Monday, March 24, 2003

Wars, Heroes and Criminals

In most of countries of the world Iraq War is the top news. But not in Croatia today.

Mirko Norac is going to enter history books as the first general to be sentenced for war crimes by his own country's courts. Young general, who had earned his rank and fame by organising successful defence of Gospić (Gospic) in Autumn 1991, during Croatian war against Federal-backed Serb rebels, has just been sentenced to 12 years. He was sentenced for the role in massacre and disappearance of few dozens of local Serbs. Two of his associates – Tihomir Orešković (Tihomir Oreskovic) and Stjepan Grandić (Stjepan Grandic) – were sentenced to 15 and 10 years, respectively.

His sentence could have serious political implications. For Croatian right wing, Norac became a martyr figure – symbol of everything that is wrong with post-Tudjman Croatia. Streets of Rijeka, where the trial took place, were filled by few thousands of General Norac's supporters – mostly war veterans and people from his home town of Sinj. Many of them have expected acquittal and this decision, although not particularly surprising (even Tudjman's government has considered the Gospić troublemakers expendable) and although not the worst case scenario for Norac (if he was tried in Hague, he could have gotten a life sentence), is not going to sit well in many areas of Croatia.

People of Sinj have reacted by organising roadblocks, bringing back memories of widespread revolt in February 2001 and sinister comparisons with Serb rebellion that took the similar shape in August 1990.


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