Croatia’s Triumph

Washington Times(Licensed republication)

November 29, 2012

KUHNER: Croatia’s triumph

By Jeffrey T. Kuhner

Croatia’s national independence finally has been secured. This is the real meaning of the recent ruling by the U.N. war crimes court in The Hague to overturn the conviction of Croatian Gen. Ante Gotovina. Last year, the U.N. court convicted Gen. Gotovina, along with junior Croatian Gen. Mladen Markac, of responsibility for war crimes in the 1995 military operation that led to the recapture of territory seized by rebel ethnic Serbs. The tribunal’s appeal judges, however, in a 3-2 decision last week ruled that both men are innocent. The court’s chief justice called it the “final verdict.” Croatia has rightly cheered the decision.

Gen. Gotovina embodies Croatia’s struggle for independence. In 1991, the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia triggered a Croatian-Serbian war. Backed by the Yugoslav army and Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Serb rebels waged a brutal campaign of aggression against Croatia and, later, Bosnia. Milosevic’s goal was clear: genocide. His Serb marauders annexed nearly one-third of Croatia’s territory, killed nearly 20,000 people and ethnically cleansed the land of more than 200,000 civilians. Entire cities, such as Vukovar, were razed to the ground.

In Bosnia, Milosevic’s forces did even more damage. They systematically slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Bosnians and Croats, seized almost 70 percent of Bosnian land, expelled almost 2 million people and erected a vast network of mass graves and concentration camps. Milosevic’s aim was to forge an ethnically pure Greater Serbian empire, stretching from the Danube to the Adriatic.

By the summer of 1995, he was on the verge of achieving his neofascist, imperialist project. Yet, led by Gen. Gotovina’s forces and supported by the United States, the Croatian government launched a lightning military offensive known as Operation Storm. The offensive restored Croatia’s territorial integrity. It dealt a decisive blow to Milosevic’s dream of a Greater Serbia. Gen. Gotovina’s army liberated Croatian lands. Moreover, the army swept into neighboring Bosnia, freeing the besieged pocket of Bihac from a Srebrenica-style massacre, and then rolling back Bosnian Serb forces. Gen. Gotovina’s actions effectively smashed Belgrade’s campaign of mass killings and ethnic cleansing. No one – neither the European Union, the United Nations nor NATO – did more to end the savage fighting in Croatia and Bosnia than Gen. Gotovina. Rather than being a war criminal, he is a great Croatian patriot and hero.

His crime, however, in the eyes of Belgrade and prosecutors at The Hague, is that he played a pivotal role in achieving Croatia’s hard-won independence. From its inception, Serb-dominated Yugoslavia was a repressive, synthetic state. Its captive people, especially the Croats, hungered to be free of Belgrade’s iron grip. Hence, the dissolution of Yugoslavia was not only inevitable but also signified a major victory for democracy and national self-determination. Yet, for the Serbs, this meant the loss of imperial prestige, regional hegemony and the benefits of economic exploitation. Hence, for decades, their aim was to cripple Croatian nationalism by presenting it as illegitimate.

This is why Belgrade feverishly lobbied The Hague tribunal to go after Gen. Gotovina and demonize Operation Storm. U.N. prosecutors took the bait. They sought to equalize guilt on all sides of the conflict by attempting to criminalize the Croatian military offensive. They charged that Operation Storm expelled nearly 200,000 Serbs and killed hundreds more in a deliberate effort to ethnically cleanse Croatia. In other words, the U.N. prosecution sought to transform Croatians from victims to aggressors, thereby entrenching the notion that Croatia was founded upon war crimes. The Gotovina case threatened to undermine Zagreb’s national sovereignty, the security of its borders and its international legitimacy. Serb revanchists were hoping to use the Gotovina conviction as a pretext to restore a Greater Serbia – although through legal means instead of military force.

The prosecutors were wrong – and obviously so – on almost every point. It is a matter of record that Croatia’s Serbian population fled prior to the onslaught of Operation Storm. Days before the offensive, Milosevic’s regime ordered the Serb rebels to evacuate in the face of overwhelming Croatian military might. The Serb strongman realized he no longer could hold on to large chunks of Croatia. He directed that Croatia’s ethnic Serbs be dispersed to Bosnia and Kosovo, hoping to consolidate his strategic gains. Therefore, Gen. Gotovina’s army could not have committed ethnic cleansing because that was done at the behest and direction of Belgrade. As for the slaughter of hundreds of Serb civilians, most of those crimes were carried out by vengeful Croats after Croatian forces left the recovered areas and entered into Bosnia. Zagreb has successfully prosecuted numerous cases against guilty Croatians.

Gen. Gotovina’s acquittal is ultimately a political watershed in the Balkans. For more than 10 years, I have argued that he is an innocent man who was a victim of a judicial witch hunt. I have been vindicated. More important, he has been vindicated. The trumped-up charges against him were laughable. Yet he was betrayed by the politicians in Zagreb – on the left and the right – in a craven attempt to appease Brussels and Washington, and sold down the river to languish for years in a Dutch prison. He is a martyr for the Croatian cause.

His victory also vindicates the country’s war for independence, which achieved Croatia’s historic quest to escape subjugation. Hungarians, Venetians, Austrians, Ottoman Turks and the Serbs all have ruled Croatia as imperial masters. No longer. From the rubble of the Balkan wars, a Croatian nation was born. Its territory is now secure. Its borders cemented. Its people free to determine their own destiny. Croatia’s triumph is complete.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist and editorial writer at The Washington Times. He also hosts “The Kuhner Report” from 6-9 a.m. and 11 a.m.-noon EST on AM-680 WRKO ( in Boston.

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  1. Ina, below is link to an article based on an interview with Geoffrey Nice, former ICTY prosecutor who worked closely with Carla Del Ponte…very critical of her…

  2. Well written article, no doubt, although it’s been a while since I’ve seen anything from Mr. Kuhner on Croatian issues. I wonder if he perhaps feels some disappointment after cheerleading for the Adriatic Institute’s contender in the last parliamentary elections, a political party called H-21, which achieved dismal, almost disastrous results.
    I’ve enjoyed reading Mr. Kuhner’s articles in the past, so I’m hoping that as a respected journalist he will think a bit more realistically about supporting a fringe party like H-21, who preaches anti-corruption while one of their ‘principled leaders’ was recently given an initial 2-year jail term for attempting to extort a large sum of money from Ivan Cermak, one of the Croatian generals freed from all charges at the ICTY in the Hague.

  3. Francis A. says:

    If Croatia was cleared for Operation Storm with Gotovina et al being acquitted (on appeal), then does that mean Serbia & Montenegro are cleared for the wars in Croatia and Bosnia because Perisic was acquitted (on appeal)?

    • One must also consider that only 3 people from the JNA have been convicted for the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, all from Croatia, all from 1991. To quote Dr. Hoare, “His [Perisic’s] acquittal means that, to date, no official or army officer of Serbia-Montenegro and no member of the JNA or VJ high command has been convicted by the ICTY for war-crimes in Bosnia”.

    • No

      • Francis A. says:

        So a ruling in favor of Ante Gotovina and Croatia is a just one that clears Croatia for Operation Storm, but a ruling in favor of Perisic and Serbia/Montenegro that clears Serbia/Montenegro is a political one?

      • Francis A – Please start with paying attention to what people say in articles. Gotovina et al were cleared of charges of joint criminal enterprise (alleged forced deportation of Serbs from Croatia) and other crimes he was charged with, please stop with your malicious ways in twisting what people say or write otherwise you face the risk of your comments being deleted on this blog. As to Perisic I have not intention in entering into a discussion about those findings with you, you will find that I have re-blogged articles from other writers so it would be decent and respecful if you actually addressed your comments or questions to their blogs/portals.

      • Francis A. says:

        I believe I did address it appropriately. You say that Gotovina’s acquittal was a “triumph for Croatia”. I am simply asking if you consider Perisic’s acquittal to be a triumph for Serbia, for his acquittal seems to further remove Serbia from involvement in the wars of the 1990’s. He was, as you know, the Chief of Staff of the JNA during this time.

      • Francis A. – there is a huge difference between the two cases. Perisic case did not name the leadership of Serbia in indictments or the Trial Chamber judgment, while Gotovina’s did even though a number of them were dead and could not defend themselves. Hence, “triumph for Croatia”. Persic case is different and did not specify the leadership of Serbia, or it’s alleged politics or Yugoslav army (apart from mentioning him attending meetings with council members of VRS etc), as Gotovina’s did i.e. that he participated with Croatian leadership in mass deportations of Serbs from Croatia (joint criminal enterprise). Perisic case although mentioning Yugoslav Army from Belgrade etc did not go about naming individuals from Serbia’s leadership at the time as co-responsible/guilty. Furthermore Yugoslav Army at the time was made up of Serbs and Montenegrians mainly. So while Perisic case does indeed restore faith in non-criminal individual pursuits and that he himself as General was not aware of crimes being committed etc, given the number of Serbs (including those with direct and close ties with Serbia) already convicted in the Hague and those trials still pending it would be ludicrous to even think to “remove Serbia from involvement in the wars of 1990’s).

      • Francis A. says:

        Ina, I believe there have been a total of 3 Serbs convicted from Croatia and Bosnia, all of them from Croatia, all of them from early 1991. Correct me if I am wrong, or is it not true that only 3 Serbs from the JNA have been convicted for Croatia and Bosnia by the ICTY or the ICJ? I know for a fact (due to Marko Attila Hoare) that 0 Serbs have been convicted for Bosnia and I know from you that 3 Serbs have been convicted for Croatia. Combine that with the 2007 ICJ ruling of Bosnia vs. Serbia (where Serbia was found innocent for Srebrenica) and it is pretty apparent that the ICTY and ICJ both believe Serbia’s involvement to be more of a supportive role than one of actually calling the shots.

      • Francis A. There were more than still Serbs convicted by ICTY for crimes in Croatia so I do not know which 3 you are talking about, unless you are talking about the fact that I mentioned in one of my posts that only 3 have been tried/convicted in Serbia itself, which had not until recently been forthcoming in trying suspects in Serbia’s courts (as a matter of political choice by Serbia) as Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina have. As to your mentioning of “supportive” rather than “calling the shots” is concerned one could also believe that support from such power also means giving courage and push for actions… obviously this is not a simple matter, but one truth is indisputable: had rebel Serbs with the active support and active action on the ground by Yugoslav Army not go on the attack then there would have been no need to defend…I sense that you would like Serbia to be absolved of any wrong doing but that remains only a wish or perhaps a political platform, the reality is quite different and I myself will not enter into discussions on this with you or anyone because someone needs to answer for the victims, victims on any side, not the politics. Sorry, I cannot go into ICJ case Bosnia v Serbia, this blog is on Croatia although at times it does cross borders if issue written about requires that – ICTY has and will find Serbs guilty of Srebrenica genocide we just need to wait and see what happens there – ICJ is a different breed of court.

      • Francis A. says:

        In fact, it is very safe to say that Serbia was certainly not calling the shots. To clump those ethnic Serbs convicted of crimes as reflective of Serbia’s involvement and guilt (since they “had direct and close ties to Serbia”, which they did) would then spell troubles for Croatia as well. To apply the same logic: Given the high number of Croats (Bosnian Croats) convicted or being tried in the Hague today, this should then reflect negatively on Croatia as well, since these Bosnian Croats being convicted had certain “direct and close ties” with Croatia. However, I do doubt you will apply the same wisdom to Bosnian Croats, their links to Croatia, and the abundance of crimes they have been convicted for.

      • Remind us Francis A. why did the war start in the first place and why did the Belgrade based Yugoslav Army join the ethnic rebel Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to fight against secession from Yugoslavia, initially killing and ethnically cleansing non-Serb population from various areas of those countries that had set borders etc. Hague is not the only place where individuals are being tried for war crimes. Remind us why did Serbia’s President Boris Tadic apologise for crimes committed…


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