January 24, 2017
A CLASSICAL HERO LEAVES US
Vladimir Trifunović was born in 1938 in the village of Rakelići in Prijedor municipality, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He spent his working life in the Yugoslav People's Army where he rose to the rank of general. His last post was as commander of the army barracks in Varaždin, Croatia.
The Duško Kondor Civil Courage Award is being given to Vladimir Trifunović of Belgrade because, fully cognizant of the risk he was undertaking, he demonstrated civil courage by the following:
He refused to deploy his soldiers in the war operations in Croatia.
On September 22, 1991 he handed the Varaždin barracks over to Croatia, previously ordering that the weapons in the barracks be made inoperable.
He succeeded in bringing 220 soldiers and 60 officers to safety.
Because of his actions, he was convicted of treason in Serbia, part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at the time, while in Croatia he was convicted of a war crime. Of himself he said, "I am the only general Croatia declared a war criminal, while Yugoslavia indicted me for refusing to commit a war crime."
He remained true to his actions; he fought every day to have the labels "traitor and criminal" cleared from his name. Of this he says, "My first thought would again be to save the lives of the people in my command."
In Serbia he prevailed; the Supreme Court of Serbia vacated the judgment against him and his officers in 2010. He fought for the same thing in Croatia.
He kept his promise to his mother: "My mother made me swear, when I completed my military education, that my orders would never send a mother into mourning."
When handing him the Duško Kondor Civil Courage Award before an audience of more than a thousand young people from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia, Stjepan Mesić, the former President of Croatia said„ "Our younger generations have been exposed for more than two decades to unscrupulous brainwashing, historical revisionism, and the collapse of the entire system of values on which the generation of their parents and grandparents were formed. The young generations have been abandoned to unfettered influences and subjected to a tightly controlled and focused orientation in the wrong direction.
"This is precisely the reason why it is so important to acquaint people with the notion of civil courage. Not as an abstract idea, but as something pragmatic, ordinary. Civil courage means, in short, to take a stand, to have a position, to stick to it, to know why - and to defend it. Civil courage, of course, implies that one must say: no! in certain situations.
"The man I have the honor of giving the award to today for his civil courage has shown by his actions that he meets all the criteria, though perhaps—when he was acting in the way that earned him the award—he was not fully aware of this. But, he took a stand, he knew what he had to do, and he said: no!
"General Vladimir Trifunović, commander of the Varaždin Corps of the Yugoslav People's Army at the beginning of a war in which the country we shared disappeared, he was ordered to demolish the city. He had more than enough munitions to accomplish it. But he had even more human conscience and military integrity that released him to refuse to obey the order. In keeping with the rules of war he disabled as much as possible the ordnance he had available, entered into negotiations with the city crisis staff, and he agreed to the conditions for handing over the buildings and weapons with free passage for all the soldiers who wanted to leave, and he, too, left.
"I will not gloss over the fact that there were several people killed in Varaždin when there was shooting from the barracks in answer to a salvo from town.
But General Trifunović saved countless lives and the unique beauty of Varaždin, a city that was once Croatia's capital. And yet he has met with a terrible fate, the sort that often besets people of strong convictions. He was convicted in Serbia as a traitor and in Croatia as a war criminal. He was freed from jail in Serbia after a time, but the revision of the trial in Croatia is only just being prepared.
"For years he has been living in a room that is not even 100 square feet in size. The authorities in Serbia confiscated his Belgrade apartment saying that he has an apartment in Zagreb. But that apartment, was, needless to say, confiscated by the Croatian government. How they have been living all these years, and how they continue to live today, his wife and his daughter, I won't say, because I know the General wouldn't want me to.
"Mr. General, Sir, from the very start I know what your role was in the war, I know you have comported yourself as a professional soldier and—above all—as a human being. I know that terrible injustices have been done to you by both sides. Whatever they say, whatever they accuse you of, you know that you have nothing to reproach yourself for. And I know that, too—believe me—and there are more and more people who know as well.
"Giving you this award on behalf of the Gariwo non-governmental organization I commend you for your comportment through all these years, and I invite the young people who are here to day to emulate you, to learn from your example how a person acts who holds to his convictions, who knows what is good and what is not and who is prepared to bear the consequences for his actions, no matter what they may be - but, under the condition that he is sure of the rectitude of what he does.
You have shown that you are a human being and a soldier, exactly as a soldier ought to be. My congratulations once again!“
At the award ceremony in Sarajevo on March 6, 2014, General Trifunović said, among other things, "I ask myself how much longer the injustice facing me and my family will continue? If I were to do it all over again I would do exactly the same thing!"
Except for the time he spent in jail in Belgrade and Požarevac, indeed for a full twenty-six years, from 1991 to the end of his life, General Trifunović, lived in a room that was ten feet square in Hotel Bristol, a military bacheler hotel, in Belgrade, struggling to have the Croatian judgment convicting him as a war criminal vacated. Many years ago he told his daughter, "Don't be afraid. I'll live long enough to clear my name!" The Croatian courts showed no mercy, working at the dictate of the gods of war and peace in that country. The hearing was postponed over and over, each time by six months at least, and the General was asked to produce medical documentation, no more than three months old, about why he was unable to attend the proceedings. The General's death confirmed that he had run out of stamina for the unfair battle he was leading for more than a quarter of a century against the two countries and their repressive institutions. But all who took part in this shameless persecution of the best among us have to know that honorable General Trifunović left behind him three books of uncontestable proof that truth was on his side. The titles of these books make this amply clear: My Fight for the Truth, The Stirring of a Conscience - in the Fight for Truth and the Rule of Law, and I Do Not Want a Pardon.
When the thirteen-member international jury for the Duško Kondor Civil Courage Award voted unanimously to give General Vlado Trifunović the award for 2014, I went to Belgrade to make the acquaintance of the General, bring him news of the award and make a documentary film about him. He was tall, dignified, proud-spirited, head held high, soft-spoken, poised, articulate, firm in his views substantiated by facts, with a piercing gaze and a warm smile...
I asked him if we could visit Kalemegdan so I could film him in front of the monument known as The Victor, because he reminded me so irresistibly of a victor even under the impossible conditions he was living with, fighting like a lion.
The General lost his son, who succumbed to grief and stress after suffering from the persecution that afflicted their entire family. His heart broke. His wife, daughter, and grandchildren witnessed the General's superhuman sacrifice and struggle, and now they are proud they had him as their spouse, father and grandfather a man who was like a classical hero.
Yes, General, you were a victor from the time when your mother made you swear your actions would never send anyone into mourning! History gave you the opportunity to demonstrate this, to prove yourself and take your place in it, blameless, as if stepping into your mother's warm home.
I believe that your actions, General, in Varaždin, in 1991, will take their place in the textbooks used by military academies the world over, just as has the famous Battle of the Neretva, a battle for the wounded, which is studied as one of the most humane battles in the history of warfare. They will be studying you, General, as the most humane general in the history of warfare, at least here in the Balkans. Because the young people do have someone to learn from!!!
Just as he was consistent during his lifetime, so he has remained so after his death. At his express wish he will be buried where he was born and raised, in his native Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The funeral was on Saturday, January 21, in the village of Rakelići, Tadići cemetery, Prijedor municipality. General Vlado Trifunović remains with all of us who had the honor of living in his time, a classical hero who taught us that the moral norms have not changed in thousands of years, just as civil courage may be the greatest virtue among the highest-ranking of military commanders.
I don't know whether your soul is watching us from somewhere, but I do know that a street, a square, a city should bear your name, perhaps even a distant, shining, brightly shining star that will shine on forever!