“Genocide” duel between Croatia and Serbia
Croatia and Serbia have taken each other to court on accusations of genocide. Zagreb and Belgrade are waiting with all their strength for the outcome of this tough camp battle. The result of this duel can have ramifications not just for Balkan history but also on a global scale.
In the Balkans, the cannons have left their place to files, and generals to legal experts. The states have hung their camouflages in the wardrobe and donned suits instead. Now they continue their warfare in the courtroom. The tension that increased with Croatia’s recognition of Kosovo’s independence has led to reciprocal genocide lawsuits and demonstrates that a new breaking point in Balkan history is around the corner.
The first move came from Croatia
The move in this matter came from Croatia. On 17 November 2008, the UN’s court in The Hague decided with the approval of 17 judges to consider Croatia’s 1999 application. The court chief, Rosalyn Higgins, rejected Serbia’s protests. Croatia accuses Serbia, as successor state to the former Yugoslavia, of genocide waged against the Croats during Croatia’s independence war. If Croatia, as it plans, succeeds in gaining EU accession in 2009 or 2010, it will gain a significant advantage against Serbia, who begins accession talks after it.
Massacre or genocide?
Following Croatia’s declaration of independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on 25 June 1991, gangs from the Yugoslav People’s Army began to send those who were not Serbs on forced migration. These incidents took place particularly in regions within Croatia, and civilians were harmed. The Serbian army took control of one-third of Croatia within a few months and thousands of civilian Croats lost their lives. In Kijevo, near Knin in Croatia, there was ethnic cleansing. According to Zagreb, there were 14,000 dead and 55,000 wounded, and 5902 villages and towns were destroyed, which it says constitutes genocide.
Serbia rejects the accusations
Belgrade claims that the events of this time were not genocide. The Serbian authorities believe that certain crimes were committed, but that these were never genocide. During the Croat independence war, the Serbs in Croatia – supported by their central government – had force-marched the Croat populace in the regions where they were strong. Belgrade does not deny the events, but does not find the genocide definition fitting. It is not clear that this situation could indict Serbia on genocide charges.
Serbia’s trump cards
Belgrade does feel itself helpless in front of Croatia’s move, and there are a number of reasons for this. First of all, the court’s decision on Bosnia-Herzegovina is a precedent. Also, the reality that there were victims and suspects on both sides makes it difficult to describe the events of that period as genocide. And one of Belgrade’s strongest arguments is that no-one has gone to court on this matter thus far.
According to Belgrade, had there been a genocide, there would have been applications to the court in The Hague that considers matters regarding the former Yugoslavia. Another argument for the Serbian side is that it was not an UN member at the time, and thus did not have the obligation to follow its laws.
Bosnia-Herzegovina had previously accused Serbia of genocide, but without result. The court found that Belgrade “could not be sentenced for the crimes commented by Serbian militia”. The International Court had, on the Bosnia-Herzegovina matter, described the killing of 8000 civilians in Srebrenica as genocide, but that the concentration camps established by Serbia in 1992 were not. It decided in 2007 that Belgrade could not be held responsible for the Serbian militias’ crimes and rejected the UN War Crimes Tribunal document that indicted Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.
Eye for an eye, case for a case
Following the International Court’s acceptance of Croatia’s application, Serbia too took action and accused Croatia of genocide. Having offered Croatia reconciliation and peace, but not received a response, Serbia decided to retaliate. Lawyers in Belgrade are preparing cases, and Croatia-Serbia relations have reached their toughest level yet. Serbian foreign minister Vuk Jeremic’s “clear” statements towards Croatia demonstrate that Belgrade wants to have Croatia sentenced for its crimes in the 1990s. Serbia is taking the matter a step further by indicting Croatia for its crimes in World War Two.
World War Two and Croatia
From Serbia’s point of view, accusations relating to the Second World War bear an importance of their own. Four days after Germany attacked the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the Wehrmacht reached Zagreb. It was 10 April 1941. Croatia fell under German influence and Ante Pavelic was installed as head of the independent Croatia state. Pavelic formed a fascist regime where Jews, Serbs, Gypsies and opponents were systematically killed. In May 1941, Pope Pius XII received Pavelic at the Vatican. This was a time when 750,000 Orthodox Serbs, 60,000 Jews and 26,000 Gypsies were killed, and 240,000 people were forced to adopt Catholicism.
According to Vladimir Ddjer’s book “The Yugoslav Auschwitz: Jasenovac and the Vatican”, Franciscan and Catholic bishops worked in the concentration camps. These people were smuggled after the war to Argentina. It is also claimed that Pavelic gave the 200 million Swiss Francs he took from the hands of Jews, Gypsies and Serbs directly to the Vatican. That is what documents reached and revealed by the German Willi Korte and American Mark Masurovsky appear to reveal.
Years later another pope, John Paul II beatified Cardinal Alojz Stepinac, who formed the Vatican-Pavelic bond in 1941. The Jasenovac concentration camp, referred to as the “Croat Auschwitz`, was the scene of a communist uprising against the Ustasha regime. The partisan movement led by such names as Josip Broz Tito and Andrija Hebrang in 1942 and 1943 was ultimately successful. Croatia claims no connection with the state and regime of that time. And yet the Serbian flag, national anthem, ranks, signs, administrators and other measurements insist that today’s Croatia is a continuation of that state.
Operation Thunder (Oluja)
Serbia’s case will contain Operation Thunder (Oluja) more than any other. The Serbs accuse the Croats of war crimes while invading the areas known as “Kranija” and populated largely by Serbs in August 1995. Operation Thunder is accepted as one of the most comprehensive operations of the former Yugoslavia in every way possible. By using Zagreb’s advantage in international balances, the Croat police and military is said to have attacked Krajina and driven 250,000 Serbs from Croatia to Serbia.
Balkan peace is delayed
From this process, it is the attempts to form stability in the Balkans that will see most harm. In the Balkan peninsula, under the effect of many ethnic conflicts and border disputes, traumas from the near and distant past continue to determine current affairs. EU membership, the target of accession, the European perspective and a common future neighbouring the EU have not provoked enough interest. The court war between Croatia and Serbia will last many long years. And, whatever the outcome, the court’s decision will be a precedent for similar other cases.
What is genocide?
According to thehe United Nations Organisation’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948, for an act to be considered genocide it must be “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”: According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, genocide is defined by Article 6. Under this article genocide is “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.