The place where Hungarian and Croatian blood was drawn together

On Sunday, the village of Szentlászló (Laslovo), which had become the symbol of the Hungarian-Croatian alliance consecrated with blood, was the scene of a joint commemoration ceremony for the local heroes and victims of the Yugoslav Wars. Then the participants marched together to the town of Vukovár (Vukovar), which was completely destroyed 23 years ago and became the symbol of the Croatian war of independence.

László Toroczkai, the founder of Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement (HVIM) and Frano Čirko, the leader of the youth platform of the Croatian Pure Party of Rights (HČSP) decided in 2012 that the two organizations would hold joint annual commemorations of the Croatian and Hungarian heroes and victims of the patriotic war in 1991. Ever since the first event in 2012, the tradition has been preserved seamlessly. Last year, Jobbik Movement for a Better Hungary also joined the march that sets out from Kórógy (Korođ) and ends at the Szentlászló church which was renovated after the demolition. In addition to honouring the heroes and victims, the event also promotes the enhancement of relations between Hungarian and Croatian organizations.

This year, the Croatian and Hungarian participants arrived by bus and car at the Kórógy memorial, which was erected in the memory of the people of the village who died or disappeared during the patriotic war, sacrificing their lives for their homeland. Some participants were coming from as far as Zágráb (Zagreb) and Kolozsvár (Cluj); distance can never be an issue when you are paying tribute to people who made the dearest sacrifice to defend their homeland.

After bowing their heads at the memorial, the march set out on its journey, led by a sign promoting the friendship of the two nations and held by the participating leaders of HČSP, HVIM and Jobbik, including Josip Miljak, the president of the Croatian party, Frano Čirko, the leader of its youth platform, Márton Gyöngyösi, the deputy head of Jobbik's parliamentary group, Adrián Magvasi and Tamás György Fodor, two members of HVIM's Board as well as Zsolt Dér, who volunteered for the Croatian National Guard at the age of 21 to fight alongside the defenders of Szentlászló and in other fronts, too.



152 days, outnumbered


Szentlászló, a Hungarian settlement dating back to the Árpád era of the early medieval period, was able to withstand the siege of the Yugoslav People's Army and the Serbian chetnik paramilitary forces for several months. During the terror of the Yugoslav Wars, the alliance of the Croatian and Hungarian defenders was indeed signed in blood here.

After the fall of Vukovár on November 18th, the enemy enclosed the village on the 24th, so the locals had no choice but to flee. Those who could, set out on the journey and after twelve hours of forced march, they managed to get through the blockade, crossing corn lands and canals. The final Serbian attack found the village nearly empty. In fact, some invaders were shooting each other, as they arrived at the scene through the attacks launched from multiple directions. Those who could not flee due to their old age or injuries all lost their lives; many of the bodies have not been found to this day.

The village's daily life is still permeated by the remnants of the war: almost every third house has bullet or shrapnel marks, and many of them still has missing walls or roof. Lots of people fled, leaving their lives and homes behind, and many of them could never return. The luckier ones could stay alive at least, even though they had nowhere to go home afterwards. The settlement, which had a Hungarian majority until 1991, was burnt to the ground and was only repopulated in the 2000s.


Life always prevails


The participants of the march laid wreaths and lit candles at the memorial by the village church. "Szentlászló has become the symbol of Hungarian-Croatian brotherhood, which is clearly demonstrated by this commemoration ceremony organized for the third year this time. By now, we can say we created a tradition that is exemplary and quite rare between other nations." said Frano Čirko in his speech. "This march means the renewal of the blood contract signed by our compatriots here in Szentlászló 23 years ago. All the blood that was shed here reminds us that Hungarians and Croatians must live as brothers and sisters in times of war and peace alike. This is the only way for us to show that the blood was not shed in vain in Szentlászló." emphasized the youth leader.

"Nowadays we're facing new challenges, which require us to rearrange our lines and engage in a struggle for preserving our national identity and the moral health of our society." pointed out Josip Miljak. The president of the Croatian patriotic party also talked about the war waged by the European Union against national states. He said that Hungarians and Croatians must engage in that battle together.

Márton Gyöngyösi began his speech saying that God ordered the Croatian and the Hungarian nation to live side by side and placed them under the protection of the Holy Crown. As he put it: "in the course of our common history, Croatians and Hungarians had to fight shoulder to shoulder many times in order to protect their freedom and sovereignty." He added that "the defenders, the Croatian and Hungarian heroes of Szentlászló rose to the ranks of our national heroes, the Zrinyis and the Frangepans, and they shall always be remembered as an eternal example." Jobbik's MP pointed out: the fact that we can commemorate them together with the Hungarian and Croatian inhabitants of a revitalized, proud village in the territory of a free and independent Croatia, proves that "sacrifices and efforts are never in vain, life always prevails over death." Gyöngyösi said that examples would soon be needed again, since "the invaders don't come with an army, weapons or a declaration of war. Instead, they apply tricks and deception: they talk about wealth, prosperity, rights and equality while they expand their colonial power through foundations, non-governmental organizations, research and consulting institutes and media, under the banner of charity."

"When I was here for the first time, the houses had no roofs and windows. The walls were covered in shrapnel marks, the air was filled with the sounds of mine explosions and the whistle of bullets. It was anything but beautiful. I came here because I wanted to do something for justice and the people living here." these were Zsolt Dér's words. The veteran, who participated in the defence of Szentlászló as well, thanked the civilians who took up arms to protect their homeland and to fight for their independence.

"In addition to a correct foreign policy strategy between the eastern and the western power centres, we must also focus on developing an alliance with the countries situated along the North-South axis, with special regard to the maintenance and improvement of the Polish-Hungarian and the Croatian-Hungarian relations." our correspondent was told by Tibor Imre Baranyi, who had already taken part in the exemplary demonstration last year, too. "It is a serious lesson for all narrow-minded politicians to see how the wrong, Chauvinistic, anti-Hungarian policy of the Serbs backfired during the Yugoslav Wars, when Hungarians and Croatians were forced into an alliance against Pan-Serbist Chauvinism as a common enemy in order to defend Szentlászló, for example." he added.

"Besides the Polish-Hungarian friendship, Hungarian national sentiment encompasses another exemplary friendship, that of the Croatian nation. Szentlászló is a symbol of this comradeship forged in our common past that was not free of frictions. However, Hungarians and Croatians were fighting shoulder to shoulder here." responded György Gyula Zagyva to our question. HVIM's co-chairman expressed his satisfaction about the fact that more and more people are informed about this Hungarian related event of the Yugoslav Wars, partly due to his organization's efforts. "I often hear from foreign organizations how important this joint commemoration of Croatian and Hungarian entities is for them. And when we are on our way back home, the elevated spirit characterizing the participants is almost palpable in the bus. You can feel the empowering presence of the heroes there."



The symbol of Croatian liberty



At the end of the event, the participants went over to Vukovár, a town 30 kilometres away from Szentlászló. If Szentlászló is the symbol of Eszék (Osijek), then Vukovár is the symbol of Croatia as a whole. The town was besieged for 87 days by the troops of the Yugoslav People's Army and the Serbian paramilitary forces. The Baroque town was almost completely destroyed within less than a hundred days. The aerial photo below shows better than any written words how the town was demolished by over a thousand(!) missiles and shrapnel fired at it each day.

After the town fell, the invaders (mostly Arkan's tigers) began an ethnic cleansing. About half a thousand people (including doctors, pregnant women and children), who had found refuge in the local hospital, were packed in buses and driven to the Ovcara forest five kilometres from there. Allegedly, the marks of machine gun bullets are still visible on the trees. Only one single survivor could escape.


The last location of the commemoration ceremony was the memorial cemetery of the military and civilian victims. Thousands of the town's defenders, including 1800 civilians, gave their lives for the liberty of Croatia (including 48 Hungarians). They were remembered when Hungarians and Croatians bowed to honour them. The cemetery, which is built as a worthy memento, has nearly a thousand white crosses in regular arrangement as well. They are there to remind visitors of the victims found in mass graves after the massacre. The youngest corpse was that of a six-month-old baby, while the oldest victim was a 104-year-old woman.

As darkness was slowly falling upon the cemetery and light was only given by the eternal flame in the middle of the memorial, which forms a cross if viewed from the air, and the hundreds of candles placed by the participants, everybody could feel the weight of the day. They could feel the respect for those who had the courage to take up arms when their freedom was at stake, who turned from average men into heroes when defending their families, and whose sacrifice was not in vain, since there are people to come here year by year to bow their heads, drop to their knees and say thanks. Some in Croatian, some in Hungarian, some with a beat of the heart, others with a teardrop wiped off.