It’s Good Enough for Serbia’s Goose, Why Not for Croatia’s Gander?
In an AP article dated 21 November, Croatia’s president, Stipe Mesic, insisted that "ousting Slobodan Milosevic was not enough," and "urged Yugoslavia’s new leaders on Tuesday to hand him over to the U.N. war crimes tribunal and face up to their country’s role in the Balkan wars. Croatian President Stipe Mesic praised Yugoslavia’s democratization, which began with the election Sept. 24 of the new president, Vojislav Kostunica. But he said Kostunica should apologize for Milosevic’s policies, which engulfed Croatia in a 1991 war." Mesic is quoted as saying, "But for us, it is of primary interest that Yugoslavia itself prosecute all those who committed war crimes and make it clear ... it would extradite those who carried out ethnic cleansing and genocide," he said. "We are more interested in deeds than in words."
If President Mesic’s pronouncement is good enough for Serbia’s goose, then it is should be good enough for Croatia’s gander. Not only is it fair, but it is necessary to know just what role Croatian President Mesic, himself, played during the 1991-1995 conflict. Furthermore, if President Mesic insists that President Kostunica apologize for Serbia’s past, then is President Mesic also ready to apologize for those in Croatia’s past who committed war crimes, such as former dictator Franjo Tudjman? According to a report from The Hague, dated 8 November (AFP), "Croatia’s late autocratic leader Franjo Tudjman would have been indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague if he were still alive, a senior prosecutor for the tribunal said Wednesday."
For that matter, perhaps Mesic should clear the collective Croatian conscience by apologizing for the crimes during World War II of Ante Pavelic, head of the Independent State of Croatia in 1941. According to Johnny Byrne, popular British film and television drama writer, and author of "Heart of Croatian Darkness," (15 August 1996), " They [Croatians] refuse to acknowledge that the only true genocide committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia was that committed against mainly Serbs, but also Jews and Romanies. Some 700,000 Serbs were butchered in manner so unspeakable that even their Nazi German masters were appalled." Pavelic is quoted as saying, "A good Ustasha [Croatian Nazi] is one who can use his knife to cut a Serb child from the womb of his mother."
For those who may consider it unfair to lay the 60 year old crimes of Ante Pavelic at the feet of President Mesic, we may limit ourselves to modern history.
CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING
In 1991, Stipe Mesic was the Croatian representative to the collective Yugoslav Presidency, and it was the Yugoslav Prime Minister, Ante Markovic, also a Croatian who ordered the Yugoslav National Army (JNA), to take action against Croatian succession. It should be noted that in 1991, the JNA was a multinational force made up of Croatians, Muslims, Serbs, Albanians, Hungarians, Slovenes, Montenegrins, and Macedonians. The JNA did not effectively become a Serbian army until after the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Not only does President Mesic, along with then-Prime Minister Markovic, bear some responsibility for beginning the 1991-1995 war, he should take a hard look at the way Croatia conducted the war before pointing the finger of blame at others. In late 1991, the Yugoslav Army captured the city of Vukovar from Croatian forces who were systematically massacring the ethnic Serb minority in the city. A Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy article in London in December 1992 said, "At least 1,000 Serbs, mostly women, old people and children, were shot, knifed, axed or bludgeoned to death systematically, one-by-one, in two main centres...One visiting Croat female journalist during the Vukovar fighting, unfamiliar with firearms, asked one of the young gunmen to cock a pistol for her so that she could feel what it was like to kill a Serb. She shot, indiscriminately, an old Serb woman who was standing under Croat guard." In November 1991, the Toronto Star said that "a photographer reported seeing black plastic bags containing pieces of the bodies of [Serb] children about 5, 6, or 7 years old."
In line with biased reporting that existed throughout the war, the media, especially in the U.S., paid scant attention to Croatian atrocities against Serbian women and children in Vukovar, choosing instead to concentrate on reports that Serbs massacred 200 wounded Croatian soldiers in a Vukovar hospital. Only a few European papers carried the story that Croatian soldiers who had participated in the massacre of civilians, fled to the hospital and jumped into bed along with their weapons in a futile attempt to escape the outrage of the Serbian troops who had discovered their grisly crimes.
If President Mesic is genuinely interested in bringing war criminals to justice, he should demand the extradition and trial of General Agim Ceku who commanded Croatia’s army during "Operation Storm," when ethnic Serbs were driven out of the Krajina region of Croatia in 1995 (the same Gen. Ceku who commands the Kosovo Liberation Army). Over 250,000 Krajina Serbs were ethnically cleansed from their ancestral homes, thousands slaughtered, and those too old or infirm to flee remained only to have their throats slit. Approximately 650,000 Serbs have been driven out of Croatia since 1992 with little prospect of ever returning. It was military aid and technology provided by the Clinton Administration, on the advice of Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke, that made it possible for Croatian forces to conduct "Operation Storm" in order to achieve their goal of a pure Croatian state that Hitler could only promise. Nor was there any outrage from Congress when Croatian jets bombed and strafed Serbian refugee columns. No general media outrage to what Charles Krauthammer described in Newsweek (April 5, 1999) as "the largest ethnic cleansing of the entire Balkan wars. Investigators with the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague have concluded that this campaign was carried out with brutality, wanton murder and indiscriminate shelling of civilians . . . No denunciation. No sanctions. No bombing. No indignant speeches about ethnic cleansing and the slaughter of innocents. In fact, in justifying the current bombing of Serbia, Clinton made an indirect reference to this Croatian campaign when he credited the ‘courageous people in Bosnia and in Croatia’ who ‘fought back’ against the Serbs and ‘helped to end the war.’ Indeed, they did. Croatia’s savage ethnic cleansing so demoralized the Serbs that they soon agreed to sign the Dayton peace accord of 1995."
The Washington Times reported on 5 September, 1995, that Croatian soldiers were given heroin or cocaine twice daily in order to help them face up to the horrors of war in reference to the expulsion of Croatian Serbs from Krajina. A Croatian soldiers, identified only as Davor, stated, "To attack villages, to cut throats and to kill in cold blood you need a strong anesthetic-a shot of heroin or cocaine was ideal." This report was also substantiated in The Guardian, on September 1, 1995.
"Operation Storm" was not the only incident of Croatian criminal brutality for which President Mesic evidently see no reason to make amends. In 1993, Canada’s Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry unit attempted to enter a town where they could hear the Serbian civilian population being massacred. Croatian troops attacked the Canadians and engaged them in some of Canada’s worst battles since the Korean war. The battle came to be known as the Battle of the Medak Pocket. The Ottawa Citizen wrote: "Almost five years after it happened, a House of Commons committee has heard details of Canada’s finest hour during its peacekeeping mission to the former Yugoslavia." From the Calgary Herald: "Sgt. Rod Dearing couldn’t see the Croatian soldiers who were trying to kill him but he could hear the rattle of their AK-47s and see their bullets kick up earth just centimeters away. The Croats wanted to delay the Canadians to enable their ethnic cleansing units to finish their killing and looting [of Serbs]. A Croatian general stood in the middle of the road, glaring and yelling at the Patricians [Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry]. The soldiers came on the remains of two teenagers who had been held captive by the Croats. They had been shot and set on fire. What was left of their bodies were still smoldering when the Canadians found them."
HAS CROATIA CHANGED? HARDLY
In a Reuter’s report published in the Washington Times on 28 January 1998, "Three Croatian ex-soldiers tell media of atrocities" committed in 1991 against the ethnic Serb minority and Croatians in Gospic who did not agree with hard-line nationalist policies. One of the Croatian ex-soldiers spoke of seeing "truckloads of bloated, stinking bodies, mothers and children blown up by bombs and someone wearing a necklace made of ears." How similar this is to reports by Holocaust survivors who described what happened in 1941: "To give a little variety, noses and ears were cut off, and eyes scratched out. The Italians photographed an Ustashi [Croatian Nazi] wearing two chains of human tongues and ears around his neck." (Testimonies from Holocaust survivors, Jean-Marc Sabatier in Paris-Match, May 25, 1957 and Edmon Paris, "Genocide in Satellite Croatia, 1961, Chicago, American Institute for Balkan Affairs). Be it 1941 or 1991, it appears that history repeats itself in Croatia.
Columnist A.M. Rosenthal: "In World War II Hitler had no executioners more willing, no ally more passionate, than the fascists of Croatia. They are returning, 50 years later, from what should have been their eternal grave, the defeat of Nazi Germany. The Western Allies who dug that grave with the bodies of their servicemen have the power to stop them, but do not."
The Washington Times of 29 December 1995: "Croats will ‘kill people for the color of their skin’." [US Colonel Fontenot, Commander of NATO forces in northeastern Bosnia].
The Washington Times on 15 June, 1997: "A German tank rolls through a small village, and the peasants rush out, lining the road with their right arms raised in a Nazi salute as they chant ‘Heil Hitler!’ Mobs chase minorities from their homes, kicking them and pelting them with eggs as they flee into the woods. Europe in the 1940s? No, Croatia in the 1990s."
The International Herald Tribune, 4 September 1995, headlines, "Croatia Eradicates Traces of Its Serbs," and from Edward Pearce of the London Evening Standard, 7 August 1995, "But you can understand Croatia best by saying flatly that if there is one place in the world where a statue of Adolph Hitler would be revered, it would be in Zagreb," but an excellent quote comes from John Ranz, Chairman of Survivors of Buchenwald Concentration Camp, USA, who said, "The gigantic campaign to brainwash America by our media against the Serbian people is just incredible, with its daily dose of one-sided information and outright lies...What is today’s reality? The murderers of Jews, Serbs and Gypsies are back (in Croatia) from the US, Canada, Argentina where they fled after World War II. The Serbs fought the Nazis, and paid a terrible price for standing at the side of the allies against Hitler. Humanity owes them a debt of gratitude." And how have the Serbs been repaid? What was their reward for their loyalty? Seventy-eight days of unmerciful US-led NATO bombing and continued vilification by the US media.
From the Daily Telegraph of 15 November, 2000, Julius Strauss writes, "Five years may have passed since the end of the Bosnian war but in Ljubuski, one of dozens of Croat villages scattered through the mountains of southwestern Bosnia, hardliners are still in control. By way of greeting the Croat party official said: "I hope you’re not a Jew or an American. My father fought at Stalingrad. He wore the German insignia with pride. At the end it was only us Croats who stayed faithful to the SS."
Today, Croatia arrogantly and blatantly flies its fascist checkerboard flag without fear of condemnation from the world. It has renamed its streets after its Nazi war heroes, and proudly displays its "Sieg Heil" salute at Croatian weddings, funerals, and other functions.
There is enough blame to go around in the Balkan Tragedy. Before Croatian President Mesic makes any demands from the new president of Serbia, perhaps he should look inward and cooperate to bring to trial war criminals such as Agim Ceku who is still walking free, apparently with the president’s blessings. It would also be nice of this Croatian president showed some remorse for Croatia’s part in atrocities, past and present, committed against the Serbian people before he makes demands from others.
As a career military officer's wife, Stella Jatras has traveled widely and has lived in many foreign countries where she not only learned about other cultures but became very knowledgeable regarding world affairs and world politics. Stella Jatras lived in Moscow for two years where her husband, George, was the Senior Air Attaché), and while there, worked in the Political Section of the US Embassy. Stella has also lived in Germany, Greece and Saudi Arabia. Her travels took her to over twenty countries. She is the author of the "Open Letter to General Michael Short," which antiwar.com carried on 11/3/99, "From Camp Swampy to Camp Bondsteel!" on 4/6/00, and "Srebrenica" – Code Word to Silence Critics of US Policy in the Balkans" on 7/31/00.
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