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South Slavic: October 3, 2002

3 October 2002, Volume 4, Number 33


A recent broadcast by RFE/RL's Ines Saskor from Zagreb.

The Croatian government has decided to challenge The Hague-based war crimes tribunal's charges against retired General Janko Bobetko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 2002).

The consequences of this decision are already evident. The country has become united over the issue of the elderly general -- who was not particularly popular before -- and seems to be prepared for anything, including international isolation.

There are few, if any, differences between the government's and opposition's positions. The [militant] atmosphere of the 1990s is once again dominant in the media. Such a degree of unity has not been seen in Croatia since the end of the war [in 1995]. President [Stipe] Mesic's voice remains isolated [in calling for cooperation with the tribunal].

What bothers most people is that Bobetko's responsibility for crimes allegedly committed in the Medak Pocket in 1993 is placed in the context of a supposedly premeditated plan for driving out the Serbian population (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2002).

Both the government and opposition claim that Croatia had launched a legitimate military operation aimed at liberating its own territory where the local population had been forced to flee or subjected to great suffering. To try the man who headed the operation to free Croatian territory would be unprecedented anywhere. It would mean ascribing a criminal character to the Croatian War of Independence and placing both sides on the same footing.

Zagreb Archbishop Josip Bozanic summed up popular feeling very well when he said, "We have an attempt here to lump together the good and the evil, the butcher and the victim."

The Croatian government opted to contest the charges, even though it is on shaky legal ground in doing so.

Moreover, cooperation with The Hague tribunal and compliance with the Dayton agreement are the international community's two basic criteria for accepting the states of former Yugoslavia into its ranks.... The dispute with The Hague does not necessarily mean that Croatia will face sanctions, but it can forget about joining the European Union and NATO.

The government is well aware of all this but hopes to avoid a direct confrontation and gain time by raising a legal challenge....

The government hopes to stay in control of the potentially explosive domestic situation as well. The government has won opposition support for its legal challenge, which has led to an almost idyllic political atmosphere at the moment....

But no one should be under any illusions. Both sides are pursuing opportunistic goals and will change their tune when it is expedient to do so.

The opposition will not stop there. They will keep insisting that they have always been right and the government always wrong. They will demand that no Croatian military commander ever be extradited again. That would mean suspending Croatian cooperation with The Hague -- which means with the world -- for a long time to come.

The latest developments have caught off guard that part of the public that has come to accept cooperation with The Hague as part of democratization.

A return to the HDZ's [Croatian Democratic Community] policies regarding the relationship between crime and the rule of law could lead to far more serious problems than those posed by the Bobetko case alone.