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).

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