The Token Defendant

Last Wednesday, Spanish police arrested Ante Gotovina, a former Croatian general accused of war crimes, at a hotel in the Canary Islands. He was soon remanded to the custody of the Hague Inquisition, where he pleaded not guilty on Monday. Official Zagreb welcomed the arrest, but the public opinion in Croatia remained sympathetic toward the general, and tens of thousands of Gotovina supporters held protest rallies this past weekend.

With Gotovina’s capture, the Empire lost a good deal of leverage over Croatia. It was, however, a booster to the foundering Inquisition, whose main effort to construct a narrative of the 1990s Balkans wars, with Serbs as the chief culprits, has been frustrated both by the Milosevic trial and the inability to capture the leaders of Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Sure enough, following Gotovina’s arrest, Empire’s agents have redoubled their efforts to catch the two.

"Hero, Not Criminal"

Gotovina’s capture was greeted with a mix of relief and indignation by official Zagreb. A sword of Damocles the Inquisition had been dangling above their heads with respect to Croatia’s EU negotiations was thus removed, but more importantly, Zagreb’s consistent denials that Gotovina was hiding in Croatia proved to be true.

Many Croats, however, consider Gotovina a hero, not a criminal. Gotovina’s supporters organized protest rallies this weekend, ranging from several hundred in Zagreb and Croat-inhabited portions of Bosnia, to tens of thousands in Split.

From slogans at the rallies as well as media coverage of the general’s arrest, it seems that while many Croats believe Gotovina is being unfairly singled out for punishment, some certainly believe that neither Gotovina nor the troops under his command actually did anything wrong.

The Inquisition officially charges Gotovina with command responsibility in the murder of some 150 civilians, wanton destruction of property, and the organized persecution of hundreds of thousands of Serbs driven from Croatia in the summer of 1995. This last fact is crucial to the understanding of Croatian sentiment in Gotovina’s case. As a French news report put it,

"Serbs revile Gotovina for his part in Operation Storm in 1995 in which almost the entire Croatian Serb population was displaced, but some nationalists in Croatia believe that without it modern Croatia would not exist in its present form."

Misplaced Anxiety

Those anxious about preserving a Serb-free Croatia have little reason to fear the Inquisition, though. It is as much an instrument of the Empire as the Croatian army was in the summer of 1995, a "junkyard dog" aimed at the recalcitrant Serbs.

Two days after Gotovina’s arrest, the following commentary by Charles Krauthammer appeared in the Washington Post:

"War crimes trials are, above all and always, for educational purposes. This one was for the world to see and experience and recoil from the catalogue of Saddam’s crimes, and thus demonstrate the justice of a war that stripped this man and his gang of their monstrous and murderous power."

Krauthammer was bemoaning the fact that Saddam Hussein has successfully turned this display of Imperial self-righteousness into a mockery, much as Slobodan Milosevic has done at The Hague. But even though Krauthammer had once written bitterly about the Croat ethnic cleansing of Serbs, there is little doubt which war he considers just: the American-led intervention against Serbia and Milosevic, of which Gotovina’s rampage through Krajina was an integral part.

The purpose of the Hague Inquisition is to provide a faux "judicial" seal on the official propaganda about the Yugoslav wars, according to which the Serbs in general, and Slobodan Milosevic in particular, were aggressors and genocidal criminals. Any Croats, Muslims, or Albanians it persecutes along the way are tokens intended to demonstrate the Inquisition’s "fairness" and "impartiality."


Last month, the Inquisition acquitted Sefer Halilovic, the first commander of Alija Izetbegovic’s Muslim militia and the "Army of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina," claiming that the prosecutors have "failed to prove that he was in charge of troops" who killed Croat civilians in 1993.

This begs the obvious question of who exactly was in control of these troops, if not the highest-ranking officer in the Muslim military – Izetbegovic himself, perhaps, conveniently deceased? Furthermore, since when do the prosecutors of the ICTY have to prove anything, let alone beyond reasonable doubt? Haven’t scores of people been "convicted" and imprisoned on mere assertions already?

Halilovic’s release was hailed by the Bosnian Muslim leaders, who saw it as validation of their claim that Muslim forces had not committed atrocities. Haris Silajdzic, wartime foreign minister and author of much of the war propaganda, apparently said the "Halilovic verdict proved that there was no civil war in Bosnia, but an aggression in which Muslims were victims and others aggressors."

Similar validation of Official Truth came two weeks later, at the end of November, when two KLA leaders – Fatmir Limaj and Isak Musliu – were acquitted by the same "court." The involvement of Limaj and Musliu in the imprisonment and torture of civilians was "not proven beyond reasonable doubt," ruled the Inquisitors.

Could that failure have something to do with KLA’s systematic intimidation of anyone who might testify against its leaders, up to the point of murder? And again, since when does the Inquisition require any evidence at all, much less beyond reasonable doubt? What "evidence" it has produced in the Milosevic case would have been thrown out of even the most incompetent American court on grounds of sheer preposterousness.

But the Limaj and Musliu acquittals served as an opportunity for Ibrahim Rugova, the "president of Kosovo," to claim they proved "the righteousness of the war for liberation and independence" of Albanians (AP).

And in case anyone has forgotten, the Inquisition not only released, but almost allowed Ramush Haradinaj, former KLA leader turned "prime minister" of occupied Kosovo, to resume his political career, despite his war-crimes indictment.

The Politics of Justice

Even if it did not exhibit such extraordinary hypocrisy in its conduct; even if its rules and regulations were not entirely arbitrary and subject to change during the "trials" in violation of every form of Western jurisprudence; even if it did not indict and acquit people based on their ethnicity and in the service of political objectives of governments that pay its employees’ substantial salaries, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia would still be a political institution posturing as a court.

Given the ICTY’s record in manufacturing political indictments and rendering political verdicts, what happens with Ante Gotovina will depend entirely on Empire’s political designs on Zagreb. But whether he has to spend years in prison or gets to go home to his family, the ethnically cleansed state of Croatia he helped create will not be brought into question. For remember, that was a "just" war of the benevolent hegemon, in which the evil Serbs got what they deserved. Everyone, from the United States government and the ICTY to the news media, says so. And they would not lie, would they?


Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.