Defiant Glavas Protests Innocence in Closing Statement

As trial ends, Croatian politician reiterates his claim that proceedings against him were politically motivated.

Defiant Glavas Protests Innocence in Closing Statement

As trial ends, Croatian politician reiterates his claim that proceedings against him were politically motivated.

The war crimes trial of Croatian politician Branimir Glavas and five others wound to a close after almost four years this week, with the main defendant Glavas protesting his innocence and saying he is “a victim of political persecution”.

The six suspects, on trial at Zagreb County Court, are accused of involvement in two cases of war crimes against ethnic Serb civilians in the eastern city of Osijek in 1991. In the so-called Garage case, victims were tortured and killed in the garage of an Osijek municipal building, while in the Duct Tape case, eight men were gagged with duct tape and shot by the Drava river.

The proceedings have been halted several times, initially because of the resistance of Glavas, a powerful member of parliament from Slavonia known for his fiery nationalist rhetoric, then as a result of other defendants seeking adjournments for medical reasons.

Glavas, the highest-ranking Croatian official to have been indicted for war crimes, was one of the founders of the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, party that ruled Croatia in the 1990s. He was expelled in 2005 after clashing with party leader and Prime Minister Ivo Sanader over Sanader’s pro-European policies.

True to his firebrand reputation, Glavas has played up to the gallery and media during his trial, with flamboyant rhetoric that frequently got him in hot water with judges.

When one witness said during his testimony that Glavas had given him an order and even provided the bullets to kill one of the victims, the defendant said he “was lying”.

Then, in his closing statement on April 27, Glavas accused the HDZ of launching the trial against him as revenge for him having founded a successful regional party, the Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja, HDSSB.

He also argued that the prosecution had failed to prove his guilt; that the indictment against him was fabricated and that he was “a victim of political persecution orchestrated by police director Vladimir Faber, chief state prosecutor Mladen Bajic and the media”.

“The media condemned me, without trial, as a war criminal,” he said, noting that non-governmental organisations monitoring the trial had chosen not to speak up about the bias against him.

Arguing that his former party had used the media to exert pressure on the judiciary, he showed as evidence to the court the cover of a Croatian daily, which bore the headline, “Sanader: Glavas No Longer Exists”.

He also accused police chief Faber of “fabricating evidence” and of “sending Chief Prosecutor Bajic false reports about witnesses in the trial receiving threats”.

He accused Faber of being “a shallow ‘milicajac’ (or militiaman – a Serbian term for a policeman, which is used as a derogatory term against Croatian police) who will end up in a place reserved for such unsavoury characters”. This earned himself a warning from presiding Judge Zeljko Horvatovic to stop his insults.

Glavas also accused the authorities of “failing to protect his underage son from media reports about the arrest of his father”. He became emotional as he told the court that his son “has suffered because he was called the son of a war criminal”.

He concluded by saying that he had made no mistakes during the war and was proud of his actions. “If defending your own country makes you a war criminal, then I am one,” he said.

Prosecutors maintain that in the Garage case, Glavas was guilty because as head of the National Defence Secretariat and de-facto commander of a military unit, he was aware that civilians were arrested and tortured, yet did nothing to prevent the atrocities and punish those responsible, and instead tried to cover them up.

In the Duct Tape case, prosecutors said they proved that Glavas and Ivica Krnjak, former commander of the Independent Uskok Company, ordered the accused members of the unit, Dino Kontic, Tihomir Valentic and Zdravko Dragic, to arrest, torture and execute eight Serb civilians on the bank of the Drava. The orders were issued via the fourth defendant, Gordana Getos Magdic, prosecutors say.

The indictment in the Duct Tape case was based on statements made by Getos Magdic and Dragic to the Osijek police, in which they admitted their involvement in the kidnapping of civilians. Getos Magdic named Glavas as the person who ordered the systematic killings of Serbian civilians from Osijek, while Dragic admitted that he had attempted to kill Radoslav Ratkovic, the only person to have survived the executions by the Drava.

The two accused later withdrew their statements, saying they were pressured to make them by the police. However, both Croatia’s Supreme Court and the local trial chamber found that their original statements were not made under duress and should be included in the trial records.

“During the interrogation of Gordana Getos-Magdic and Zdravko Dragic, the Osijek police officers acted professionally and there was no mistreatment or extortion of statements,” the court council concluded.

After Glavas finished his statement, the five other accused spoke to the court pleading their innocence and asking for an exonerating verdict because the trial “has not proven” that they had committed any of the criminal acts in the indictment.

In its seven-hour closing statement last week, the prosecution said that despite the passage of time and a lack of physical evidence – which it said was down to institutional failures to preserve this – it had proven that all six accused were guilty of “systematically planned and organised crimes” against civilians who were in no way connected with hostile activities against Croatia by its rebel Serb minority in the Krajina region. They demanded guilty verdicts for all and prison sentences ranging from five to 20 years.

The court is due to deliver its verdict on May 8.

Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR-trained reporter in Zagreb.
Support our journalists