Friday, December 23, 2005

The Gauntlet is Thrown Down

An anonymous commenter had a few words for me regarding my take on suspected war criminal Ante Gotovina's recent arrest. His (I'm assuming it's a man) full statement is available in that post's comment section, but select portions are reprinted here because I think they demand a response. Feel free to see whether I'm taking anything out of context.

He writes: "Unfortunately you should know that there are 4,2 mln croatian citizens of which around 80% of them are Croats which gives 3,28 mln Croats in total. 'Bloodthirsty milions' is something that only stupid man without any common knowledge of recent war history in Croatia could wrote."

This is true, and I should have checked the numbers before shooting my mouth off. I don't think there are literally more than 2 million people in Croatia who hold Ante Gotovina to be a personal hero, and the commenter is right to call me out. That having been said, I submit that in general terms I'm not far off in my estimation of his support base. Reuters writes the following: "A survey in a Croatian newspaper on Sunday said 53 percent of Croats thought Gotovina's arrest was bad news for Croatia. Only 5 percent thought he was guilty as charged." And I want to stress that the Gotovina legend is by no means a small one. The Scotsman, not exactly a bastion of anti-Croat sentiment, reports that "The indicted Croatian general Ante Gotovina, awaiting trial at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, could receive 100,000 Christmas cards from supporters in his home country who see him as an independence war hero." Even if he's somehow found not guilty, a prospect that grows less likely every day and will only diminish as the trial progresses, there's something that doesn't sit right about that figure. It's well known that his assignment during wartime, within his area of operations, was to drive out as many Serbs as possible, whether or not they were enemy combatants. The whole basis of his indictment is the charge that he oversaw the killing of more than a hundred, and the forcible removal of around 150,000, ethnic Serbs in Croatian territory. Relevant portions of the indictment read as follows (note the year is 1995, well after the outbreak of hostilities, not 1991, at the beginning):

"On 4 August 1995, the Republic of Croatia launched a military offensive known as 'Oluja' or 'Storm' ('Operation Storm'), with the objective of re-taking the Krajina region. Ante GOTOVINA was the overall operational commander of the Croatian forces that were deployed as part of Operation Storm in the southern portion of the Krajina region, including the municipalities, in whole or in part, of Benkovac, Gracac, Knin, Obrovac, Sibenik, Sinj and Zadar. On 7 August 1995, the Croatian government announced that the Operation had been successfully completed. Follow-up actions continued until about 15 November 1995. In early August 1995, following the re-taking of the Krajina region, Ante GOTOVINA moved his headquarters to Knin, the capital of the Krajina region, which was located within the Split Military District."


Count 1, Persecutions, includes this article: "Between 4 August 1995 and 15 November 1995, Croatian forces directed violent and intimidating acts against Krajina Serbs, including the plunder and destruction of their property, thereby forcing them to flee the southern portion of the Krajina region. These acts were intended to discourage or prevent those who had already fled the area, either immediately before or during Operation Storm in anticipation of an armed conflict, from returning to their homes. The effect of these violent and intimidating acts was a deportation and/or displacement of tens of thousands of Krajina Serbs to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. The Prosecution alleges that the following two acts were natural and foreseeable consequences of the joint criminal enterprise, and on that basis also contributed to the offence of persecutions."

Count 2, Murder, includes this article: "Between 4 August 1995 and 15 November 1995, Croatian forces murdered at least 150 Krajina Serbs by means of shooting, burning or stabbing. Specifically referred to in this Amended Indictment are the murders of 1 person in the Benkovac Municipality, 30 persons in the Knin Municipality, and 1 person in the Korenica Municipality.
Listed in the Schedule, attached hereto, are further particulars of such murders. Between 4 August 1995 and 15 November 1995, the accused Ante GOTOVINA knew or had reason to know that forces under his effective control were about to murder Krajina Serbs as described in paragraph 28 above, or had done so. The accused Ante GOTOVINA failed to take necessary and reasonable measures to prevent the commission of such acts or punish the perpetrators thereof."

Count 4, Wanton Destruction, includes this article: "Between 4 August 1995 and 15 November 1995, Croatian forces systematically set fire to or otherwise destroyed villages, homes, outbuildings and barns belonging to Krajina Serbs, killed their livestock and spoiled their wells. Thousands of dwellings in the Municipalities of Benkovac, Donji Lapac, Drnis, Gospic, Gracac, Knin, Korenica, Obrovac, Sibenik, Sinj and Zadar were destroyed."

It goes on like that for a while. The whole idea that Gotovina was some sort of freedom fighter, driving out an ethnic fifth column, is terribly hollow. Frankly, it sounds a lot like the arguments now being made on his own behalf by Slobodan Milosevic. The Krajina Serbs themselves won their independence from a Croatian government they felt was oppressing them. Gotovina retaking the area did nothing to protect Croatia from outside invasion.

The numbers may seem comparatively small in the context of all-out ethnic warfare, which is essentially what was going on in the Balkans in the early to mid-'90s. The problem, I think, is that the commenter wants to suggest that not only were Croatians victims of the oppressive Yugoslav government -- an arguably true statement -- but that Gotovina was right to do what he did, which is an indefensible statement. If you want to talk about history, sure, go down that road. But the crimes he's accused of are essentially reducible to premeditated murder and persecution. If you are found to be guilty of the things he's charged with, there are no outs for you, legal, historical or otherwise. If he really knew nothing about it, then he will be found not guilty and will go free. My fear is that the commenter believes everything the charges say about the man and thinks there's nothing wrong with it.

He writes: "...the good General is 'suspected' of leading an illegal ethnic cleansing operation during the Yugoslav breakup... - he is really suspected but not guilty until proven, even you should know that."

I do know he has not been found guilty. I also know indicted co-conspirators Mladen Markac, Rahim Ademi and Ivan Cermak gave themselves up to UN authorities after their warrants were made public, and that Gotovina went into hiding instead. I also know that Saddam Hussein is and will be found guilty of his own crimes against humanity. If you don't like my standards of evidence -- pieces of which are here (see the end of this post for a relevant quote), here (his old boss), here and here, for starters -- you're free to engage in a debate with me about calling someone guilty before the court says I can. I'm comfortable with my perspective on the matter. I don't see any reason to believe Gotovina is or will be found innocent. The commenter, I can only surmise, believes he may be found guilty but should walk nonetheless. I'm not really sure because he doesn't address Gotovina's guilt or innocence directly in his response, only my characterization of the Balkan situation.

To whit, he writes: "It was not Yugoslav breakup, it was legitimate showing of will of one nation to free itself from comunist totalitar regime that was surpressing any mode of freedom including freedom of thougt."

I'm not sure this is a historical argument so much as a statement of principle. Croatia fought a war of independence as part of the breakup of Yugoslavia, so you can parse that however you like. I wholeheartedly sympathize with the oppressed millions living under tyrannical regimes of every stripe, and I think a bad government is the worst thing you could wish on your enemy. But this isn't the same thing as an analysis of what Gotovina is supposed to have done. Given the commenter's tone here, I can only guess that he sees Croatia primarily as the underdog in the fight, and as such it is/was entitled to do whatever necessary to "free" itself. The whole point in this case is that the methods of achieving "freedom" for Krajina were no better than the terrorism Croats suffered under Milosevic and others before him. Once freedom fighters embrace the methods of their oppressors, they lose their claim to the moral upper hand.

Finally, he writes: "Trying to show croatian guilt for defending itself is far away from any truth. [...] Please, don't say that victim and agressor are the same. Just remember Vukovar & Dubrovnik, you need no more than that and don't let real perpetrators to slip away."

The real perpetrators have indeed slipped away, at least a few of the big fish, although this has nothing to do with Gotovina. His actions were not at all analogous to defending Croatia from Serb invasion, a canard that has been passed around in endless permutations for a long time. ("I did it because they were attacking my people." This is, or can be, the rallying cry of the despot.) Vukovar and Dubrovnik were glaring instances of aggressive, punitive action by the Serb military, and Croatians are right not to give Serbia any leeway when it claims to be the little guy. But all of this obscures the point in the same way as before: none of this makes stooping to their level the right (or legal) thing to do. Arresting and trying Gotovina in no way excuses or pardons Serb or Bosnian warlords, and the UN tribunal prosecutors have said as much. All are punished. Anyone who loves Croatia should want to see its record restored to some level of integrity. Insisting Gotovina did nothing wrong when he led an ethnic cleansing campaign is not the way to go about that project. Unfortunately the commenter is not the only apologist writing in English. (For a less dramatic and very interesting, albeit pro-Gotovina, discussion of the case on a well-educated religious web board, see here. A misleading conversation at the board leaves the impression that UN prosecutors are weaselling their way into an indictment of Gotovina as part of a farfetched "criminal enterprise" legal trick, which is not true. The case fact sheet at states "Pursuant to the orders of Ante Gotovina, these forces allegedly carried out the acts as charged in the indictment. According to the indictment, Ante Gotovina, by his acts and omissions, encouraged others, including Croatian civilians, to also perpetrate those acts that are mentioned in the indictment. Further, the accused had a duty to restore and ensure public order and safety and he failed to fulfil this duty." The prosecutors will have to prove this, of course -- the important thing is that Gotovina is charged with direct authority and complicity, not the lesser charge of essentially being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the board members seem to think.)

It's worth noting that very few Croatian generals (or any generals) come out looking good from the era. The Franjo Tudjman government is widely understood to have been a nationalist and irresponsible period in Croatian history, with a terrible political record. (Tudjman died of cancer a few years ago before he could be indicted.) For Gotovina to be innocent of the charges against him, he would have to rise far, far above the standard of his contemporaries. I'm not saying it's impossible, only that you have to see Gotovina as a beacon of light in very dark company, and I've never seen any reason to view him that way.

Before I forget, an interesting case recently concluded at The Hague in which two Kosovars charged with running a detention camp were set free and a third was sentenced to 13 years. Not a lot of people know even Kosovo had its share of war criminals in the bad old days.

And as promised, the quote from that link. The speaker is Tudjman, then president of Croatia and the man giving Gotovina his orders.

"PRESIDENT: Prime Minister Valentic, with the Serbs in Croatia, those who are now leading Knin and Baranja, no. But that is just a small group, and they still depend on Belgrade. And the problem is, will the international community force Belgrade to stop supplying them? The moment when Serbia is forced to do this, then we are going to solve the question of Serbs in Croatia. Then that miserable group of some 10 to 20 percent will leave Croatia and then we shall solve that.

And it is clear that we shall not be able to solve it. But should we begin only with that premise, then that means war, which the world will not permit. That is not the only focal point, only the question of national minorities in Croatia. Such problems exist throughout the world, in the Soviet Union, Africa, the Middle East, etc. The international community is oriented toward the resolution of these questions in a peaceful way - for example, as the relations between the Arabs and Israel are being resolved - and that directs us to follow that path, not by war; whereas in our country there is a growing understanding that Croatia must resolve the problem by war, contrary to international norms, meaning by ethnically cleansing the Serbs from Croatia.

That is happening in practice because we cannot hide that they have the information that in Slavonia, western Slavonia, some thirty Serb villages disappeared from the face of the earth, and that now these three, four Serb villages were eradicated. This creates a certain picture of Croatia on which we cannot build our political status or economic relations with the world. Understand that."

If Gotovina wasn't engaged in an ethnic cleansing campaign, he had to be pretty much out of the loop. But being the head commander of one of Croatia's biggest offensives of the 1990s puts him pretty squarely in the loop. You can judge for yourself.


Blogger Samnell said...

The last time there was a Croatia, it wasn't a pleasant time either. Of course nor are the Serbs much in the way of angels.

1:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What you're writing from your safe chair, somewhere far away, about something that was someones life once, and your words, especially when there are no truth in them are hurting me personally and many of my fellow countrymen.

You had your time to speak up, but it was long time ago, somewhere in 1991.

1. during the war in Croatia around 30% !!! of croatian territory was under ocupaton by rebel yugoslav army and rebel croatian serbs
2. more than 200.000 people was displaced
3. killed 13.000
4. missing 2.300
5. wounded 40.000
6. 171 children killed
7. 712 children wounded
8. 4.000 left without parents
9. material damage up to 20 bil. USD

... and all of that between my 20th and 30th birthday...what a nice way to spend best years of your life, don't you think so?

Second thing, just to be sure we understand each other, any croatian soldier (or citizen) who commited a war crime must be punished with maximum penalty (when proven so, not when survey shows 53%).

Let me continue, according to the Croatian ministry of justice, from 1991. to end of 2002, 4.625 persons were suspected for war crime, 1.648 were charged.

To continue, when your talking about indictment, you present it not like indictment, you present it as a judgment.

You know what is really bothering me. It seems you were here and I was somewhere else during the war.

Don't you find something funny in explaining situation and things that happened to the people that were really part of these happenings and you were not.

Let's go back to your text:

You're using "bloodthirsty milions" to describe croatia people as such, you connect it with support of gen. Gotovina who is guilty for you and really don't need a trial at all, but it is unacceptable and demands apology.
You should really come to Croatia to meet this "blodthirsty milions", probably you would change your mind.

Please check this links also to be sure you know what you're talking about(let someone translate it to you):
first check this, few very interesting downloads (movies) you had no opportunity to see:

and than, do some research (you should be journalist:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

7:53 PM  
Blogger witm said...

Dear "lapp",

this is not a comment. As you say "The Gauntlet is Thrown Down" and I had to start a blog ( It won't be nicely written as yours but it will be written from my hearth.

kind regards

12:58 PM  

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