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Croatian Deputy May Face War Crimes Prosecution

Political storm in Zagreb as leading opposition politician stripped of parliamentary immunity.
By Goran Jungvirth
Croatian parliamentary deputies this week voted to lift parliamentary immunity from Branimir Glavas, one of the most powerful men in Slavonia, making way for his possible prosecution for war crimes.

The move was hailed by some as a sign that Croatia might finally be prepared to face up to the darker side of its efforts to end Serb control of large parts of its territory in the Nineties.

Glavas, however, used his final speech to parliament to accuse his former political allies in the ruling Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, of mounting a dirty tricks campaign against him.

“This shows the grotesque mind-set of my former party colleagues, who have embarked on this Kafkaesque process,” Glavas told parliament.

Many are now waiting to see whether the latest developments will herald further war crimes cases against high-profile figures, or whether his claims of political persecution will be justified.

No charges have yet been made, but now that Glavas’ immunity has been stripped, the state prosecutor could start criminal proceedings.

Glavas was a senior commander in Osijek in eastern Croatia during the war and for more than a decade a leading figure in the HDZ in Slavonia. This came to an end in April 2005, when was expelled from the party for unexplained reasons.

He went on to form his own party - called the Croatian Democratic Union of Slavonia and Baranja, HDSSB - which took power from the HDZ in Osijek.

Stories about alleged killings of Serbs in Osijek in 1991 began to emerge in the Croatian media in 2005.

Glavas recently admitted to parliament that he could stand accused of responsibility for illegal arrests of Serb civilians and the murder of one prisoner in Osijek near the start of the war in 1991.

But Glavas has dismissed war crimes accusations and questioned the reliability of witnesses who said he was the man who had ordered the crimes.

"I am a general, and I am proud of my contribution to the Homeland Defence War, and I would do the same today," said Glavas.

“It would be better to bring the case against me to The Hague,” he said, explaining that at least the United Nations-run Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal is impartial.

Glavas accused the Osijek police of being influenced by members of the ruling party and claimed they hushed up testimonies and discontinued all cases where the murders of Serb civilians could not be ascribed to him. He argues that the killings of Yugoslav army reservists, Serb civilians and two Croatian police officers were in fact the responsibility of his superiors at the time.

The president of the Croatian parliament Vladimir Seks, the president of a local authority known as a crisis committee in Osijek during the war, denied Glavas’s accusations about the latest developments being a “politically assembled process”.

Eighty-two out of 151 deputies voted to lift Glavas’s immunity.

The small number who voted against included members of the HSP, a party which now holds power alongside Glavas in Osijek county. It said this was a “political process instead of a legal” one.

Some HSP members argued that it would be better to instigate prosecutions in relation to allegations of killings of more than 1,200 Croatians at the beginning of the war in Osijek before dealing with the deaths of 40 Serbs.

Even deputies who voted to lift Glavas’s immunity believe that this is indeed a political process - although they don’t deny that crimes were committed.

The former minister of justice and president of the Democratic Centre Party, Vesna Skare-Ozbolt, told IWPR that she considered it a political case, because “the political will to process [this case] was lacking until now”.

Zarko Puhovski of the Helsinki Committee told IWPR said the proceedings should have started long before now and complained of an “enormous delay”. But he argues that the “only political element in this story is that many witnesses didn’t want to testify before because Glavas was [until recently] with the authorities”.

Ozbolt hopes that after the Glavas case, other dark secrets will finally be revealed, including alleged killing, robbing and unlawful detaining of Serbs in Pakracka Poljana in eastern Croatia, which have been discussed in Croatia for over a decade but for which the main alleged perpetrators have not yet faced trial.

She cautioned that a failure to launch other cases would strengthen theories that the Glavas case was politically motivated.

Puhovski also believes that the decision to proceed with the Glavas case may have a positive impact on further processing of war crimes against Serb civilians by Croatian soldiers during the war. He mentioned the town of Sisak, where around 100 Serb civilians were abducted and have been missing ever since.

Former state prosecutor Anto Nobilo told IWPR that after the Glavas case, he too expects others concerning war crimes against Serb civilians to begin. “If not, that will prove that starting the Glavas case was only politically motivated, not legally,” he said.

Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR contributor in Zagreb.

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