November 21, 2012

The chief prosecutor of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal expressed disappointment Wednesday that appeals judges at the U.N. court overturned the convictions of two Croat generals for involvement in violence that drove thousands of Serbs from their homes and left hundreds dead. >>>READ FULL ARTICLE

Croatia starts to hope again, as a ‘war crime’ stigma is lifted

James Hopkin
London Guardian
November 21, 2012

Last Tuesday night, near the museum, at Our Lady of the Stone Gate (Zagreb’s patron saint) – a walk-through candle-lit shrine with vaulted ceilings and pews – a hundred people gathered to sing hymns. The following evening, war veterans congregated on one side of Ban Jelacic square to watch a slideshow of Croatian soldiers injured in battle. On the other side, wives and mothers bereaved by the war – some wrapped in national flags – sang and wept and wailed. Soldiers, veterans and patriots filled bars that stayed open late, their singing voices heard across the misty night, their anticipation keenly felt.

Though Croatians were hoping for a reduction in the charge faced by their two generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, and hence a commutation of their sentences, few could have foreseen their instant release. It was heralded here – as this Guardian piece explaines – as both a vindication of Operation Storm that ended the war and a dismissal of the “stigma Hrvatska” (Croatian stigma) that most Croatians have carried since the original verdict of unlawful shelling because it implied the country had gained their independence by committing war crimes. (The conclusions of the appeal court, including those of the two dissenting judges in a 3-2 vote, can be read here.) Only this afternoon, a young woman told me she was happy for her deceased father, an honest policeman and soldier during the war, who had felt his honour tarnished by the original Hague verdict – sentencing Gotovina and Markac to 24 and 18 years respectively – and had taken this disappointment to his grave. While there is relief in Croatia, however, there is fury in Serbia that the generals are no longer being held accountable.

Last Friday night in Ban Jelacic square, I saw how much the decision means to the people of Croatia. Awaiting the two generals, a crowd of over 100,000 chanted their hero’s first name: “Ante! Ante!” or sang patriotic songs such as “My homeland has eyes the colour of the sea and the face of golden fields.”

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