AIM: start

SUN, 08 APR 2001 23:28:32 GMT

Croatia and Milosevic's Arrest

AIM Zagreb, April 6, 2001

Although nobody will admit it, Croatia is extremely surprised how smoothly the arrest of Milosevic has gone. Just recently half of Croatia was blocked because of the arrest of a single Croatian general, and the Serbs did not manage to organise real demonstrations even for the first among the criminals. The few hundred pathetic persons who were on guard in Dedinje do not seem to be even worth mentioning.

Croatia has welcomed Milosevic's arrest unanimously, of course. President of the Republic, Stjepan Mesic, has immediately, in a special statement, praised the resoluteness, as he said, of the authorities in Belgrade and expressed his conviction that they were also aware that Milosevic would necessarily end up in a courtroom in The Hague.

In all reactions in Croatia it is stressed that Milosevic must answer in The Hague for war crimes, too. But concerning everything else there are differences in the state leadership. Some express certain reservation towards the moves of the authorities in Belgrade judging that they are insufficient or even feigned, others claim that the trial in Belgrade is just the first step on Milosevic's road of no return, as it was put.

Foreign Minister Tonino Picula, for instance, underlines that former Yugoslav president cannot be indicted only for financial embezzlement and election fraud and expresses fear that "his arrest does not necessarily mean that he will actually be brought to justice". Picula bases his skepticism on the argument that there are other persons live undisturbed in Serbia although they are indicted for war crimes, like for example the Vukovar three - Sljivancanin, Mrksic and Radic.

The radical variant of this skeptic group is represented by deputy chairman of the Assembly Zdravko Tomac who hurried with the judgement that the turmoil about Milosevic's arrest was just a big show for the international community. Just a few hours before the column of vehicles rushed down from Dedinje to the Belgrade jail he declared that the conflict around Milosevic's villa was a part of the scenario meant to suggest to the world that the arrest of former president of Yugoslavia would destablise Serbia, and that extradition to the Hague would cause a civil war.

President Mesic claims that the arrest and the trial to Milosevic in Belgrade are just his first step on the road to the Hague Tribunal. "It is a tactical manoeuvre. The authorities in Serbia wish to sentence him for crime and election fraud, and when they discredit him sufficiently they will extradite him to the Hague Tribunal", said Mesic adding that after Milosevic's arrest it would be easier to punish all war crimes.

Croatian politicians also stress that Belgrade must square accounts not only with the former leader, but also with the project of Greater Serbia. Some, slightly condescendingly, note that that it was easier to overthrow Milosevic than his policy. Prime Minister Racan declared: "The confusion about the arrest of former Yugoslav president shows that it was easier to remove Milosevic from power than remove Serbia from his policy".

Milosevic's confession that he had financed arming of the Serbs in Croatia and in Bosnia & Herzegovina caused great surprise. Croatian foreign ministry reacted to this with the statement that Milosevic's confession on "financing aggression did not surprise anybody in Croatia". "The victims knew from the very first day that they were victims of the project of creation of Greater Serbia", it stands in the statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and it is concluded that Milosevic's confession "accelerates and alleviates the need of his extradition to the Tribunal in the Hague as quickly as possible". Legal experts stress that Milosevic's statement is "quite amazing" because it is "a direct and powerful evidence on his involvement in war developments in Croatia and B&H". "Aggression against Croatia is definitely acquiring international character", lawyers say and add that "after Milosevic's confession payment of war reparation to Croatia is becoming a realistic possibility".

Milosevic's accommodation behind bars can be considered as the definite end of the war. At the same time it is a proof that justice - even when it is so terribly slow like in this case - is after all accessible. Time is coming when the war leaders will have to render account in public, first for embezzlement, then for war crimes. Milosevic's trial opens the possibility of quicker and uncompromising punishment of all those who deserve it. For Croatia this means that in a foreseeable future the perpetrators of the crimes in Vukovar and Dubrovnik will probably appear in the Tribunal, but also that from now on in the cooperation with the Hague Tribunal Zagreb will not be able to find excuse by comparison with the bad example of Belgrade.

Apprehending of Milosevic could mean the end of an easy-going period for Croatia during which, without much effort, Zagreb was considered superior to all the others in the unstable region. Belgrade has significantly reinforced its position now. In this sense the interview of American Ambassador in Belgrade, William Montgomery given to a Zagreb weekly, is indicative, since it swarms with compliments to the new Belgrade administration and their courage and resoluteness to arrest Milosevic. By insisting on the extradition of the arrested Milosevic to the Hague Tribunal Croatia is probably trying to suggest that things in Belgrade are not exactly what the international community would like them to be. But such comments often make the impression that Zagreb is trying to teach Belgrade a lesson, as if Zagreb knows all the answers when democracy is concerned and it can therefore minimise the volume of changes in other states.

Certain independent newspaper analysts note that Croatian leaders know only too well from their own experience that it was easier to overthrow Tudjman and the Croat Democratic Community (HDZ) than Tudjmanism. After the departure of Tudjman and the defeat of HDZ in the elections, their policy has not been definitely defeated. Croatia is very slowly and with difficulties breaking away from their embrace. That is why it is not at all realistic to expect that Serbia will get rid of Milosevicís policy overnight. It is also observed that Zagreb has no right to reproach Belgrade that it is not enough to try Milosevic as a common criminal. Even if it were just initiating proceedings for criminal undertakings of the recent boss from Dedinje, it is much more than the Croatian authorities have done so far in their own back yard. The ruling coalition of six parties did not have the courage to take to court none of low ranking HDZ crooks even.

Jelena Lovric