I have decided to blog separately about Jewish and Israeli matters, so please take a look at my debut post at the Times of Israel.
Former AP correspondent Matti Friedman shares some crucial insights into how the media affects our perception of Israel. This is an important article worth reading in its entirety.
The world is not responding to events in this country, but rather to the description of these events by news organizations.
You may be wondering why it has taken me so long to write something on the current conflict in Israel and Gaza. The first reason is that I’ve had the ‘flu’, and I still do, so this will be fairly short. Secondly, I have had a hard time keeping up with all the information and misinformation in the media and social media. However, the fundamental reason I’ve been slow to respond is that I’m not entirely sure it’s worth my effort. Allow me to explain.
I don’t believe in writing for the sake of it. If I have nothing to add to a discussion I’m not going to waste your time asking you to read yet another article. I have more articles of interest cropping up each day than I can actually read. (I have a similar problem with books – literal piles I want to read but probably never will.) So, I’m going to put a reading/watching list at the bottom of this so that you can pick and choose what is of most interest to you on this topic. There have been some fabulous articles written in the last couple of weeks while I’ve been down with the ‘flu’ and I am grateful to those writers for speaking out, sharing their viewpoints, and countering the propaganda most of the world is gobbling up with glee.
The other reason I’ve hesitated to write is the intractable mindset of most people on this topic. People who were the first to condemn moral equivalence in Bosnia are now talking about both sides being guilty. People who were aghast at Croatian and Bosnian civilians being shelled day in and day out by the Serbs are now suggesting Israel should just put up with a bombardment greater in proportions than the London Blitz. People who would never accept suicide bombings and missiles raining down in their own cities are telling the victims of terrorism that they must implement an unconditional ceasefire even though Israel has accepted and implemented five ceasefires, all of which were broken (oddly enough) by the Hamas terrorists. Rationality doesn’t seem to have much of a place anymore, and what I do say is no doubt preaching to the converted.
So allow me a few personal observations, seeing as so many people seem to value perceptions and feelings over morality and common sense.
Some things are a matter of debate. How to solve the ‘Middle East conflict’, for example. I don’t know the answer, so I’m fairly open to suggestions. Really. I have not made up my mind on this topic. (Though, I have no say in the matter, so I suggest you address any of yours ‘answers’ elsewhere.) Some things that are part and parcel of this topic, however, are not a matter of debate. (No, I’m not a relativist.) One is that Israel has a right to exist. Another is that Hamas is a bunch of terrorists. In all the brouhaha, these two central facts seem to have been forgotten. You can be pro-Palestinian without being pro-Hamas. You can love the Palestinian people and want the best for them and still support Israel – in fact, if you have any sense, you may realise that Israel is the best chance most Palestinian children will ever have of growing up in a democratic and multicultural society.
Those who think they know better (than everyone else), of course, tend to disagree. They don’t even bother with discussion or debate any more. They just dismiss anyone who isn’t anti-Semitic as a Zionist. They’re not quite as crude as the demonstrators calling for a Palestine “from the river to the sea” and who attack Jewish businesses and chant “gas the Jews”, but it amounts to much the same thing. It’s funny how being anti-Israel is supposedly not anti-Semitic, but wanting Israel to exist and flourish as a nation is Zionist. I want Australia to continue to exist and flourish too. What does that make me? Is that wrong too?
The bottom line is that if you want a Palestine “from the river to the sea” you’re calling for the extermination of Israel. And if you think Hamas terrorists are freedom fighters, you’re advocating the freedom to murder and terrorise. Israel has bent over backwards to accommodate a two-state solution. The Palestinians have rejected every opportunity. Gaza is a case in point. Israel made it Judenfrei and handed it over to the Palestinians in exchange for peace. What sort of peace has Hamas given them in exchange? Suicide bombings, missiles, and terror tunnels.
You may say that I’m just as entrenched in my position as the next person. If by that you mean I refuse to accept a world in which Israel does not exist, you’re quite right. If that makes me a Zionist, so be it. I never thought that basic humanity could be so controversial. And, for the sake of balance, let me say that I also yearn for a world in which Arabs/Muslims and Jews live amicably side by side, a world in which Israel has no need to use weapons of war. But I know that’s never going to happen with Hamas calling the shots, and unless ordinary people like you and me (as well as our leaders and journalists) stop giving Hamas this false legitimacy the situation is not going to improve, for Israelis or Palestinians. We need to call a terrorist a terrorist. They are not freedom fighters. They are base murderers killing Palestinians and Israelis alike.
There’s a much a bigger problem than Gaza at the moment, and that problem is us.
So, choose your words carefully next time you chat with someone on this topic. Did Israel “resume its offensive” or did Israel respond to yet another breach of a ceasefire, yet another attack on Israeli civilians? When you mention Israel blew up a hospital in Gaza, don’t forget to mention that Hamas was firing at Israel from that hospital and that Israel confirmed with the hospital director that there were no staff or patients inside and that he had locked all the doors. And when the news reports an Israeli strike, ask yourself whether perhaps Hamas misfired a rocket yet again. (Hamas managed to hit a hospital and refugee camp yesterday, but no mention of that in the media – no, it was reported as an Israeli attack on a kindergarten. Likewise, Israel has been vociferously blamed for the deaths of fifteen civilians in an UNRWA school yard, even though the single shell landed in an empty yard.)
We don’t live in Nazi Germany. I, for one, live in a rather tranquil part of the world. Yet, even here in the Antipodes, I (a gentile) have felt the hatred.
* * *
This is a random (and far from exhaustive) list of articles I’ve appreciated in the last couple of weeks, an antidote to the mostly dishonest reporting of the mainstream media.
And, finally, a hauntingly beautiful song for peace, because we must live in hope and not despair: Shalom Aleichem
One day, when my children are old enough, I would like to take them to Auschwitz. I have no illusions about how harrowing it may be, but I firmly believe it represents a historical reality that must never be forgotten. I also believe that sometimes we need to see things with our own eyes and not just read about them.
Likewise, I hope to one day take them to Ovčara and Srebrenica. Ovčara is particularly close to my heart because I worked in eastern Slavonia during the war. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to move on or that Croatia and Bosnia shouldn’t either. It just means I don’t want the sacrifice of those who died in the war to have been in vain. I don’t think their lives should be forgotten.
This reminds me of what so many refugees said to me when I worked in the camps and over-zealously tried to give up some of my privileges – that if I wanted to show solidarity I should not adopt their situation. They complained that so many aid workers dressed badly and didn’t wear make-up, and said that seeing us sharing their misfortune only made them feel even more guilty that we had come halfway around the world to help them. What they wanted to see were aid workers who maintained the appurtenances of human dignity and would strive to restore normal life to them. They wanted their old lives back, not to inflict their misfortune on others.
So this desire to visit memorials to the dead is balanced by the desire to live the life that was taken away from so many. I want to take my children to the Dalmatian coast so they can swim in the enchanting waters of the Adriatic, explore Diocletian’s Palace, wander the ancient walls of Dubrovnik, and dance late into the night on one of Croatia’s beautiful islands. I also want to drink Turkish coffee with them in the Baščaršija in Sarajevo and to stand with them on the rebuilt bridge in Mostar. I dream of wandering along the Strossmayerovo in Zagreb, rambling through the Plitvice National Park, and going to Mass in Vukovar’s Church of Sv. Filipa i Jakova without being showered in plaster dust and worrying that the roof is going to fall in.
Likewise, thinking back to Auschwitz, I want to take my children to Israel to see the successful nation that has emerged from the horrors of the Holocaust and which flourishes despite enemies on every front. My first stop, however, before the Wailing Wall or the many Christian pilgrimage sites, would be Yad Vashem, where every victim of the Holocaust is remembered. It is a monumental achievement, a powerful testimony of how the act of remembering the dead can translate into a triumph of humanity over the evil ghosts of the past. In a manner similar to the forensic experts who have positively identified 6,838 of the estimated 8,000 victims of the Srebrenica massacre, the staff of Yad Vashem have meticulously collected 2.5 million pages of testimony naming around 4.2 million of the close to 6 million victims. But it’s not just a Hall of Names. The aim is to reconstruct the life stories of each person recorded in the central database. It is a race against time.
Time will also run out for Croatia and Bosnia, especially because (as far as I know) there has been no attempt at such a laborious undertaking. Unlike the Nuremberg Trials, which were held over the course of eleven months, the ICTY has largely failed to execute justice and is still grinding away after 20 years. Besides which, war crimes trials are more about the perpetrators than the victims. While there are discrete attempts to document evidence of war crimes and memorials in various locations, we are yet to see a comprehensive testimony to the individual lives that were cruelly cut short.
This is one of my dreams. If I were a rich benefactor, I would move mountains to establish places like Yad Vashem in both Croatia and Bosnia, places that are about the lives of the dead rather than merely the numbers of the dead, places that allow us to remember them even if their killers will never be identified or brought to justice. Alas, I am not rich, so it’s just an idea, but it’s an idea that I hope one day someone will make a reality… before it’s too late.
bosnia, croatia, Croatian Serbs, David Harland, gotovina, icty, israel, justice, krajina, markac, marko attila hoare, Milena Sterio, mishka gora, palestinians, propaganda, scapegoats, serbia, theodor meron, Veljko Maric, victims, war crimes, yugoslavia
Less than a month has passed since the acquittal of Generals Gotovina and Markac at the ICTY, and I am forced to conclude that (despite the courageous decision of Judges Meron, Robinson, and Güney to uphold judicial integrity despite considerable political pressure), very little has changed in the general perception of Croatia and its people. Already we have been treated to dozens of news articles displaying the shoddiest of journalism and a complete disregard for research, reliability of sources, context, or balance. The analysis of the court decision has turned out to be negligibly more coherent and certainly not trustworthy (with a few exceptions). However, both have exposed the insidious propaganda that has been blindly accepted and dispersed by the majority.
I have been fascinated to read the constant refrain that the verdict will further harm relations between Croatia and Serbia and the process of reconciliation. As true as this may be, should two innocent men have been condemned simply to appease the Serbs? Is this what international justice is really about – further appeasement of the aggressor, almost two decades after the end of the war when the Serbs were rewarded for their murderous rampage across the region with half of Bosnia? Does international justice mean sacrificing the truth about the guilt or innocence of individuals in order to placate those who would rather wreak revenge on a scapegoat than discover the real perpetrators?
In all this, there has been a dangerous underlying assumption, a wholly incorrect supposition that predisposes us to presume guilt instead of innocence. That assumption is that Croatia’s sovereignty is in some way lacking in legitimacy, that the war of 1991-1995 was a civil war in which the rebels were the Croats, Bosnians and Slovenes. This has been reflected in the persistent claims that the Serbs were the predominant victims in the conflict (which is about as rational as suggesting the Germans were victims of World War II) and totally ignores the political reality of what was Yugoslavia.
The first thing I want to clarify is that the borders the Republic of Croatia claimed when it seceded from the federation of Yugoslavia in 1991 were no different to the borders it had under the 1946 constitution of Yugoslavia. (The same can be said of Slovenia and Bosnia-Hercegovina.) Furthermore, the Krajina region which was occupied by rebel Serbs with the support of Serbian troops during 1991-1995 has always been part of Croatia. From the sixteenth century to 1882 it formed the Habsburg-ruled Croatian Military Frontier, and from 1882 it was part of the Kingdom of Croatia. The Krajina has never been part of Serbia, and the fact that there is an entire country (Bosnia) between the Krajina region of Croatia and Serbia should help anyone ignorant of this history to understand how very unambiguous this is (or at least should be).
The second point to be made is that when the Socialist Republic of Croatia (which was one of the six constituent republics of Yugoslavia) democratically and legally seceded from federal Yugoslavia, it was attacked from outside of its borders by Serbia (a.k.a. rump Yugoslavia). Likewise, the multi-ethnic Bosnians were attacked by Serbs and Serbians when they attempted the same legitimate political action. I can personally testify that when I worked in the so-called Serb Republic of the Krajina in 1993 that Serbian troops were actively engaged in missions in Bosnia and Croatia. Both Croatia and Bosnia were invaded by an aggressive enemy bent on expanding the historical borders of Serbia across two additional countries. While locals inevitably were involved when fighting came to their area, neither Croatia nor Bosnia were involved in a civil war; they were fighting to defend their national sovereignty.
Nevertheless, two decades later, there is still widespread ignorance on this matter. And the mainstream media contributes to this blurring of right and wrong by encouraging constant and blatant errors of logic. People leaving a region does not equal ethnic cleansing, and yet those who should know better, such as David Harland of the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, take it for granted that ethnic cleansing took place. (It should probably be noted that this is the same David Harland who has admitted responsibility under cross examination for the myth that UNPROFOR was unable to establish that the Serbs were responsible for the Markale 2 Marketplace massacre in Sarajevo.) He recently wrote in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune: “If the acquitted generals were not responsible for this ethnic cleansing, then somebody was, somebody who will presumably go free.” As I have pointed out in greater detail in a previous article, the subjective experience of fear does not prove the intent of an objective action by another party. Furthermore, when people choose and are not forced to leave a region, that is not ethnic cleansing. The Serbs who left the Krajina in 1995 were directed to do so by their own leaders prior to the arrival of Croatian troops, and what crimes did take place were (going by the testimony of Serb witnesses at the Gotovina et al. trial) in the chaos following Operation Storm when the Croatian Army was in Bosnia.
Even the dissenting judges of the Appeals Chamber have fallen into the trap of equating outcome with intent, bemoaning that the acquittal of Generals Gotovina and Markac “contradicts any sense of justice”. But, as Marko Attila Hoare has perceptively pointed out, the lack of justice for the victims is not the fault of the Appeals Chamber. While “the ICTY has failed them”, the “failure should be attributed… to the prosecution’s flawed indictment”. When the innocent are indicted, then justice demands an acquittal, however inadequate that may be for the victims. Condemning the innocent does not deliver justice for victims, even if it does satiate the demands of their kith and kin for blood, and if anything it makes a mockery of the victims, suggesting that the wrong done to them can be dismissed by more wrongdoing, making them pawns in a game of tit for tat instead of human beings with legitimate grievances needing rectification.
Of course, there are many who assume Operation Storm was by definition a case of ethnic cleansing, and it is no wonder when all manner of misinformation predominates about the Gotovina et al. case. After all, the average person is more likely to have access to David Harland in the New York Times or a basic news service that claims “Operation Storm represents one of the most severe cases of ethnic cleansing that was conducted in the wars in the territories of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY)” than the more accurate analysis of the Royal United Services Institute which notes that the “original judgement conceded” that “Operation Storm as a whole was not an illegitimate campaign”.
Notably, Serbian First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic recently tried to convince the UN Security Council that Operation Storm was “an indiscriminate attack”. He concluded that because the ICTY had failed to punish anyone for crimes against Serbs that “the acquittal of Gotovina and Markac [was] shameful”. Once again, we see the mentality that demands punishment (of a scapegoat if necessary) rather than (our often flawed attempts at) justice. Vucic’s attempt to characterise Operation Storm as a crime in utter defiance of the ICTY’s verdict to the contrary (in both the original trial judgement and the final appeal) is a ploy often seen at the UN, a ploy to turn the tables and portray the aggressor as victim. Just as Palestinian terrorists fire rockets at Israel day after day then complain vociferously to the UN when Israel responds in its defence, so too Vucic has neglected to mention that Operation Storm was a defensive response to four years of indiscriminate shelling of urban areas of the Dalmatian coast, that it was conducted in a highly professional manner over the course of three days (unlike the Serb attacks on Croatia and Bosnia starting in 1991), and that at the time Serb forces (in conjunction with Serbian forces) occupied one-third of Croatia and had done so for four years.
Law professors, it seems, aren’t immune either. Milena Sterio from Cleveland State University has made fundamental errors in her scrutiny of the case. (I am, of course, assuming that these are unwitting mistakes and that Prof. Sterio, as a Serb lawyer-academic, would never deliberately misrepresent the facts.) Notably, in her article at the IntLawGrrls blog, she states “Gotovina and Markač had been accused of participating in a joint criminal enterprise, alongside the Croatian political leadership, to ethnically cleanse Croatia, and in particular, the Krajina region, of the Serbian [sic] population that had lived there for centuries.” This is a favourite mantra of the Serbs – that they’ve lived there for centuries – and it’s not something I dispute, but I will point out that having lived in Croatia for centuries makes them Croatian Serbs, not Serbian. And this is the crux of the issue. There are more Greeks in Melbourne than Athens but that does not mean that Greece has claim to a quarter of Melbourne or that Melbourne should be incorporated into a ‘Greater Greece’. The Serbs of the Krajina claim they haven’t lived in Serbia for centuries, which makes them Croatian. They cannot have it two ways – either they are Croatian Serbs, with allegiance to Croatia and a right to live in the Croatian region of the Krajina, or they are Serbian Serbs, in which case they were part of an occupying force that Croatia had every right to expel. Professor Sterio’s comments betray an inability to accept Croatian sovereignty over the Krajina and a confusion of Serb (ethnicity) and Serbian (citizenship). The Krajina Serbs are not Serbian, but Croatian, and (as I’ve pointed out above) there is nothing discriminatory about Croatian sovereignty over the Krajina which is historically and geographically very distinct from Serbia.
Interestingly, General Gotovina has himself publicly supported the return of Croatian Serbs to the Krajina. He, like most Croatians, knows his history, that the Krajina Serbs have indeed lived there for centuries and are therefore Croatian, and also that there were approximately ten thousand Croatian Serbs who fought in the Croatian Army in defence of Croatian sovereignty. It is seldom mentioned that the ethnic Serb population at the time was represented not only by a minimum of eleven Serb representatives in the Croatian parliament but also by the Serb People’s Party which opposed the Serbian attempt to create a Greater Serbia by annexing swathes of Bosnia and Croatia. So, in reality, if anyone in Croatia should be accused of ethnic cleansing it is those Serbs who decided they could not live under Croatian sovereignty, who by their actions declared that (unlike tens of thousands of loyal Croatian Serbs) they could not live side by side with non-Serb Croatians and would rather retreat to a country they hadn’t lived in for centuries. Croatia, despite being at war, had guaranteed the legal and political rights of its ethnic minorities, but a vast number of Serbs supported the ethnic cleansing entailed in Serbia’s war for a Greater Serbia, and when Croatia announced its plan to defend itself from this abominable policy of ethnic purity via Operation Storm they chose to leave.
Professor Sterio also states that the “Appeals Chamber concluded that the Serbian [sic] population left willingly, not because of any forceful military action exercised by the Croatian army.” She then goes on to say that the “Appeals Chamber disregarded evidence, set forth by the Trial Chamber, that Croatian leadership resettled the Serb-deserted Krajina region by ethnic Croats, and that after the Serbs fled, Croatia adopted discriminatory property laws which made it increasingly difficult for Serbs to own property in Croatia.” Assuming for the sake of argument that this is true, it nevertheless has absolutely no bearing on Operation Storm or the guilt or innocence of its military leaders. The Appeals Chamber quite rightly made a distinction between the actions of Generals Gotovina and Markac and the political events that took place afterwards. It is absurd for Sterio to suggest that events that took place after the willing departure of the population can render their choice invalid. The willingness of a person at a certain time cannot be changed in hindsight. To do so, to say that one was forced when one wasn’t, is lying. It is furthermore wholly irrational of Sterio to suggest that two military leaders were in any way responsible for subsequent property legislation or the resettlement of internally displaced persons.
However, the stance Professor Sterio is perhaps best illustrated by her conclusion: “Finally, this appellate decision will further reinforce the Serbian belief that international justice is not blind and apolitical, and may dissuade Serbian political leaders from cooperating with authorities at The Hague. While most Serbs did not care about the individual pronouncement of culpability against Gotovina and Markač, they did and do care about the global pronouncement of responsibility against the Croatian leadership for crimes committed against ethnic Serbs in Krajina.” And there you have it! The verdict in a trial that has the primary aim of establishing the guilt or innocence of two individuals has an effect on a “Serbian belief” and “may dissuade” Serbian political leaders from doing the right thing. Apparently, we are to decry the operation of justice and abandon truth and the process of law in order to pander to Serbian propaganda. Furthermore, according to Prof. Sterio, most Serbs don’t care about whether the generals are culpable or not, but they do expect them to be found guilty regardless. So much for justice!
This cult of Serb victimhood has created problems additional to Operation Storm and the Gotovina et al. case. Last year, Croatian citizen Veljko Maric was sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment by a Serbian court in a case riddled with impropriety. (Even the Serbian Humanitarian Law Center has stated that Maric should not have been tried in Serbia.) Maric’s innocence or guilt aside – and I for one am inclined to presume innocence until he is given a fair trial – Serbia does not have jurisdiction over an alleged crime that took place on Croatian soil. Maric should have been extradited to Croatia, as requested by the Croatian government. The fact that there has not been international outrage over this, and that this has not been cited as an impediment to Serbia’s EU membership, is another glaring instance of the international community pandering to the aggressor. The only justification for Maric to be tried in Serbia would be if the alleged crime took place on Serbian soil, and anyone who upholds the jurisdiction of the Serbian court in this case gives tacit approval to the notion of Greater Serbia.
Indeed, the only way that any of these arguments in favour of Serb victimhood work is if one subscribes (consciously or subconsciously) to a Greater Serbia and the ethnic cleansing and genocide that was used in furtherance of this abhorrent doctrine. And the irony of this, an irony that should not give anyone who cares for justice any pleasure, is that murderers of Croatian Serbs now walk free. Of course there were crimes committed in Croatia in the wake of Operation Storm – every country has its fair share of criminals and I imagine that the chaos of war encourages rather than discourages crime – but the Serb obsession with blaming the Croatian leadership and the Croatian people as a whole has served to obscure these crimes instead of assisting the authorities to track down the perpetrators. This is a travesty, all the more because those with the most interest in discovering the real perpetrators are the ones standing in the way of truth and justice. While Croatia and its generals are hounded for crimes they did not commit, the real perpetrators cannot be identified.
The choice for those of us who discuss these matters is clear: we can either commit ourselves to the truth and seek justice or we can let the propaganda go unchallenged and allow innocent people to be punished as scapegoats. It is up to us to speak up and set the record straight. Silence means consent.
abortion, bosnia, carla del ponte, conscience, croatia, fragments of war, gotovina, icty, Ina Vukic, israel, krajina, mishka gora, operation storm, palestinians, serbia, stepinac, theodor meron, united nations
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.
Today, Generals Gotovina and Markac will leave their UN gaol free men, their innocence proven, their earlier convictions quashed. However, this vindication has been a long time coming. While the ICTY decision also exonerates the late President Tudjman and the entire Croatian nation, it is too little too late.
Both generals have spent years of their prime in gaol for crimes the ICTY recognised from the outset had been committed by others, crimes for which the real perpetrators will probably never be found because of the the ICTY’s perverse obsession with an imagined Croatian conspiracy. They have endured defamation, not only of their own characters but also of their homeland and its legitimate defence of its national sovereignty. They have suffered the ignominy of being labelled war criminals when in fact they are war heroes, men whose valorous military leadership saved not only Croats but also tens of thousands of Bosniaks from the butchery of bloodthirsty Serbs like Ratko Mladic. And the Croatian nation, whose people once so fervently sang “Europe you can stop the war”, has lost its faith in the European dream. The childlike trust of Europe’s newest star was shattered when these good men were convicted in 2011. Today’s decision reversing that conviction can only partly heal the deep wound of betrayal.
Without in any way diminishing the courage and rectitude of the judges of the Appeals Chamber in finally administering justice, it must be said that if justice had prevailed in the first place the generals would never have been indicted, there would have been no trial, and Croatia’s reputation would have remained unblemished. This court decision can only partially rectify a situation in which the world has been given the impression that all parties in the 1990s conflict were morally equivalent. The damage has been done and continues to be exacerbated by the failure to recognise that Croatia was the victim of a brutally aggressive war waged by Serbia/Yugoslavia. If the UN had adhered to its principles at the outset of the war, we would have seen the UN itself conduct a military operation like Storm in defence of the innocent instead of waiting for Croatia to do what they lacked the courage of conviction to do themselves. And if only one person could be given credit for breaking the Serbs’ murderous stranglehold on Bosnia and forcing them to the negotiating table that person is General Ante Gotovina.
So, as we rejoice in the long-awaited freedom of two men to whom we owe so very much, let us also remember those who continue to suffer injustice. I urge you to especially remember the people of Bosnia who tolerate the legacy of an insultingly outrageous division of their country, who witnessed the international community reward instead of punish the architects of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and concentration camps, and who still clamour for justice alongside their Croatian brethren. And I commend to you the people of Israel, who this very day must put up with unwarranted international criticism for defending themselves against incessant terrorist rocket attacks, in a situation not unlike that faced by Croatia when occupied from 1991 to 1995.
One battle for truth has been won, but we continue to be surrounded by lies and propaganda. For many, this verdict will change nothing, and they will continue to vilify Croatia and its people. Now is not the time to rest on our laurels. Now is the time to reinforce Croatia’s hard-won independence with more of the truth. As tempting as it may be to ‘move on’ and shut out the horrors of the war, we must never forget. As William Faulkner once said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Critical thinking eludes the modern mind, leading to ethical atrocities.
The problem is that many of us seem to have lost the ability to think for ourselves. We have neglected to make a habit of introspection, rational evaluation, and reasoning hypothetically. Instead of asking ourselves what would be right in any given situation, we accept whatever is lawful. Instead of putting aside self-interest and choosing to do what is right, we reject change because it is inconvenient and might force us to accept responsibility. Instead of employing common sense and fairness, we bow to political correctness and the fear of appearing discriminatory. But in avoiding the discrimination defined by our morally relative and politically-correct world, we fail to discriminate between right and wrong. We fail to exercise our consciences.
While Israel celebrates Gilad Shalit’s long-awaited home coming, and tens of thousands of Hamas supporters call for a “new Gilad” to be taken hostage, those of us outside of the Middle East cannot help but wonder at the dangerous message that Israel has sent to its enemies. The unsavoury deal in which one single Israeli soldier has been swapped for 1,027 convicted criminals (many of them murderers) has undoubtedly demonstrated that hostage-taking does work and that Israel does negotiate with terrorists. This message of acquiescence, however, is not an isolated one. It is accompanied by a message of appeasement from the wider international community, a message that declares that the West has lost its mettle.
Read the remainder of my Online Opinion article here.