Set dramatically amid the stark, arid scenery typical of inland Dalmatia, the fortress town of KNIN occupies an indelible place in the Croatian national psyche, both as an important centre of the medieval kingdom and as a bone of bitter contention in the Homeland War of 1991–95. It was during the latter conflict that Knin became notorious as the capital of the so-called Republic of the Serbian Krajina (RSK).
Despite being surrounded by a patchwork of both Serbian and Croatian villages, Knin itself had a Serbian majority in 1990 and became the epicentre of the Serbian armed rebellion. Many of the key players in the Serb–Croat conflict started out in Knin, only to end up in the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague a decade or two later: Milan Babić, the RSK’s first leader; Milan Martić, the Knin police chief who built up the Krajina’s armed forces; and Colonel Ratko Mladić, commander of the Knin military garrison, who practised ethnic cleansing here, forcibly ejecting Croats from nearby villages, before becoming head of the Bosnian Serb army in 1992. In the end, Serbian forces melted away when the Croatian army launched the Oluja (Storm) offensive in August 1995, and Knin’s recapture on the morning of August 5 brought the war in Croatia to a rapid conclusion. Fearing Croatian reprisals, most Serb civilians fled in the wake of their defeated army, and only a handful have since returned. Otherwise Knin has largely reverted to what it was in the pre-1990 period: a provincial railway-junction town that accommodates a trickle of day-trippers drawn to its spectacular hilltop castle.