Recently, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) based in The Hague, Netherlands, sentenced Croatian Gen. Ante Gotovina to 24 years in prison. The ICTY’s ruling rightly has sparked angry protests across Croatia.
Gen. Gotovina has been convicted for having “command responsibility” over an August 1995 military campaign, known as Operation Storm, that effectively ended the Croat-Serbian war. The ICTY alleges that the Croatian general oversaw the expulsion of 100,000 ethnic Serbs and the murder of hundreds of civilians. According to the United Nations war crimes court, the campaign constituted a “joint criminal enterprise.”
The ICTY’s verdict is preposterous and outrageous. Gen. Gotovina is not a war criminal; rather, he is a Croatian patriot and hero whose campaign restored Croatia’s territorial integrity. Moreover, it delivered a decisive blow to the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic’s dream of a “Greater Serbia.”
From 1991 until 1995, Milosevic’s marauders rampaged across the region. He used the disintegration of Yugoslavia — a synthetic multinational state — to advance his goal of establishing a Great Serbian empire stretching from the Danube to the Adriatic. In Croatia, Serbian paramilitaries — aided and abetted by the Yugoslav army – waged a brutal war of aggression. The result: A third of Croatia’s territory was annexed, more than 180,000 Croatians were ethnically cleansed, and nearly 20,000 civilians were murdered. Milosevic’s aim was to unite the truncated parts of Croatia with the nearly 70 percent of territory his forces had carved out in neighboring Bosnia. Call it state-building through genocidal partition.
| A poster depicting Gen. Ante Gotovina is seen in harbour in his hometown of Pakostane, southern Croatia, Thursday, April 14. AP/Darko Bandic
Operation Storm put a stop to all of this. Gen. Gotovina’s army launched a U.S.-backed offensive that was a stunning success: Civilian casualties were minimized, the campaign lasted just three days, and the crushing defeat of the rebel Serbs eventually paved the way for the signing of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords.
Moreover, numerous media outlets — The Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek and the Jerusalem Post — have investigated Operation Storm and have concluded that Gen. Gotovina is innocent of any wrongdoing. He never personally ordered or tolerated the commission of any crimes. In fact, the ICTY’s prosecution was dismal on this point. It failed to show any kind of proof that Gen. Gotovina was responsible for orchestrating a criminal conspiracy. The reason is a simple one: He couldn’t have.
The orders to evacuate the Serbian population from the so-called “Krajina” zone of occupation came from Belgrade several days before the commencement of Operation Storm. Milosevic, realizing he was facing a military humiliation, ordered Croatia’s Serbs transferred to Bosnia and Kosovo to consolidate his revanchist gains there. This was done before Croatian forces even launched their campaign. Hence, the entire Gotovina conviction and prosecution rests on a giant fraud: The removal of the Serbian population occurred under the explicit command of local Serb authorities acting under the authority of Belgrade. Therefore, Croatian forces could not have committed “ethnic cleansing.” The ICTY verdict is a sham.
The U.N. court is a politicized vehicle that aspires to render history’s final judgment on the Balkan wars of the 1990s. And its verdict is clear: All sides were guilty of atrocities; no party — or nation — was more responsible than the other. This is what Serbia has been demanding for years. It has sought to cover its genocidal culpability and national shame with moral equivalence.
Hence, the Gotovina conviction is a major triumph for Belgrade. Already, Serbian revanchists are claiming that the ICTY’s ruling enables Croatia’s international borders to be altered. Led by the odious Tomislav Nikolic, Belgrade’s nationalists are surging in the polls. They are demanding the restoration of a Greater Serbia. The ICTY has shown them the way forward: If Croatia’s war for independence was a “joint criminal enterprise,” then the entire Croatian state — by that twisted logic — is founded upon war crimes and ethnic cleansing.
This is why Croatia’s ruling party, the HDZ, should never have sent Gen. Gotovina to The Hague. That it was a precondition for Zagreb’s entry into the European Union only underscores how reckless and contrary to Croatia’s national interests fast-track European Union membership is. The HDZ claims it will help Gen. Gotovina’s legal team with the verdict’s appeal. This is a dollar short and a day late. The ICTY is a kangaroo court determined to make an example out of the Croatian general. His fate is sealed no matter what the Croatian government does — and HDZ leaders know this.
The HDZ regime is fundamentally treasonous. After having won the war, Zagreb is losing the peace. The HDZ has betrayed Gen. Gotovina, the country’s veterans and Croatia’s hard-won independence. It has sold Croatia down the river in a mad dash to appease Brussels. The HDZ must be defeated, swept into the dustbin of history and replaced with a new conservative party — one that will provide voters with a real patriotic-populist option.
Croatians must demand that Zagreb end its unconditional cooperation with the ICTY, withdraw its bid to join the EU, free Gen. Gotovina, have all cases at The Hague transferred to domestic courts and insist that the ICTY stop its assault on Croatia’s territorial legitimacy. In short, it is time to put Croatia first.
The ICTY’s ruling has given ultranationalist Serbs what they want: another shot at splintering Croatia. The winds of war are blowing. Handing over Gen. Gotovina to The Hague was a colossal mistake. Zagreb will rue the day.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a radio talk show personality and a columnist at The Washington Times and WorldTribune.com.
Excellent article, but I think it's not only supporting a greater Serbia policy that Hague Tribunal is commited to with this verdict or just the audicity of the indictments, it's to hide the crimes of the United Nations commited on Croatian and Bosnian soil and of western Europe's de facto approval of genocide and ethnic cleansing in central Europe. The United Nations was basically sent to Croatia and Europe to protect the new borders created by serbian aggression. They did not stop serbian tanks and troops from crossing the Danube or Drina which really would have been the more effective strategy if the purpose was to make the peace. The UN was also guilty of slapping the former yugoslavia with an arms embargo which gave serbia all the advantage since they already took control of the yugoslav military before they invaded the former republics. In addition, UN personnel made a forune selling black market goods to the serbs during the economic embargo and UN personnel were VIP clientele at the serb run rape camps where women and children were raped around the clock. There is no doubt in my mind that the UN also knew about the the serbian run rape camps before the media stumbled on it. The Europeans must have also been aware of this and did nothing just as they did everything they could to block the no fly zones and prevent the United States and NAT's air campaign against the serbia. So there was a lot to hide and the Hague War Crimes Tribunal was designed to effectively do that politically and legally if all sides agreed to it and they did. Check and mate. It is no kangaroo court, it's real although run by the same criminals who commited crimes in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. Croatian leaders must have been fully aware that the same organization who were helping the serbians could not be impartial and could provide for a fair trial, but their decision was to sacrifice heros of the war for independence, therey weakoning the nationalists and allowing the socialists to take control again with the help of the serbians. The serbians learned quickly after their defeat that they could never beat a united Croatia in battle so they focused fully on propaganda and politics. In just 5 years after the end of the war they moved their people in to powerful positions inside Croatian government and within 15 years have full control of the Croatian government. I agree HDZ is also guilty of treason, but even moreso is Racan and Mesic who agreed to deliver Croatian citizens on a silver platter and Mesic who commited treason with the so called Briuni papers and testified at the Hague against President Tudjman which was the last nail in the coffin for Generals Gotovina, Markac, many others who have already been unjustly sentenced with no evidence but the lies of witnesses who had only their interests in mind when they testified, and it was the last nail to in questioning the legitimacy of the Croatian state and the genocide law suit against serbia which could have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in war reparations. Racan is already dead, but Mesic can still be arrested for treason, put to trial, and hung in Ban Jelevic square.
5:53 p.m. / Wednesday, April 20, 2011