrew the real capacity to accommodate them, a wave of violence began as Croats and Bosniaks were expelled from their homes. Nikola Koljević, the then Vice-President of the Serbian Republic in BiH observed the chaos in his diary:
It is simply impossible to accommodate all those people and many, especially the younger ones coming directly from the battlefield, are embittered and believe that they can and must fend for themselves in order to find a place to stay. Thus we have the problem especially in Banja Luka where these people, most often in groups, break into the apartments and houses of Muslims and Croats, insult them and often forcibly evict them. It is almost impossible for the police to do anything that will bring order. These are people with weapons, ready to confront anyone who stands in their way and are so enraged that they also prepared to steal and kill if necessary.
The deportation of Croats and Bosniaks from these areas was formalized on this day, August 14, 1995. Koljević signed the order to forcibly deport all Croats and Bosniaks from Banja Luka and other places in western Bosnia to Croatia. In fact, the area corresponded to the Diocese of Banja Luka led by Bishop Franjo Komarica who was then under house arrest. Even today this peacemaker is a tireless advocate of the remaining Croats in the Serbian Republic and on every anniversary of this persecution he provides an update of the devastating statistics related to the number of Croats in that entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
After being robbed and humiliated, Croats entered Croatia primarily via three routes, namely Srbac to Davor, Bosanska Gradiška to Stara Gradiška and Bosanski Brod to Slavonski Brod. In the collection centre at Davor alone 20,836 Croats and Bosniaks crossed the Sava River by boat between 14 August and 17 October 1995 although the total number of deportees was undoubtedly much higher. The most important study of this neglected subject topic was Professor Šimun Penava’s book Davor – The Humane Center of the World: Persecution of Croats and Muslims from the Area of Banja Luka in 1995.
Grandfather and grandson, refugees from Bosanska Posavina in Davor (author: Željko Gašparović)
Gašparović, Željko. Svjetlost slobode. Zagreb: Hrvatski memorijalno-dokumentacijski centar Domovinskog rata, 2007.
Valentić, Mirko. Rat protiv Hrvatske 1991. – 1995. – Velikosrpski projekti od ideje do realizacije. Zagreb: Hrvatski institut za povijest – Podružnica za povijest Slavonije, Srijema i Baranje; Hrvatski memorijalno-dokumentacijski centar Domovinskog rata, 2010.
Andrej Blažević, collected 5 August, 2020
Graduated with a Master’s Degree in History from the University of Zagreb. He has worked at the Croatian History Museum and as a researcher for the popular TV Calendar program for Croatian Radio and Television. He has authored several books and documentaries about Croatia’s Homeland War and is the creator/producer of the immensely popular “It Happened on this Day – Homeland War” Facebook page as well as the online portal Domovinskirat.hr. Borna also is the host and editor of the daily segment “Patriotic Minutes” on Croatian Catholic Radio. He created CroHis to promote the values of the Homeland War and ensure that the sacrifices of those who defended Croatia’s independence would not be forgotten.