It's an honorable exception to the rule: An NGO's proposal has been accepted and implemented by the president of Montenegro. On July 13, a Montenegrin naval officer who chose to take his own life rather than obey an order to bombard Croatian cities in 1991 was posthumously awarded a high-level decoration by President Filip Vujanovic.
Vladimir Barovic was a rear admiral in the Yugoslav Navy. He was born in 1939 in Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina, to a Montenegrin father -- a general in the Yugoslav People's Army -- and a Slovenian mother. After World War II his father was appointed commander of the Pristina region, in Kosovo. He was dismissed because he opposed the policy of terror against ethnic Albanians. This prompted his son Vladimir's friends to remark, when recalling the younger Barovic's actions in 1991, that "the apple does not fall far from the tree."
Vladimir Barovic followed in his father's footsteps when he was appointed commander of the Pula military sector in the early 1990s. Shortly before the onset of war he took part in the negotiations over the withdrawal of the Yugoslav Army from Pula. I was in Sarajevo at the time. Convoys of military equipment were moved from Croatia to military barracks in Bosnia.
In hindsight it was obvious that war was coming our way, yet somehow I still shared the belief of my friends and colleagues that Bosnia would escape such a fate. I believed that we were protected by the fact that the country was a mix of nations and ethnic groups. I did not know that being mixed was precisely what made us the perfect target for the architects of ethnic cleansing. Our war is still referred to as a "civil war" by many. For me it was above all a war against civilians. I believe that Barovic saw it the same way.
During negotiations in Pula he made a promise: "There will be no destruction here while I'm in charge -- and if I'm forced to order the destruction of Pula and Istria, that will be the end of me."
On September 29, 1991, Barovic received an order from Belgrade to start bombing coastal towns in Dalmatia.
He did not approve of the military actions of the Yugoslav Army and Montenegrin reservists against Croatia. In his view, it went against Montenegrin honor and military honor. He refused to carry out the order.
That same evening, Barovic made good on his word and ended his own life. In a suicide note, he wrote that he had decided to die with dignity "because I do not want to wage war against the brotherly Croatian people." Furthermore, he did not want to "take part in the aggression of the Yugoslav Army against Croats, which would be an act contrary to Montenegrin honor -- because Montenegrins cannot fight and destroy a nation that has done them no wrong."
Barovic was buried in the Montenegrin town of Herceg Novi, his father's birthplace. An initiative by the Montenegrin Citizens' Alliance to have Barovic's actions officially recognized has been adopted by President Vujanovic. Barovic's posthumous medal came on the 75th anniversary of the Montenegrin uprising against Italian fascist occupation in 1941, celebrated as Statehood Day in the Mediterranean country. The NGO's director, Boris Raonic, told RFE/RL in Podgorica:
"This decision is also highly significant because Vujanovic was a minister of justice in the early 1990s, and later the minister of interior. So he was part of the regime whose policy drove Admiral Barovic to take his own life. With this, along with some other recent moves, including an apology issued to the city of Dubrovnik [besieged and bombed by the Yugoslav Army in 1991], Montenegro is on the right path to acknowledging its own role in the wars of the 1990s [as a junior partner in alliance with Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia] and dealing with that unpleasant past."
There is also an initiative afoot to have a street in Montenegro's old city of Cetinje named after Barovic. It was in Cetinje that the first antiwar demonstrations took place. The city was also the source of a sincere message of apology to Dubrovnik, in verse. ("From Lovcen Mountain the fairy cries, please forgive us Dubrovnik" -- Sa Lovcena vila klice, oprosti nam Dubrovnice)
Even a quarter of a century after his death, the official recognition of Vladimir Barovic is timely. In the first place it gives meaning to Barovic's life, which ended so tragically, but it also raises hope for the future. The legacy of the 1990s in Serbia and Montenegro is a lengthy catalogue of villains, and very few heroes. Until recently, the former were more likely to be celebrated, the latter forgotten. With the posthumous medal awarded to Barovic, that may finally begin to change, along with perceptions of that recent past.