The coming Balkan war: Hague conviction of Croatian general rekindles designs for ‘Greater Serbia’

By Jeffrey T. Kuhner, Washington Times, Apr. 19

Croatia is headed toward another war. The Balkans - again - will explode with violence. It is only a matter of time. And the so-called “international community” has been pivotal in stoking the flames of ethnic conflict.

TRANSLATION: Because a popular Croatian general has been sentenced to 24 years for war crimes instead of another Serbian general getting sentenced to 46 years, this is cause for war.

Recently, the [ICTY] 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.”

OH YEAH — that 1990s Greater Serbia design that has always existed exclusively in the pages of the media. To re-quote Andy Wilcoxson who, unlike Kuhner, has been actually paying attention to the Hague proceedings for MORE THAN A DAY: “Even if the Bosnian Serbs had secretly been fighting for a “Greater Serbia,” they would have needed the cooperation of Slobodan Milosevic and the Serbian government in Belgrade — which was not forthcoming.”

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.

Unlike the “non-synthetic,” ethnically pure state of Croatia? Whose borders — claimed and therefore legitimized by the Croats — were communist-delineated when they weren’t Nazi-delineated. Meanwhile, Croatians sure didn’t have a problem with that synthetic Yugoslav state when they voluntarily signed on to it, accepting an over-generous accommodation offered by the victorious Serbs to their WWI-era haters and enemies based on Slavic unity. Like the Slovenes, the Croats took the deal and immediately got to work undermining the country to get their independent state anyway, with their first international sponsor being Adolf Hitler and their next one being a newly reunified Germany, along with the Vatican and America.

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.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Not wanting one’s ears, fingers, eyes and nose to become Croatian jewelry again while all the Nazi symbols, street names, currency and flag start reemerging everywhere as one is being fired from government jobs and suddenly getting reduced parliamentary representation — is a “war of aggression,” according to this nationalist psycho. Does Kuhner have Serbs confused with Croats, whom it takes mega willpower to let a Serb pass in their presence without knifing it? Yes, I said “it.” That’s the status of a Serb in Zagreb (Remember: To be a Serb in Zagreb is to be a pig in Tehran.) Meanwhile, expecting to stay a citizen of the country that one was a citizen of the day before — unreasonable! The federalists become the “rebels”!

As Canadian former ambassador to Bulgaria, Albania and Yugoslavia, James Bissett, explained in a longer version of his article last year:

Germany has always looked upon Croatia as a traditional ally and actively supported Croatia’s desire to separate from Yugoslavia and declare independence. When fighting erupted between Croatian armed forces and the Yugoslav Federal army, Germany openly championed the Croatian cause and promoted the recognition of Croatian independence. Despite serious reservations by fellow EU members, Germany’s will prevailed….

The recognition of Croatian independence changed the nature of the conflict. The secessionist Croats suddenly acquired sovereign legitimacy while the federalist Serbs became rebels in their ancestral land. Subsequently, they were treated as such by the international community.

In April 1990, when Franjo Tudjman and his Croatian Democratic Party came to power in Croatia with an undisguised platform of separation from Yugoslavia, the Serbian population in Croatia had cause for concern. Tudjman’s party had resurrected many of the old Ustashi symbols and slogans and made it clear it was not interested in treating the Serbs as equals. A new constitution was enacted that designated Serbs as a minority group and hundreds were dismissed from their jobs; others were forced to sign a loyalty oath to the Zagreb regime.

The Serbian regions of Croatia had no desire to separate from Yugoslavia in favor of living under their slayers and, fearing a repetition of what had happened to their forefathers fifty years before, formed an autonomous region. When Croatia declared independence in May 1991 armed clashes broke out and the Yugoslav army intervened on behalf of the Serbian federalists.

Fighting was only brought to an end in January 1992 when President Milosevic of Serbia and President Tudjman signed a ceasefire leading to a United Nations peace plan and the creation of four “Protected Areas” in the Serbian parts of Croatia. With some exceptions the ceasefire was generally respected and few major engagements occurred.

However, during the next two and a half years, the United States openly supported the Croatian cause and by providing weapons, equipment, training and professional expertise enabled Croatia to build a formidable and modern military force. In May 1995 the new Croat army overran the Serbian region of western Slavonia and on August 4, 1995, aided by US air strikes against Serb positions, launched “Operation Storm” in the historic Serb region of the Krajina — designed, as stated by President Tudjman, to inflict such blows “that the Serbs will to all practical purposes disappear.”

And disappear they did. It is estimated that at least 200,000 Serbs fled Croatia and many of those that did not flee were killed. A European Union monitoring team reported on August 11, 1995 that “…an average of six corpses a day, continues to emerge, some fresh, some decomposed, mainly of old men. Many have been shot in the head or had their throats slit, others have been mutilated.” It would seem the insane violence of the new Ustashi matched that of their predecessors of 1941-45.

Operation storm was described by Carl Bildt, the former UN Special Envoy to the Former Yugoslavia as, “the most efficient ethnic cleansing we’ve seen in the Balkans.” The Serbs were, in effect, abandoned by Slobodan Milosevic, who ordered them not to resist. President Tudjman was the victor and Croatia is still today essentially “Serb-free.”

I’ll have to check my files to see what Kuhner thinks he means by 180,000 Croatians cleansed and 20,000 civilians “murdered” (I believe 20,000 is the overall death toll of the war on both sides), but it’s interesting that 180,000 Croatians count as “cleansed,” but 250,000 Serbs do not. (As we know, those who did not flee — mostly the elderly and disabled — were in fact killed with great enthusiasm.) Back to Kuhner:

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 [there it is!] Serbs eventually paved the way for the signing of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords.

A stunning success! Serben-rein in JUST 3 DAYS! The atom bomb in Nagasaki put an end to WWII, and Operation Storm “put a stop to all of this!” — the difference being that the latter conflict was ended in favor of the bellicose party, and evil triumphed.

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…

Ditto for the Serbs whose convictions and draconian sentencing — on flimsier grounds than Khuner perceives Gotovina’s to be on — Kuhner hasn’t had a problem with.

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.

Indeed, Milosevic was telling the Krajina Serbs to not fight. Just run. Which is why Serbian paramilitary leader “Captain Dragan” wanted to freaking assassinate Milosevic. One certainly wonders how that “order” from Milosevic — who as president of Serbia and not Yugoslavia wasn’t in a position to give Croatian Serbs any “orders” — jibes with Kuhner’s assessment that he was going for a Greater Serbia. If he had been, it’d certainly make the bad blood between him and Captain Dragan all the more head-scratching. As for “realizing he was facing a military humiliation, [Milosevic] ordered Croatia’s Serbs transferred to Bosnia and Kosovo to consolidate his revanchist gains there”: Again, what military humiliation in Croatia could a Serbian president be facing? Kuhner is attributing strategies where there was only retreat, defeat and no will to fight; he’s just coming up with ways to make the unwieldy facts fit his creative interpretation of events — and attributing them all to Milosevic as our ignoramus pop presses do. You think maybe that, more likely than a military defeat, what might have elicited a suggestion that Serbs run for their lives was that the Yugoslavian government got wind of this meeting between Tudjman and his generals — including, of course, Gotovina:

Tudjman is planning the operation [Storm] together with his top military brass… ‘We have to inflict such blows that the Serbs will to all practical purposes disappear.’ …Tudjman explains that, for the benefit of propaganda in the international community, leaflets should be given to Serbian civilians saying, ‘We are appealing to you not to withdraw…This means giving them a way out, while pretending to guarantee civil rights etc.’

(More Croatian planning for ethnic cleansing and murder here.)

Back to the sour Croat:

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.

Ah, so 18 years into the ICTY’s sham existence, the man notices that it’s a sham. Funny, it wasn’t a sham ’til his kin got burned. Anyone who has been following the slanted proceedings (which up ’til now had suited Kuhner just fine), would realize that this verdict is more of an attempt to de-sham, if only for show — so that the Serbs “stop whining” about bias.

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.

Actually, moral equivalence is as good as can be hoped for, and what the Serbs are settling for. Since the real aggressors (Croats, Bosnian-Muslims, Albanians and Slovenes) — will NEVER be named as such. As for covering one’s genocidal culpability and shame, how’s that apology for exterminating Serbs in WWII coming along, Kuhner? It’s only been 70 years. Take your time.

Of course, when Serbs are accused of ethnic cleansing for busing women, children and elderly out of Srebrenica to safety (as opposed to going “Croatian” on them) this bothers Kuhner not at all. When an Orthodox bishop obliges a request by international forces to bus out Muslim women, children and old people from a town in Herzegovina, and soon after is threatened with getting hauled in for charges of “ethnic cleansing,” no “sham” there, huh, Kuhner? As long as the targets of international “justice” are the same people who were the targets of the Croats, Bosniaks and Albanians, nothing is noticeably askew at Den Haag or its affiliates.

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.

And all along, while the Bosnian-Muslims have been doing the exact same thing to de-legitimize Republika Srpska (albeit with less legal standing than exists against the genocidal Croatian state), Kuhner doesn’t notice. Indeed, he no doubt toes his kindred Muslim spirits’ line on that front.

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 [ill-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.

TRANSLATION: The supremacist Croats need an even more nationalist option than the HDZ to surge in the polls than what they’ve already got — yet it’s Nikolic who’s the ‘odious nationalist’ and — oh no! — surging in the polls. As for appeasing Brussels, it seems — predictably — that Kuhner can’t handle even a taste of the identity-, security- and freedom-evisceration that the quisling Serbian regime has been serving up for Brussels and Washington for over a decade. Of course, the Croats are Nazis, so they could do with a little identity-evisceration.

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.

Right, because Croatians don’t already put Croatia first, second, and third. They don’t even sleep without thinking about their Croatian-ness. And yes, transfer the cases to that always reliable, impartial Croatian judiciary that’s been holding up its EU bid in the first place. (Though I agree that the EU isn’t a good thing — for anyone in it.)

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.

So the Balkan nation that has been the second-most recalcitrant cooperator with the Hague (Albania/Kosovo gets first place) — and while it’s been good and proper and compulsory that the Serbs cooperate with this sham institution — now needs to remove any and all cooperation. This long-coming, more justifiable target of the Hague gets just the slightest taste of the far more unrelenting persecution by the Hague that its neighbor Serbia has been dealing with for a much longer time, and — big surprise — its supremacist champions can’t handle it.

By the way, put me in a roomful of “ultranationalist Serbs ™” over Croatian “Democrats” any day.

The obvious question remains, but will never be entertained by the likes of Kuhner: Why is it OK for Croatians to defend and celebrate their national heroes-slash-war-criminals as Kuhner does, but that sort of thing gets bad press only when Serbs do it? The latter being at least as “shammily” convicted.

A few excerpts about the lovely Croatia and its systems that Kuhner has so much confidence in:

“…a country that long overlooked or justified crimes committed by its own people in the 1991-95 Serbo-Croat war.”
– Associated Press, May 30, 2008

“Croatia for years declined to prosecute its own, claiming that only Serbs committed crimes in the war.”
– Associated Press, June 18, 2007

“In general, ethnic bias continued to affect the investigation and prosecution by the Croatian judiciary of wartime human rights violations. There continued to be widespread impunity for crimes allegedly committed by members of the Croatian Army and police forces.”
– Amnesty International on the Croatian justice system, reviewing the year 2006

To the authorities in Croatia:
• War crimes prosecutions need to be brought without regard to ethnicity.
• Croatia should enhance efforts to investigate and prosecute incidents in which ethnic Croats were responsible for crimes against ethnic Serbs.
• Charging standards and sentencing practice should be the same for all defendants, regardless of their ethnic origin. Croatian prosecutors should cease the practice of indicting Serbs for war crimes on the basis of minor offences, where Croats alleged to have committed the same acts are not charged.
• Croatia should not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity in hiring judges. Returnee Serbian judges should not be discriminated against and should have an opportunity for employment in Croatian courts.

— 2004 HRW recommendations to Croatia

Glavas Case Raises Concerns About Croatian Judiciary
(Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Sept. 22, 2006)

…Branimir Glavas, a former general and member of parliament who has been one of the most powerful politicians in Croatia over the past 15 years, is accused of crimes against Serb civilians in Osijek, a city in eastern Slavonia near the border with Serbia, during the Croatian war in 1991.

The Zagreb District Court’s handling of the matter has been criticised as lax….Three months after the investigation into his case began, Glavas is still a free man, despite repeated requests from prosecutors to place him in custody…the accused is impeding the investigation by intimidating witnesses into changing their testimony.

But the Zagreb judge leading the investigation, Zdenko Posavec, has turned down all requests for custody, saying there is no proof that Glavas was behind any threats.

Charges brought against Glavas after a year-long investigation conducted by leading crime scene expert Vladimir Faber include the murder of at least two Serb civilians and the unlawful detention and mistreatment of many others.

The investigation followed claims by Krunoslav Fehir, a former member of a Croatian unit under Glavas’s command, that the general ordered gruesome extrajudicial executions of Serbs in Osijek.

Fehir alleged that Glavas ordered civilians to be imprisoned in his wartime headquarters, the National Defence Secretariat, where they were interrogated, tortured and finally killed. The alleged acts of torture included forcing acid from car batteries down their throats.

Fehir, who was only 16 at the time, admitted taking part in these crimes. He told Croatian investigators that one of the detainees, Cedomir Vuckovic, died shortly after he was forced to drink acid. He said that another Serb who had seen what happened, Djordje Petkovic, was executed on Glavas’s order. Petkovic’s body was never found.

Faber was dispatched from Zagreb to investigate allegations of war crimes in the city, because it had become apparent that the local police force would not be able to do so. The investigation was then shifted from Osijek to Zagreb for the sake of impartiality. [Or, at least, ‘lesser partiality.’]

Despite the serious nature of the accusations, there is no sign that Glavas will be arrested any time soon. Investigating judge Zdenko Posavec even allowed Glavas to travel to Germany this summer to watch the football World Cup.

According to police in Osijek, former soldiers who served under Glavas subsequently threatened some of the witnesses, leading the state prosecutor to demand his arrest – with no success.

“The case of Glavas and Fehir causes great concern and raises questions about Croatia’s ability to conduct war crimes investigations efficiently,” said Mary Wyckoff, who heads the law department of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s mission in Zagreb…“The investigative procedure should strengthen the public’s confidence in state institutions responsible for criminal investigations and proceedings. If this procedure is conducted properly, then its results – whatever they are - will be accepted as legitimate,” she explained. [Except that we’re dealing with a Croatian public, and it’s the opposite of impartiality that inspires confidence here.]

Because of the way the whole case has been handled, many observers suggest it has descended into farce.

Several legal experts told IWPR it was “scandalous” that Glavas has been allowed to defend himself as a free man. They argue that there are grounds for immediate detention, specifically the gravity of the allegations and the indications that the accused has used his liberty to influence witnesses.

Several witnesses who were questioned by the investigating judge have already significantly altered the original testimonies they gave to police.

Glavas even threatened some witnesses in the presence of investigative judge Posavec.

Ladislav Bognar, a university professor who was in the area where Glavas was in charge at the time of the events of 1991, says he found himself in an alarming position when he gave a statement to the authorities.

“Since the things I was saying were not really in Glavas’s favour, he attacked me right in front of judge Posavec. He called me a communist bastard and said I would get what I deserved,” said Bognar.

Glavas did not stop there – he launched his own web site on which he started posting witness testimonies. He stopped only when the investigating judge asked him to remove the material from the internet.

But he still used his website and media appearances to insult Faber, the investigating police officer, calling him “an immoral freak” and “human trash”. Nor did he spare other officials, calling State Prosecutor Mladen Bajic “rotten as a rotten tooth” and describing the judiciary as corrupt and politically influenced.

“I would much rather be tried in Banja Luka in Republika Srpska, because their judiciary is much more honest than Croatia’s,” he said in one of his public outbursts. […]

(Meanwhile, the force-feeding of battery acid to Serbs reminds me of the case of Azra Basic, the Kentucky woman whom Kuhner might have become fast friends with if she hadn’t been arrested last month on an Interpol warrant for making Serbs drink gasoline and drink blood from another Serb whose throat she’d slit — and made them eat Yugoslav currency. She also burned Serb faces, made prisoners crawl along broken glass, pulled out teeth and fingernails, cut off ears and enjoyed forehead-carving. One certainly wonders why Kuhner didn’t see fit to speak up in defense of this Croatian heroine.)

Amnesty chides Croatia for war crime probe failure (AP, Dec. 8, 2010)

Amnesty International on Thursday accused Croatia of failing to prosecute war crimes quickly and impartially, saying many perpetrators of brutalities may never face trial because of the country’s lack of will to investigate its painful history. [By which it means ‘pain-inflicting.’]

Despite promises by the government to aggressively probe war crimes committed during the country’s bloody 1991-1995 ethnic war with Serb rebels, the country only closes 18 cases each year, with about 700 cases yet to be prosecuted and many likely never to come to trial, the human rights watchdog said in a new report.

“Croatia must deal with its past in order to move forward” said Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty’s Europe and Asia director….Though there has been some progress, “justice has been slow in coming and very selective.”

The country has been reluctant to investigate the ethnic Croat majority, with three quarters of the accused being ethnic Serbs, the report said. Public allegations against several senior Croatian political and military officials - including the deputy speaker of parliament, for instance - have not been investigated, it said.

“Impunity for war crimes is a stumbling block toward membership” in the EU, Duckworth said.

Croatia long insisted that Serbs were the sole perpetrators of atrocities during the war, which began when the country’s minority Serbs rebelled against Croatia’s independence from Yugoslavia. That stance changed in 2000, when pro-Western governments began launching proceedings against some Croats, resulting in war crimes convictions of at least three senior officials and dozens of soldiers. […]

“Croatia refuses to hand over general accused of war crimes” (Guardian, Sept. 26, 2002)

Showdown with UN looms after indictment for massacre of Serbs in 1993 is defied

Croatia is engaged in a high-risk showdown with the United Nations war crimes tribunal in the Hague after refusing to hand over a former army chief indicted for war crimes against Serb civilians and wounded soldiers in 1993.

General Janko Bobetko, 83, who has retired, is the oldest person to be indicted by the tribunal and the most senior Croatian official demanded for extradition by the Hague.

[President Stipe] Mesic, a supporter of the Hague tribunal and a discreet critic of the Croatian government’s attempts to stall the handover of Gen Bobetko, will find himself presenting evidence against Mr Milosevic while his government is on the brink of breaking off cooperation with the court.

Gen Bobetko has robustly dismissed the charges. He and his many supporters are seeking to paint the indictment of an individual as an assault on Croatia. [See this tactic employed by their Albanian fellow nationalist-supremacists in Kosovo, vis-a-vis the murder-for-organs scandal.]

Army generals are picketing the government on his behalf and the Croatian Catholic church is urging the country to defy the international community.

An opinion poll yesterday found that 84% of Croats backed Gen Bobetko and almost as many favoured abandoning cooperation with the Hague. [One wonders if the other 16% are still breathing.]

The rightwing opposition, heirs to the late authoritarian president, Franjo Tudjman, is demanding constitutional changes to insulate Croats against the tribunal.

So that would place a Washington Times columnist named Jeffrey Kuhner in the category of heir to Franjo Tudjman, who was an admirer of the Ustashe Nazis and an open advocate of ethnic cleansing.

Since the indictment bombshell was dropped last Friday, Gen Bobetko has repeatedly asserted that he will not be taken to the Hague alive.

A parade of prominent supporters [has] visited his luxury villa in Zagreb to demonstrate solidarity.

Although Gen Bobetko has admitted in his memoirs to the key role that his army played beyond Croatia in the 1992-95 war in Bosnia, the charges against him relate to a lightning Croatian army raid in the Medak pocket, south-west of Zagreb, in September 1993.

Serb separatist rebels [sic: the Croats were the separatists; Serbs were the opposite: federalists] had held the area since early in the war in 1991, but were flushed out in a matter of hours. The general did not take part in the battle, but was in overall charge.

The indictment says that scores of houses of Serb civilians were deliberately destroyed and that around 100 Serb civilians and wounded combatants were killed.

The former army chief faces charges on five counts of crimes against humanity; he is alleged to have been aware of the unlawful killings in September 1993 and to have done nothing to prevent them or to subsequently call those responsible to account.

“No government can challenge an indictment,” said Florence Hartmann, spokeswoman for the chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte.

But the government is doing just that, walking a tightrope and anxious to avoid a full-blown political dispute with the Hague while opening “a legal dispute”.

It argues that the events of September 1993 were a legitimate police operation to “combat terrorism” on sovereign and internationally recognised Croatian territory, and that the aim was not “ethnic cleansing” of the indigenous Serb population. [Yet again! Just as in Storm, “ethnic cleansing” wasn’t the aim at all!]

Cardinal Josip Bozanic, the powerful archbishop of Zagreb and the head of the Croatian Catholic church, called on the country yesterday to “unite in the face of the external pressure”.

Which of course brings us to the Croatian Catholic Church. Before announcement of the verdicts this month, the Croatian Catholic Church — and I do mean to differentiate this mutant critter from the Catholic Church at large even if the Vatican is disturbingly reluctant to do so — called on Croatians to fast and pray for acquittals or close to it.

What other church does this? What other church is this inseparable from, and intertwined with, nationhood? And vice versa: what country is this inseparable from the church? What other church involves itself with, and is so invested in, the fate of war criminals?

Unless, of course, we’re talking about Islam and Muslims. Indeed, the fanaticism of the Croatian church comes second only to that much discussed phenomenon.

As a letter by Michael Pravica published in The Washington Times on Monday responded to Kuhner:

…I’m only sorry that more of the guilty weren’t prosecuted for crimes ranging from bombing fleeing columns of refugees, raping and slaughtering elderly grandmothers, beating up Orthodox Christian nuns and trying to hide the grisly evidence after wiping out entire villages with the approval, aid and encouragement of Franjo Tudjman’s government.

The greatest unresolved problem in the Balkans pertains to the largely unreported and uncompensated genocide of Serbian Orthodox Christians, Jews and Roma in Croatia during World War II. Hundreds of thousands of innocents were slaughtered, ethnically cleansed from a “Greater Croatia”…and forcibly converted to Roman Catholicism. Today’s Croatia differs little from the Croatia of that time in its hatred of anything Serbian since the country was never properly de-Nazi- fied…

If Croatia is unable to accept responsibility for crimes committed by its citizens [in both wars], Mr. Kuhner may be correct in asserting that there will be a far more vicious war between Croatia and Serbia.

I close with more from Ambassador Bissett on this point:

Croatia has never acknowledged its role in the Second World War as a loyal ally of the Nazi cause, and its ardent participation in genocide against its Serbian, Jewish and Gypsy (Roma) populations…

When Hitler’s forces invaded Yugoslavia in the spring of 1941, Croatian right wing extremists, under the leadership of Ante Pavelic and his fascist “Ustashi” movement, were given control of Croatia. Pavelic [also a national Croatian hero — just look inside any Croatian Cultural Center anywhere in the world] aligned the country enthusiastically to the Nazi cause and immediately launched a horrific onslaught against the Serbian minority. The official policy was openly expressed. It was: kill one third of the Serbs, convert another third to Catholicism and expel the remaining third from Croatia.

In the early spring and summer of 1941 thousands of innocent Serbs were slaughtered in the most barbaric fashion by Ustashi killers. Serbian orthodox churches were burned and many Serbian communities wiped out. As the war progressed, Serbs, Jews and Gypsies were interned in concentration camps where thousands of victims were slaughtered like animals by having their throats slit or beaten to death by mallets or axes.

The nature of the carnage was so horrific that senior ranking German officers in Croatia, including SS Obergruppenfuhrer Arthur [Phleps], sickened by the slaughter and worried that it was driving Serbians and anti-Ustashi Croats into the ranks of resistance groups, urged Berlin to demand a stop to the slaughter. These protests were in vain and the genocide continued. Senior Italian officers also were appalled at the killing and are on record of not only complaining but frequently offering protection to fleeing victims.

When the war ended and Tito’s communists took command of Yugoslavia, they had no desire to come to terms with or make an accounting of the dreadful events that had taken place in Croatia. Yugoslavia’s slogan was “Brotherhood and Unity.” Every effort was made to bury the past and as Yugoslavia soon became an ally in the Cold War against the Soviet Union, the Western democracies had little interest in exposing the genocide.

Twice in the twentieth century Croatia has managed to get away with violating the most basic standards of international human behavior — including genocide — without being called to account. Even today Pavelic and Tudjman are looked upon by many Croatians as national heroes, as are some of the most vicious Ustashi criminals…Crowds at Croatian soccer games and concerts flaunt Ustashi and Nazi symbols and sing old fascist chants and songs. Croatia marks August 5 as a national holiday commemorating the expulsion of the Serbs by “Operation Storm.” Croatians indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia are also hailed as defenders of the nation…

Croatia needs to purge itself of its dark past. Its prolonged denial of outrageous crimes committed in the 20th century has created what the Croatian exiled writer Dubravka Ugresic has described as a “culture of lies.” […]

Washington Times columnist Jeffrey T. Kuhner is every bit a part of that culture. Indeed, one wonders if the ‘T’ is for Tudjman. When it comes to Croatian supremacism, Kuhner is what’s called a case study. If only the Washington Times editorial board and management could comprehend what is in their house, their blood would freeze. What they have is a ‘colleague’ who is Za Dom, Spremni! Editors, if you don’t know what that means — and naturally you don’t — it’s the WWII Croatian-Nazi slogan “For the Homeland, Ready!” — and your boy Kuhner is.