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Balkan Report: November 16, 1999

16 November 1999, Volume 3, Number 47

Croatia After Tudjman. The rapidly declining health of President Franjo Tudjman indicates that Croatia is about to begin a new era. The tasks facing the new leadership will include instituting political change, promoting Euro-Atlantic integration, and raising the standard of living.

Tudjman is apparently losing his battle with cancer, which has lasted at least three years. He would be the first of the major figures in the dramatic events in the former Yugoslavia this past decade to die in office. It is ironic that the first of this small group likely to pass on is Tudjman, a life-long athlete and non-smoker.

Tudjman's legacy is likely to remain the subject of controversy for a long time to come. To his supporters, he has his place in history as the father of independence and the man who "made Croatia." He alone had the organizational skills, contacts to wealthy Croats in the diaspora, and personal reputation as a nationalist leader to perform three vital tasks. These were ousting the communists in the 1990 elections, winning independence the following year, and defeating the ethnic Serb rebels in 1995, his backers add.

To his detractors, Tudjman will remain a tyrant who should have left office long ago, at the very latest following his defeat of the Serbs. A stiff man comfortable only with his trusted inner circle, his military and communist experiences made him authoritarian and intolerant of differing views. His ego and obsession with the trappings of power often made him the butt of jokes. Tudjman may have been the right man to win independence, his detractors would say, but he was not the one to build a democratic, prosperous country integrated into Euro-Atlantic institutions.

In fact, post-Tudjman Croatia indeed faces a wide array of problems. The first group is political, and is headed by the question of the future of Tudjman's governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which has dominated politics for nearly a decade. It is the last of the East European mass movements that emerged in the 1980s to bring about the fall of communism. All the others--including Solidarity in Poland and the Civic Forum in Czechoslovakia--have broken up into ideologically-based successor organizations. Many observers argue that the time for the HDZ to do likewise is long overdue.

They may not have long to wait. At least since Tudjman first underwent cancer surgery in 1996, several prominent subordinates have been jockeying for top positions. It is likely that these individuals could soon find themselves heads of new political parties that would emerge from the main factions of the HDZ. One could imagine Foreign Minister Mate Granic heading a moderate party, while the lower house of parliament's deputy speaker Vladimir Seks might lead a stringently nationalist organization. Tudjman's aide Ivic Pasalic might find himself at the head of a grouping of his fellow Herzegovinians, who form a very powerful interest group in the HDZ.

A second issue involves the future of the opposition and its impact on the broader political scene. One reason that the HDZ and Tudjman have held power for nearly ten years is the ineptitude of the fractious opposition. The two leading opposition parties have formed a coalition and the four smaller ones have made a pact of their own to fight the elections for the lower house on 22 December. The question is whether they will be able to maintain a unity of purpose in a post-Tudjman world. Some observers suggest that the impending fragmentation of the HDZ will lead to a totally new political landscape, in which individual factions of the HDZ will combine with what are now opposition parties. Others fear that Tudjman's departure will remove the common enemy to all opposition parties and leave them fighting once again among themselves. In such a scenario, the HDZ would continue to hold on to power as before.

This leads to a third issue stemming from the Tudjman era, namely the democratization of political life. Washington and Brussels have made it clear time and again that electoral, minority, and media legislation will have to be brought up to Western standards if Croatia is ever to become integrated in Euro-Atlantic institutions. Furthermore, Zagreb will have to respect all of its obligations regarding the sovereignty and integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina under the 1995 Dayton peace accord.

Croatia has, moreover, a long way to go to raise its standing in Western estimation. In 1991, Croatia and Slovenia both emerged as independent states. At present, Slovenia seems well on the way to membership in the EU and NATO, while Croatia has fallen behind even such poor Balkan countries as Albania and Macedonia.

This state of affairs is unacceptable to the center and left portions of the political spectrum. One may expect any government that they may eventually form to make serious efforts to accommodate Croatia' Western friends on democratization.

A closely related issue is privatization. To the extent that it has been carried out at all, it has chiefly benefited people with close ties to the HDZ. There have been loud calls from many sections of society for a thorough investigation of this and other forms of corruption. Furthermore, most Croats have to struggle to make ends meet with incomes of about $450 per month but with prices on a German level. As far as the majority of the population is concerned, the first priority of a post-Tudjman leadership should be to raise the standard of living, particularly for people with low or fixed incomes. (Patrick Moore)

Justice Unenforced. The failure of the countries which created the international tribunal for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia to arrest those who have been indicted has made it impossible for that judicial body to do its job, according to the court's departing chief justice.

In a speech in New York on 8 November, Justice Gabrielle Kirk McDonald lashed out at the members of the UN Security Council for failing to arrest suspected war criminals with their own forces or to compel Serbia, Croatia, and the Republika Srpska to turn such people over for trial.

"It is time for this complacency to end," she said at the conclusion of her six-year tour on the court. "We have no police force or means of coercing states to follow our orders. We need your support." But so far, she added, it has not been forthcoming.

The Hague-based court has issued indictments against more than 90 people in the former Yugoslavia for war crimes, genocide, or crimes against humanity, but only 40 have been brought before the court. Thirty-two are being held awaiting trial; only eight have been convicted so far.

Among those indicted by still at large are Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic. McDonald was particularly critical of the members of the UN Security Council for failing to arrest Karadzic in view of the fact that French forces control the town where he is thought to be living.

Justice McDonald indicated that she was simply trying to ensure that the Hague tribunal could fulfill its mandate rather than seeking to raise more fundamental issues. But her comments form part of a discussion about the broader implications of international courts.

That debate has been going on at least since the World War II allies created the Nuremberg tribunal to try Nazi leaders. At that time, there was unanimous agreement that those guilty of some of the worst crimes the world had ever known should be punished. But even then, there was concern about using an ad hoc judicial body to make these decisions.

Among those who agreed that the Nazis must be punished but who argued that the use of such a tribunal could set problematic precedents was U.S. Senator Robert A. Taft. His willingness to take such an unpopular stand in public led future President John F. Kennedy to include Taft in his book "Profiles in Courage."

In the half century since the Nuremberg trials, an international community outraged by the behavior of this or that regime has often called for the creation of a special tribunal to deal with those responsible. But as Taft warned 50 years ago and as McDonald reiterated this week, such tribunals have often failed to live up to expectations in three critical ways.

First, in every case, the willingness of the international community to create a tribunal has vastly exceeded its preparedness to back up such a court. Individual countries and even international organizations like the UN made up of individual countries have frequently found it inconvenient to live up to the promises inherent in such a court.

In the former Yugoslavia, countries with troops on the ground have been concerned that any moves to arrest indicted war criminals could lead to violence in which their own soldiers would suffer. And other countries have opposed the arrest of such individuals out of a desire either to sow mischief or to weaken the resolve of the peacekeepers.

Second, the selective way in which the international community has decided to convene such panels and to arrest those indicted has increased cynicism about such tribunals.

As many observers have pointed out, the international community is far more likely to convene such a panel to investigate war crimes in small and weak countries than in large and powerful ones.

The cynicism this produces about international law also carries over into cynicism about courts and legal proceedings within countries, particularly in countries like the post-communist states which have only recently moved to establish the rule of law.

And third, both the unwillingness of the international community to back up such tribunals and its highly selective enforcement even when it does, have sent a clear signal to leaders about who can get away with what.

Obviously, as Justice McDonald makes clear, the international community is beginning to set some real limits on what it will accept. But equally obviously, the failure of the international community to back up these courts in a fully consistent way means that justice will often remain unenforced--and thus will be effectively denied. (Paul Goble)

Quotations Of The Week. "They really hit the jackpot." -- Unidentified Western diplomat to Reuters on 10 November, after SFOR troops uncovered vast amounts of evidence linking the Croatian secret services to criminal activities in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"Milosevic is the worst evil in the Balkans in the twentieth century." -- Montenegrin Liberation Movement activist Bobo Bogdanovic, to Reuters on 6 November.

"Those who bargain away the national interest are not ashamed of meeting and taking group photos with murders who committed unbelievable crimes against humanity and who will [one day] stand trial before objective international tribunals." -- Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic, speaking in Belgrade on 5 November about opposition leaders who had just returned from a visit to Washington. One of their hosts was Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.