Gotovina busted; riots in Croatia

Here’s some good news for humanity, but a real no-win for the neo-Ustashe and neo-Chetniks who plague this blog. The neo-Ustashe will be aghast that the proud defender of an ethnically-pure Croatia has been subjected to this indignity—or, the more hypocritical ones will be chagrined by the riots in their civilized, Euro-ready Croatia. The neo-Chetniks, in turn, will have still less plausibility to harp on their long-nourished gripe that the world is picking on the Serbs and giving the Croats a pass. We imagine both varieties of kneejerk extremists will become even more venemous upon being backed into a corner like this. Bring it on! Let the abuse hurl forth! From the Financial Mirror, Dec. 9:

Former Croat general Ante Gotovina, wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), was arrested in Spain yesterday, sparking riots in Zagreb among his nationalists supporters.

Croatian riot police used force and arrested several people.

Hundreds of demonstrators earlier threw stones at the building housing the Croatian government, which assisted in the arrest of general Ante Gotovina a day earlier in Spain.

Several people were reported injured and arrested when they resisted police. An increased presence of police in full riot gear was still visible late Thursday on the streets of Zagreb.

Gotovina, a former French legionnaire and mercenary, retired from the Croatian army in 2000 after earning a hero’s status in the 1991- 95 war for Croatia’s independence from Yugoslavia.

He became a fugitive a year later when the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) indicted in the deaths of Serb civilians and other atrocities committed by his troops.

The announcement of Gotovina’s arrest was made earlier Thursday in Belgrade by ICTY chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte. She expressed gratitude to Croatian authorities for contributing to his arrest on the Canary Islands.

Croatia’s EU accession talks were suspended in March 2005 because the government was judged not to have done enough to track the wanted man. However, in a backroom deal in October, Croatia started accession negotiations in return for Austria’s agreement to allow Turkey to start talks.

Prime Mininster Ivo Sanader said that the arrest affirmed Croatia’s policies, and that all those indicted by the ICTY must face justice. The Croatian Interior Ministry so far refused to confirm that it had helped track down Gotovina or what aid was provided.

Despite a decade of peace, the indictment and years in hiding, Gotovina, aged 50, who looked well and fit when he was arrested, remains one of the most popular figures in Croatia. Following his arrest, several veterans organizations from the 1991-95 war said that they would hold protests, expected to peak Sunday.

See our last posts on Croatia and the still-simmering Balkan crisis.

  1. Neo-Ustashe mobilize for Gotovina

    AFP, Dec. 11:

    THOUSANDS of people protested overnight in the Croatian coastal town of Zadar to express their anger over the jailing of war crimes suspect Ante Gotovina at the UN court at The Hague.

    The protests came after a night of unrest in which police made more
    than a dozen arrests and angry demonstrators set fire to cars and
    displayed the insignia of Croatia’s World War II pro-Nazi Ustasha

    The 50-year-old former general was arrested in Spain on Wednesday
    after four years on the run. He was detained at the International
    Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague on Saturday pending the start of his trial.

    Gotovina, who was born near Zadar, is considered a hero by many in
    Croatia for repelling Serb forces toward the end of the country’s
    1991-1995 inter-ethnic war of independence from Yugoslavia.

    “We demand the government provide general Gotovina and his lawyers all documents (needed for his defence). We also demand that general Gotovina be tried in his country,” protest organizer Ante Martinac told a crowd waving Croatian flags and portraits of Gotovina in Zadar’s central square.

    Gotovina has been presented with the keys to the city and until
    recently his portrait hung over the main gate in its medieval walls.

    More protests are expected Sunday after a veterans’ association
    called a demonstration in the southern coastal town of Split, saying
    some 100,000 people would attend.

    An association of some 20 mostly retired generals has backed the gathering.

    “We call all Croatian patriots, all honest Croatians, to be in Split
    tomorrow at noon to voice support to Gotovina,” retired general Ljubo Cesic-Rojs told journalists.

    Another retired general, Markica Rebic, stressed however that the
    protests should not be hijacked by “extremists”.

    “We want to condemn in advance any attempt to use tomorrow’s
    gathering for any extremist or political goals,” he said.

    On Friday some 200 high-school pupils chanted insults against the
    authorities in a protest in Zadar. Some had the insignia of Croatia’s
    World War II Ustasha fascist regime, sang Ustasha songs and used the Nazi salute.

    They also burned the flag of the European Union, which had held up
    talks on Croatia’s membership due to Zagreb’s failure to arrest the

    Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said he understood that Gotovina’s arrest
    was an emotional issue but called for people to “show common sense
    and trust the government”.

    Gotovina is accused of failing to prevent the massacre of about 150
    ethnic Serb civilians during a Croatian offensive to retake the
    rebel-held Krajina region in August 1995.

    The indictment says his troops went on a rampage of looting and
    destruction in Serb-held areas. The war claimed 20,000 lives with
    rebel Serbs occupying one-third of the country at one stage.

    Pro-Gotovina rallies were also announced for Sunday in neighboring
    Bosnia, in areas with a majority ethnic Croat population.

    Meanwhile, the foreign ministry said that Gotovina asked local media
    not to disturb his family.

    See our last post on Ante Gotovina.

  2. Wish we had more information on this
    From the BBC profile of Gotovina:

    Born on 12 October 1955 near Zadar, on Croatia’s Adriatic coast, Ante Gotovina left Tito’s communist Yugoslavia at the age of 16.

    He spent time on a merchant ship before joining the French Foreign Legion, where he built a reputation as a fearsome soldier with a taste for beautiful women.

    He fought in Chad and spent much of the 1980s in Latin America, notably Guatemala, where he trained paramilitaries fighting that country’s vicious civil war.

    Service in Paraguay, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil followed, and he eventually won French citizenship.

    Italy’s La Reppublica informs us that he met his future wife Ximena when he was in Colombia to oversee the abduction, assassination and torture of her countrymen. (Why are women attracted by this sort of thing?)

    This contract work in Latin America almost necessarily implies links to the CIA. Which throws an ironic light on the $5 million US State Department reward offered for information leading to Gotovina’s capture.

    Even more ironic (and little remembered) is that 1995’s Operation Storm, which Gotovina is now facing charges in connection with, was given a “green light” (including CIA technical assistance and oversight) by the Clinton administration (as recalled by Ivo Pukanic in the Croatian weekly Nacional May 24, 2005).

    As we noted in our primer War at the Crossroads: An Historical Guide Through the Balkan Labyrinth:

    In August [1995], Croatia invaded the Krajina, meeting little resistance. Serbia did nothing to intervene, leading to further theories of a Tudjman-Milosevic carve-up deal. A US plane based on a carrier off Dalmatia’s coast launched strikes on the Serbs’ missile defense system in the Krajina just before Tudjman ordered in his troops. The Croatian forces were also trained by US military advisors for the Krajina invasion–technically not a violation of the arms embargo, which did not cover military instruction. 200,000 Serbs fled the Krajina in a massive exodus to Serb-held Bosnia and Serbia, and Croatian troops burnt and ransacked their houses behind them.