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South Slavic: November 14, 2002

14 November 2002, Volume 4, Number 37


Part II.

A program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) by Omer Karabeg with Davor Gjenero, political analyst from Zagreb, and Nenad Zakosek, professor of the Faculty of Political Sciences in Zagreb.

Davor Gjenero: The HDZ [Croatian Democratic Community] is stronger now than it has been for five or six years thanks to the mistakes of the present government. The government has simply been neither ready nor able to clean house.

When I was talking about lustration, I was referring to the wretched judicial system as well as to the wretched public administration. Both were staffed without concern for ability, knowledge, and competence, and continued functioning without any changes after 3 January 2000.

I was also referring to the fact that the media and political class failed to demand that those who took part in the creation of the totalitarian regime leave the political arena. Their departure in other countries in transition was largely salutary.

I am afraid that we will face isolation. This already began with the case of [indicted war criminal and former General] Ante Gotovina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2001).

I see no way to stop the restoration of the national and Bolshevik regime personified by Mr. [Ivo] Sanader and his HDZ. This is partly because the current administration has proven incapable of Europeanizing Croatia.

RFE/RL: If you agree, let us go back to discussing the atmosphere that developed after the indictment against General [Janko] Bobetko was published. It seems to me that such a unity of views emerged only because the charges against him were widely understood to be an attack on the Croatian War of Independence [Domovinski rat]. Why was it understood that way?

Nenad Zakosek: I have to admit that I have not read through the indictment, so I do not consider myself competent to comment on it.

An important thing about this particular situation is the fact that Bobetko is a 83-year-old man with the aura of a Partisan general who was also chief of the General Staff of the Croatian Army. Moreover, he decided not to cooperate and instead became feisty. We would not have had this situation if he had chosen to cooperate.

RFE/RL: But the government has also indirectly said that the indictment amounts to an attack on the Croatian War of Independence.

Zakosek: Yes, of course. It had failed to carry out many of its economic and social promises, so its position was weak. [It consequently had to make political compromises....]

RFE/RL: Mr. Gjenero, what do you think?

Gjenero: I do not want to use the term of Croatian War of Independence because I find it a grotesque, Stalinist term that Mr. Tudjman brought along in his suitcase and left as a burden to us.

Mr. Bobetko is certainly a grotesque figure, and we cannot possibly associate him with the defensive war in Croatia. The defensive war was won by Generals [Anton] Tus and [Martin] Spegelj. Mr. Bobetko took command of the Croatian Army after the Sarajevo truce was signed and Croatian state was already saved.

The other point is that Bobetko is no Partisan general at all. Bobetko was a junior officer, wounded in World War II during the Dravograd operation....

Finally, Bobetko is a very dubious individual. That gentleman -- who likes to call himself the oldest European antifascist -- happens to live in a house that was once the summer villa of a respectable Jewish family that was previously requisitioned by the Ustashe. Bobetko occupied it as a young officer of the Yugoslav People's Army, just as another Jewish villa was occupied by his crony, Franjo Tudjman.

Zakosek: But all the Partisan cadres did that. That is what the communist authorities used to do....

Gjenero: I am talking about the type of mentality those gentlemen represent. That is all I am talking about. If there had been any sort of lustration in Croatia in 1990, men like Bobetko would have disappeared from the public stage....

RFE/RL: According to opinion polls, the majority of Croatia's citizens are against Bobetko's extradition, even if it means sanctions.... Do you think that such reactions are the result of media propaganda, or something deeply rooted in the people?

Zakosek: This stems from the confusion that emerged as a result of the rightist political offensive and the policy of the government. What other reaction can you expect when representatives of the government call [the indictment] an attack on the Croatian War of Independence?

It seems to me that the main problem remains the fact that there is no consensus in Croatian society about the basic values on which the state is based. We could have achieved it by developing a critical attitude towards our recent past and undertaking a reexamination of war crimes. We also need a serious evaluation of the positive things we achieved by creating our own state.

[But in the end, any discussion was monopolized or dictated by the right.] I see no force that could reverse that trend and bring about a consensus....

Gjenero: ....The question is whether this administration has enough strength to participate in the process of cooperation with The Hague tribunal. I am afraid they do not.

This means that we are not able to function in keeping with the principle of the rule of law, the principle that all the citizens are equal in the eyes of the law, and the principle that international contracts and obligations must be obeyed.

RFE/RL: ....So, for many Croats The Hague tribunal is fine when Milosevic is on trial, but not when Croats who committed war crimes against the Serbs are indicted....

Zakosek: I think that the rightist parties, as well as the extreme right, will always argue that no international court whatsoever should be involved here. This also goes for dealing with the crimes committed by the Serbs.

RFE/RL: So, that means that the tribunal should not try even Slobodan Milosevic?

Zakosek: There is not much liking for the tribunal here. Things might be different in Bosnia, but I have not noticed any great enthusiasm for the trials of Serbs who committed crimes here. And there is no interest whatsoever here in the trials of those who committed crimes in Bosnia....

RFE/RL: Finally, do you think the Bobetko affair will have long-term repercussions?

Gjenero: The ugly atmosphere is already disappearing. However, what worries me is that Croatia has not yet learned that international obligations must be carried out, even when we do not like them, and that laws must be obeyed, even when we do not find them very pleasant....

Zakosek: For me, the issue is that we lack a critical perspective on our own past and the crimes that were committed. This is why Croatia remains a divided society, a society without a basic consensus. This situation leaves the right free to manipulate matters for its own ends.

The ugly atmosphere will not last forever. But it is a symptom of a deeper defect of Croatian society that seems to be far more enduring.