Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Serbia delivers its 'last hero' to The Hague

Serbia delivers its 'last hero' to The Hague. 44947.jpegFormer president of the unrecognized Republic of Serbian Krajina in Croatia, Goran Hadzic, was detained in Serbia. He was the last Serb that the Hague tribunal requested to extradite on charges of committing war crimes in former Yugoslavia. However, many Serbs still consider him a hero.

Everything looked exactly the same way as with the arrest of former Bosnian Serb army commander General Ratko Mladic on May 26. Serbian President Boris Tadic postponed everything and called a press conference where he confirmed the detention of the wanted. There are no doubts that the further procedure will be similar - proof of identity, a short trial, a police escort to the airport of Belgrade and a flight to The Hague, where a prison cell is already prepared for Hadzic.

Unlike the Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Mladic, among their Croatian tribesmen there were no truly famous and iconic figures. The Republic of Serbian Krajina that existed from 1990 to 1995 had three presidents. The "middle" one was Goran Hadzic, who held the position in 1992-1993 and who was forced to confront the army of Croatia and pressure of the West.

As a person Hadzic is not that remarkable. He was born in Vinkovci in eastern Croatia where many Serbs resided. Before the massacre he worked in the warehouse and tried to move up along the party line. In his youth he joined the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, but in the late 1980s shifted to the Serbian Democratic Party and headed its office in the town of Vukovar.

By this time the situation in Croatia became aggravated. The local Sabor (parliament) abolished the official status of the Cyrillic alphabet, and President Franjo Tudjman who came to power took a course on building a mono-ethnic state where was no room for the Orthodox Serbs. In response, the latter began seeking ways to unite the areas inhabited by them with Serbia. This idea eventually attracted the young man named Goran Hadzic.

When the Sabor of Croatia proclaimed independence on June 25 of 1991, Serbs in eastern and southwestern parts of the country started creating their own public entities. Hadzic proved himself as an outspoken advocate of the rights of his tribesmen. He led the Serbs forum of the areas of Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srem, where the self-proclaimed Serb autonomy was established, and later headed its government.

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Neither Croats nor Serbs would give in, and a war broke out that covered half of the territory of Croatia. This is explained by the fact that two peoples lived intermingled, and each had their own truth. Hadzic commanded the Serb troops who fought with the newly established Croatian regular army. His troops showed themselves in Vukovar, which by the fall of 1991 turned into ruins and became the "Balkan Stalingrad." None of the parties were particularly humane, but the Hague tribunal and the West in general for many years argued that the Serbs were the main executioners.

By the end of 1991 the Serbian region of Croatia has united into the Republic of Serbian Krajina. At some point a third of the territory of the former Socialist Republic of Croatia was under their control. On February 26, 1992 at the time the 32-year-old Hadzic became its leader for two years. His objectives included the opposition to the Croatian army and creation of at least some semblance of the economy in the region, which would be extremely difficult even in peacetime. The areas were not very rich, and Serbia could not help as the international sanctions worked against it.

The most memorable political act of Hadzic, above all, was the rejection of the proposal of the Croatian authorities to grant autonomy to Serbs at the end of 1992. It is difficult to judge whether the future prisoner of the Hague prison was wrong. At the time the idea of ​​joining Serb-populated areas of Croatia with Serbia was still alive. He acted on an "all or nothing" principal, which resulted in "nothing."

The West openly sided with Croatia, equipped and trained its army, and NATO aircrafts repeatedly bombed the positions of the Croatian Serbs. In 1994 Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, under international pressure, stopped helping the Serbian Krajina with weapons. As a result, in May and August of 1995 the army of Croatia has reached a significant advantage and defeated the Serb-populated areas. Thousands of people have been killed, hundreds of thousands have fled. Today only 200 thousand Serbs live in Croatia, although before the war there were almost 600 thousand.

However, the defeat of Serbian Krajina happened at a time when Hadzic was no longer the president. Yet, the two years of leadership of the unrecognized republic and the need to bear arms have left their trace. The Hague Tribunal found the ex-president guilty of war crimes and issued an international arrest warrant. The same fate awaited the Bosnian Serb leaders and later, Milosevic. The leaders of Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians were not awaited in The Hague.

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After the overthrow of Milosevic in 2000, pro-Western leaders came to power in Belgrade who embarked on a full cooperation with the Hague Tribunal. Clouds began gathering over Hadzic who settled in Novi Sad, Serbia. On July 13, 2004 Belgrade received an indictment for Hadzic from The Hague. The ex-leader of Croatian Serbs was accused on a whole bunch of charges: participation in a criminal association, persecution on political, racial and religious grounds, murder, torture, deportation and forcible eviction, as well as violations of the laws and customs of war.

It became clear that Hadzic will soon be taken away. Then he got into his work car and drove away. According to some theories, someone from security officials managed to warn him. The former Croatian Serb leader disappeared, and the authorities in Serbia announced a reward of five million euros for information on his whereabouts. The same happened with Karadzic and Mladic. In the end, both were caught and given to The Hague. After the arrest of Mladic, President Tadic pledged to arrest Hadzic. Apparently, he kept his word.

What will be the fate of Hadzic in The Hague? The expectations are most unpleasant. Hadzic's predecessor as president of Serbian Krajina Milan Babić was sentenced to 13 years in prison, but he either committed suicide in prison or was killed. The last president of the breakaway republic Milan Martic is serving a 35-year sentence. The fate of Milosevic is pretty clear.

Now let's take a look at others who were also convicted of crimes against Croatian Serbs. In September of 1993, in the village of Medak, the Croatian army launched a punitive operation against the Serbs, killing hundreds of people. The army chief of staff of Croatia Janko Bobetko who ordered the elimination was awaited in The Hague, but he did not live to see the trial. His subordinate, General Mirko Norak, was sentenced to 19 years, and Rahim Ademi (Kosovo Albanian who fought in Croatia) was completely acquitted.

Next, let us take a look at the "Operation Storm" that resulted in the destruction of Serbian Krajina in 1995, and made hundreds of thousands of people flee their homes. Its leader Ante Gotovina was sentenced to 24 years, Gen. Mladen Markač - to 18 years, and Ivan Cermak was acquitted. This is a significant sentence, however, no one was sentenced to as much as Milan Martic, while the number of casualties in the case of Martic, Bobetko and Gotovina is comparable.

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There is no need to talk about the political leaders. Nearly all the leaders of the Croatian Serbs stood before the Hague tribunal. There were many politicians from Belgrade. Yet, the first Croatian president Franjo Tudjman died in 1999 of natural causes, as head of state. The leader of the Bosnian Muslims Alija Izetbegovic died the same way. The Hague did not condemn any of the leaders of Kosovo Albanians. There is no doubt that Karadzic, Mladic and Hadzic will be sentenced to at least thirty years.

By extraditing Goran Hadzic, Serbia fulfilled the main condition for the application for the EU membership. However, there is no guarantee that it will be accepted. Most EU countries have recognized Kosovo's independence, so this may become a new condition. There may be questions about the situation of the Slavic Muslims in the south-west of the country (in the Sandzak) and Hungarians in Vojvodina, although objectively they are not infringed upon. In terms of the economy in Serbia, things look objectively bad as NATO bombing pushed it decades back. This is not a given that Tadic's plan "war criminals in exchange for membership in the EU" will yield results.

So far The Hague opened proceedings against 92 Serbs, 33 Croats, eight Kosovo Albanians, seven Bosnian Muslims and two Macedonians. Everyone but the Serbs is often acquitted. For the Serbs acquittal is extremely rare. There is no indication that this trend will be changed. Extraditing the people that many Serbs see as their heroes, at the order of the West, Tadic raises the question of whether Serbia is an independent state in general, or whether he is a leader of the "banana republic" almost in the center of Europe.

Vadim Trukhachev

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