location: Crime was committed in Virovitica, town in the north-western part of Slavonia by the river Drava, close to the Hungarian border. In 1991 the town had 16.167 inhabitants, of which 11,76 percent were Serbs, and in town’s administrative area population totalled 46.661 inhabitants of whom 7271 or 15,58 percent were of Serb ethnicity. Out of the total of 71 settlements including the town, Serbs made absolute majority in 19 settlements and in two they made relative majority. The area which used to be administratively covered by Virovitica in 1991 is today divided among municipalities of Gradina, Lukač, Suhopolje and Špišić Bukovica with the adjoining villages. In this entire territory comparable with the Virovitica area before the war, according to 2011 census there are 2035 Serbs, which is one third of their pre-war share; while in today’s town of Virovitica there are 734 Serbs and they make 3,45 percent of the population.
time: summer of 1991 — spring 1992
description of crime: Although there have been no mass crimes, i.e. murders and disappearances comparable to those that took place in Gospić and Sisak against Serbs, either in Virovitica town or its wider area, we are aware of several cases of crimes which members of Croatian forces committed against civilians and they will be discussed here. Further, in some smaller villages around Virovitica night shootings, threatening telephone calls and hand grenades thrown into courtyards were occurrences not so rare that they could be called isolated incidents. Those killed were mostly prominent, noted people, which certainly contributed to fear and emigration of Serb population from this area. Although it is clear that a part of younger people, men, had joined military and paramilitary units at the outset of war; this cannot explain both such big disparity in absolute numbers and a relative share of Serbs in total population in these parts. Among well documented cases there is one of Bogdan Mudrinić, civilian who is still reported missing. Without any (court) order he was taken from his house in Virovitica for questioning from which he had never returned. According to information available, he was beaten to death in a military prison at the Virovitica army barracks, and his body was then transported outside prison and has never been seen again. Doctor Ranko Mitrić met similar faith. He was arrested at his workplace at the hospital where, according to criminal charges brought against him, he had attacked one Croatian soldier with a knife. Although it was civilian police that had filed charges on the day of the incident, military police arrested him. After questioning which was done with participation of intelligence services’ members, he was handed over to the police and then again to Croatian soldiers. The very next day doctor Mitrić was killed and his body was thrown into a manhole which was then mined. Ranko Starović disappeared in Virovitica in July 1991 and at the beginning of August of the same year so did the 76 years old Slobodan Poplašen, while Mićo Petrović who disappeared on 5 September has also not been found to this day. In December of 1991 in the settlement of Pćelić which belongs to Virovitica, Milenko Momčilović born in 1928 was killed and his remains are still sought after. Duško Šaponja was taken from his house in Jasenaš on 11 January 1992. He was tortured and killed, and his body, thrown in a canal by the road, had been found a morning after the crime. After the murder one of the perpetrators came back into Duško’s house and there raped his wife. Persons who declared themselves as Military police took in April of 1992 Vladimir Grubor from his house in Majkovac Podravski – which was attached to the nearby Žlebina in 2001 – and 22 years later he is still registered as a missing person. These are not all of the cases of killing or disappearances of Serb civilians in Virovitica area. Not all of them took place under the same circumstances and it is not clear that the perpetrators were the same, but there is visible continuity of civilians who perished between the summer of 1991 and spring of 1992. In this context one should consider fear of people who witnessed these events even indirectly and their decisions to leave their homes.
information on exhumation and identification of victims: Apart from Ranko Mitrić’s and Duško Šaponja’s found bodies, all other civilians mentioned by name went missing and their families do not know their whereabouts to this day.
judicial consequences: In a legal procedure against four persons charged with the death of Doctor Ranko Mitrić, County Court in Bjelovar issued an acquittal which the Supreme Court confirmed three years later. Darko Pil and Ivica Majetić, Croatian Army (HV) members were sentenced by the Military Court in Bjelovar in April of 1992 to 15 and 12 years in prison respectively for the crime against Duško Šaponja and his wife. The other cases have not been processed yet. The wife of the missing Bogdan Mudrinić filed a claim for compensation of non pecuniary damage which was turned down because of the statute of limitations and she was liable to pay along with her co-plaintiffs 10,087.50 kuna in litigation expenses. We are not aware whether higher court instances are currently processing the claim. Since perpetrators had been known and were convicted, Duško Šaponja’s wife had an apparently easier task in obtaining compensation, but after the positive second instance ruling, Supreme Court quashed the claim also on basis of statute of limitation which had occurred. The case is now before the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg. The other cases have not been processed by courts as yet.