Arrests in BiH – Justice on Demand?

Adelina Marini

Today’s review of media from the former Yugoslavia is pretty bland, which could just be good news, but it could also be a lull before the storm. The subject of the arrests of ten members of the former Croatian Defence Council (HVO) in Orašje in Bosnia and Herzegovina on Monday is totally dominating in Croatian society, despite news still being quite scarce. Regional TV channel N1 reported that the ten veterans are charged with committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the time when they were members of the HVO structures in Orašje, police structures, as well as guards in the camps and detention facilities. The front page of Vecernji list warns of a possible Croatian counter-attack. “The selective arrest of Croats in Orašje could be the pebble that would tip the cart of patience of Croatian state institutions”, reports the newspaper.

War crimes do not have an expiration date, which brings the question why Croatia, as opposed to BiH and Serbia, is acting like it purposefully sweeps war crimes – committed against Croats at that – under the carpet. Institutions could activate the indictments that the prosecution has been gathering for years. Some are complete, but have not been activated, reports journalist Davor Ivanković. In a commentary for the left-wing Rijeka daily newspaper Novi list, Boris Pavelić accuses Croatia of attempting to hide the truth in BiH. The author quotes witness testimonies about members of the HVO in Orašje committing rapes and other crimes, which are reported by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network BIRN.

“Now wait a minute, should all war crimes be punished? If not, say it out loud, so that we know what kind of government we have. If they should, where did this mistrust of the prosecution and court in Bosnia and Herzegovina come from all of a sudden? Those two institutions, statistically and meaningfully, punish war crimes much more efficiently and surely than the justice systems in Croatia and Serbia”, writes Pavelić. He believes that the sync between Croatian politics and the media hysterics is proof of Zagreb not wanting the truth and justice, but prefers to remain silent and hinder the investigations of crimes, which could discredit the country. “Politically encouraged by their EU membership, Croatian authorities are abusing European foundations and thus compromise them. Instead of helping a neighbouring state in the battle with the unbearable burden of war crimes, Croatia is making that battle even more difficult by calling on its European authority!”, concludes the columnist.

Index columnist Goran Vojković disagrees with this idea and claims that in Bosnia and Herzegovina nothing ever happens by chance, “especially the arrest of ten people for alleged war crimes twenty years after the war, right after the visit of the Croatian prime minister – and these are ten people, who live there and have constantly, for years, been at the disposal of investigative authorities. The question is whether this may be a clear political message – Croats, hands off!”. Vojković believes that the reason is that there is currently an ongoing political fight in the BiH Federation. “A political battle in which Bosniaks want to keep their dominance after it became perfectly clear that Serbs rule half the state”, is the columnist’s opinion.

tportal quotes the Bosniak and the Serbian members of the BiH Presidency Bakir Izetbegović and Mladen Ivanić. “The reactions, which followed are exerting pressure on the justice system. I understand the interest and support it, but going into detail is something which, in my opinion, oversteps the boundary of what is acceptable”, said Ivanić at a press conference in Sarajevo. “If anyone has grounds for remarks, it is the Serbian side”, he added. Izetbegović also appealed that the court and the state prosecution be left to do their job with no interference in their work. Croatian member of the Presidency Dragan Čović stated that the people arrested in Orašje should be released. He was outraged by the fact that they were arrested in the day of the Catholic All Saints holiday and immediately after the visit of Croatian PM Andrej Plenković.

Serbia is playing macho

One feels a strange lull in Serbian media – so far there are no new scandals, discoveries, or provocative statements. This opens up space for some more general comments. Such is the text by Snežana Čongradin for today’s Danas, titled “Acting brave”. “If Serbia is in the centre of a process of European integration, fully aware of what this means and what it encompasses, then, having in mind the hostile relations between the EU and Russia, it is indisputable that one must stand at the side of the one who is defined as the supreme goal of state policy”, writes the author. “Taking Russia’s side in certain segments of foreign and domestic policy goes directly against the self interest if you start from the foundations of the political road, namely the road to the EU.

Snežana Čongradin believes that recent developments in Montenegro and the hasty statements by the Serbian political summit raise the question why are such things reported at all before the truth is established and the investigation is complete. “Why was it necessary to have such drama, create a panic, reporting facts, which could influence their nature and change them?”, asks the author and concludes that the Serbian political elite is just acting brave, but in fact has no courage to do the statesman thing in a moment when it should really prove which path has been chosen.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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