War criminal in the Hague but still a war hero in Croatia

Slobodan Praljak
Slobodan Praljak Copyright Reuters
Copyright Reuters
By Euronews
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The suicide of a convicted war criminal has highlighted the dominance of nationalist narratives in Croatian politics and media.


By Masenjka Bacic in Zagreb

"I have exactly seven bullets first I will kill your wife".

The threat is just one of more than a hundred received by Goran Beus Richembergh, a politician from the Croatian opposition party The Voice, after he wrote a Facebook post about convicted war criminal Slobodan Praljak.

Praljak, who committed suicide after his guilty verdict was pronounced at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, was hailed as a martyr and hero in his homeland.

Beus Richembergh is one of a very few Croatian public figures who have dared to question that response.

"The suicide was committed by a convicted war criminal," he wrote, going on to attack the ruling Croatian Democratic Union party for holding a minute of silence for Praljak in parliament and giving a statement which dismissed the court's decision.

'Injustice of the verdict'

The statement read out in parliament said: “The verdict does not accept the historical truth, facts and proofs and as such, it is unjust and unacceptable. By the tragic act of suicide, the general Praljak has symbolically pointed out all the injustice of the verdict.” 

Wednesday's ruling in the Hague had reaffirmed sentences imposed in 2013 on Slobodan Praljak and five other former Bosnian Croat leaders for crimes against humanity and war crimes against Bosniaks. The verdict reconfirmed that they were participants in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at the “unification of the Croatian people”. The late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, as well as other state officials, were also said to have participated in the persecution.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic himself denounced the verdict as a "deep moral injustice" against the convicted and rejected the finding that Croatia state was complicit in war crimes.

The president Kolinda Grabar Kitarović cut short an official visit to Iceland. She also cast doubt on the UN-backed tribunal's authority: Praljak's "act has deeply affected the Croatian people....No one, not even the Criminal Tribunal in the Hague will write our history. We will fight with all our legal and political tools for truth and justice“.

"It is a rape of historical truth and common sense“, Miro Bulj, a member of opposition party MOST, declared in parliament.

"Praljak took his life yesterday for the Croatian people and historical truth. This verdict from yesterday – who sits in those courts? The ones who murdered millions of people in the colonies. One judge is from China, that is de facto communist country, they give us a justice in Croatia“, said Željko Glasnović, a controversial right-wing member of parliament.

The session of the Zagreb Assembly in the capital opened yesterday with another minute of silence. And the national flag hanging outside the city council of Split flew at half-mast.

Besides Beus Richembergh, Vesna Pusic is the only other MP to openly oppose this narrative.

Also a member of the small and relatively young party The Voice, Pusic said that the verdict is a result of ill-advised Croatian politics in the nineties. Pusic, an ex-minister of foreign affairs, has previously found herself accused of betraying his country after making similar statements. "Traitor...I will slaughter you as a pig," read one of the message she received this week.

Beus Richembergh and Pusic have both reported the threats to police.

In the media

Eugen Jakovcic works at Documenta – the Center for Dealing with the Past which was set up by a group of NGOs to try to overcome political disputes and deliver a dialogue aimed at reconciliation.

“I am fascinated with the reaction of the victims, people who suffered at the Dretelj and Heliodrom detention camps because they read the verdict properly - as individual responsibility, unlike our government and president”, Jakovčić told Euronews.


On the other hand, Jakovcic says politicians are seeking to impose an interpretation of collective responsibility on the judgement which widens divisions between different groups.

But it is not only politicians who have been faced with threats and abuse as a result of their refusal to hail the condemned. One of the most popular news portals in the country, Index, which refrains from celebrating those convicted in the courts, also found itself in the firing line.

“All the media, at least the most influential ones, including public service media, celebrate convicted war criminals. It's like everything that happened is wiped clean. The prime minister sends the message that it is ethical to kill yourself. So what message does that give to others”, asks Andreja Košanski Hudika, the editor in chief of Index for Euronews.

Associate professor Hajrudin Hromadžić from the University of Rijeka says the mainstream media's position is part of a broader campaign.

“The public media service can hardly surprise us when we consider the past two years when they have opened a space for the radical right - positioning them in social mainstream. The same principle is followed by other mainstream media like NOVA TV who report with patriotic sympathies because it is a lucrative strategy”, he told Euronews.


By Masenjka Bacic in Zagreb

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