Simo Dubajić, retired Lt. Colonel of Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), died in Belgrade on Wednesday, aged 86. His death has probably ended one of the longest sought criminal proceedings in recent Croatian history. In March, Dubajić became target of Croatian State Attorney's Office due to his role in 1945 massacres in Kočevski Rog.
Kočevski Rog, an area in Slovenia, is site where at least 13000 Axis POWs (most of them belonging to forces of Independent State of Croatia) were executed by victorious Yugoslav Partisans, after being handed over by British near Bleiburg in Austria in May 1945, few days after Axis forces capitulation. Killings in Kočevski Rog is just one part of the campaign called Bleiburg Massacre which killed around 55000 people, making it into one of the more spectacular Allied war crimes of Second World War.
Bleiburg was taboo in Tito's Yugoslavia, only to become one of the topics most talked about after the break-up of the federation. This was especially evident in Croatia, where it became part of nationalist mythology and its victims became celebrated martyrs. The massacre also became formidable propaganda weapon against Social Democratic Party, successor of Communist Party of Croatia, political entity directly or indirectly associated with Partisans who took part in it.
However, despite all the talk about Bleiburg after 1990, there were very few attempts by Croatian authorities to prosecute those responsible. There are many speculations about resons for such reluctance, most of them based on the fact that Franjo Tuđman was Partisan in 1945 and, directly or indirectly, associated with massacres. Furthermore, Tuđman's idea of National Reconciliation - one of the basis of his party's ideology and one of pre-conditions for successful drive towards Croatian independence and victory in Patriotic War - would be compromised if there was widespread prosecution of Partisans. Since most of the suspects are in mid 80s, the prosecutions and trials could be as uncathartic and pathetic as 1986 trial Communist Croatia had against Andrija Artuković in Zagreb.
Lack of Partisan prosecutions in last 18 years was explained with the alleged non-participation of Croatian Partisan units in the massacres. Atrocities were instead committed by ethnic Serbs in Partisans and motivated by their "inherent and centuries old hatred of everything Croatian".
Dubajić, who is the only Partisan to actually become part of investigation, fits such description perfectly. In 1990, like some of his former comrades, he passionately embraced the cause of Serbian nationalism and even took part in organising paramilitary formation of Republic of Srpska Krajina.
Another, even more important reason why Dubajić was perfect is the fact that he is the only Partisan to actually admit killings and his role in it. In 1990 he gave interview to Svet, Belgrade weekly, in which he bragged about murdering "30000 Ustashas".
In 2006 Dubajić wrote a book in which he tried to give full account of his crimes, expressing regret for his actions. Most importantly, he named names and described how the killings in Kočevski rog were committed by members of 11th Dalmatian Brigade, which was manned mostly by ethnic Croats. Those claims - if taken seriously - could shatter the myth of Croatian Partisans being "clean" and serve as excellent propaganda fodder for Croatian right wing which became stronger during last two years of Sanader's mandate.
However, with Dubajić conveniently dead, it seems that there would be very little chance of Partisan prosecutions going any further. Perhaps that was the plan all along. Dubajić's death should mark the final curtain for Second World War in this part of the world. Or, at least, that is what any sensible person should hope for.
Unfortunately, experiences with Serbia and Battle of Kosovo show that there aren't historical traumas distant enough for contemporary politicians not to use them in order to create new ones.