Croatia: New York Times needs to check facts

Vesna Skare Ozbolt met several times with ICTY Appeal Chamber Judge Theodor Meron during her mandate as Croatia's Minister of Justice (2003 - 2006)  Photo:turopoljka.com

Vesna Skare Ozbolt met several times with ICTY Appeal Chamber Judge Theodor Meron during her mandate as Croatia’s Minister of Justice (2003 – 2006) Photo:turopoljka.com

In the book of any patriotic citizen of any country one expects at least a small, if not comprehensive, reaction by a government official (say Minister for foreign affairs) when foreign media publishes lies and misinformation about the country and its people that paints a vilifying picture. Experience tells us that when a government official responds to a newspaper article the response is always published. When it comes to the appalling article in New York Times (NYT) by David Harland, about which I have written recently, I have not come across any responses nor reactions from say Vesna Pusic, Croatia’s foreign minister, nor from any Croatian government representative. Being a citizen of the world also means asserting ones image and reputation and I find it quite irresponsible that the Croatian government does nothing, it seems, when it comes to defending the reputation of its nation. I’ve come across a similar reality when there was the need to defend the truth of the 1995 Operation Storm and Croatian Generals Gotovina and Markac, even though the ICTY Prosecution had held them guilty o war crimes (of which charges they were finally acquitted).

Hence, I was pleased to discover that a response by Croatia’s former Minister of Justice and long-time advisor to Dr Franjo Tudjman, Vesna Skare-Ozbolt, was sent to NYT. Needless to say NYT failed to publish this one, too. This response also strongly suggests that NYT is simply not interested in the truth or, at least, a balanced and, therefore, objective presentation of issues/facts associated with the Serb aggression against Croatia in early to mid 1990’s. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Vesna Skare-Ozbolt’s letter to NYT follows:

In an Op-Ed published in the NYT issue of 7 December 2012 David Harland wrote a few misleading statements which need clarification, for the sake of the truth.

So Harland says that more Serbs were displaced by the wars in the Balkans than any other community (300, 000 refugees and IDPs in Serbia, UNHCR data of June 2012) which is true to a certain degree. However, Harland does not tell that these refugees are mostly those who fled Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo after Serbia waged aggressive wars on these countries.

In simple words, this situation is a direct consequence of the 1991 – 1995 wars Serbia started in order to expand territorially and to create The Greater Serbia. While Croatia and Bosnia waged a defending war the Serbian policy was well planned ahead and systematic with the aim to annihilate Croats and Muslims.  No Croatian soldier has ever put his foot on the Serbian soil and no Croatian tank was ever heading towards Serbia nor any Muslim for that matter. Crimes committed by Croats or Muslims were mostly spontaneous and retaliating events and their respective jurisdictions have been engaged in processing these crimes. Croatia is the first country since WWII to condemn its three generals.

Harland claims that the results of the Hague tribunal do not reflect the balance of crimes committed. However the Hague tribunal is not about balancing, it is about convicting the aggressor and their politics of ethnic cleansing of non-Serb population. The findings of the UN Commission of Experts, compiled under the direction of De Paul Law Professor Cheriff  Bassiouni  have shown that over 90% of the crimes were perpetrated by Serbs and 1995 CIA report came up with similar conclusions. So how can one say that Serbia is not solely responsible? It is as if one would say that Germany was not the initiator and the sole responsible of the WWII.

Very few people know that Serbia’s forces made people wear white arm-bands so that they be distinguished as Croats or Muslims; even fewer know about an utterly horrendous concept which even Nazis did not do: keeping women and girls in detention camps after raping them until they get pregnant so that they give birth to a Serb child. The number of these children born to raped mothers will never be really established, as women will not come out.

In his column Harland speaks about “fierce assault” of Croats on Mostar however he does not tell that  Muslims attacked Croats too in order to reverse the population balance to their advantage (which was in 1991 just about equal).  After mentioning this episode Harland goes on to say how he saw decapitated heads of captured Muslims displayed in the marketplace without naming the city, thus leading readers to conclude that that was also in Mostar and that this horrible act was committed by the Croats.

When referring to Serb civilian refugees’ exodus from Krajina region in Croatia in 1995 as to being ethnic cleansing, Harland totally ignored the Hague verdict which clearly found that that was not ethnic cleansing.  Before the Croatian Army operation „Storm“ started, 200,000 Serbs had already left and, unlike in 1991, when the Croatian City of Vukovar fell under the Serb command and 15,000 Croats were expelled with all their life in one plastic bag,  Krajina Serbs’ exodus was organized under the orders from the then government of the self-proclaimed Republic of Srpska Krajina.  A large number of indigenous Serbs fled because they were engaged in ethnic cleansing and the expulsion of Croats from that region, which had taken place from 1991 to 1995.  Although the then Croatian President Franjo Tudjman offered amnesty to those who committed no war crime –and there were definitely those who were innocent – they too had to leave, otherwise they would have been threatened or killed by their own people. The same scenario was seen in  Sarajevo: two weeks before unification of the city on 18 March, 1996, when the  Bosnian Serbs were to hand over the Serb-controlled portion of the city to the newly formed Bosniak-Croat Federation established by the Dayton Agreement of  1995,  the leader of Bosnian Serbs government Radovan Karadžić, ordered all Serbs to leave and burn their own houses behind them so that the Muslims could not use them.

Even today, general public is not aware that Serbia was de iure the first republic to secede from the Former Yugoslavia when, on 28 September 1990, it adopted the new Constitution – over a year before independence announcement of Slovenia and Croatia on 8 November, 1991 – thus  exempting  itself from the SFRY’s legal system but keeping all rights and functions of the former state (Defense, Yugoslav Army, Foreign office, State Central Bank), with the provision that it would respect federal laws only when that was in its interest (in  legal terms,  si volam). But to the world the secession of Slovenia and Croatia, following its steps, was presented as casus belli and Serbia as the savior of Yugoslavia.

As the international community was at that time strongly against the dissolution of Yugoslavia, it disregarded the Serbia’s action, in spite of the fact that its action was entirely absurd and against all laws and logic.

Having all diplomatic resources as well as contacts Yugoslavia had built for decades under his control, Milosevic’s regime used it for convincing the world that Serbia was waging a just war with the aim to preserve “the integrity of the SFRY“. Croatia, the new emerging state, with no diplomacy and skillful diplomats had simply no chance to convey to the world the real truth.

Written by Vesna Skare-Ozbolt
Edited by Sonja Valcic

About the writer: Vesna Škare-Ožbolt was a legal advisor of the late President Franjo Tuđman for ten years and the former Minister of Justice of the Republic of Croatia. She is also President of Democratic Centre, the party in coalition with HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union).

Comments

  1. Thanks for the translation.
    HDZ sucks

    Like

    • Robert Keane says:

      EPO – I’m inclined to agree with you about HDZ. They need to lift their game – this way they’re no different to SDP etc – EVERYONE looking after their own personal positions and stuff the country. Need a good shake up and shake down!

      Like

  2. Miso Sorbel says:

    What do you expect from Cock-a-doodle-doo coalition, they’re more concerned about how to arrange a pardon for their jailed Radimir Cacic (former First Deputy of Government serving sentence for causing death of two people in a motor vehicle crash in Hungary) after he comes out of jail than about our Croatia and its reputation.

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  3. Excellent article. It puts forth some strong truths that Serbs won’t like, perhaps that’s why NYT didn’t publish it? Ah well, stuff NYT – we are stronger because the truth is on our side. Keep going, Ina, Happy New Year!

    Like

  4. Kathryn Lynn says:

    Quote: “Very few people know that Serbia’s forces made people wear white arm-bands so that they be distinguished as Croats or Muslims; even fewer know about an utterly horrendous concept which even Nazis did not do: keeping women and girls in detention camps after raping them until they get pregnant so that they give birth to a Serb child. The number of these children born to raped mothers will never be really established, as women will not come out”.
    Just awful!

    Like

    • Dario Mirovic says:

      It is awful because it isn’t true and this is actually the first time NYT checked some facts. 😉

      Like

      • Srebrenica says:

        Dario – what a beautiful world it would have been were/are your delusions the reality. Keep on believing your delusions and you just might get to where you belong: oblivion.

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      • Dario:

        The problem with your premise is that Mr. Harland simply repeated the discredited fallacies of the Prosecution in the Gotovina et. al. case, the ones that were entirely discredited and disproven by Misetic, Kehoe and crew.

        While lying may be a form of “patriotism” in some countries according to certain national bards, and among certain academic communities certain academic bards are still leading luminaries in, the repetition of lies, even if ad infinitum, doesn’t make them true.

        It is especially the case when the David Irvings of the world lose in court – like they did on Nov. 16, 2012 as Irving did against Lipstadt.

        Send my regards to Savo Strbac, the ethnically purified of 99.5% of non-Serb “Krajina” Secretary / Milosevic, Martic, Babic, Hadzic, Mrksic, Stanisic and Simatovic Joint Criminal Enterprise participant whose own statements days after the operation discredit the entire indictment he ghost wrote for the ICTY: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSRXAYeSo3M

        ; – )

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      • Dario, unfortunately it IS true…do some googling…for Bosnia the estimate is between 20 to 50 thousand, for Croatia is far less, estimates are set at 3000 – the cases which are more or less known, but of course, many women will never tell. Especially not about children born from rape (in Bosnia many are in orphanages, many were given abroad for adoption and there are also a number of women who kept a child telling him or her later that their father was killed in war (see the Bosnian film Grbavica – the story is about one such case and the movie was, of course, never shown in Serbia- how come if it is not true or if rapes were only “sporadic incidents”?)..

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  5. The Croatian state has never responded to media attacks, whoever has been in power. Any politician who launches a sustained effort could have something to show to the public.

    VSO’ s s reply is excellent, but too long. NYT only accept letters of 150 words or less, I think. I hope she continues though!

    Like

    • Yes Brian the NYT Letters to Editor can be 150 words but one would hope that a “long” reaction similar in word number as Harland’s would be published in Op-Ed NYT just as Harland’s. I guess hoping doesn’t cut it! Happy New Year!

      Like

      • The Times also, out of courtesy, does allow former diplomats and heads of states to get longer pieces in if they were active in regards to a particular topic.

        It should be posted to the blog as a response to the blog.

        Maybe Mr. Kulish is editing now….

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  6. I just sent a letter to the op-ed at NYT asking why no rebuttal or response to the Harland piece was published when several distinguished people have submitted factually based responses. I provided VSO’s letter above as an example.

    I urge all readers of Ina’s blog to write to the NYT op-ed asking the same question and providing an example of either VSO or Ina’s articles or both. It only takes a few minutes.

    Like

    • Yes Sunman NYT could have published a rebuttal or response in their Op-Ed section but didn’t, which only tells they’re not interested in balance or facts. Let’s hope they will change in the New Year. Happy New Year!

      Like

  7. Brilliant. Thanks for posting this Ina, I didn’t know VSO had written a response. Despite it allegedly being deemed “too long” by the NYT, it is exactly articles like this that I share with those who need a concise explanation of what happened in Croatia. This is a good piece for all of us to forward onwards.

    Ina – I look forward to reading more of your blog posts in 2013. Od srca sve najbolje i puno uspjeha u Novoj Godini!

    Like

  8. I wouldn’t have published this mess of red herrings and strawmen either. She would have done better to stay more professional and on point.

    Like

    • Well Martinned, truth does look like red herrings to some. I thought the writer actually did keep to the point, i.e. referring to appalling ones Harland made, that’s professional in my book if you’re going to comment on something someone wrote.

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    • martinned sees red herrings and strawmen in truth and I doubt he read the article carefully. If he did he would not call it unprofessional and as not keeping to the point. Perhaps martinned has the same blindness as Harland and NYT? How else could one explain his comment that the writer does not keep to the point when in fact in almost every paragraph the writer refers to a point Harland made in his! Perhaps martinned sees the straw upon which those women were raped by Serbs instead of seeing the rapes and crimes.?

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  9. NYT has, unfortunately, a history of false reporting on Croatia and the war in the former Yugoslavia. This piece from analysis from 1994 gives an interesting insight into the background of NYT’s current position in relation to Croatia.
    http://www.hic.hr/books/croatians-nyt/part-01.htm

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  10. My one complaint about VSO’s response is that she did not address the omniscient red herring spewed by the guilt equators and AVNOJ B&H unitarists, neo-Ustasa Paraga followers, and Bosniak ultranationalists regarding the Muslim-Croat civil war (all of whom ironically share identical contradictory arguments against the “dictator” and “war criminal” Tudman).

    QUOTE: In his column Harland speaks about “fierce assault” of Croats on Mostar however he does not tell that Muslims attacked Croats too in order to reverse the population balance to their advantage (which was in 1991 just about equal). After mentioning this episode Harland goes on to say how he saw decapitated heads of captured Muslims displayed in the marketplace without naming the city, thus leading readers to conclude that that was also in Mostar and that this horrible act was committed by the Croats.” END QUOTE

    VSO argues that it was a tit for tat.

    It was not.

    Muslim aggression was pre-planned and well coordinated, met with a frenzied applause by the UK, France, and above all, the Serbs.

    The Croats operations were, and remain, entirely defensive and legally and militarily justified.

    The fact is that the Bosniaks were playing a double game all along under Izetbegovic, who, in addition to doing nothing concrete to allay Croatia’s suffering during Serbia’s genocidal aggression in 1991 – 80% of which was being waged from the territory of B&H (save Podunavlje) – he refused to address the Croats’ concerns of the internal make-up of B&H the duration of the war.

    Izetbegovic’s emissaries signed the “Historic Agreement” with Milosevic’s and Karadzic’s in Sept. 1991, when the aggression against Croatia peaked (lasting through January 15). Izetbegovic himself surrounded himself with JNA officers who took part in the war against Croatia.

    He said “This is not our war” after JNA and Chetnik hordes massacred and raised the village of Ravno – killing B&H citizens.

    So it is no surprise that Croats were being killed as early as October 1992 in Central Bosnia by sporadic violence from their Bosniak “allies.”

    What is most important, and what VSO missed, is the fact that Bosniaks, in coordinated military operations, attacked Croats in Travnik and Prozor in Dec. 1992, the unofficial start of the Muslim-Croat civil war, with the Muslim Croat civil war beginning officially on Jan. 26, 1993 with the massacre of Croat civilians, including children, in Trusina – while in Mostar it beginning on June 6, 1993 with the all or nothing Neretva 93 plan kicking off with the massacre of Croat soldiers in the Northern Barracks by their Bosniak comrades, and the near wholesale detention of East Mostar’s Croat male population, and expulsion of Croat women and children.

    Croats of Hercegbosna did EVERYTHING to avoid war, but the tragicomic failed would-be statesman Izetbegovic surrounded himself with Belgrade patsies, and gambled both Croats and Bosniaks futures away.

    Something the BBC didn’t report, conveniently, like the fact that Mostar was ravaged by the JNA and Serbs who committed numerous atrocities against both Croats and Bosniaks.

    Like

    • Americro, this is all true what you are saying, and I’m sure VSO knows that all too well, but she was probably focused on not to exceed the length of article (2 pages as was Harland’s) thus she could not elaborate Muslim-Croat conflict. Of course, it was not tit for tat but she at least managed to convey the main idea: it was not ONLY Croats – or better – not the first to attack
      Btw. I am reading now something very interesting about Savo Strbac …you know the guy, I found this in the Center for Homeland War archives…the one dr. Ante Nazor is leading..I will check with him some facts and will then translate it for you all here. Veeeery interesting!!

      Like

  11. Croatia needs to fight back over every single false article in the influencial media.Serbian propaganda lasts for too long.

    Like

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    Croatia: New York Times needs to check facts – Croatia, the War, and the Future

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