When doing my daily reading around the net about the latest actuality in the Balkans, which is now mostly dominated by Croatian wartime General Ante Gotovina’s conviction at the ICTY and the escalating political crisis in BiH, one comes across some quite interesting reads, be it because of their daring, fulminatory stance or the highly polemical nature of their not-so-frivolous arguments.
One of the more intriguing articles I came across was written by Jeffrey T. Kuhner, a Conservative columnist, writer and talk show host at Washington-based WTNT, which sports other eloquent voices of the right as Laura Ingraham and Jerry Doyle. Most of all, he’s known as the president of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal, an American Conservative think-tank aimed at integrating minorities into the Conservative movement. With such a domestically-focussed background, one may wonder why Kuhner decided to suddenly unleash himself on the Balkans.
Nonetheless, despite this introduction, I must give Kuhner due credit for having caught my attention with a piece titled “The coming Balkan war“, in which he poses the idea that the recent conviction of Gotovina will rekindle Milosevic-like aspirations for a ‘Greater Serbia’, a cause for which notables including Gavrilo Princip, Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassin and now quasi-Saint in Serbia, have let their lives for.
Being quite the structuralist myself, I refuse to believe in any suggestions that personal developments spark off war or tense situations. Furthermore, I must strongly disagree with some of Kuhner’s oh-so-poignant, semi-warmongering points. To suggest that HDZ has been a complete catastrophe at managing post-war Croatia may not be far away from the truth (bearing in mind some of the ‘smooth’ privatisation processes under Tuđman’s infamous privatizacijska pljačka, in English ‘privatisation robbery’), but does show significant discrepancy with that same truth in the way Kuhner chooses to present it. If, in his words, Zagreb has “rued the day [sic]” by handing over Gen. Gotovina to The Hague, then how much can we value the advanced negotiation process with the EU?
However, though the article much feels like a one-sided, incoherent diatribe expressing the frustrations over Gen. Gotovina’s conviction, there are a few points made in it that I did appreciate reading, simply because they are so uncommon to make.
The U.N. court is a politicized vehicle that aspires to render history’s final judgment on the Balkan wars of the 1990s. And its verdict is clear: All sides were guilty of atrocities; no party – or nation – was more responsible than the other. This is what Serbia has been demanding for years. It has sought to cover its genocidal culpability and national shame with moral equivalence.
Firstly, the point made about the goal of the ICTY (that it only serves to appease, hence declare every party as guilty) is one that has often been vaguely suggested, but never pointed at this directly. The ICTY, despite its noble goals, is all but a perfect umpire to judge over the siddering remnants of the conflicts in my second home-country, former Yugoslavia, and its work needs to be looked upon with much more criticism. Should Gotovina be convicted? Most probably, yes, he has done some things in the Krajina area in 94/95 (‘liberation of Knin’ in Operation Storm, bombing of the Mostar bridge,…) that are condemnable. And undoubtedly, he and his army have perpetrated some war crimes. But some other, smaller acts were simply acts of war, and should be recognized as such. A fair conviction following a fair analysis, not a public hanging.
The HDZ regime is fundamentally treasonous. After having won the war, Zagreb is losing the peace. The HDZ has betrayed Gen. Gotovina, the country’s veterans and Croatia’s hard-won independence. It has sold Croatia down the river in a mad dash to appease Brussels. The HDZ must be defeated, swept into the dustbin of history and replaced with a new conservative party – one that will provide voters with a real patriotic-populist option.
Second, the suggestion that HDZ is no longer what Croatia needs puts a wry smile on my face. When after 95 was HDZ ever what Croatia needed? Corruption, selling of the state’s assets to foreign companies for prices way too low, re-introducing some Ustaše history-works in the school curriculum, etc. Instead of turning Croatia into a pluralist yet proud, well-developed, economically independent state, Tudman and co have pursued an unrealistic dream with too much vigour and too little eye for other solutions. I think the best thing for Croatia, right now, would be for the trend of Josipovic’s election to continue itself – in essence, for a more moderate coalition government to take office.
Lastly and most importantly, can Gotovina’s conviction spark off another Balkan conflict, as concluded in the article? Without wanting to be too quick in my conclusions, I think one should acknowledge that the current situation in Croatia is not one that would publicly support a war. There are some, mostly Bosnia-Herzegovina related, dangers, such as Dodik’s increasing separatist rhetoric, the unanswerred call of Bosnian Croats to play a more active role in government (i.e. for their member of presidency to be someone they actually voted for instead of Željko Komšić, who happens to be a Croat that’s member of the Bosnian SDP) and a further loss of international support for the Dayton project. But a true, imminent threat to set off a new conflict in Croatia is, fortunately, lacking at present. Though there is a desire to eventually have an independent state of Herceg-Bosna, that would later on join Croatia, no-one’s prepared to stick out their neck for it at present. For that, accession to the EU (and the associated millions of euros in farming, industrial and touristic subsidies) is too closeby.
And so it seems that, even the most ludicrous arguments can give rise to interesting and fulfilling intellectual debate. Long live shanky journalism!