Twilight of Heroes – Croatia, Europe and the International Tribunal

*Music and ambience* Every summer millions of
tourists come to Croatia. They visit its coast, its islands,
its old Mediterranean towns. Few realise the weight of Croatia’s
recent, tragic history… and the debates inside the country
about how to deal with it today. If somebody asks me, what is
the most important thing… in my life, above everything,
I will say Croatia. Not family, not anything else;
I think it’s my country. These people, even though they are
fantastic people, beautiful people, talented people, good people,
with a lot of emotions. And in times of peace, in
peaceful times, they will give you, as we used to say, blood,
if you ask them, everything… Suddenly, when this dark curtain
comes over their eyes, covering their eyes,
some of them become wild animals. I think that if you want a fresh start, you have to face things
that were good… but also the things
that were wrong and bad. I strongly believe that
there is no national interest and no… national position that
you defend with concentration camps. In December 1999… one hundred thousand people
lined the streets of Zagreb. They paid their last respects to Franjo Tudjman, the first president
of independent Croatia. Tudjman had lost his battle with cancer. He had ruled Croatia for almost a decade. The film director Jakov Sedlar… was an ally of Franjo Tudjman and
made a feature film about his life. Thank God for Tudjman,
because fortunately, after a thousand years, Croatia
re-appeared in a map of Europe. Only because of him. But at that time,
I’m telling you, he showed our enemies around us… that in some bad circumstances,
God will always take somebody… from those five or six million
people and say: He’s a leader, and he will show them and
they should follow him. Thesis the right way. In 1989 Tudjman created
his political party, the Croatian Democratic Union,
or HDZ. HDZ won the first free
parliamentary elections. Tudjman became president of Croatia, which was then still part of socialist Yugoslavia. However, the Yugoslav federation
was in a serious crisis. Slobodan Milošević was the new strongman in Serbia, trying to take control of
all of Yugoslavia. He hoped to use Serb minorities… for this in other parts of Yugoslavia. At the time, ten percent of
the population in Croatia were Serbs. In the summer of 1991
Croatia declared its independence. The Yugoslav army and Serb
paramilitaries, backed by Milošević, launched an offensive. Dubrovnik was bombed,
the city of Vukovar destroyed. Serb fighters conquered almost
a third of Croatia’s territory… and expelled all Croats who lived there. Four years later,
the Croatian army struck back. In August of 1995,
Tudjman’s generals… reconquered most of the
lost territory in just a few days. The operation was called
Operation Storm. The euphoria across Croatia
was unprecedented. The soldiers were seen as national heroes. The entire political establishment achieved
a personal and collective triumph. At the time,
people honestly felt it that way. The journalist Nenad lvanković… is an admirer of Franjo Tudjman. He wrote many books about
the late president and his generals. Today, in post-modernist times,
it is not a nice thing to say, a statesman who wins a war
and establishes a state. There is no bigger deed than that. *Sound of the train* *Clapping* Tudjman and his generals celebrated… but not for very long… I think they thought that
if you are having a legitimate war, you don’t have to think about
whether crimes are committed. War crimes or crimes against humanity. It is collateral damage. That is how they were thinking about it. But that’s why the International
Tribunal (ICTY) was created, to make sure that a war
is not permission for crimes. The International Criminal Tribunal
for former Yugoslavia, or ICTY, was created in The Hague
in 1993 with Croatia’s support. It was the first time since
Nuremberg, after World War II, that leaders could be put
on trial for crimes against humanity. The tribunal investigated
crimes committed by Serb forces… during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. However, after 1995 prosecutors
also looked into the violence… committed against Serb civilians
during Operation Storm. Prosecutors suspected that
murders and intimidations… of Serb civilians during Operation
Storm were not isolated incidents… but the result of a policy to
ethnically cleanse… these parts of Croatia
of their Serb population – a criminal conspiracy, planned
and implemented by Croatia’s leaders. In late 1998 Tudjman addressed
his generals in a televised address. He was bitter and worried. I have to tell you, even at this
moment they are preparing… indictments against you,
against all of us in The Hague! They have 5-6 generals on their list,
from Croatia, not only from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Considering that fact,
we need unity in the military, no deviation from state policy and unity
between the military and the people. Only then, if we achieve it,
could we be able to say: Gentlemen, no! Regarding The Hague,
I think Tudjman was very naive. He couldn’t believe that
one day he would… be accused of being
a war criminal in Knin. Tudjman’s regime was using
the very backward formula… of ‘return to Europe’ but we
don’t have to adapt to Europe; Europe has to adapt to us,
because we were… always at the forefront of
European defence against the Turks. *Singing* Tudjman’s refusal to cooperate with… the international tribunal
left Croatia isolated. No Western president or prime
minister came to his funeral. To his supporters he was
a heroic father of the nation. To prosecutors in The Hague he was… a suspect of serious war crimes. As Croatia bade farewell
to Tudjman in 1999, nobody knew which direction
the country would take… or how he would be remembered. In January 2000,
the Croats elected a new parliament. The party created by Tudjman,
the HDZ, lost control. A new government promised
to lead Croatia out of its isolation. This meant full cooperation
with the tribunal in The Hague. After 2000
and that was very interesting the first act of the new parliament… was to grant The Hague court
the authority to investigate… Operations Flash and Storm,
and that’s when this whole story began. Croats also elected a new president:
Stipe Mesić. In the eyes of Tudjman’s
supporters, Mesić was a traitor. He had criticised Tudjman’s
policies in Bosnia. He had even gone to
The Hague to testify as a witness. Mesić promised his voters a
new beginning, the end of isolation. One of the goals was
regional cooperation, the other was to get the country
out of international isolation… and the third goal was recognition,
entry into all international institutions. But above all, Croatia had to start
implementing European standards, fulfilling the conditions
set by the European Union… and focusing on accession
into the European Union. I believed that European integration… was a millennium venture
that this generation had to achieve. There was one immediate problem: The new Croatian government
and the new president did not… control the Croatian military
or intelligence services. Many of them remained loyal
to the legacy of Franjo Tudjman. I remember very well, because we were sitting in
the president’s room and he told us: “I don’t know if our conversation is not… also intercepted now, because
you know we tried to destroy… and not to act
as my predecessor did. But I cannot assure you
that it will succeed.” So I suggested to the
president to go out in the fresh air. At the beginning, often when
we arrived in Zagreb there were… demonstrations against us
and against the government, against the prime minister
who was receiving us… and discussing cooperation with us. Now some Croatian prosecutors
began to investigate crimes… committed by members of the
Croatian military against Serb civilians. Croatia’s leading generals were furious. Right at that time an
organised group of generals, who indeed achieved certain
fame during the war, issued and publicised a political
pamphlet in which they stated… that they had created Croatia,
that they had defended Croatia and that they would be the ones… who would decide what
should be done in Croatia. One of the leaders of these protests
was General Ante Gotovina, the architect and one of
the heroes of Operation Storm. Gotovina and I had good relations, and he knew that I am one
of the more literate people. So he brought the letter to me,
asking me what I thought about it. I told him at the time that
I thought it wouldn’t be good, that they had to soften the tone. That was, in fact,
the announcement of a military coup; we can practically call it a
crawling military coup, which could have easily turned
into a real one. So I acted quickly and retired them all. In 2001 Croatian prosecutors ordered
the arrest of a Croatian general. Veterans organised huge protests. In Split lvo Sanader, the new
leader of Tudjman’s HDZ, warned the government
not to cooperate… with the international tribunal. But then all of us from here
and from other parts of Croatia… will head to Zagreb,
to Ban Jelačić Square if needed, to tell them what we think about it! There is no nation,
ladies and gentlemen, that would give up
its heroes and of course, Croatian people will not give up
Croatia’s most excellent sons! As protests grew Carla del Ponte
came to Zagreb. She presented a new,
even more explosive indictment, demanding that the most popular
Croatian general at the time… be arrested and handed over to
the tribunal: Ante Gotovina. Gotovina managed to escape. There was a wave of support. Books celebrated him
as a romantic warrior. Biographers told of his life
in the French foreign legion, his battles in Africa
and South America, and his return to Croatia
in 1991 to help his homeland. Veterans’ organisations
also rallied to support Gotovina. *Barbecue sound* I am a co-fighter of Ante Gotovina. I have gone through many
things with him… during and after the war, I know him as a fantastic man, who would never commit a war crime. If he is in The Hague,
then all of us should go there. The entire Croatian nation.
Ante Gotovina would not kill a bird. Criticising the tribunal brought by HDZ… veteran support
on the eve of elections. But lvo Sanader also promised… to take Croatia
into the European Union. The message from the EU
was unambiguous: To be treated like
a normal political party, HDZ had to abandon
the policies of Tudjman. Croatia had to cooperate
with the tribunal. *Sound of cameras* HDZ won the 2003 elections. Ivo Sanader became prime minister. This was a moment of truth. Look! At a certain point
you have to assume power, you have to win the elections
in order to… be able to make the
best politics for your country. With his majority in parliament,
lvo Sanader made… EU integration his new
government’s top priority. To do this he radically changed
his party’s previous policies. One was Europe they were against, now they were in favour; the other was cooperation with
The Hague they were against, now they were cooperating, and the third was the attitude… and at the beginning
it was largely symbolic the attitude towards the minorities. In Croatia the test minority is
always the Serbs. This was very dramatic. Not only did he completely
change their position… towards the Serb minority. They even formed a coalition in parliament. Without that, we couldn’t have advanced. We couldn’t have made
progress on this road… towards Europe, and
we certainly couldn’t have… made progress towards the reforms
that we have started in the meantime. Politically,
we involved the European Union, and they put great pressure on Croatia. You know, Croatia was working
to become… a member of the European Union… and with each step
they wanted to take, we ran to Brussels and said “Stop!”. If Gotovina is not arrested
they cannot get… the Stabilisation and
Association Agreement… and take all the steps… to reach the door
of the European Union. Under pressure from Carla Del Ponte, lvo Sanader made finding Gotovina
a priority for his government. Well, there is this constitutional law,
which commits us to work together with the ICTY. That means, everyone who is indicted
has to appear in front of the court. And we did nothing more
than respect this law. And I told my party, ‘If someone is indicted he has to
appear in front of the court’. We were put under enormous pressure,
especially from Carla Del Ponte, because she believed that we knew
where Gen. Gotovina was hiding. She told us that if
we did not know it personally, surely certain services,
or representatives… of certain services knew where he was. And we claimed that we had
intelligence information… that he was not hiding in Croatia, that he had left Croatia. But despite our claims,
she was very, very insistent. With Gotovina on the run,
Croatia remained blocked. Then, in September 2005,
there was a breakthrough. We were able to locate him
thanks to wire tap… that the prosecutor of
Croatia put on Gotovina’s wife. They were always changing
their mobile phone… after one call. So we could never locate him. But one time his wife
made a mistake and used… the same mobile twice
for a second telephone call. In December 2005
Ante Gotovina was arrested… in a restaurant on
the Canary Islands in Spain. It was a political act for Sanader
to allow the arrest of Gotovina, but personally he always thought… Gotovina was innocent. And he told me that each time. The citizens just had to be given
a chance to think about it. I actually called on them to think. And I believe that I succeeded. A general was arrested,
general Norac, who deserved some credit
for his wartime deeds but was… held responsible for some
specific killings at the time. When he was arrested, some 100,000 people gathered
at a rally in Split. When he was convicted – and his trial was open to the public, so the public knew
what he was accused of – only 100 or 200 people came to protest. We have to fight for our principles, and if we fight for the principles, the citizens get it sooner or later. Now Croatia has started EU accession talks. The Gotovina trial began in The Hague. Memories of the war still weigh heavily… on many Croatian families. The author lvana Bodrožić
wrote about her childhood, and the killing of her father
in Vukovar in 1991… in her novel “Hotel Zagorje”. It is a novel about a girl. We follow the whole story
from her perspective. She is nine when the war in Vukovar begins. She leaves for vacation
on the coast with her brother… but the situation in the town
is getting more serious. She never returns to her town
during warfare. I remember that some Chetniks
began walking around the city. Those were frightening scenes. They came in and said: “Get out of here,
we will liberate Vukovar!” Liberate it from whom? You live there all your life and
then someone tries to… convince you that he
will liberate your city from you. And then the most natural
reaction is for you to say: “No, I won’t get out of here.
I have made my life here.” I was not really sure
what nationality I was. In our family, this was not important. My parents had Serb and Bosniak,
Muslim friends. But I don’t want to live… and raise my kids there because of… the atmosphere in that city. *Drums* November2011… It’s the twentieth anniversary
of the fall… of Vukovar to Serbian troops in 1991. At the time the city was
almost completely destroyed. Every year people come here
to commemorate the victims. Vukovar saw one of the worst
massacres in former Yugoslavia. The relatives of those who died
visit a memorial outside the city. “Tell me, where is he.” Among those who lost their loved ones… is Zvezdana Polovina,
the radio moderator. My husband Branimir and I worked
at the Croatian Radio Vukovar. The city fell on November 18th. Today is November 20th, so it is exactly
20 years since he was killed at Ovčara. *Cheering* When the city fell on November 18th we found ourselves at
the Vucedolska Kapljica shelter, some 300 meters from
the Vukovar hospital. Somehow we thought that
the hospital would be… our safest shelter,
so we took refuge there. On November 19th,
Yugoslav People’s Army… and Serb paramilitaries
began entering the hospital… and taking some people away. We went out the hospital’s rear exit. Major Veselin Šljivančanin stood
there at the doors and ordered… that women should stand on the
right side and men on the left. That was the last time I saw my husband. We stood there for some time
behind the hospital, separated some 10 meters
from each other, men on the left side,
women on the right. We looked at each other. Some women asked Šljivančanin
where he was taking them… and what would happen to
them, and he said… that they were just being taken
for a short interrogation… at the barracks and that after that
they would join our convoy. His body was found six years later… in a mass grave outside Vukovar. Yes, I testified in The Hague. I think that absolute justice
does not exist. We cannot bring our dead back,
and I think I know… that what I’m going to say now
is utopian thinking. Justice would be done only
if the people who committed… atrocities would go through
exactly what we went through. Veselin Šljivančanin was arrested
in Belgrade in 2003. He stood trial in The Hague
and was sentenced. Sljivjancanin was released
early in July 2011. He had served less than 7 years. Today both Serbs and Croats
live in Vukovar again. Relations are not always easy. Srđan Antić is a Croatia Serb from Vukovar. He works on reconciliation projects
in his traumatised home town. Today there are
two ghettoised communities… living side by side in this city. The situation is completely
unnatural for Vukovar, compared to the experiences
of people through the centuries. In the past, Vukovar was a
crossroads and economic centre… for the entire region, extremely
rich in agricultural production. Nowadays, agriculture is suffering greatly. The unemployment rate
is the highest in Croatia… and the relationship between
the two biggest ethnic groups the Serbs and the Croats is organised in a way that
there are actually two ghettos. This cannot provide progress for a society. Everything you do in Vukovar is
based on your ethnic background. If you decide to go to a café,
you either go to a Serbian… or a Croatian café depending
on your ethnic background. These cafés are not marked, but we locals know which café
is Serbian and which is Croatian. And fortunately we are starting to have… some spaces we can call “Neutrum”, it is a Serbian or Croatian café
depending on the owner. We have different projects
dealing with our history. We are collecting different
examples of positive cooperation… between ethnic groups
during the war, the open conflict and afterwards
to show that people here… are as normal as people
living anywhere else in Europe. Personally, I wasn’t ready
to listen to some things that… were happening to people of Serb
nationality in Croatia for a long time. It’s not because I think that
I’m a bad person, but because your own trauma
fills you so much that… you feel a righteous fury
and you actually don’t care. However, in order to live in
a healthy and normal society, you have to accept that, too. With Ante Gotovina
on trial in The Hague, the path was open for Croatia
to join all Western institutions. Relations with the US improved. Croatia was invited to join NATO. European governments embraced
lvo Sanader. Croatia made rapid progress
in its EU negotiations. Now new issues rose
to the top of the agenda. One was corruption. The general atmosphere was, yeah, yeah, they’ll catch the small fries,
but the big fish … will never be caught
or charged with anything. And this is our problem. I know some friends of mine who
are keen followers of Croatia, who were fighting with me
over that and saying: “There’s no way that
you will ever be able… to address corruption
in the really high places. Let alone charge Sanader with anything… or even attempt to charge
Sanader with anything.” In 2009 lvo Sanader surprised everyone… when he suddenly resigned
as prime minister. A few months later he was
charged with corruption. He denied all charges. Other politicians were
also charged with corruption: Ministers,
managers of state companies, in the end the governing party
HDZ itself. This was actually a period
of cleansing and maybe… a number of other countries
should have gone through this. If you had the same process
in some other countries, similar things would come out. This is the only way for us
to resurface at the other end… with the chance at a fresh start. In 2010 Croats elected a new president: The Social Democrat Ivo Josipović. *Spherical music* As president, Josipović undertook
a historic trip to Ahmići, a village in Central Bosnia. Here Bosnian Croat troops had killed… 116 Bosniak civilians in April 1993. In Ahmići Josipović apologised for… the role played by Tudjman’s
Croatia in the 1990s. Of course, the visit to Ahmići … was a challenge for me as well, and I did not know
in advance how it would end up. I had contacts with people who
had lost several family members… and I saw it in their eyes that
they were happy that I did that, that the president of Croatia came
there to bow before the victims. I was also extremely glad to see, when I spoke to the Croats there,
that they respect such a move… and that they see a possibility
for such a visit to happen, that in my visit they
have seen a chance… to live together
peacefully in the future. A number of Bosnian Croats
were found guilty of the… massacre in Ahmići in
war crimes trials in The Hague. Then, in Apri l2011, all eyes
turned to The Hague for … the first instance judgement
in the trial of Ante Gotovina. Mr. Gotovina, will you please stand. For the reasons summarised above,
this Chamber, having considered
all of the evidence… and the arguments of the parties, the Statute and the Rules,
and based upon… the factual and legal findings
as determined in the judgement, finds you guilty as a member… of a joint criminal enterprise
of the following charges: Count 1: Persecution as a crime against humanity. Count2: Deportation as a crime against humanity Count4: Plunder of public and private property… as a violation of the laws
or customs of war. Count5: Wanton destruction as a violation… of the laws or customs of war. Count6: Murder as a crime against humanity. For having committed these crimes, the Chamber sentences you,
Mr. Gotovina, to a single sentence
of 24 years of imprisonment. When The Hague court was reading
the verdict to Gen. Gotovina, there were about 50 war invalids here. We were watching it together. A spokesman for HVIDRA Zagreb, Miroslav Tesla, cried.
A man who is completely disabled. Then you can imagine
how the rest of us felt. Croatia is a small country
and is paying an unjust price. What will the next generation
say about this… kind of cooperation with Carla
Del Ponte and those other crooks… in The Hague after the cooperation
in the Gotovina case? For example, I hope we
won’t have war any more. But tomorrow, what is the message… if Gotovina is sentenced for… I don’t know how many
years in The Hague, what is the message
for the next warriors… in some possible next war? We received a mandate
from the Security Council, identifying those responsible
for war crimes, crimes against humanity and
genocide during the Balkan war. Of course if you are looking now at… what happened around the world, you see that in many other countries,
big countries even, you have a commission
for those crimes… and nobody is investigating. Because there is no jurisdiction, because there is no way
to investigate… and because nobody
will be able to investigate. It is true that Croatia
was the victim of aggression. Croatia is a country
that liberated itself, that carried out a legitimate,
just and defensive war, but it also has slowly become aware
that during its defensive war, the members of its military
did not always act according… to the standards of international law. The Hague court was crucial in helping us… to look at our past realistically and to… raise the question of responsibility. Franjo Tudjman,
Croatia’s first president, was never put on trial. However, separate judgements
by the international court… referred to his “central role”
in criminal conspiracies… in both Bosnia
and in Operation Storm. The death of Tudjman
was not good for me… because of all the work. Of course we used some
of this evidence in other trials, but Tudjman should also have been in court. In early 2012 there was a campaign for… the referendum on EU accession. All the big veterans’ associations… supported joining the EU, but some veterans remained bitter and opposed. This one says that Croatian defenders… didn’t spill their blood
for the EU. We didn’t, but the EU hit us
with the arms embargo, so we were not able
to defend our people. We know that the Croatian
people will disappear, as well as the Croatian state,
if we join the EU. Everybody wants
something from us. The Italians are out
to get our islands, the Hungarians, Austrians
want something too. We know the Serbs have
some pretensions. It means that by entering the EU,
Croatia would disappear. If a lot of foreigners
would settle here… and Croatia’s population is small the nation would be
wiped out, which we cannot allow. One day before the referendum
some opponents of… EU accession gathered
at the main square in Zagreb. Their aim was to tear down
the European flag. *Protesting* Overall I would say
that the EU… acted as a catalyst
for social, political, and economic change in Croatia, and it was very good because
it created possibilities for… a sandwich pressing
upon those in power: The European Union from above and… public opinion, the media,
the press, the civil society from below. Sunday is the big day for Croatia? Yes, Sunday is the day of decision,
the day of the big decision, and I hope that the Croatian
citizens will choose the right side. *Bells ringing* The entire state leadership
met in parliament… and we followed the results there. I personally had no doubts
whatsoever about the outcome. After all, the final outcome is clear. 66 percent of our citizens
supported entry into the EU. I think that was a rational decision
for a majority of the people, which of course presumes
acceptance of the values of the… European Union and not
only the European Union, but also contemporary Croatian society. In December 2011 Croatia’s EU
accession was put to the vote… in the European Parliament. There was overwhelming support. 88 percent of the members
from across Europe and… from all political parties
voted for Croatia… to become the next EU member. I think that because
of Croatia’s war experience… and the multiculturalism that
is being developed precisely… because of the fact that
we have a lot of minorities… with whom we have
established relations… in a unique and good way,
I would say that… Croatia might bring a new spirit
of multiculturalism to Europe. One of the many Croatian Serbs
who returned to Croatia… after 2000 is the
Hollywood actor Rade Šerbedžija. Today he is directing an
international theatre festival… on the island of Briuni. I felt like… Ulysses, who is coming back home after … exactly 12 years. Things are much, much, much better, I can fee lit, you know. Walking again through these streets
that were forbidden for me… to walk through some days and years. Going to these restaurants again,
meeting people. People are hugging me.
I’m a popular actor here again. What I love most in the
whole theatre experience… is working with young people. I started to work with young actors
as an acting teacher, and I did a few professional
productions with them. I remember it was the best time ever, because they are young and ready
to rehearse for hours and hours. That was really fantastic. I was born in Croatia
and Croatia is my country, actually, if I think about it,
my mentality. Even though I’m a Serb from Croatia, a Serbian from Croatia, but Croatia is my country.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *