Koca Pavlovic is a Montenegrin filmmaker and an opposition MP for the Movement for Changes. His film "Rat za mir" ("War for Peace") takes its name from the slogan under which Montenegro backed the Yugoslav Army's attack on Dubrovnik and southern Croatia. It was made in 2003. In recent years it has been shown widely in Montenegro.
The film uses TV coverage from 1991 to depict the role that Yugoslav Army units, led by Montenegrin officers and full of Montenegrin reservists, played in shelling the historic port city of Dubrovnik, causing millions of euros in damage. 43 people died in the attack, which lasted from October to December 1991. TV images of burning buildings in Dubrovnik were broadcast the world over, provoking international condemnation.
As Paul Hockenos and Jenni Winterhagen wrote, "One year after declaring independence, a controversial film is forcing a visibly reluctant Montenegro to wrestle with the legacy of its role in the bloody conflicts of the early 1990s". Having shown his film in Montenegro for several years, Koca Pavlovic has noted a change in reactions:
"The young peoples’ reactions are more or less the same. Some are devastated. Their reactions are often heated. The reactions of the older generation, the people who were themselves involved, are far less intense. Two or three years ago they were stronger than they are now. That is this fundamental change".
The film, which has never been shown on public television in Montenegro, is on You Tube.
Koca Pavlovic's film shows TV pictures of Montenegrin soldiers boasting that they would not shave their beards until they could stroll down Dubrovnik's main street, the Stradun:
"It now sounds mad, but at the time, when we, Montenegro, attacked Dubrovnik, we were only defending ourselves. Montenegro was defending itself and Yugoslavia, which at the time didn't exist anymore. People sadly believed the media and didn't understand that they were being manipulated. They thought there still was a Yugoslavia. And they went to war to fight for the existence of Yugoslavia and to defend Montenegro. And how did they go about defending Montenegro? They were firmly convinced that Croatian rockets were aimed at Podgorica, Niksic and other Montenegrin cities, and that if they did not strike first, the Croatians would attack and bomb them.
The media preached that a war of prevention was necessary. That's how this slogan ‘War for Peace’ was born. We, Montenegro, supposedly did not attack Dubrovnik in order to capture it, but rather to win and thereby achieve peace. We were a form of ‘peacekeeping force’, whose task it was to drive out all those who threatened peace. And that's how the slogan ‘war for peace’ with all its cynicism, came about. It was the product of the media’s manipulations, which Montenegrins were exposed to at the time.
I never believed it for one instant, having had the luck to be in Dubrovnik at exactly this time, shortly before the war. I crossed the border. I saw with my own eyes that there were no 10,000 armed soldiers stationed there and that no one had any intention of attacking Montenegro. All the manipulative stories which the media spread in those days had no effect on me. Many trusted the media, the daily news and their television sets more than they trusted their own eyes.”
Milo Djukanovic was the Prime Minister at the time, but he did nothing to prevent the attack, says Koca Pavlovic.
Milo Djukanovic has apologised to Croatia, however, for his country’s "dishonourable role".
"In recent days I have had the opportunity to consult stenographic chronicles of parliamentary sessions in 1991 and thereby to refresh my memory concerning the events of that time. Already then, we enthusiastically supported a peaceful resolution to the problems facing the former Yugoslavia. I would like to remind you that the Montenegrin Parliament decided in October 1991 to call upon the Croatians in an attempt to initiate negotiations for a peaceful demarcation of the Rt. Ostra area. Rt. Ostra is actually the critical border-zone between Croatia and Montenegro. There used to be a military base there, and in the time of former-Yugoslavia it was a restricted military zone. Geographically, it was on Croatian territory, but it was situated so that the movement of any ship in the Montenegrin Bay of Kotor could be controlled from there. We invested a great deal of political effort into putting a stop to the fighting which had already commenced. We wanted to revive the peace process, in order to restore security and bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.
Sadly, there were also other goals being pursued in ex-Yugoslavia at the time. I am thinking especially of the Yugoslav People's Army, which was not only driven by the idea that it could save former Yugoslavia through its actions, but also inundated the Serbian and Montenegrin public with its diverse and powerful propaganda. To this day I can’t tell you how much of this information was actually true. It was from these sources that the Montenegrin public received daily reports that Croatia was on the verge of invading the Bay of Kotor.
As an aside, some Croatian politicians at the time had remarked that the bay was historically part of Croatia. We received daily updates from the Yugoslav People’s Army and its propaganda machine to the effect that Croatian artillery was dug in on the border with Montenegro, and that Herzeg Novi in the Croatian-Montenegrin border-zone was being hit by grenades fired from Croatia. This atmosphere put pressure on Montenegrins and their sense of duty, urging them to follow the Yugoslav army's conscription order.
One should not forget that there was no Montenegrin army or paramilitary divisions in Montenegro. The Montenegrins were simply obliged by law to heed the conscription order of the Yugoslav People's army or risk being dragged before a military court. If you want to remain objective you must bear in mind that the Montenegrins are a people with a long tradition of war. We're not just talking about a legal obligation, but also a moral obligation to the Yugoslav People's army, which had everyone's respect, including that of my generation, for its antifascist and partisan tradition. In this early phase, one just couldn't imagine that the People's Army could become an instrument that would destroy a union of which we were sincere members.
As a result of all these manipulations, a certain number of Montenegrins actually did play a dishonourable role, which still casts a shadow over recent Croatian-Montenegrin history. This realisation motivated me to apologise publicly for what Montenegrins in Yugoslav army uniforms, obviously misguided and manipulated, did to Croatia and its citizens, especially the inhabitants of the Dubrovnik-Neretva region. I did so already at the end of this century, I think in 1999, but also in the year 2000, at a meeting in Cavtat with the Croatian President, Mr Mesic, in my function as the President of Montenegro. I am firmly convinced that there were manipulations at that time. Montenegrins were led astray and acted in the belief that they were saving the union. Very soon this was shown to have been a mistake.