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Investigation 23 Dec 13

Croatia: Backing ‘Homeland War’ Generals

Croatia spent more than 28 million euro on the defence of three generals accused of war crimes, while even more money was raised to support them by a private fund.

Josip Ivanovic
BIRN
Zagreb
War veterans celebrate Croatian generals' release in Zagreb. Photo: Beta

In November last year, Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac returned to Zagreb to a rapturous welcome after being acquitted of war crimes by the Hague Tribunal.

Euphoric crowds celebrated in Zagreb’s main square, waving national flags and holding up photos of the generals and banners reading ‘Pride of Croatia’, as patriotic songs blasted out across the city streets.

Many people in Croatia believe that the men’s release, after they were acquitted on appeal, was a triumph for the Zagreb government’s long-term strategy of lavishing funds on their defence.

The state spent a total of 28,145,610 euro on helping generals Gotovina, Markac and Ivan Cermak between 2006 and 2012, according to government figures.

The brief email from the government press office to the H-Alter news website that revealed the amount said the money was spent on “legal representation at the ICTY” for the three men. No other explanation was given, and it is unclear whether the figure includes travel costs for their families or any other expenses.

The amount spent on supporting Bosnian Croat defendants at The Hague who hold dual Bosnian and Croatian citizenship is also unknown, if any money was spent on them at all, which remains unclear.

State spending on Croatian generals' defence

2006: 8,721,608.03 kuna (1,187,421 euro)
2007: 8,599,682,35 kuna (1,174,018 euro)
2008: 43,910,900.06 kuna (5,995,481 euro)
2009: 46,547,594.52 kuna (6,371,146 euro)
2010: 48,304,782.58 kuna (6,540,932 euro)
2011: 28,828,977.27 kuna (3,828,549 euro)
2012: 22,997,633.02 kuna (3,048,063 euro)

TOTAL: 28,145,610 euro
Source: Croatian government. Calculated at exchange rate on final day of each year.

 

But the Croatian government, despite being bound by law to answer public information requests within a maximum of four weeks, has so far failed to respond to BIRN’s further inquiries for full details.

Nevertheless, the sum of more than 28 million euro already puts Croatia well ahead of every other former Yugoslav country when it comes to payments to war crimes defendants at the international court.

Unlike Serbia and Bosnia, Croatia has a more straightforward view of its 1991-95 conflict, which is generally seen in the country as a righteous struggle for independence – the ‘homeland war’, as it is known.

“The defendants had massive support from almost all parliamentary parties and state structures,” said Sven Milekic of the Zagreb-based Youth Initiative for Human Rights. They could also count on “significant support” from the public, he said.

Although the public has never been given the exact details of how much money the state spent, the acquittal has been held up as a political triumph by top politicians and the generals themselves.

On his return to Zagreb, Markac described the verdict as proof that Croatia did not act illegally during wartime.

“I knew there was no joint criminal enterprise, I knew that the Croatian army and police liberated the country in an honourable way,” he told the cheering crowds in the capital, adding that “everyone now can say that Croatian liberation was [achieved] without a stain”.

“The defendants had massive support from almost all parliamentary parties and state structures.”

Sven Milekic, Youth Initiative for Human Rights
 

The current centre-left government admits that war crimes were committed during the 1991-95 conflict, but has also expressed satisfaction about the generals’ acquittal – although without making any comment about the money spent on attempting to ensure this.

“Gotovina and Markac are obviously innocent, but that doesn’t mean that the war wasn’t bloody, that mistakes were not made,” Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said after their return.

The funding of the generals’ defence was not the only support they received while on trial in The Hague.

The Foundation for the Truth About the Croatian Homeland War was set up in 2006 by Gotovina’s wife Dunja Zloic Gotovina along with brigadier Zeljko Hucic and the mayor of the Pakostane municipality, Milivoj Kurtov, in order to help ensure “quality legal defence to General Ante Gotovina and other Croatian indictees at the ICTY”, according to its website.

It also aimed to carry out “activities that contribute to the preservation and spreading the truth about the Homeland War” and “academic research into the Homeland War as legitimate resistance to the aggression against the Republic of Croatia”.

The Foundation collected 1.1 million euro in its first year alone, according to Danijel Kotlar, a retired army officer and official with the right-wing Croatian Party of Rights in Zadar, who helped promote the initiative.

“The money collected by the Foundation is spent mainly on numerous tasks, such as translating and digitising around 50,000 documents needed for the legal defence of the generals,” Kotlar told the Dalje.com news website in May 2007.

The money was raised through auctions, dinners, concerts, exhibitions and other kinds of fund raising events. But how much was amassed in total or how it was actually spent has not been made public.

“[The former Croatian government believed that] the noble cause of the creation of the national state justifies any means.”

Zoran Pusic, Civic Committee for Human Rights

 

It has also been widely reported that the Croatian authorities spent a significant amount of money on engaging well-known US lobbying company Patton Boggs in an attempt to sway the verdict when Gotovina and Markac staged their ultimately successful appeal against their initial conviction.

“Patton Boggs has inked a $60K[$60,000]-a-month pact with Croatia to address issues arising from the April [2011] decision… that convicted two retired Croatian generals of war crimes against ethnic Serbs,” public relations and marketing news agency O’Dwyers reported in August 2011.

Patton Boggs’ website confirms that the company worked “on behalf of the Republic of Croatia before Appellate Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia in Prosecutor v. Ante Gotovina Case” [sic].

However it is unclear how long the PR firm worked for the Zagreb authorities and what was the total cost of its services. Patton Boggs did not respond to BIRN’s requests for information.

The massive financial aid provided to the indictees was a “logical” move for the country’s former right-wing government that came to power in the 1990s, said Zoran Pusic, director of the Civic Committee for Human Rights in Zagreb.

The authorities at the time wanted to reduce the number of Serbs in Croatia and believed that “the noble cause of the creation of the national state justifies any means”, Pusic claimed.

“Providing financial and media support to ‘our guys’ who were ‘a little too radical’ in achieving those goals is a logical consequence,” he said.

Dragan Pjevac, whose 68-year-old mother was shot dead and mutilated during the conflict in 1993, expressed cynicism about the Croatian government’s motives in paying for the generals’ defence costs.

Pjevac’s mother died in the village of Citluk, one of scores of Serbs killed when Croatian forces attacked the ‘Medak Pocket’ area, which at the time was under Serb control. The two senior officers accused of being responsible for war crimes committed there were later acquitted in Zagreb.

He said the authorities had attempted to whitewash their international image by funding the Hague indictees.

“Perhaps, according to their short-sighted logic, it is more profitable to defend a crime,” he said, accusing the authorities of spending much more on military leaders than on compensation for those who suffered

Those who were slaughtered, interned or abused were being erased from the officially-sanctioned image of a righteous and successful ‘homeland war’, he said.

“Where are the victims? All the victims? Where are the reparations for them?” he demanded.

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