Marko Rakar, one of Croatia's best known political bloggers, (in)famous as one of current president's campaign managers, is arrested by Croatian police. So far, nobody knows why this happened, but most speculations point towards the yesterday's Internet leaking of controversial Patriotic War veterans list.
Yesterday's incident, during which Slovenian police arrested 59-year Croatian armed with five hand grenades at first looks just like an incident. An isolated incident, work of a troubled, disturbed, war-wounded mind whose alleged intentions - blowing up Slovenian prime minister Borut Pahor - should be described as nothing more than madness.
Media from both sides of the border are mostly trying to calm things down. Slovenia has economic interests in Croatia, as well as plenty of tourists on Croatian beaches. Croatia would also be ill-served by Slovenian-Croatian conflict escalating into spillage of blood.
Yet, this incident was something that simply waited to happen. You can't simply inflame chauvinism by blaming Slovenian neighbours for all the ills that have struck Croatia - including resignation of prime minister Ivo Sanader - and expect such chauvinism to stay in the realms of usually harmless ethnic jokes. Push anti-Slovenian line hard enough and there would be madmen ready to "solve" that problem with the same methods political problems were solved in 1990s.
Thankfully, no blood was spilled. But it could have been, and very easily. Josip Zagajski (the alleged terrorist in question) tried to set hand grenades off while being apprehended. If he died in subsequent explosion, he could have provided anti-Slovenian chauvinists with a martyr figure. If Slovenian policeman or policemen died, anti-Croatian chauvinists from the other side of the border would have new martyrs, while Croatia would be branded as a nation of lunatic terrorists, never worthy of EU entry.
This incident could be something of a waking call for politicians, or at least those more sensible on the both sides of the border. What looks like a petty little border dispute - or one of many topics in EU internal debates over enlargments - could easily escalate into something unimaginable. Just as some seemingly petty constitutional squabbles of late 1980s ended with mass graves being dug around Srebrenica.
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.
Anyone expecting Glavaš coming behind bars after today's war crimes verdict got another chapter in what appears longest and most embarrasing soap opera in recent Croatian political history. Despite the verdict, Glavaš could get in jail only if he chose to, since his immunity was still valid. Sabor, despite previous speculations, chose not to strip him from his immunity until Mandate & Immunity Committee meets next week. In the mean time, Croatian police couldn't arrest Glavaš nor prevent him from leaving Croatian soil.
The latest information tells that Glavaš found sanctuary in Bosnia-Herzegovina where he allegedly has citizenship. Bosnia-Herzegovina can't extradite its citizens, just like Croatia, and this was abused by many celebrity criminals from both sides of the border. HRT quotes sources that saw Glavaš publicly drinking coffee in Tomislavgrad.
In the meantime, HDSSB issued video-message by Glavaš in which he explains that he was arrested twice and that he won't be arrested for the third time. So, Croatia got itself a remake of a Gotovina Saga, while today's events - whatever you may think about Glavaš's guilt of innocence - represent utter mockery of Croatian justice system and failure of Croatia as a state.
Croatia, together with Albania, has joined NATO today. Sanader and the rest of Croatian political establishment are, predictably, trying to spin this as "grand achievement" and great day. The public in general shows less enthusiasm - mostly due to being more preoccupied with economic woes.
The establishment and media are also taking into account increased public sensitivity towards lavish state spending. Grand spectacle and razmatasm in order to show Croatia on the side of West, Democracy and Capitalism - which characterised George W. Bush's visit to Zagreb only one year ago - doesn't seem appropriate now, when salaries are being cut,
Most importantly, accession to NATO was long expected so this couldn't really look like great political achievement. On the other hand, reminding public about NATO accession success risks reminding them to the increasingly painful and embarassing failure in accession process towards EU.
Another reason why this day isn't likely to enter history books is in the manner Croatia joined NATO. While opinion polls showed brief majority of Croatians to support NATO membership, Sanader's government decided not to risk with referendum. The decision was made in 2007. SDP, although supportive of membership, supported referendum, as well as HSS - party which now constitutes Sanader's majority. However, all calls for referendum were silenced after November elections. Group of anti-war activists trying to force referendum via petitions failed miserably, not being able to find necessary number of signatures.
Therefore, Croatia joined this military alliance without proper democratic legitimacy. Of all members of Sabor only one - Dragutin Lesar (independent, formerly HNS) - voted against, mostly due to procedural reasons.
Is Lesar likely to become Stjepan Radić of 21st Century, warning Croatia not to join NATO "like geese in the fog" (or in the same way first Yugoslavia was joined in 1918)? So far, it doesn't look that way.
However, it is disturbing to think about World War 3 being more likely now than it was five or ten years ago, and Croatia now being certain to fully participate if or when such conflict occurs.
News about alleged arrest of Ratko Mladić in Kenya wasn't the most shining chapter in recent history of Croatian journalism. The brief ecstasy created by the thought of Mladić finally getting behind bars was understandably followed by huge disappointment. Even more so when it turned out that the alleged Bosnian Serb war criminal happened to be Igor Majeski, Croatian expatriate who came to live in Kenya years before the start of late unpleasantness in former Yugoslavia.
Croatian media, of course, couldn't miss opportunity for outbursts of outrage. After touching stories about Majeski having to spend unpleasant hours in Third World jail some commentators accused Kenyan police of gross incompetence. Majeski doesn't happen to look like Mladić at all, so how could those African Keystone cops mistake innocent Croat for the worst war criminal in recent memory? (One blogger tries to explain the mistake with "cultural facial recognition patterns").
Of course, in all that outrage it was conveniently forgotten that Kenyan neighbourhood had its share of "unplesantness" in past years, as well as various characters whose deeds in terms of bodycount and cruelty dwarf everything Bosnian Serbs did. Needless to say, many Croatians couldn't show Sierra Leone, Rwanda or Congo on world map and it is even bigger stretch of hope that they could know the names of people responsible for those horrors. If any of them happens to walk in busy Zagreb or Dubrovnik street, I doubt that any passeby would call police.
Dispute between Croatia and Slovenia is, as times go by, getting nastier and nastier. Relations between two nations, who were, until very recently, supposed to be natural allies, have sunk to levels that could easily compare to relations between Croatia and Serbia in early 1990s.
Probably nothing shows how situation deteriorated than this column by eminent Croatian journalist Boris Dežulović. Former member of famous Feral Tribune trio and hardly a nationalist, Dežulović can't avoid being disturbed with similarities between today's Slovenia and Serbia under Milošević.
If someone enlightened like Dežulović comes to such conclusions, it is easy to imagine how the escalating conflict would look to the great unwashed masses on the southern side of Croatian-Slovenian border. Especially with combination of economic crisis and ruling party willing to embrace atavistic chauvinism in order to cling to power.
Media in the region report that Halid Bešlić, popular Bosnian folk singer, was gravely injured in car accident in Sarajevo this morning. His condition in unclear - some claim that his injuries aren't life-threatening, while other media cite local doctors who say "that they can't speculate about that". In any case, what is known is that he suffered terrible facial injuries, and that the surgeons are fighting to save one of his eyes. Some speculate (including the Nacional article in the link), that it is yet unknown whether he could sing ever again, because his tongue was also gravely injured.
All I can say is to repeat the phrase I encountered on some Croatian forums - "Halide, drži se", or "Halid, hang on". This part of the world had its share of musician-related tragedies lately.
Croatia has agreed for Matti Ahtissari to head special mediation in border dispute with Slovenia. His arrival doesn't bode well for Croatian territorial integrity, at least judging by the experiences of Croatia's eastern neighbour.
Of course, small patch of sea and couple of border villages aren't the same as someone's historic heartland, but I can expect inevitable Schadenfreude among the public of Croatian Consolation when Sanader does indeed capitulate towards Slovenian demands.
Yesterday Stipe Mesić said that he would use his presidential prerogatives and revoke all military decorations given to General Vladimir Zagorec. (Whole list of decorations is available here.) Mesić repeated well-established notion of convicted criminals being unworthy of Croatian military honours.
However, Mesić forgot another well-established notion in Croatia - only those persons whose sentences have been upheld by Supreme Court are considered to be convicted criminals. While pending appeals, those persons still enjoy the presumption of innocence and, therefore, can't be deprived of their legal privileges.
Another, more troublesome issue with Mesić's decision is his apparent double standards when dealing with convicted criminals. Namely, there are two Croatian generals who managed to keep their ranks despite being convicted war criminals - Tihomir Blaškić and Mirko Norac. Therefore, in Mesić's worldview simple emblezzment is much more severe crime than butchering innocent women and children.
Faced with criticism from usually dependable suppprters from the left portion of Croatian public, Mesić decided to spin this thing by annoucing that he would take away medals from Blaškić and Norac.
Thankfully, Hague tribunal doesn't seem likely to pass verdict against Ante Gotovina before Mesić term in office expries, thus saving him from some unpleasant decisions in the future.