On Friday, I was interviewed by Zoran Stupar of Dnevno. This is the English transcript of that interview:
Mrs Gora, thank you once again for talking to us. You have supported the Croatian generals all these years. You pointed to incompetent judges after the initial sentence. Did you expect the generals would be freed on all charges?
No. While I was hopeful of a just outcome, I did not expect the generals to be fully acquitted, and I think the dissenting opinions of two of the judges demonstrate that the verdict should not be taken for granted. Many people continue to be duped by the erroneous notion that for justice to be done the accused must be found guilty. Sometimes the accused is innocent, and the overwhelming emphasis on victims can obscure this. Trials are, after all, supposed to be about finding out whether the accused (who is presumed to be innocent) was the perpetrator of the alleged crime. They should not be about serving up a scapegoat to assuage the victims’ thirst for vengeance. Thankfully, three of the judges chose judicial integrity over political considerations and both generals have had their names cleared.
Did you have the chance to watch the reception of the generals when they came to Zagreb?
I couldn’t view very much of the generals’ joyous arrival in Zagreb as I have a poor internet connection. I was, however, very impressed that they made a point of attending Mass and praying at the tomb of Blessed Cardinal Stepinac. It would be very easy to allow the adulation of the Croatian people to go to their heads, and I think this demonstration of thanksgiving and humility, of putting God before men, is a fine example of the character of true heroes.
Even though it seems that justice has prevailed, some think that the verdict was political. If the concept of ‘joint criminal enterprise’ passed, the EU would be getting a new member state which was based on and created in crime. What do you think, was the verdict honest or political?
One can never rule out the influence of politics, but given the dissenting opinions and the fuss being made by the ICTY’s own prosecutors I believe the final verdict was genuinely founded in jurisprudence. I know very little about the presiding judge, Theodor Meron, but my gut instinct is that his experience as a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust has probably given him a courage and integrity that can withstand the corruption of political institutions. His separate opinion emphasises the rights of the appellants (the generals) and gives a very strong impression of a man who believes in the concept of a fair trial. I imagine that he would be dissatisfied that some war criminals remain unknown and at large – as I am, for the obsession with Operation Storm as a supposed joint criminal enterprise has allowed individual perpetrators of murder to go unpunished – but also that he recognised that to convict the wrong person(s) would only add to this injustice.
Furthermore, there is little evidence that the EU has any qualms about admitting member states that have perpetrated war crimes. The crimes of Serbia against Croatia and Bosnia have not created an impediment to its candidacy – indeed, Vukovar never rates a mention and the Bosnian Serbs have been rewarded for their crimes with half the country. So, given the deliberate impotence of the UN during the war and its favouring of the aggressor, I would say that this verdict is rather surprising.
Presidents of Kosovo and Albania and Mr Gotovina’s lawyers have called on international authorities to launch investigations against Carla del Ponte for abusing her position while she was a war crimes prosecutor and for her recent statements after Gotovina and Markač were released. Do you think the investigation will happen?
Being somewhat realistic (or even cynical) in nature, I am not overly optimistic, but every effort should nevertheless be made to uncover the truth.
How do you see del Ponte’s role while being ICTY prosecutor? What will she be remembered for?
I doubt Carla del Ponte will be widely remembered. My perception of her from news reports and so forth is of an irrational woman who has the maturity of a teenager. Her recent outburst on Blic shows that she has either failed to comprehend some of the most basic concepts of law, such as presumed innocence and burden of proof, or is so arrogant and prejudiced that she cannot conceive of the possibility that she was and is wrong. She has displayed a zeal for convictions so excessive that one is forced to ask whether she has compromised her integrity as the former Chief Prosecutor. Prosecution is only one half of the equation when it comes to balancing the scales of justice, and her refusal to accept this and other acquittals suggests a profound disrespect for the process of law.
Her continued representation of Operation Storm as a joint criminal enterprise calls into question her credibility as a legal professional and appears to be the result of a delusion that Serbia and Serbians were victims in the 1990s conflict… which is akin to believing that Germany and the Nazis were victims in WWII. It entirely ignores Croatian sovereignty over the Krajina region (as it has never been part of and doesn’t even adjoin Serbia), Croatia’s right to self-defence, and the notably professional manner in which Operation Storm was conducted. Her persistent assertion that the exodus of Serbs from the Krajina was a ‘war crime’ perpetrated by Croatia’s political and military leadership not only flies in the face of the evidence, the interim judgement, and the final verdict, but also bears an uncanny resemblance to Serb propaganda.
You have compared today’s situation in Israel with Croatia in the 1990’s. Can you tell me more about your views of Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Many see Israelis as the oppressors and Palestinians as the oppressed.
I compared the situation in Croatia during the war, when the Serbs occupying the Krajina shelled civilian areas such as Zadar and Sibenik, with the ongoing situation in Israel where Palestinian terrorists fire hundreds of rockets at Israel each year. In both cases, the UN not only has stood by and done nothing but also condemned the defending parties, Croatia and Israel. The Serbs in the Krajina were firing from a UN Protected Area, but the UN never intervened to protect Croatian civilians. It did, however, intervene to protect Serb forces when Croatian troops tried to regain some of their territory so as to protect these urban areas that were being shelled on a daily basis. Similarly, the UN generally remains silent about the incessant terrorist attacks on Israel but sides with the Palestinians when Israel acts to defend itself.
There is a quote about the Middle East conflict that illustrates the roles of the conflicting parties and which could equally be applied to the war in Croatia: “If the Palestinians were to lay down their weapons tomorrow, there would be no war. If Israelis were to lay down theirs, there would be no Israel.” So too if the Serbs had laid down their weapons during the war, the war would simply have been over and Croatia could have peacefully restored its borders. But if Croatia had laid down its weapons, it would have been overrun. And I would add that so too Bosnia would have disappeared into a Greater Serbia. Military aggression cannot be ignored and every state has a duty to protect its civilians. This is all that Croatia and Israel have done.
So, just as the UN disregarded Croatia and Bosnia’s right of self-defence, so too the UN disregards Israel’s right to self-defence. The latest UN resolution regarding Palestinian statehood didn’t even require the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a state or call on the Palestinians to end the conflict. Israel has made countless concessions for the sake of peace, but the Palestinians are never satisfied and probably never will be while Israel exists. I don’t see how there can ever be lasting peace in the Middle East if the basic security needs of the State of Israel are ignored in favour of terrorists who have vowed the destruction of Israel.
You’re engaged in the anti-abortion campaign in Australia?
Yes, Australia has some of the most permissive abortion laws in the world. In Victoria, for example, it is legal for a woman to commission a doctor to kill her child in the womb right up until birth. I cannot, in good conscience, ignore this slaughter of the defenceless.
I also find it deeply disturbing that feminism justifies this form of murder and has created an inconsistency in law and society that declares a 21-week-old foetus is a person and valuable human life (requiring a death certificate by law) but perversely considers the termination of such a life right up until birth legal and socially acceptable as long as the killer is its mother via an abortion. If men went around killing their premature babies citing the same reasons that women do for having abortions they would be condemned as heartless murderers of the most heinous kind and thrown in gaol, and yet we not only allow women to kill babies of the same age or even older but also pay for it with our taxes. Women are capable moral agents just like men – we’re not children or mentally-handicapped – and have a duty to protect their children. By sanctioning murder as a ‘choice’, women in this country have been granted an abominable power of life and death over their offspring in the name of women’s rights, but no one should have the right to kill their child. Abortion terminates individual human life and should not be legal.
How is life in Australia these days? Do ordinary people feel the economic crisis?
Australians are fortunate that we have not felt the economic crisis to the same extent as some other countries, but we are not unaffected. Many people are struggling financially and there is very little economic optimism. Everyone I know is cutting their spending to some degree, and most are finding it more and more difficult to pay the monthly mortgage or electricity bills.
There’s a large Croatian community in Australia. Young Croats are more and more abandoning Croatia in order to look for jobs and a better life. Would they find it in Australia?
Whether anyone finds a job in Australia is largely dependent on demand. It doesn’t matter how qualified someone is if there is no demand for their skills. This is something we all face, regardless of whether we were born here or not. And whether it is a better life here is a matter of perspective. I have known migrants to thrive here while others became homesick and miserable, but on the whole Croatians seem to adapt very well to Australian culture.
How’s ‘Fragments of War’ going? How is it selling, what are the comments and critiques?
Fragments of War has had a very positive reception – at one stage, it was even ranked at #1 in its category on Amazon.com – but I must admit that sales are somewhat disappointing. This is to be expected, as it’s difficult nowadays to get the average person to read a news article to the very end let alone a whole book of a serious nature, but it bothers me that so few people want to know what happened during the 1990s conflict.
I have tried to make this account of my experiences as a humanitarian aid worker as accessible as possible to English-speakers with no ties to the former Yugoslavia – I have even fictionalised it so that the storyline flows better – but without the right publicity (which is sadly more important than quality when it comes to sales and exposure) I think it will remain a fairly obscure book. In fact, I would be rather concerned if it became a bestseller!
Overall, I have received some very pleasing comments from readers, not to mention a fabulous review by Ina Vukic in which she said “Mishka Gora’s abundant use of dialogue achieves verisimilitude… she possesses the essential professional storytelling skill which arouses the senses to feel and see the reality that once was… an amazingly rich, emotionally detailed portrait of human nature.”
Do you write and photograph these days? Last time you told me you’re expecting a child around Christmas, so I guess you’re all into that.
I’m expecting my fourth child before Christmas, so my photography is on hold for a couple of months but I still manage to write a little amongst the chaos – I would go crazy if I stopped writing altogether! I’m currently working on an article about prevalent misconceptions regarding Croatia and I plan to start writing my second book in earnest sometime in the new year.
Who are your favourite photographer and writer? Are you reading anything at the moment?
I don’t really have a favourite photographer or writer as it depends on my mood. I do, however, admire the portraits of Cecil Beaton and when it comes to landscapes it’s not often anyone surpasses the talent of Ansel Adams. As for writers, I thoroughly enjoy the work of Anthony Trollope and also have a soft spot for George Eliot and Jane Austen. Currently, I’m reading about World War II as background for my next book, and am finding Sir Martin Gilbert’s The Righteous particularly gripping. It’s about ordinary people who took extraordinary risks to save Jews from the Holocaust, sometimes at the expense of their own lives.
Do you have a final message for Dnevno’s readers?
Merry Christmas! I hope 2013 is a year of peace and prosperity for Croatia and its people.