Judgment for the Croatian generals (2)

In its judgment in the case of generals Gotovina, Cermak and Markac, the Trial Chamber decided there existed a joint criminal enterprise not only on the basis of their analysis of the Brioni meeting transcripts. The judges took into account several other indicators, such as the attitude displayed by President Tudjman and the Croatian state leadership towards the Serb minority and the question of their return after Operation Storm

Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak i Mladen Markac in the courtroomAnte Gotovina, Ivan Cermak i Mladen Markac in the courtroom

In addition to a detailed analysis of the transcripts of the Brioni meeting of 31 July 1995, the judges’ conclusion about the existence of a joint criminal enterprise to permanently and forcibly expel Serbs from Krajina in the summer of 1995 was based on the evidence about the attitudes and policies pursued by Croatian state leadership towards the Serb minority and the return of the refugees after Operation Storm. The judges conclude that in that respect president Tudjman played a ‘central role’, just as he was the key figure in the joint criminal enterprise.

The Trial Chamber started with the evidence of prosecution witness Peter Galbraith, former US ambassador in Zagreb. As Galbraith said, the Croatian president advocated ‘a homogenous Croatia’ and considered Serbs and Muslims as a part of a different civilization. Tudjman believed in the idea of a ‘Greater Croatia’ and considered Serbs to be ‘too numerous and a strategic threat to the state’, Galbraith testified. The US ambassador said that Tudjman denied the right of the Serb refugees to return after Operation Storm. According to a US Embassy cable dated 11 December 1995, the Croatian president told a US congressman at a meeting ‘it would be impossible for the Serbs to return to the place where their families lived for centuries’. According to a US Embassy cable of 31 August 1995, the public announcement guaranteeing human rights to Serbs was for propaganda purposes only, while the actual goal was to ‘ethnically cleanse’ the Krajina to make room for 1,000,000 Croats who were to settle in the area.

‘Tudjman’s policy was Croatia’s policy’, Galbraith said, and other political leaders shared Tudjman’s views. Many of them testified for the defense, like Mate Granic, Miomir Zuzul, Nadan Vidosevic or Vesna Skare Ozbolt. They contested Galbraith’s claims, arguing that there was no plan to expel Serbs and that everybody regardless of their ethnicity was allowed to return. At the same time, they didn’t deny that President Tudjman was the key figure of the then Croatian leadership.

The Trial Chamber in its judgment focused in particular on the analysis of Tudjman’s statements at rallies and in the media. In his address at a rally in Knin on 26 August 1995, Tudjman said, ‘never again it will go back to what was before, when they spread cancer which has been destroying Croatian national being in the middle of Croatia and didn’t allow Croatian people to be truly alone on it’s [sic] own...they were gone in few days [...], they didn't even have time to collect their rotten money and dirty underwear'. Similarly, on 5 August 1995 Tudjman addressed the troops in Knin and said, '... “[w]e have returned Zvonimir’s Croatian town [Knin] to the fold of its motherland, Croatia, as pure as it was in [King] Zvonimir’s time'.

The Trial Chamber noted it was aware that the statements were given at the time of ‘high level of hostilities’, adding that political statements could sometimes serve ‘the purpose of gaining confidence of the population in the war efforts and mobilizing the military forces'. The judges, nevertheless, insisted that Tudjman's statements must not be seen only through that prism: they do have 'some, although limited, importance' in the assessment of Tudjman’s policy toward the Serb minority in Croatia.

On the other hand, the judges note that the attitudes expressed at various meetings of the state leadership were relevant in a different way from the public statements, because they were not weighed down with the need to curry favor with the public. The judgment lists a series of Tudjman’s meetings with his closes associates at which they discussed ways to prevent the Serbs from returning to Krajina, and the need to prevent further looting and arson of abandoned houses because the area was to be resettled by Croats.

At the meeting of 22 August 1995, the judgment notes, deputy prime minister Jure Radic said that parts of Krajina should ‘be urgently colonized with Croats' and that 'we should by no means let more that [sic] 10 per cent of Serbs be here ever again'. Tudjman replied 'Not even 10 percent'. Radic also talks about 'a beautiful picture to see people from Varazdin and Split entering the [sic] Knin together. On the one wall in Kupres, the message “Cedo [Chetnik], you will not come back” can be seen'. A day later, when informed at a meeting of the state leadership about an attempt by some Serbs to enter into Croatia from Hungary and return to their houses, Tudjman insisted that 'they should simply be told that they could not enter’ adding that 'If we let 204 persons come here, tomorrow you would have 1,204 and in ten days 12,000'. 'Nothing for now', the president was clear.

At several meetings in August and September 1995, it was emphasized that the houses in Krajina were now in Croatia’s hands and further looting and arson should be prevented. The judgment concludes that high-ranking Croatian officials were well aware of the widespread destruction of Serb private property. They requested it to stop only because they considered it to have become ‘Croatian property needed for the return of Croats’ to Krajina.

On the basis of those quotes, the Trial Chamber found that ‘one of the aspects’ of the policy pursued by Tudjman and the Croatian state leadership was to ‘encourage Croats to return and settle in Krajina in abandoned Serb houses’. At the same time, the rate of return of the Serbs was to be ‘limited to a minimum’ according to the Croatian regime, the judges concluded.