Friday, April 15, 2011

It Was Not Just the Serbs

ICTY--the International Criminal Tribunal on Yugoslavia--just handed down some key verdicts sentencing a couple of Croatian generals to significant jail terms and directly implicating Franjo Tudjman in the ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Krajina.  There were not too many good guys in the disintegration of Yugoslavia.  For instance, the Slovenes did not engage in much violence, but must have known that their separatist effort would help to de-stabilize the rest of the country. The conflict empowered the criminals in most of the successor states since they were the ones who could move the goods past the embargoes.

But the folks who were most responsible for the wars were the leaders of Croatia and Serbia--especially Tudjman and Milosevic.  The former died before being tried, the latter while the trial was underway.  Their dueling irredentists--Croatia seeking parts of Bosnia, Serbia seeking parts of both Croatia and Bosnia--fueled the conflict.  Milosevic's nationalism was pretty clearly opportunistic while Tudjman's was sincere.  The latter's entire career was focused on the Croatian nation. 

I don't have definitive proof, but it has always been my suspicion that Serbia's ethnic cleansing was more tactical than strategic while Croatia's was much more strategic.  That is, Serbia kicked other groups out of conquered territories so that they could hold them, but perhaps Croatian folks were generally pursuing a more ethnically homogeneous Croatia.  Perhaps someone can dig through the documents filed at ICTY to ascertain how ad hoc vs how planned these efforts were. 

Of course, the folks on the ground will blame the "Others" no matter what.  Will this erode Tudjman's place in Croatian history?  Probably not that much, but scholars are working on the issue of whether these tribunals really change attitudes.  Certainly, this case will get another look.   For the outsiders, we need to remember that there can be bad guys on both sides, a lesson that is quite relevant today in Libya.

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