Europe Justice in Croatia
Outs and ins
The political ramifications of several judicial rulings
Celebrating with the generals
In the Balkans the big news is who is out of jail, who is in and who is going to court. All the cases are high-profile and all have political fall out. The most significant was the acquittal on November 16th of two Croatian generals by the UN war-crimes tribunal in The Hague. Croats were ecstatic, Serbs bitter.
Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac were first convicted in 2011 of conspiring, as part of a “joint criminal enterprise”, to drive Serbs out of Croatia’s Krajina region. When Yugoslavia disintegrated in the early 1990s the Serbs, backed by Serbia and the Yugoslav army, carved out their own mini-state in Krajina. But in 1995 the Croatian army took most of it back. Some 200,000 Serbs fled, most never to return. Nobody denies that war crimes took place. But the acquittal of the two generals means that the court believes there was no organised plan for “ethnically cleansing” the Serbs.
The generals returned home to a heroes’ welcome. Mr Gotovina may even enter politics. If he does it will be as a man of the right close to the Catholic church. No Croat has until now been convicted by the UN tribunal for actions during the war in Croatia. For Croats the ruling vindicates their struggle against the Serbs as one without original sin.
Serbs greeted the release of the generals with fury. The decision “belittles the Serb victims and makes them worthless,” said Ivica Dacic, Serbia’s prime minister. Serbs have always believed that the UN tribunal is just an anti-Serb kangaroo court. Liberals have fought tooth and nail to persuade their compatriots otherwise. For them the ruling is a catastrophe. On November 29th the court will rule on the appeal of Ramush Haradinaj, a former prime minister of Kosovo, and two others. They were acquitted in 2008 but an appeal was allowed—in part, said the court, because of “serious witness intimidation”. No Serbs expect them to be convicted now.
If the court could not prove a “joint criminal enterprise” in Croatia, how can it prove that one existed in the cases of the two Bosnian Serb leaders on trial, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic? One of the UN court’s remits is reconciliation. Legal judgments aside, achieving this will now be harder than ever.
War crimes are not the only cases in the news. On November 20th Ivo Sanader, Croatia’s former prime minister, was jailed for ten years for corruption. A week earlier Radimir Cacic, Croatia’s deputy prime minister, resigned. He was convicted for causing two deaths in a road accident in Hungary and is set to go to prison. In Serbiaa former deputy prime minister has been arrested as part of a fraud investigation. And in Kosovo Fatmir Limaj, a significant political figure, has been charged with organised crime and corruption and sent for retrial on war-crimes charges of which he was previously acquitted. There has never been a better time to be a Balkan lawyer.