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)

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

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).

Insidious Peddling of the Myth of Persecution of Serbs

Sarajevo Markale Market victims/ Photo:

Sarajevo Markale Market victims/ Photo:

On 7 December 2012 the New York Times’ (NYT) Opinion section published an article by David Harland titled “ Selective Justice for the Balkans” in which Harland wants the public to think that the Serb victims of the 1990’s war in the former Yugoslavia are unfairly treated, ignored by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague because the ICTY prefers the “friends of the West”. This is the same David Harland who was behind the myth that “ it was unclear who fired the shells” at Sarajevo Markale 2 market on 28 August 1995 which resulted in a massacre of civilians.
There was no doubt that Serbs fired the shells but Harland thought it best not to point the finger at Serbs in order to avoid Serbs being alerted to a possible NATO Strike (!).
(The first Markale Massacre occurred on February 5 1994 when 68 people were killed and 144 wounded in Sarajevo. The second Markale Massacre occurred on August 28, 1995 when a mortar shell killed 37 and wounded 90 people.)
In his “Selective Justice for the Balkans” Harland is at it again!
Creating and/or peddling another myth to protect the Serbs who waged a horrid aggression in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He says: “Altogether, almost all of the West’s friends have been acquitted; almost all of the Serbs have been found guilty. These results do not reflect the balance of crimes committed on the ground”.

If anyone is selective it is David Harland. That is what his article in New York Times represents.

Friedrich Nietzsche once said: “Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torment of man”. The Italian proverb “live in hope and die in despair” would lead us to believe that while we happily may live in hope that things will change for the better, unless we actively contribute to realising our hopes, we may die in despair, indeed.

For just over one week I have lived in hope that New York Times would publish my response to David Harland’s article. This was not to be and there was no way I was going to die in despair – tormented by Harland’s crafty bias that purports to create or feed the insidious myth of persecution of Serbs. So I’m publishing here my reaction sent to NYT.

The write-up by David Harland, entitled “Selective Justice for the Balkans”, which resembles more a cheap Serb propaganda flyer than an article, published New York Times OP-ED on 7 December 2012 is truly disturbing especially as Mr Harland is the executive director of Center for Humanitarian Dialogue. A dialogue requires two sides and Mr Harland failed miserably in presenting many facts that are pertinent to his story.
He omits to point out who started the war in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. He says not a single word who, how and why destroyed Vukovar, ethnically cleansed it of non-Serb population and murdered hundreds of innocent people on Ovcara in 1991. He says not a word of mass murders of Croatians in Skabrnje in 1991 days after Vukovar massacres. He mentions not a word about who ethnically cleansed one third of Croatia and occupied it, he mentions not a single word of the fact that by end of 1993 there were 1 Million displaced and refugee Croatians and Muslims in Croatia – it is therefore not true that “more Serbs were ethnically cleansed than any other community” in that war. He says not a word about who killed civilians in Sarajevo Market from a nearby hill in August 1995. He says not a word about Srebrenica genocide in 1995. But he talks about living in “a town in Bosnia where the decapitated heads of captured Muslims were displayed in the marketplace” – he does not say which town nor who put the heads there, nor how he knows the decapitated heads were of Muslims. He talks of displaced Serbs from Croatia and that someone will have to answer for that. Perhaps Mr Harland should investigate records in Belgrade, where he may find that in 1995 Croatian Serbs were ordered to evacuate in 1995.  Perhaps he may find that the reason why so many Serbs who fled Croatia then still remain displaced not because of what Croatian authorities have done or omitted to do, but because the very displaced persons are burdened by their own guilty conscience of the horror they put the Croatians and non-Serbs through before August 1995, when Operation Storm liberated the Serb occupied and ethnically cleansed Krajina.
Mr Harland says that, given the number of crimes committed during that war, by all sides, it’s not just that mainly Serbs have been convicted of war crimes. He goes as far as saying that “these results do not reflect the balance of crimes committed on the ground”. He omits to inform that crimes committed or suspected of having been committed by individuals have been and are still being processed in courts in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. These though, are a different “breed” of war crimes than those that have reached the corridors of ICTY. Those that are processed by the ICTY fall into a category that is massive and that often took the form of the so-called joint criminal enterprise, genocide…
“Convicting only Serbs simply doesn’t make sense in terms of justice, in terms of reality, or in terms of politics”, says Mr Harland. Convictions in criminal courts only deal with justice and reality, or evidence. And the evidence so far assessed in ICTY has reflected the reality that was: Serb aggression – most brutal at that. It is only logical that there will be more Serbs than any other ethnic group represented in convictions dealing with that war.
“The Croatian leaders connived in the carve-up of Yugoslavia, and contributed mightily to the horrors on Bosnia and Herzegovina,” claims Mr Harland in his cheap pamphlet (as Croatian lawyer and journalist Zvonimir Hodak of called Mr Harland’s article). Evidence and corroboration does not cross Harland’s mind!

Perhaps Mr Harland considers that the Croatian democratic referendum in 1991 to secede from Communist Yugoslavia was a conniving plan to carve up Yugoslavia?

Mr Harland seems to know a great deal (?). So, given that, does he know that the Serbian Republic entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina was created with crimes, on genocide and ethnic cleansing? One wonders why Mr Harland cares so little and so selectively about all the victims of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Croatia. One possible reason that springs to mind is that he wishes to perpetuate the preposterous idea that it was the Serbs who were persecuted.  He feeds into the Serbs’ persecution complex so as to validate it! What other motive could explain his utterly outrageous assertion that Serbs were the ethnic group that was ethnically cleansed the most, in that conflict.  Is it persecution when one is justly convicted of crimes one has committed? Not in my book, but in Mr Harland’s or Serbia’s book that seems to be the case.
Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps.(Syd)

New York Times did publish a Letter to the Editor regarding Harland’s article on 11 December 2012. The regretful thing is that Letters to the Editor can only be up to 150 words long and this is a miserable rule which in no way contributes to a healthy balance in journalism.

In “Selective Justice for the Balkans” David Harland claims that recent acquittals of Croatian and Kosovar defendants accused of war crimes against Serb civilians in front of the U.N. war crimes tribunal demonstrate bias in favor of West’s “friends.” But he misses the point of the tribunal, which is not to deliver justice for past wrongs equally for “all sides,” fostering reconciliation, but to carefully measure each case on its own merits. The case against Croatian generals rested on a technical reading of the legally allowed distance between legitimate targets and civilian objects; the case against Kosovar defendants collapsed due to poor witness protection and lack of clear evidence. We should judge the work of the tribunal by its legal expertise, not by the political outcomes we desire.
Jelena Subotic, Atlanta
The author is assistant professor of political science at Georgia State University and author of “Hijacked Justice: Dealing with the Past in the Balkans.”

Disclaimer, Terms and Conditions:

All content on “Croatia, the War, and the Future” blog is for informational purposes only. “Croatia, the War, and the Future” blog is not responsible for and expressly disclaims all liability for the interpretations and subsequent reactions of visitors or commenters either to this site or its associate Twitter account, @IVukic or its Facebook account. Comments on this website are the sole responsibility of their writers and the writer will take full responsibility, liability, and blame for any libel or litigation that results from something written in or as a direct result of something written in a comment. The nature of information provided on this website may be transitional and, therefore, accuracy, completeness, veracity, honesty, exactitude, factuality and politeness of comments are not guaranteed. This blog may contain hypertext links to other websites or webpages. “Croatia, the War, and the Future” does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness or completeness of information on any other website or webpage. We do not endorse or accept any responsibility for any views expressed or products or services offered on outside sites, or the organisations sponsoring those sites, or the safety of linking to those sites. Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome and encouraged to voice their opinion regardless of identity, politics, ideology, religion or agreement with the subject in posts or other commentators. Personal or other criticism is acceptable as long as it is justified by facts, arguments or discussions of key issues. Comments that include profanity, offensive language and insults will be moderated.
%d bloggers like this: