Genocide is a crime, not a children’s game
Author: Inoslav Bešker
Uploaded: Tuesday, 17 December, 2013
At a time when Sonja Biserko is the subject of a witch-hunt in Serbia for agreeing to appear as a witness in Croatia's genocide case against her country, it is pertinent to recall a Croatian voice raised against any deal to drop the mutual charges of genocide levelled by Belgrade and Zagreb.
Signals are coming from Belgrade and Zagreb indicating increasing readiness on the part of their two governments to withdraw the mutual charges of genocide committed in the Croatian-Serbian war of 1991-5. The two governments’ initiative is politically logical and diplomatically expedient: withdrawal of the charges would help lower tensions, facilitate dialogue, push uncomfortable facts from the past into the background .
I am quite serious in saying that Croatia needs to have in its neighbourhood a Serbia that is happy, content and economically advancing, rather than one that is miserable, crisis-ridden and prone to war. At this golden moment when Croatia is joining the European Union and is scoring a few statistical points [in tourism]over Greece, one ought to be generous and do everything for Serbia to win a date for the start of biblical negotiations for entering the Union. In this context, to insist on genocide appears, politically speaking, as wearisome, counterproductive spite. Peace, peace, no one is to blame, let’s move forward to a better future!
Regardless of the irony of the situation, it makes political sense. After all, the European Union was born out of the decision by France and Germany to bury the hatchet, the decision to end wars.
There is no doubt that economic, cultural and other forms of cooperation are both pledges and causes of better political relations; that they are needed by our children and grandchildren in order to avoid another drowning in blood and awakening of ghosts of real and imagined historical wrongs.
Nevertheless, genocide is a crime. A serious, indeed the most serious one in the wide spectrum of war crimes and crimes against humanity. And in a world claiming to be civilised, this, permit me to say, is not a matter for diplomacy or politics, but for (preferably independent) courts.
However idyllic the relations between France and Germany may be, however much De Gaulle and Adenauer cut Europe’s cloth, and Kohl and Mitterrand romantically held each other’s hand, the protagonists of the previous genocide continued to be hauled before courts even today, seventy years after the war’s end, because of the existing consensus that war crimes and crimes against humanity do not fall under any statute of limitation.
A crime must be censured, and for this to happen it must be brought before a court, even if afterwards the criminal, out of simple compassion for his advanced age, is left to die in the peace in which he has long lived. This is called justice. The only injustice is that the same sternness is not shown to criminals on the victorious side. The Hague had to right that injustice too, at least for the future’s sake. That is right, even if its task has not been fully realised.
Genocide is not some toy to pull out when we quarrel, then hide when we make peace. Genocide is not within the competence of prime ministers and cabinet ministers. It is the court that must pronounce on it, because it is a crime. Only a competent court is authorised to decide whether, first, genocide was committed against Croats and if so where, or against Serbs and if so where, or indeed against Bosniaks and if so where (apart from Srebrenica, where this has been juridically established); secondly, who was individually responsible for it, because we do not recognise collective guilt, especially not one stemming from religion or ethnicity. That sort of thing fascist gentlemen can stick into their buttonholes, in order the better to stand out. The criminal has a nationality, but his crime does not. Thomas Mann is not co-responsible for Auschwitz, nor a contemporary Croat for Jasenovac - unless, anachronistically, he adopts the ustasha U, thus seeking post facto collaboration in the ignition of Picilli’s ovens.
It is necessary that courts should establish whether genocide did indeed take place, in order also to prevent that crime from vampire-like arising again. If today we ‘leave it to history’, as the hypocrites argue, then it can easily be dragged up again from that history to tyrannically incite and serve as revisionist cover for a new fancier of warm human blood.
We know that a legal judgment is not as effective as the mythical hawthorn stake, but least it is a foothold which can be changed only through legal revision. Because courts, at least those which uphold their own dignity, insist on evidence and not only impressions and partiality.
Translated from Jutarnji list (Zagreb), 24 June 2013