Politics Enlargement

Balkans: Gotovina and Markač acquittal reopens wounds

19 November 2012
Presseurop
Novi List, Jutarnji List, Poslovni Dnevnik & 2 others

Generals Mladen Markač (left) and Ante Gotovina (right) arriving in the Zagreb airport. Croatia, November 16, 2012.

Generals Mladen Markač (left) and Ante Gotovina (right) arriving in the Zagreb airport. Croatia, November 16, 2012.

The acquittal of General Gotovina and General Markač by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia salvages the honour of Croatia, but does not erase all the questions about the country's recent past, writes the national press. In Serbia, on the other hand, the news has not been well received.

Accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity but considered heroes in their own countries, the two Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač were acquitted on 16 November by the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Initially sentenced to 24 years and 18 years in prison for their actions in August 1995 during the expulsion of the Serbian population of the Krajina region of Croatia, then a self-proclaimed Serb republic, this time around the judges ruled they had not deliberately targeted civilians and that they had not implemented a deliberate plan of ethnic cleansing.

This highly anticipated verdict in Croatia leaves “no room for euphoria”, however, writes Novi List. The Rijeka daily recalls that the arrest and extradition to The Hague of Gotovina, who had been in hiding, was the condition imposed by the EU for accession negotiations with Croatia. No discussion could take place before his arrest in December 2005. Today, explains Novi List

Novi List, Rijeka

... the acquittals of General Gotovina and General Markač will not erase the feeling that Croatia could have avoided the ordeal it passed through in the process of joining the EU. [...] The question is how, in four years, from the fall of Vukovar [in November 1991] until the reconquest of the Krajina, was Croatia able to switch from the status of victim to that of a potential aggressor. One must be honest: this is not the triumph of national myths and legends, as argued by those who once said that there can have been no crimes in the war of liberation of the country, or those who lied, supposedly in the interest of Croatia, by refusing to prosecute those who committed crimes in its name.

"They defended Croatia with honour," headlines Jutarnji list, noting that:

Jutarnji List, Zagreb

The verdict of the Hague tribunal proves untrue the conspiracy theories put forward by the far right, which holds this institution to be a tool of an imperialist British policy that tried to put all the crimes on the same plane, and for whom General Gotovina was a victim. If he had not gone into hiding for four years, Croatia would have got into the European Union much more easily. But now that it’s over, we wish him as speedy a return as possible to normal life after 11 years in hiding and in prison.

In wrapping up this business, and in a manner that is beneficial to Croatia, the verdict delivered by the ICTY, “although it will probably not promote investment in Croatia, could contribute to a more optimistic business climate”, argues the front-page report in Poslovni Dnevnik. The business daily points out that –

Poslovni Dnevnik, Zagreb

Political and economic relations with Serbia are developing and are not expected to worsen.

In Belgrade, Politika remarks that “the acquittal of generals Gotovina and Markač by the ICTY will have less impact on relations between Serbia and Croatia than on relations in the region, and Serbian attitudes to European integration”.  For the daily –

Politika, Belgrade

It sends a poor message for the reconciliation process in the region because it shows disdain for the victims and refugees who, almost 20 years after the war, have yet to succeed in returning to Croatia.

For the popular daily Blic, “the shame of the The Hague will widen the rift between Europe” and the Serbs, because as the political scientist Predrag Simić, who is quoted by Politika, points out the acquittal of the generals will enable a Croatia that is “absolved of all of its sins” to enter into the EU. However, on the other hand –

Blic, Belgrade

… the Hague verdict will further undermine the drive for European integration in Serbia (where support for accession has sunk below 50%) and complicate negotiations with Kosovo. The verdict is not good news for Serbia, or for the EU, or for international law.