Forty sweaty and irritable Croatian policemen crouched in the shade of their station yard, taking cover behind piles of bricks and overturned tables as enemy grenades missed their target and exploded a few blocks away.
The all-Croat forces have been holed up at the station house for nearly three weeks, defending their claim to being the law here.
Authorities in Zagreb replaced Glina’s Serbian police chief after Croatia declared its independence on June 25.
Since then, there has been no peace in this town of 8,000, which is 90% Serbian.
A Croatian policeman and a republic army reservist were killed last week after Serbian militants took to the surrounding hills and pelted the nearly abandoned center with grenade and mortar fire.
Explosions continued to rip through the town last week, more evidence of the ethnic divisions.
“It’s not going to be peaceful here until the rights of the Serbian people are restored,” Glina’s Serbian mayor, Dusan Jovic, warned. Jovic, a gynecologist in civilian life who now moves about in combat fatigues, said, “This is part of the Krajina, and the Croatians just don’t accept that.”
Whether Glina is Serbian or Croatian is at the heart of the matter throughout the chain of Serbian enclaves known as the Krajina, which has defiantly resisted Croatia’s secession.
Serbs in the Krajina have risen up to challenge what they see as blatant aggression by the Croatian leadership. They have attacked Croatian-controlled police headquarters in the Krajina because the stations have long been viewed as the seat of real power.
The Yugoslav People’s Army has deployed at least a dozen tanks and hundreds of soldiers to Glina, ostensibly to separate the warring Serbs and Croats. The federal troops have sprawled their tents and armaments throughout Glina’s central park, which faces both the Croatian-held police station and the Serbian-run town hall.
But Croats here and in the republic capital of Zagreb accuse the army of intervening to back the Serbs.
“The army wants to replace us, but we are the legitimate authority in Croatia,” insisted Police Chief Zlatko Krusic, barricaded in his second-floor office at the police station, where mortar fire has pockmarked the stucco exterior and shattered every pane of glass in the building’s front and side.
Fearing an army assault on the station if it is left undermanned, the Croatian police have been living at their headquarters since the last two Serbian officers were ousted at the end of June.
Odors of unwashed bodies and overused toilets emanate from the crowded yard. The mounds of uncollected trash also testify to the virtual state of siege in which the policemen live.
Their meals are brought past the federal troops by armored car, and no one dares to stray beyond the yard into the line of fire from the army or the hillsides.
Yet Krusic denied that his force is imprisoned. “We are just trying to do our jobs,” he said. “We don’t want war. We don’t want clashes with the army. We just want to provide the security for the people of Croatia.”
Asked why Serbian dismissals were necessary in the police force, Krusic deferred to the regional headquarters in Sisak for an answer, which in turn referred to the oft-stated policy of the Ministry of Interior in Zagreb.
Officials in Croatia’s capital contend that Serbian-populated towns and villages like Glina have to be protected from militants who have declared the Krajina outside of Croatian law.
Serbian regions of Croatia began rebelling a year ago after nationalist President Franjo Tudjman and his Croatian Democratic Union swept to power in the republic’s first free elections in 40 years. Earlier this month, after the Serbs gave way, Croat Stipe Mesic became head of Yugoslavia’s collective presidency.
Serbs, who account for about 11% of Croatia’s population, fear the nationalist fever gripping the republic indicates a revival of the policies of the last independent Croatian state--the Nazi puppet regime of Ustasha fanatics of the World War II era who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies.
Among the outspoken rebels is Mayor Jovic, who claimed the Croatian “occupation” of the Glina police station was proof that the Zagreb leadership plans genocide against the republic’s 600,000 Serbs.
“Croatian people are twisted. They hate Serbs,” Jovic said. “Tudjman, Mesic and the others are carrying out the policies of the Ustasha, of Adolf Hitler.”
There is little solid evidence to back the Serbs’ claims of an impending genocide, aside from a couple of Zagreb kiosks selling Ustasha paraphernalia.
But the job discrimination practiced against Serbs in towns like Glina, and the increasing belligerence of Croatian policemen and reservists, have exacerbated tensions and brought relations to a poisonous state.
Both sides exude an attitude of bravado and flaunt the wartime symbols of hate, indicating a readiness for all-out battle to decide which ethnic group will take the spoils of the Krajina.
“I’m young and have much to live for,” declared Branko Tompic, a 26-year-old Croatian reservist manning a nearby checkpoint, waving the captured skullcap of a Serbian nationalist chetnik. “I like women, drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll. But if I have to die for Croatia tomorrow, I’m ready.”