Very recently Russia mended its broken relations with Turkey. Turkey considers Bosnian Muslims/Bosniaks as its brothers. Russia is desirous of wielding influence in order to stop EU expanding to Eastern Europe where Russia keeps building its influence. In efforts to strengthen its hold on southeastern Europe the EU would like Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to become a member of the EU and has in past few months depended upon Croatia quite a bit to assist BiH on its path to EU membership. Comes 31 October 2016 and Croatia’s ability to influence BiH’s path to the EU suddenly seems drastically affected by the arrest in Orasje, a northeastern BiH town bordering with Croatia, of 10 Croats of Croatia/BiH dual citizenship for alleged war crimes that allegedly happened almost 25 years ago. Croatian politicians and public media have been preoccupied with protesting against and commenting these arrests during the past week. It appears the arrests have a greater political significance as implicating Croatia in the chain of command in these alleged crimes than in actually naming or listing individualised and specified crimes alleged in the indictment issued by BiH state prosecution.
In about April 1992 when Serb led forces and rebels started bombing and attacking the town of Orasje and its surrounding clusters of villages – an area with majority Croat population situated at the northeastern border of Bosnia and Herzegovina with Croatia, the time ahead demanded that the town and its people be defended. Orasje managed to defend itself from the Serb onslaught only to wake up on 31 October 2016, two days after Prime Minister Andrej Plenovic’s visit to BiH, and see 10 Croats (members of the wartime Croatian Defense Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina [BiH] also known as Bosnian Croatian Army) arrested for alleged war crimes in 1992 and 1993 against prisoner of war Serbian nationals; the other 18 reportedly charged with these crimes of varying ethnicity have disappeared off the face of the earth – cannot be found.
1992 was the time when Serb advances into Bosnian Posavina in the north and into central Bosnia in the early weeks of Serb onslaught against Bosnia and Herzegovina were reversed by joint Muslim and Croat forces. Croat population of Orasje remained loyal to the cause of the Bosnian government (defend the country against Serbs) and put up a stiff resistance to the Serbs.
Croatian government and the rest of the political apparatus say they were totally surprised by these arrests in Orasje; that they never suspected anything like that could happen in the neighbouring, friendly BiH. But in reality, Bosnia and Herzegovina has for some time now been a melting pot of troubles to come as the 1995 ineffective Dayton peace agreement draws nearer the edge. And indeed the Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has said that “the arrests have been in preparation for some time, but that their timing is indicative…Croatia has informed its partners in NATO and the EU about these arrests…” he said.
Frankly, who cares what NATO and the EU, or anyone else, think today when the very credibility and the just cause the defense of Orasje from Serbian onslaught in 1992/1993 is at stake here.
Attending a ceremony dedicated to Halal Day in Croatia on Wednesday 2 November 2016 Croatia’s president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic also expressed utter surprise at the arrests of the ten Croats in Orasje, saying that “Orasje is an area where Bosniaks and Croats fought together for their bare existence, for their self-preservation (being), for their lives, and their fight is a symbol of resistance against Milosevic (Slobodan) and Karadzic (Radovan) regimes.” She said that we need to wait and see all the facts or until all the facts of those alleged crimes are confirmed.
Well then, president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic – why have you not withdrawn your Ambassador from Bosnia and Herzegovina as an interim measure of protest against this atrocious political hunt against Croatian nationals who only defended their and their children’s and families’ lives? Why has the BiH Ambassador to Croatia not been sent packing on a temporary basis until controversial issues to do with these arrests are ironed out with pure facts?
This would particularly be an appropriate measure given that there are reported serious difficulties with the indictments or charges, suggesting political bias. Croatian minister for veterans’ affairs Tomo Medved said Saturday 5 November that the Veterans are bitter about these arrests “because of the selective application of the command responsibility in these cases. If they (Bosnia and Herzegovina state prosecution) perform certain investigations and if certain criminal acts are found to exist then certain or concrete individual perpetrators should answer for those criminal acts, but this type of approach of widely applying command responsibility is unacceptable.” Source HRT News 5 November 2016.
Ilija Vucemilovic, president of veterans’ Tigers association, said “our brothers in Bosnian Posavina are bearing a heavy cross, going through injustice just because they defended their homes in impossible circumstances…”
And so, while Croatian president, prime minister or everyone else cannot meddle in the indictment for crimes issued in Bosnia and Herzegovina or in the Bosnia’s criminal justice system they can certainly bring in measures of disapproval as to the contents or ways of those indictments until pure facts are revealed. These measures to my view would be to send the Bosnian Ambassador packing from Croatia until matter resolved and withdraw the Croatian Ambassador from Bosnia until matter of facts and specific individual responsibility for each crime is clear.
Considering some reports appearing in the media, the arrests are no surprise as the truth may well point to the fact that the Croatian intelligence services and secret police have under the Social Democrat, anti-Croatia communist government led by Zoran Milanovic and under president Ivo Josipovic, whose advisors appeared equally anti-Croat, in Croatia, purposefully engaged in hiding information as far back as 2014 that Bosnian state prosecution was investigating some 28 individuals in relation to wartime Orasje (and other places). Since President Grabar-Kitarovic expressed total surprise last week regarding the arrests one can assume that her predecessor Josipovic and his advisers passed on zilch information on the matter. One truly cannot but ascribe malice against Croatia in this. It is, furthermore, of no surprise that Bosnian Muslims have continued and will continue digging for possible indictments against everyone else for war crimes in order not to face their own horrendous, murderous actions during the war in BiH or to minimize the gravity of crimes committed by Bosniaks, which crimes still seem to evade full justice. They will forever protect the Mujahedeen and BiH Army forces that slaughtered thousands. Unless of course a significant number of war crimes indictments are thrown in their direction.
Many believe there will be many more indictments against Croatian nationals as Bosnia and Herzegovina ponders on its future as a country where all three nationalities (Bosniak/Muslims, Croats and Serbs) have equal rights and representation in parliament regardless of their numbers. Bosniaks do not want to give up their self-imposed superiority over Croats in the Federation part of BiH; Serbs don’t want to give up their autonomy from others in their ethnically cleansed Serbian Republic entity.
Whether these arrests will prove to be more a political message calling for Croats to desist from seeking equality in Bosnia and Herzegovina than a justified prosecution against individuals committing specific crimes, is yet to be seen. Certainly, the level these indictments seem to be directed at – general chain of command allegedly present at the time of the alleged crimes – does not appear to serve justice as well as prosecuting individuals who actually may have committed specific crimes would. The West and the EU will not accept they made a horrendous mistake with their 1995 Dayton Agreement plan and the calamitous distribution of power in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which in effect stripped the Croats of equal rights as one of three constitutional peoples of BiH. It is certainly suspicious that at this stage when Croats in BiH are talking up their equal rights to Serbs and Muslims/Bosniaks in BiH they are suddenly facing group indictments for war crimes. Regardless of the fact that war crimes may have occurred, and that individuals from all three constitutional peoples of BiH may have committed war crimes and need to face the courts, the move to catch only Croat suspects en masse at this time undoubtedly has the function of destabilizing Croatia’s efforts in assisting BiH in its path to EU membership and also in destabilising Croats’ rights as equals in BiH. Unacceptable! Croatia’s leadership must show more strength in defending the self-preservation people of Orasje were forced into during the Serb aggression. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)