Croatia – Lustration: Yes or No? Or: Should The Constitution Include Condemnation Of Communist Regime and Its Crimes?

Josip Perkovic Photo collage:

Josip Perkovic
Photo collage:

The (Josip) Perkovic case and the impending changes to the Constitution have once again made the question of lustration current in Croatia; many public figures, as well as Croatian citizens, advocate for its implementation, but it seems that barely a few understand what it actually entails, how to implement it and, more importantly, is it not too late for that.

Article by: Vesna Skare-Ozbolt
Published in: and
Translated into English: Ina Vukic

Lustration is a legal process for removing from public life and government institutions all those who had performed active duties within communist regimes, whether they were those giving orders or informers. Lustration is not a simple process, there are numerous legal disputing arguments associated with that process (the question of statute of limitations, breach of human rights, discrimination, etc.). Hence, in 2006 the European court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, in the lustration cases from Poland and Latvia found that Article 6 of the European Convention on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms (the right to a just hearing) was breached. It’s not, therefore, accidental that Czechoslovakia, after the first law on lustration had attracted criticism from the international community, domestic legal professionals as well as from the then president Václav Havel, continued its process of lustration far away from public eyes.

After the regime changes, all ex-communist countries had to face a “torturer problem”, as Samuel Huntington called it, i.e., how to proceed towards the former members of the party nomenclature. In spite of difficulties and legal doubts, lustration has yielded certain positive results in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Lustration in Czechoslovakia is taken to serve as an example of a relatively successfully implemented so-called “hard” lustration. Special commissions made up of “insiders”, the righteous of civil society and legal professionals, were formed in accordance with the law passed in 1991 and in order to guarantee maximum objectivity. The commissions checked information from secret archives on all public persons and those for whom it had been confirmed that they had collaborated with the secret service had to leave their positions. According to some estimates, about 40% persons from the government and public services were replaced in this way. The Slovak Prime Minister, Vladimir Meciar, opposed this law and it has never been implemented in the Slovakian region nor later in Slovakia after Czechoslovakia was split into two countries.

Germany had implemented the most transparent process of lustration. i.e. de-nazification, and under the pressure from the former DDR dissidents, it was the first to open the secret archives doors to citizens. The lustration was implemented in accordance with general norms that were defined in the Unification Agreement. A large number of public hearings were held and persons who had in the past worked in DDR secret service  (Stasi) had to leave their positions. Even the “ordinary”, lower levels, employees at the state and federal levels were lustrated; as a rule they were convicted to two years of prison after which they were granted automatic amnesty. Especially rigorous checking was administered in public service sectors that required high level of ethics and moral correctness (universities, schools, courts) and so, for example, about 1000 professors in Saxony region lost their jobs.

Hungary is perhaps the best example of a negative side of lustration, when the whole process turns into a battle for power and elimination of opponents. Depending on who was in power the covering of lustration varied in 10 lustration laws passed between 1990 and 2004; when socialists (former communists) were in power 500 – 1000 positions were lustrated (from representatives, government servants to judges and journalists) and, when right-wing was in power, lustration captured 7 – 8 thousand positions.

Poland had a relatively liberal communist regime and, in the beginning, rejected the idea of lustration. President Tadeus Mazowiecki, in his 1989 inaugural speech, expressed it, as “a thick line should be drawn under the communist past”. Members of Solidarity movement, nevertheless, sought a radical removal of the past and, hence, in 1992 a mere resolution requiring the checking of information about all highly positioned persons from the secret archives was introduced. The process was brought to a halt due to its unconstitutionality and it was only after an affair from 1995, when it was discovered that the then Prime Minister Józef Oleksy was a Soviet spy, that the passing of law on lustration was initiated in 1997, which encompassed about 20,000 people, from the President and ministers to judges and leading media figures.

In 2006, Bulgaria passed a law, which opened the secret police archives and formed commissions, which checked the involvement of Bulgarian citizens in agencies of state security police and the Bulgarian national army. The checks encompassed all levels, from the president to ministers and beyond, but the actual lustration was not carried out; persons for whom it was confirmed were active as former communist agents remained in their positions, but the information about them was published.

Romania had, between 1997 and 2010, brought several proposals of law on lustration but not one was passed because they were contrary to the constitution. The latest proposal of the law, by which the members of the former nomenclature would not be able to serve in public functions brought in 2012, is, according to views of professional circles, absurd, because, after more than 20 years from the fall of Ceausescu regime, it makes no sense.

Croatia was unable to implement lustration due to the war, i.e. Serb aggression. Let’s ask ourselves: what would have happened with lustration of HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union), SDP (Social Democrats Party), the Church, yellow and warmongering media outlets that were set in motion by secret services? At the beginning of the war – at that, when the secret services were at war among themselves? Certainly, Croatia would not have won that war, and new divisions among them would have ensued.  Hence, the absurdity of the theory that lustration was not implemented in Croatia because president Tudjman would have been the first to be lustrated.  It is a fact that president Tudjman had, among his closest assistants, people who were members of the repressive apparatus of the communist era – because he had no other choice, and also he needed the people who knew the system from inside. Having said this, it is less publicly known that Franjo Tudjman, after getting rid of some close assistants after the war, planned to continue with the so-called “soft” lustration through which some persons from the former regime, who gave their contribution to the battle for freedom, would have been discretely removed from political life without setting investigation in motion. His death put a stop to this but another process, the so-called “detudjmanisation”, was set in motion: let’s remember the proposal about changing the name of the Croatian anthem, the discursive changes of Croatian Statehood date, ridiculing of the person and actions of the late president Tudjman by the newly elected president Stipe Mesic, and especially his unreliable testimonies in the Hague court.

Two proposals for law on lustration were forwarded to the Croatian Parliament in 1998 and 1999 (the then HSP/ Croatian Party of Rights) but none were passed because they were contrary to the Constitution of Republic of Croatia and to the Resolution 1096 of European Council, according to which lustration is only permitted against those who had directly breached human rights, and not against all functionaries of the former regime. The legislative proposal suggested the formation of a lustration advisory body that would open the dossiers of secret services and, people who were pillars of the former regime would have been banned from political activities for 10 years.

The likelihood that Croatia will bring a law on lustration is really – nil. And, since it has not been done, it would be desirable to demonstrate maturity and minimal historical responsibility as well as to finally define the character of the communist regime and condemn its crimes through changes to the Constitution. For, if the Government introduces into the Constitution only the provision of removing statute of limitations for “all serious crimes” – and not “for crimes committed during the communist regime”, the crimes committed during and in the name of communism will become equal to other serious murders.

Furthermore, point 13 of the 2006 Resolution of European Council on condemnation of communist crimes calls upon communist and post-communist parties to clearly distance themselves from the crimes committed by the totalitarian communist regimes and to condemn them unequivocally; but, if the formulation proposed by the Government enters into the Constitution, ambiguities remain: the crimes of the communist regime, often committed under the mask of antifascism, will not be mentioned and, thus, not even condemned symbolically.  One would truly be naïve to believe that the provision for the removal of statute of limitations for all crimes will open the path towards processing of the remaining and living communist criminals – Minister Versna Pusic has clearly confirmed that with her statement that “the removal of statute of limitations for political murders in Croatia, 20 years after achieving independence, would implement lustration and that is unacceptable to them.”

And Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic was clear when he said “that they will eject King Kong and judge HDZ and the Church who had covered up committed crimes” without mentioning the crimes of Tito’s communists. Evidently, the Prime Minister, as well as the Minister for Justice Orsat Miljenic, think that Croatia has already condemned its communist criminals. And if those in government only want to send a certain moral message by the introduction of the removal from statute of limitations for all serious crimes – and although prof. dr. Branko Smerdel is correct when he says that “the Constitution is not the medium for relaying messages” – then they should do that in an appropriate way.  Poland has included the provision of removal from statute of limitations for political crimes in its Constitution, and the Czech have by law defined the communist regime as criminal.

Why does Croatia, that last bastion of communism in Europe, not want to clearly identify itself vis-à-vis the former regime? Why does this government mount barriers to all attempts to understand the past and SDP still does not permit the researchers and historians access to the fund of the League of communists? Although UDBA (Yugoslav Secret Police) has partly destroyed the archives, and “placed parts in a safe place”, i.e. in Belgrade, that fund contains a large amount of documents from SZUP (Service for the Protection of the Constitutional Order) and from all the committees of ONO and DSZ.  The arguments that the party is the legal successor of SKH (Croatian League of Communists), and so, according to their thinking, they are the only owners, absolutely do not stand.

Expectations that an eventual hearing in Germany would help Croatia with its belated lustration were palpable in the many statements and open letters by public persons recently forwarded to the European commissioner Viviane Reding.  I hold that it must clearly be said: Germany is not interested in the dismantling of the communist paradigm in Croatia but in the processing of the serious murder committed on its territory.

Given that it’s in one way or another connected to secret services, the eventual judgment could serve as a catalyst, but nothing dramatic, because Croatian citizens know that the murders of Croatian dissidents carry the signature of the former Party, and whether the main person who issued the orders was Stane Dolanc or some other highly positioned member of the former Communist Party of Yugoslavia or Communist Party of Croatia, is of less importance.

The truth is that countries, as a rule, do not extradite their former intelligence agents, but given that foreigners have already strolled thoroughly through our archives, that many transcripts have been handed over to the Hague, foregoing the provisions of the Constitutional law on collaboration with the Hague court (without any blotting out, unlike Serbia), where is there a danger for national interests? Besides, Perkovic will not be questioned in the German court on events from the Homeland War but on circumstances surrounding Djurekovic’s murder. In the closing of Chapter 23 of the Agreement on Croatia’s accession to European Union membership Croatian negotiators had correctly assessed Perkovic and other cases were legal and not political questions and, in line with this, they should not have had any reservations vis-à-vis the clause on implementation of the European arrest warrant (EAW) for crimes committed prior to 2002. The political colouring of the whole case around the European arrest warrant was cast exclusively by Milanovic’s spite, in an inappropriate way and a way that is unacceptable to Europe.

The real lustration in Croatia will be set in motion at that moment when EU laws and all the conventions of a civilised state are applied consistently. The old members of the “red elite” will then finally fall off the “transitional train” because they will not be able to adjust to the conditions in which laws apply to everyone equally, and their heirs, unless they want to fare like their fathers, will be forced to play according to European rules.

Vesna Skare-Ozbolt Photo:

Vesna Skare-Ozbolt

About the author: Vesna Skare-Ozbolt is a Lawyer with post-graduate studies in Criminal law.  She served as legal advisor to the late President Franjo Tudjman for ten years. She led the process of Peaceful reintegration of Eastern Slavonia in the late 1990’s. She was Minister of Justice of the Republic of Croatia (2003-2006) and author and initiator of many legislative proposals in Croatia. She served as elected member of Croatian Parliament over three mandates from year 2000. She is also President of Democratic Centre party. Honorary citizen of Vukovar, Ilok and Brela. 1998 Woman of the Year. Decorated with the Order of Croatian Interlace, Order of Croatian Trefoil and Order of Katarina Zrinski and Vukovar Medal.  Source:

Professional Suicide Of A Hague Judge

ICTY Judge Frederik Harhoff

ICTY Judge Frederik Harhoff

Written by Vesna Skare-Ozbolt, published by Croatian portal 26 June 2013

(Translated into English by Ina Vukic)

Danish newspaper Berlingske June 13 published judge Frederik Harhoff’s letter, in which he expresses his suspicions that the Hague court president Theodor Meron is under the U.S.A. and Israel governments’ influence, and that he had pressured the judges to deliver judgment of acquittal in Gotovina-Markac, Perisic and Stanisic – Simatovic cases. Judge Harhoff sent his letter to his colleagues and friends at 56 addresses and it is still not known who had leaked it to the media, reportedly without his knowledge.

Harhoff gives no evidence to support his statements but says: Have any American or Israeli officials ever exerted pressure on the president of the tribunal, we will probably never know, or, it appears that judge Orie was also under pressure from the president of the tribunal”, etc.   Dov Jacobs, professor of international law and international criminal law at the renowned Leiden university, Netherlands, says: “The letter uses typical language of conspiracy theories for which it is also typical to subtly shift the burden of proof onto others or onto those who do not believe in conspiracy. It’s a win-win situation for the ‘conspirationists’, because evidence about the existence of conspiracy can be utilised in many ways.”

After the Gotovina-Markac case judgment, and especially after the acquittal verdict in the Perisic and Stanisic – Simatovic cases an interesting debate developed in international legal circles and opinions were divided with regards to the judgments. However, not one of the critics of these recent judgments attempted to defame judge Meron or his court politics in the media by using “a third side”.  How come, then, that judge Harhoff decided to abandon the frame of a cautious and reasonable lawyer – which, judging from his biography, he undoubtedly is – and undertake this undoubtedly planned move?   Why did he not firstly direct his complaint to the tribunal’s president, and after that, if the latter was unresponsive, to the founder of the Tribunal, i.e. to the UN Security Council.  He did not even attempt to take this course – for, if he had he would have surely revealed it now – exactly because the goal was for the letter to come to the media. It’s not known whether anyone or who stands behind judge Harhoff for him to embark so courageously upon – what is clear by now – a professional suicide.  Attorney Luka Misetic , who June 19 published on his blog an article titled “Joint criminal enterprise against judge Theodor Meron” and made interesting revelations, will possibly try to find the answer to this.

It became apparent quite quickly that one judge alone, more than politics itself, can demolish the tribunal’s credibility with his political moves with which he only put wind into the backs of all those who attempt to relativise the former and the future Hague judgments.

Hence, the family of late BiH Army general Rasim Delic has June 18 (of this year) lodged an application with the Hague tribunal to have the judgment against him reviewed (Delic was convicted in 2005 to 3 years prison on command responsibility) and their reasoning or explanation is that judge Harhoff’s letter infers his inclination to convict anyone who engaged in a high position in the war and that, therefore, his judicial integrity is doubtful. That is, judge Harhoff was a member of the tribunal in Delic case and his opinion was the decisive one that rendered the convicting judgment.  In their application to the Hague court the attorneys representing late Delic’s family claim that had the defence known at the time about such exclusive opinions held by judge Harhoff they would have sought his disqualification from hearing the case.

Judge Harhoff is a member of the tribunal in dr. Vojislav Seselj case and the judgment is expected in October of this year. Kevin Jon Heller, a professor at faculty of law in Melbourne, says that it’s to be expected that the lawyers representing Seselj will seek disqualification of the judge on the basis of the fact that it’s possible to conclude from judge Harhoff’s letter without a doubt that he is “inclined to convict”.

Savo Strbac, director of Veritas association, has June 13 (of this year) lodged an application with the Hague tribunal for a review of the judgment of acquittal in Gotovina – Markac case, calling upon new evidence (110 exhumed bodies to end of May 2013). It is interesting that in his application for the review Savo Strbac writes: “ … exhumations of the remains of Serbs killed in the aggression of the Croatian armed forces in August 1995 have been carried out”.  Time will show whether it’s true that, besides coincidence of time, there is no direct connection between his application and judge Harhoff’s letter, as Savo Strbac claims.

It’s interesting that Harhoff places the acquittals of Gotovina and Markac in the same context as the acquittal of the heads of Serb military and intelligence and attributes all three tribunal judgments to the directive politics of great powers. Also, while he can privately think whatever he wants, it is unacceptable from the professional aspect that in his letter he claims how Gotovina and Markac were acquitted of guilt “for war crimes committed by the Croatian army which deported Serb population from the area of the so-called Republic of Serb Krajina (RSK) in 1995”. Judge Harhoff should know that the acquitting judgment found that it was not a matter of “deportation” (due to alleged excessive shelling) but a matter of planned evacuation in advance and in accordance with orders and through the organisation by the authorities of the so-called RSK at the time. Croatian Homeland War memorial-document centre possesses numerous documents even from Serbian sources about that, as well as about the evacuation drills carried out much before Operation Storm. I will further add – as I had personally participated in this – that the Croatian government had managed to purchase on the “black market” the authorities’ of the so-called RSK population evacuation plans, paying for them with not a small amount of money.  During the liberating Operation Storm the Croatian army had done everything possible so that the evacuation routes remain free in order to ensure that any civilian casualties be brought down to the minimum. The judges of the Hague tribunal know all this very well.

This attempt at defaming judge Meron could have an impact (and) on the Herceg-Bosna Six generals case. That is, it’s not necessary to emphasise that judge Meron’s withdrawal from his position prior to an appeal decision being made in the case of the Six from Herceg-Bosna would suit,  except Serbia and one EU member state. And, judging from the recent unfounded and concerning statements made by Bakir Izetbegovic about an alleged aggression against BiH by Croatia, such an outcome of this shameful story would also suit the Bosniaks.

Following all these events, I’m of the opinion that judge Harhoff cannot continue working at the Hague tribunal and professor Jacobs shares my opinion and says: “It seems that judge Harhoff does not hold much respect for presumption of innocence and that he has formed opinion in advance as to who should be pronounced guilty and who innocent. Besides that, Harhoff has in his letter explicitly apostrophised two of his colleagues (judge Meron and judge Gunaya) and so I really do not see how his continued work at the tribunal is possible.

“Despite the shortages the Hague tribunal has shown in its work to date it nevertheless represents a large civilised lunge forward. It’s become evident that, after Nuremberg, such adjudication is still possible. Although it hasn’t completely responded to its historical task the Hague tribunal has, nevertheless, brought some sort of satisfaction for the victims and their families and created a conscience that crimes are not permitted even in war.

“The International criminal justice is still in its juvenile stage. Prevention of crimes, which in itself is a goal of international war crimes tribunals, cannot occur immediately”, said judge Theodor Meron in his interview in BBC’s HardTalk program in March of this year where he, even though in advanced years of his life, lucidly and concentrated responded to the standard, direct and provocative questions put to him by the interviewer. Also, he added, ” reconciliation is not the job of the court, even though it can and it should contribute to it with its decisions, that which people seek above everything else is the criminal responsibility of the individual. Reconciliation is, after all, the job of politics.”

Vesna Skare-Ozbolt

Vesna Skare-Ozbolt

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).

Croatia: Open Sesame – Peaceful Reintegration Of Eastern Slavonia

Franjo Tudjman in liberated Vukovar 8 June 1997

Franjo Tudjman in liberated Vukovar 8 June 1997

In January of 1998, the area known as Eastern Slavonia was restored to full Croatian authority after an arduous two-year process. The successful conclusion to the peaceful reintegration of Eastern Slavonia represents a major achievement for Croatia, US diplomacy, and the UN member states who contributed troops to the reintegration efforts.

During these two years, Croatia’s first President, dr Franjo Tudjman, said in liberated Vukovar on 8 June 1997:
The victor who does not know how to forgive sows new seeds of war and evil. And the Croatian people do not want that, just as they did not want all the suffering that has happened. Let the coexistence of Croats with the Serbian and other ethnic minority communities live on … and the one and only eternal Croatia!

On January 15, 2013 we celebrated the 15th Anniversary of this mammoth effort to achieve sustainable peace in this area of Croatian territory. At about the same time as these celebrations, the Croatian government has announced (beginning of January 2013) that it will speed up measures to introduce Cyrillic writing (Serbian) alongside Latin writing (Croatian) on public signs in Vukovar because, they say, there are just over 1/3 of the population of Serbs there. Whether there really are 1/3 of Serbs there or not is a question that must be asked given that Croatian past census processes leave much to be desired when it comes to separating the number of people actually residing at an address from those who have merely registered themselves as living at an address but actually live elsewhere, indeed, in many case in another country! The government’s announcement regarding introducing Cyrillic writing in Vukovar has stirred a great deal of uneasiness, controversy, protest and even questioning by some the very Constitutional law, which according to them does not seem to be on par with the European standards when it comes to minorities and what the right to freedom of minority language use actually means. This is a topic that’s gaining more and more momentum by the day, in Croatia – and is sure to ruffle many current Cock-a-doodle-doo coalition government feathers and involve lots of political debates. I do hope though, that the Croatian government of today does know what ethnic minority right to freely use its own language means: it does not mean that public signs must be bi-lingual, or tri-lingual etc. There’s everything to be said for true sovereignty – including that in many countries of the free world one can hear multitudes of languages spoken or written in the streets, among the free crowds, but the street signs are written in only one language – the official one of that country. The times will show on many issues of multiethnic community whether the Peaceful Reintegration of Eastern Slavonia where significant accent was placed upon coexistence of multiple ethnic groups – one of which was a murderous aggressor against the others – was an Open Sesame, a successful, way of achieving true success in the goal of creating multiethnic communities, all of which in essence should comply with the laws of sovereign Croatia. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

At this time when the Croatian government is, with its announcement to introduce Cyrillic writing on public signs in Vukovar, stirring much of the still-grieving Croatian public to bitterness, it is most opportune to remind it how dr Franjo Tudjman’s leadership achieved peace in an area where peace was nowhere in sight, and bloodshed and aggression everywhere. Hence, the following article:

Peaceful Reintegration of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium

By: Vesna Skare-Ozbolt

Peaceful reintegration of the Podunavlje region was the most successful peace project of the United Nations and the Croatian government. In spite of numerous obstacles which both the representatives of the UN and the Croatian government faced during the implementation of peaceful reintegration, on  15 January 1998 the Podunavlje region was returned into the constitutional and legal system of the Republic of Croatia without a single bullet being shot.

After the representatives of the Croatian government, of local Serb leaders and of government of Socialistic Republic of Yugoslavia (i.e. Serbia and Montenegro) signed the Erdut agreement on 12 November 1995 and the Security Council adopted resolution 1037(1996) thus creating the United Nations Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium (UNTAES) the process of return of the Podunavlje region under Croatian authority had begun. Although the phrase „peaceful reintegration „was accepted in the then political discourse, for those who lived and worked in the occupied region as well as for those actively engaged by the Croatian government in its implementation, peaceful reintegration was all but peaceful:

working often at gun point, along with constant obstructions and blackmailing by the local Serbs authorities was a tough reality.

Many Croats still regret that the region was not liberated by military action; therefore it is worth reminding why President Dr. Franjo Tudjman opted for negotiations.

As per the assessment of strategic experts the military action planned under the name „The Vukovar Pigeon“, the Podunavlje region could have been freed in several days even if Serbia’s weakened army would have entered the battle; namely, they were engaged in preserving the captured territory in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the mobilization rate was low. But, when Tudjman was informed that the potential human loss was calculated at 1500 – and that was conservative assessment – he decided to avoid war at any cost, justifying his decision with just a few words: „ to me, every life counts, be it Croatian or Serbian.“ International community knew that the Croatian forces were ready, waiting for their Supreme Commander’s signal, they were also aware that the outcome of the Dayton negotiations depended on Tudjman only. And President Tudjman was aware that any military action undertaken by the HV (Croatian Army) would jeopardize the American peaceful initiative and Dayton success. And he did not want to risk the ending of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. On his side, Slobodan Milosevic, realizing that he had lost the battle on the negotiation table, sent a message to the local Serb government in Podunavlje to start negotiations with the Croatian authorities.

In January 1996 some 150,000 people lived in the region, of which 85 % Serbs and barely 8 % Croats. Already, given the success of the military operation „Storm“, the local Serb authorities in the Podunavlje region were completely disoriented, the Serbian media published titles such as “Dairy of Crime: Pavelic started, Tudjman finished” in order to stir panic among local Serbs, the discontent of thousands Croatian refugees who lived in poor conditions in sports halls and devastated hotels at the Adriatic coast was growing, and Croatian public, revolted by the inefficiency of the UN demanded their departure. In such circumstances, peaceful reintegration seemed to be an impossible mission.

During the two years, the Croatian negotiators held hundreds of meetings with local Serb authorities as well as with local Serb citizens. It was really not easy to put up with primitivism and provocations by some of the local Serb leaders. What gave us strength to persevere were contacts with ordinary local Serbs as many were telling us that they did not think as their leaders did, that they only wanted peace, but were afraid to stand up loudly in order to avoid problems. In spite of constant threats and pressure by their leaders, it was the ordinary Serbs who gradually made first steps towards coexistence as they were becoming aware that for the normalization of relations the process of reintegration into Republic of Croatia was inevitable.

Peaceful reintegration produced many positive results:

•    A new refugee crisis was avoided and the attempt of the local Serb authorities to present to the international community a voluntary departure of Serb families as a „tacit exodus“, which would then be qualified (by them) as „ethnic cleansing“ perpetrated by Croats, did not succeed;
•    Demilitarization, disarmament and demobilization of military and paramilitary forces and weapons buy-back programme were carried out;
•    The return of those who wished to return to their homes was completed with the return process accelerated after the completion of the mission;
•    Law on Convalidation adopted in 1997 confirmed certain legal affairs and acts of the so-called Republic of Krajina which were not deemed legal before;
•    Agreement on the Normalization of Relations between Croatia and Yugoslavia was signed on 23 August 1996;
•    Local elections were held on 13 and 14 April 1997, simultaneously with elections throughout Croatia and from that day the Podunavlje region was fully integrated in the Croatian legal system;
•    In line with the Croatian Constitution representatives of Serb minority were elected in local, regional and national government bodies.

Perhaps the most of the controversies raised among the Croat public was the adoption of Law on Amnesty (in 1992 and 1996) by which all those who committed criminal acts in connection with armed conflict, except for war crimes, were granted amnesty. No doubt, a certain number of potential criminals from that region escaped criminal prosecution, largely due to insufficient documentation or their unavailability. This is something that is most painful for Croats living in the region. However, as there is no statute of limitation for war crimes and investigations are ongoing.

Peaceful reintegration was completed successfully, partly due to President Tudjman’s  insistence that an American official head the mission, as he deemed that they are sufficiently „pragmatic and efficient.“ The American general Jacques Paul Klein, appointed as UNTAES Transitional Administrator, was exactly of that breed: determined, realistic and not very keen of diplomacy, so much so that at his first meeting with local Serbs leaders he addressed them with these words: „You rebelled, played your cards and lost. Now, if you won’t help me, I’ll leave and let the Croats finish the job. There is no third option!

While peaceful reintegration was not adequately valorised in Croatia, the UN officials and the international community evaluated it as “a positive precedent for restoration of peace throughout the former Yugoslavia but also for future missions in the world”.  Croatia is the first country ever to end the war, practically from the very ending of military actions, in a peaceful way, thus paving the way to achieve a perhaps greater civilization and multicultural potential than many of the EU member states. And last but not least, peaceful reintegration process generated skilful peace mediators which is a worthy human capital for future armed conflicts in the world. Considering all the above, we can say that peaceful reintegration is the most valuable Croatian brand.

“For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill”. (Sun Tzu)

Vesna Skare-Ozbolt

Vesna Skare-Ozbolt

About Vesna Škare-Ožbolt: she was a legal advisor of the late President Franjo Tuđman for ten years and the former Minister of Justice of the Republic of Croatia (2003 – 2006). She is also President of Democratic Centre, the party in coalition with HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union).
In the late 1990s she handled the sensitive negotiations leading to a peaceful return of Serb-occupied areas of Eastern Slavonia (including Vukovar) to Croatian sovereigntyShe is the current President of the Democratic Centre Party in Croatia.


Croatia, the War, and the Future’s addendum:

Click this link for Brief Summary on PEACEFUL REINTEGRATION OF



•    About US$1.6 Million of Croatia’s money (at the time when it was struggling to sustain the lives of hundreds of thousands of Croatian and non-Serb refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina) had to be forked out to pay for weapons buyback  – that is, purchase the weapons owned privately by Serb rebels!

•    On 3 December 1996, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and close aides visited the UNTAES mandate area. He reaffirmed his desire for Serbs to stay in Croatia with guarantees of human rights and fundamental freedoms and called for the marginalization of extremists on both sides. Most significantly, he adopted the suggestion of the Transitional Administrator to pay old-age pensions to the 20,000 pensioners as a good-will gesture for the 1997 new year period.

•    On 8 August 1996, the signing of the Agreement on Interim Co-Financing of Public Services on the Territory Administered by UNTAES, By The Government Of the Republic Of Croatia provided that Croatia would pay 4,500 000 Kuna (about US$850,660.00) for the regular monthly co-financing of public services in the area administered by UNTAES. These public services include health and social welfare, education, police, administration, operating costs and related administrative expenses.
•    Only Serbs really know how much petrol, gas etc. Arkan’s (Zeljko Raznjatovic – Arkan) Serb para-military occupying forces in Eastern Slavonia had stolen from Deletovci (near Vukovar) oil fields during the five year occupation. Figures say that Serbs took more than 100,000 Tons of crude oil from these fields per year of occupation and carted it off to Pancevo refinery (Serbia).
•    What about the endless wagons of timber Serbs stole from Croatian forests, carting it off to Serbia during the five years of occupying, ethnically cleansing Easter Slavonia!?

And the list goes on …

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