KNIN, KOMPAS.com – On Wednesday, Croatia celebrated its Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day and Day of Croatian Defenders with a message of tolerance.
This year’s celebration marks the 25th anniversary of a military victory that put an end to the country’s independence war.
Croatia’s top ethnic Serb official joined a ceremony, setting a rare tone of reconciliation on a day that is typically filled with tension.
Deputy Prime Minister Boris Milosevic is the first ethnic Serb political representative to attend the annual memorial for the "Operation Storm" offensive.
“Operation Storm” was when Croatian troops reclaimed territory held by rebel Serbs during the 1991-95 independence war.
While Zagreb celebrates the day as a victorious moment of liberation, Belgrade mourns the fate of ethnic Serbs who were killed or fled Croatia in the aftermath of the offensive.
In Croatia this year, a small olive branch was extended as the Serb minister joined other top officials at a ceremony which began at a fortress in Knin, where the names of nearly 200 fallen soldiers were read.
Milosevic, whose grandmother was killed in the wake of the offensive, wrote on Facebook the "time has come for the politics of understanding and of respecting each other to defeat the politics of hatred".
The gesture was symbolic of the Croatian government's pledge to improve still fragile relations with ethnic Serbs, who make up some 4.5 percent of the 4.2 million population.
It will "send a new message for Croatian society, relations between Croatians and Serb minority ... between Croatia and Serbia," said Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.