4 March 2004, Volume
THE RETURN OF NATIONALISM?
A program by Omer Karabeg of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service with Vesna Terselic, activist of the Center for Peace Studies in Zagreb, and Jelena Milic, member of the Forum for International Relations within the European Movement of Serbia
Ten years after the end of the wars, the same parties that started them are running the show again. The Croatian Democratic Community [HDZ] is in power in Croatia; three nationalist parties -- the Party of Democratic Action [SDA], the Croatian Democratic Community, and the Serbian Democratic Party [SDS] -- are in office in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party [SRS] is not in power in Serbia, but it did win the most votes in the recent elections. Ms. Terselic, how do you explain that?
As far as Croatia is concerned, it is partly a consequence of the way the Social Democratic Party [SDP] and the Liberals [HSLS] did things [in the government they headed until recently]. The HDZ victory is a reaction against their half-hearted and hesitant approach to problems, an approach which, in the best case, might be defined as a center-right orientation.
The change in Croatia actually means that the center-right remains in power, although this HDZ center-right is more rightist than the center-right of [former Social Democratic Prime Minister] Ivica Racan.
The right question for Serbia is not why the right is returning, but why no effort has ever been made here to remove nationalism from the so-called political and social stage.
The power centers that introduced nationalism in the early 1990s and gave legitimacy to all sorts of violence, including war crimes, in the name of a higher cause are still in power. I am talking about an uncontrolled oligarchy and uncontrolled factions of the armed and security forces.
Ms. Terselic, do you think that the final showdown with the nationalist forces has already taken place in Croatia?
Certainly not. What worries me a lot is that the [rightist] parliament speaker Vladimir Seks said that we should look toward the future and forget the past. Unlike him, I think that we badly need to face our past in Croatia in order to be able to turn toward the future with all our creative energies.
The politicians in both the previous government and the present one showed no interest at all in facing up to the crimes committed during the last war. Some trials for war crimes did start in Croatia, but none of those with Croats in the dock ended in a verdict that was not subject to appeal. That was the case with General [Mirko] Norac and others tried for crimes against civilians in Gospic.
It is often said that The Hague's permanent efforts to arrest [Radovan] Karadzic, [General Ratko] Mladic, [Croatian General Ante] Gotovina, and various Serbian generals accused of war crimes committed in Kosova actually play straight into the hands of the nationalists. For instance, it is widely accepted in Serbia that the SRS would have never gained so many votes if Seselj had not gone to The Hague [voluntarily]. Ms. Milic, what do you think?
I am afraid that this is a very important and dangerous misconception. I am strongly convinced that is not true. It is rather a very dangerous political mantra that is often used by the members of the so-called democratic bloc [that ousted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000], and by some representatives of the international community, which worries me a lot.
At this moment there is no political left, right, or center in Serbia; the only division we have is the one regarding the Hague-based tribunal [see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 5 and 12 February 2004].
Let me remind all those claiming that the Hague-based tribunal was the one that paved the way for the Radicals' comeback that the Radicals never really left the political stage in Serbia. In 1997 they had 1,700,000 votes and have always had a high percentage in elections.
In refusing cooperation with the tribunal, they were of one mind with the majority in the so-called democratic bloc, based on [Vojislav Kostunica's] Democratic Party of Serbia [DSS] and the G-17 Plus party. The last parliamentary election campaign showed that, unfortunately, there is general agreement within the so-called democratic bloc for a confrontation with the Hague tribunal.
That is very dangerous, and I would like everyone to know that Kostunica's so-called reformist bloc intends to change the law about cooperation with the Hague-based tribunal. Contrary to international law, those changes will allow arbitrary modification of the basis for cooperation if the person charged condoned or ordered atrocities, but was so high up in the chain of command that he did not actually participate in committing them.
Ms. Terselic, do you think the constant pressure by the Hague-based tribunal is actually helping the nationalists?
No. At this particular moment, only one parliamentary party, the Croatian Party of [Historic] Rights [HSP], clearly states in its program that they do not support cooperation with the tribunal. Other parliamentary parties advocate cooperation.
The leadership of the HDZ has already made its first approaches toward the tribunal. [Chief prosecutor] Carla Del Ponte recently described their cooperation as positive.
But polarization over the issue still remains in society as a whole. Many think that Croats should not be accused of war crimes [because they were allegedly only defending their country]. That is, of course, wrong, since crimes were committed by Croats, too.
We are talking about two different things here: cooperating with the Hague tribunal and extraditing Gotovina. No party would send him to The Hague, because that would cost them the next elections. That is the problem.
I am not so sure, since the government that actually did not cooperate with The Hague was the SDP government. Gotovina went into hiding during the government of Ivica Racan, while the HDZ did extradite a couple of Croats before the SDP came to power....
Do you think the HDZ, rather than the SDP, would extradite Gotovina?
I am sure they would. The SDP let Gotovina escape. Bearing in mind what the HDZ did during the 1990s, when they had no problems whatsoever in extraditing some people, I have the impression that they would shed no tears for Gotovina.