Croatia: Serbs Outraged by War Crimes List
Almost anyone in Croatia can draw up a list of war criminals and, with no evidence whatever, publish it in book form, or release it over the internet. Those who do so put pressure on local Serbs to move out and equally discourage those wishing to return.
Vukovar lawyer Radovan Krstic is one of thousands of Serbs listed as a "criminal" in a book called "War criminals from Serbian military and para-military formations in the Croatian Podunavlje from 1991-1995".
The contents of the 80-page publication are posted in full on the internet site www.ljubija.hr, run by the Association of Croatians - a war veterans' association from Prijedor, Bosnia. The state prosecutor last month rejected Krstic's bid to take legal action against the owner of the internet site. The plaintive is now considering a private prosecution.
Krstic, who remained in Vukovar until it fell to the Yugoslav National Army, JNA, on November 18, 1991, and who was there when the Croatian authorities returned after the town's peaceful reintegration on January 15, 1998, never experienced problems with the new administration. He obtained Croatian documents and his flat, demolished during the war, was renovated.
To clear his name from suspicion of war crimes, Krstic last year brought criminal charges against the Association of Croatians. "I felt horrible when I received calls from my friends from America and Germany asking me what kind of crimes I had committed in Vukovar," he said. "Not only did I commit no crimes, but I did all in my power in 1991 to prevent the war between Croatians and Serbs from breaking out."
After Vukovar fell, he says he tried to save several Croats and also visited Marin Vidic, the town's Croatian government representative, while he was being detained by JNA in Serbia. Vidic was released in a subsequent prisoner exchange.
Vidic, who now works in the insurance industry, confirms Krstic's claims. "He has nothing to do with war crimes. He negotiated with the JNA at the end of the summer of 1991 together with me and with the incumbent Vukovar mayor Vladimir Stengl," he said.
Vidic also said claims in the book that Krstic was the president of the JNA military court in Vukovar in 1991 were "ridiculous", as the city was controlled by Croatian forces at the time.
Kristic's criminal charges against the internet site ended up in the local courts last year. But in February, Vukovar's local prosecutor, Zlatko Jaric, rejected the charges, as two key conditions had not been met.
Jaric said that although he accepted Krstic's story, it was not possible to prove that owners of the internet site containing the list of war crimes suspects "intentionally released false information". He said there was also no proof the information on the site had upset a large number of people.
The latter was challenged by the leader of Vukovar's Serbs, Milos Vojnovic, who said his community had been greatly distressed by the web publication. "If you put completely innocent people on a list of war criminals, no amnesty act passed by Croatia will stop these people emigrating," he said.
The controversial book, which is written anonymously, is said to have been first published in Vinkovci in 1997 by the Centre for Documentation on the Croatian War for Independence. However, no such centre exists.
If the initial publication date is correct, it is significant, as it foreshadows the completion of the re-integration into Croatia of the Podunavlje, the last bit of the former Republic of Srpska Krajina, RSK, which the Serbs seized in 1991.
The book is one of several publications published in the mid to late Nineties - with the alleged backing of the former Tudjman government - in which Serbs are accused of war crimes. There's no doubt about their intention - to pressure the minority into leaving the country and to stop refugees coming back.
As Croatia at the time wanted to show the international community it was pursuing a policy of reconciliation towards Serbs, the names of the authors and the publishers of these books were concealed.
The present Croatian authorities claim they are pursuing a very different policy towards the Serbs, but they still tolerate the activities of those who maintain the line upheld by the late president Franjo Tudjman and his HDZ colleagues.
Drago Hedl is IWPR's project editor in Croatia.