PART TWO: LIGHTING THE FUSE
Chapter 7: "The Remnants of a Slaughtered People"
The Knin Rebellion, January-August 1990The chapter opens with a sobering anecdote; Milan Babic, the future SDS heavyweight, recounts how he was taught as a child that the scar on the old tree outside their house had been cut by the local Ustasha member who had come to kill his father, who was then only 12 years old. His father was lucky to escape with his life, and the complicity of local ethnic Croats became part of Babic family lore from then on.
There are a few notable things about this story. First, it is by no means an anomaly--ethnic Serbs in the Knin area were frequently the victims of Ustashe atrocities. Secondly, the Babic family legend about the scar in the mulberry tree was also typical, in that it represented the sort of folk history about World War II which contradicted the official Titoist history, and which was passed along secretively within communities, families, and ethnic groups. Thirdly, the fact that Milan Babic was so personally affected by this story should not obscure the fact that he was born 15 years after the incident. There were certainly many stories which could have been passed on to him and other members of later generations, but the story of the murderous Croat neighbor was the one which he remembered most. This, too, was no anomaly in Tito’s Yugoslavia.
The rest of this chapter recounts the growth of the Serb Democratic Party in the Krajina, the former frontier region of Croatia where most of Croatia’s ethnic Serbs lived, and where memories of Ustashe terror had been both passed down and kept alive; fertile ground for nationalistic ideologues to recruit. Tudjman’s clumsy nationalistic sloganeering only fanned the flames. By the time Milosevic shrewdly and discretely moved in to put Belgrade’s support into the mix, the Krajina Serbs were already well on the way towards being radicalized, organized, and armed.
The first armed confrontations between the nascent regime in Zagreb and the fledgling statelet based around Knin (which would soon grow much larger) ended without bloodshed or even any shooting. But it was still an armed confrontation; Milosevic was one step closer to abandoned an effort to dominate Yugoslavia and beginning to carve out an exclusively Serb state from its corpse instead.