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Monday, 16 July, 2001, 15:21 GMT 16:21 UK
Croatia's war crimes legacy
Croatia parliamentary session
Ivica Racan's government survived the vote easily
By south-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

The Croatian Prime Minister, Ivica Racan, has won a vote of confidence brought by nationalists opposed to the decision to extradite two Croatian generals to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.


Our commitment to achieving good international standing for Croatia is being undermined in the most fierce manner

Prime Minister
Ivica Racan
After a marathon 16-hour debate on the motion, which ended in the early hours of Monday, Mr Racan's five-party coalition sailed through the vote with the backing of 93 MPs - opposed by only 36.

The vote followed a 10-day political crisis, sparked when the government decided to pursue the two generals charged by the tribunal in sealed indictments.

One, General Rahim Ademi, has said he will surrender to the tribunal voluntarily. The second - who has not been named, but is widely believed to be General Ante Gotovina - remains in hiding.

The government's decision prompted four ministers from the second largest group in the coalition, the Social Liberal Party, to resign.

While the ministers who resigned did not necessarily oppose the government's decision to extradite two Croatian generals indicted by the Hague tribunal, their party leadership did.

But then - following the ministers' resignations - the nationalist party leader, Drazen Budisa, also stepped down from his post.

Drazen Budisa
Drazen Budisa: considered politically destabilising
He had argued strongly against the surrender of the generals to the tribunal but found himself isolated within the Social Liberals - in the end only four out of more than 30 of the party's MPs voted against the government over the war crimes issue.

The coalition government, now in office for 18 months, has been taking a strongly pro-European line - in sharp contrast to the nationalist policies of the previous administration under the late President Franjo Tudjman.

During the parliamentary debate Prime Minister Racan put the argument for co-operating with the Tribunal in stark terms: "Our commitment to achieving good international standing for Croatia is being undermined in the most fierce manner.

"It is undermined by... those who want to turn Croatia from a European, Mediterranean and Central European country to a Balkan dwarf and international outcast."

Strengthened

The row over the extraditions has shaken the Croatian Government but not forced its collapse.


This is not the first time that we have had to defend ourselves against such views

Prime Minister Racan
Instead it may have actually produced a more cohesive coalition by removing the bite from the Social Liberals' nationalist wing.

Mr Budisa was widely regarded as a potentially destabilising factor, and without his influence his party's ministers are now expected to soldier on in the government - at least for the time being.

The reshuffle, prompted by the four ministerial resignations, is not now expected to take place until mid-September.

Problematic relations

Although the government crisis is over, the two extraditions - and possible future indictments - may still create problems for the Croatian authorities.

Ante Gotovina
Gotovina's whereabouts are unknown
Mr Racan has himself objected to the wording of the current indictments from The Hague, saying they suggest that Croatia's 1995 Operation Storm offensive to retake Serb-held parts of the country - known as Oluja - involved a policy of expelling the local Serbs.

"It was a well known fact that the Serb exodus was planned, and that they moved away immediately after the beginning of the operation Oluja. They were directed to do so by their own leadership.

"Naturally, this is not the first time that we have had to defend ourselves against such views in the past 17 months of co-operation with the Hague tribunal and this will probably not be the last time."

Heroes

For many Croats - and not just for the nationalists - the idea that those they regard as the heroes of Croatia's war of liberation could be war criminals, is in itself abhorrent.

For the nationalists and war veterans' organisations, it is a form of sacrilege.

To that extent, the legacy of the Tudjman era is still alive in Croatia today.

General Rahim Ademi
General Ademi will give himself up to The Hague
The veterans' organisations have already warned that they will hold demonstrations and even physically try to prevent individuals who did not wish to go to The Hague from being transferred.

It is another question whether they can attract a large crowd - as they did a few months ago when a Croatian general, Marko Norac, was facing trial at home on war crimes charges.

But even at the time of the Norac case further protests soon fizzled out.

And the general feeling is that for most Croats, co-operation with the Tribunal - and by extension with the West - is far more important than standing up for those they see as their wartime heroes.

Unlike Yugoslavia, Croatia has amended its constitution to allow for the surrender of its citizens.

So Zagreb does not need to take a legally questionable short-cut through the constitutional maze that Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic opted for when he transferred the former Yugoslav leader, Slobodan Milosevic, to The Hague last month.

Mr Djindjic's move came with a price-tag - the collapse of the Yugoslav government. For now, Mr Racan has got off more lightly.

See also:

10 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Croatia
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