15 May 2003, Volume
NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of "RFE/RL South Slavic Report" will appear on 29 May 2003.
CRIMINALS AND POLITICS IN SERBIA AND CROATIA.
A program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) with Omer Karabeg and Natasa Kandic (Belgrade), director of the Humanitarian Law Center, and Zarko Puhovski (Zagreb), president of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights.
Mr. Puhovski, who is protecting [indicted war criminal General Ante] Gotovina in Croatia? Is it possible that the government has no idea about his whereabouts?
It is quite possible that the government does know where he is -- although I am not saying that it does -- just as it is possible that some people working for the government know where he is.
Personally, I am convinced that he is not in Croatia. I find Croatia too small for people to hide -- except for Zagreb -- and I do not believe that the network that is hiding him is particularly strong.
But the real problem is what Mrs. Kandic has already mentioned. The atmosphere in both Serbia and Croatia is such that people would easily agree to extradite any politician -- whatever the charges or pretexts -- but not an army man. Politicians have lost their prestige; they are considered turncoats, while the soldiers are seen as good guys and heroes, relentless and strong-minded, fighters for the good of the nation. That is the problem....
Right now we can see in Serbia that miracles do happen once the apparatus is activated. But there has not been enough political will in Croatia [to take action against war criminals]. As far as [extraditing] the generals is concerned, the Croatian political leadership -- except for President [Stipe] Mesic, who has always taken a clear stand -- has been blowing hot and cold....
So you think that the police have never really been given an order to capture Gotovina?
I think that they have been ordered to capture Gotovina, but the entire apparatus has not been mobilized to do so. Of course, those walking the beat and at border crossings were certainly alerted -- although maybe too late -- but that was simply done as a matter of course. One does not have to be a police expert to understand the difference between a routine search and search in which the entire apparatus -- or at least a big part of it -- is focused on a single issue, person, or group. Only then the result can be completely different from what we have now.
Glorifying criminals as war heroes has a heavy impact on society's moral values. Almost an entire generation has grown up listening to songs of praise about Arkan, Captain Dragan, Gotovina, or Norac. I remember that a couple of years ago, at the end of an electoral campaign, Belgrade was covered with posters of Arkan dressed as a World War I Serbian officer. It seems to me that Serbia has never been "de-Arkanized."
You are right. The myth about Arkan and other Serbian "heroes" is crumbling only now. And only now have people begun to talk about untouchables such as Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic "Frenki," but those myths will crumble completely once people get to the heart of the matter and discover what was behind the "patriotism" of Arkan, Legija, and other leaders of the Red Berets and other criminal units.
There is also this so-called patriotism of the politicians, who justified the situation in which some people were allowed to take, steal, or grab whatever they wanted, depriving others of their livelihood in order to provide enormous wealth for themselves and their families.
I agree with Mr. Puhovski: it seems easier to extradite politicians. Former presidents of both Serbia [Milan Milutinovic] and Yugoslavia [Slobodan Milosevic] are in The Hague, as well as the former deputy prime minister of Yugoslavia [Nikola Sainovic]. But to date the government in Serbia has not been able to extradite [Major Veselin] Sljivancanin, an officer of the former Yugoslav People's Army, who was indicted in 1997 [in conjunction with the 1991 Vukovar massacre].
Mr. Puhovski, what were the consequences for Croatian society of glorifying criminals as war heroes?
The consequences are, of course, very bad, especially because the matter represents the continuation of a similar glorification of World War II "heroes." One should not forget that we were all brought up in a tradition of great heroes of many wars, while all of them -- or at least many of them -- were [in reality] one sort of murderer or another.
I have recently written that one of the most beautiful streets in Zagreb is named after [the 17th-century officer] Baron Trenk -- who, allegedly, was the first man to wear a tie [cravat] as a Croatian symbol -- but actually he was one of the first modern war criminals. In some parts of Germany, kids are told even today that the "Schwarzer Kroate" (Black Croat) will come and kill them if they do not go to sleep.
Those are remnants of the legend about Trenk. It all belongs to our national history -- on the one hand there is the [Serbian] Kosovo myth, and on the other there is our [Croatian] Petrova Gora [in the Kordun region] myth. In both myths, patriotism is proved by killing, and the practice continued during the last war. The only difference is that we look at the situation more critically than previous generations did
And, finally, what are the Serbian and Croatian societies' chances of ridding themselves of Milosevic's and [late Croatian President Franjo] Tudjman's heritages?
One can see the beginnings of it in Serbia. After the murder of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, for the first time there was harsh criticism of the Serbian Orthodox Church's support for Slobodan Milosevic's policies of violence against other ethnic communities. Never before has Metropolitan Amfilohije been criticized so sharply, and to criticize Metropolitan Amfilohije means to criticize the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Many people from Belgrade went to Srebrenica to attend the recent reburial of those killed during the war. All those things prove that people have become wiser in dealing with the recent past. That is the only way to build good relations with our neighbors, which will open the way to establishing civic values.
I see both Tudjman and Milosevic as continuing an older tradition rather than starting anything new. What we need is not a "de-Tudjmanization" but a thorough debunking of our traditional approach to Croatian history.... We will not have normal relations with others and with ourselves until we face up to our past and draw the appropriate lessons.