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Right-wing Fury at Hague Cooperation

Extremists in Croatia are attempting to sabotage an investigation into the alleged mass execution of Serbs almost ten years ago.
By Dragutin Hedl

Croatian extremists are furious over a Hague Tribunal war crimes investigation in the town of Gospic, where scores of Serb civilians are alleged to have been executed at the beginning of the Croatian war.


Right-wing factions in the former ruling HDZ called on supporters to overthrow the authorities at a recent rally in the south-west town, held in protest at the arrival of Hague investigators.


The suspected perpetrators have never been properly investigated, despite numerous eyewitness accounts of the alleged killings.


One eyewitness, Milan Levar, a commander of a reconnaissance and sabotage unit at the time, said around 100 Serbian civilians were executed in Gospic. Levar, who has testified to the Hague (ICTY) on several occasions, claims a large number of 'unsuitable' Croats, who clashed with extreme groups within the Croatian army and police, were also executed.


Other participants in the alleged killings have also provided statements, to both the ICTY and an official Croatian inquiry.


The Gospic police commander, Ivan Dasovic, told Croatian officials that mass executions of Serbian civilians had taken place. Ante Karic, president of the crisis headquarters, which oversaw the defence of the town, named Tihomir Oreskovic, the secretary of the crisis headquarters, and Mirko Norac, the military commander of Gospic, as the main culprits.


Oreskovic was subsequently detained for a short period, but released following the intervention of the then Defence Minister, Gojko Susak. Norac still serves as a general in the Croatian Army.


After the defeat of Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, in both parliamentary and presidential elections earlier this year, the government's attitude to the ICTY has changed markedly.


The government of Socialist premier, Ivica Racan, has not only allowed Hague investigators unhindered access to Gospic and its surroundings, but has passed a declaration in parliament allowing the ICTY full authority to investigate possible crimes committed by Croatian military and police personnel during and after two major Croatian military campaigns almost five years ago.


The campaigns returned areas held by Serb forces since the beginning of the war in 1991. Tudjman's government never accepted war crimes had been committed.


Racan's co-operative policy towards the ICTY has triggered fierce resistance from the most radical circles in Croatia, particularly right-wing factions in the former ruling HDZ. These elements remain influential within various veterans' associations that grew out of the so-called 'Patriotic War'.


On April 19, some 2,000 people gathered in Gospic to protest against The Hague investigators' activity in the area. It followed a large rally in Zagreb on March 6 against the 45-year prison sentence handed down by The Hague to the Croatian General Tihomir Blaskic.


Right-wing speakers at that Gospic rally took a fiercer line, however, calling on protestors to take up arms and overthrow the new president Stipe Mesic and Racan's government.


Anto Dapic, leader of the Croatian Party of Rights, HSP, a satellite of the HDZ, said he did not trust the Hague team and could not be sure they had not brought bones with them to plant as evidence of bogus killings.


The far right in Croatia, despite a clear lack of popular support, has yet to reconcile itself with the changes brought by the recent elections. Dapic announced that similar gatherings to the one in Gospic would be held in some twenty towns across Croatia.


The scale of the Gospic protest and the threat of further such demonstrations poses little immediate threat to Racan's government. Much more dangerous would be a failure by the government to deliver marked improvements in the social and economic situation in Croatia. Without such improvements the far right could exploit resulting social tension and possible unrest to fuel an electoral comeback.


Drago Hedl is a correspondent for the Split-based Feral Tribune and a regular contributor for IWPR


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