Friday, April 15, 2011

Croatia's Hero Jailed For War Crimes

One of the most popular figures in Croatia, Ante Gotovina, has been jailed for 24 years for war crimes carried out against the Serbs during the end of the Balkan War in 1995. Another man got 18 years, while a third was cleared, following an international trial in The Hague.

The Gotovina case has been a prickly one for successive Croatian governments. As the man who led the Croat Army to a series of victories over the Serbs in the summer of 1995, as the Serbs were themselves under pressure from belated international air strikes, he was and is something of a national hero. But hundreds of Serb civilians died during that campaign, as they were forced by the Croats from the Krajina region, traditionally a Serb enclave (the word Krajina means frontier).

And it's offences relating to that which have landed Gotovina in prison after all these years. But the real reason is much larger. Croatia wants to join the EU, and soon, like its neighbour Slovenia did back in 2004. Failing to finish the unfinished business of the war was a major sticking point preventing that happening.

If it weren't for the prospect of EU membership, Gotovina would surely still be at large. But that carrot has proved too strong for the Croatian government to resist, even if it means temporary unpopularity among many Croat citizens. Perhaps one day, something similar will help the Serbs bring Ratko Mladic and others to justice.

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