Crunch for Croatia

by Brussels Gonzo (originally published on A Fistful of Euros)

Hi folks, I am your guest blogger for the next two weeks. I hope you’ll allow me to be a little coy about my identity; but I do work in Brussels, in the general field of international politics.

I usually forget to check the European Parliament’s calendar of next week’s events on Friday afternoon, though really I should do it as a matter of routine, to plan ahead for the coming week. (And really they should have a direct link from the front page of their website, rather than three clicks away; but there’s not much point in wasting blogspace on stating the obvious about the crap design of the EU institutions’ websites.)

Along with the usual tedium of schedules for a conference in Cairo that nobody I know will go to, and such marvels as the European Parliament’s desperate attempt to make itself relevant to the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, there is one potentially very interesting meeting on the agenda.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Foreign Affairs Committee will be discussing Croatia’s EU application with Vladimir Drobnjak, Croatia’s ambassador to the UN and its Chief Negotiator. This will be the day before Croatia’s EU membership talks would have started, were it not for Zagreb’s failure to catch fugitive general and war crimes indictee Ante Gotovina. (Who knows – in the next few days he may hand himself in, and prove my forecast wrong. But I’m not counting on it.)

The extraordinary events of last week in Kosovo – where the Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, resigned and went quietly to the Hague following his indictment, successfully urging restraint on his own supporters, surely now must increase pressure on both Zagreb and Belgrade to draw a line under the past by dealing with the loose ends from the wars of the 1990s. Zagreb’s protests – that they don’t know where Gotovina is – are answered by the war crimes tribunal with the accusation that this is for want of trying.

(The Serbian government’s protests to the same effect are not widely believed in Belgrade, let alone in the Hague. A senior government official there recently told me, “I’d send my own mother to the war crimes tribunal, if they asked, so that Serbia could fulfill the EU’s conditions. Unfortunately the people who matter in this government don’t see it the same way.”)

There is a valid question about whether or not a war crimes tribunal is the best way to go in resolving conflicts. In other cases, political compromises between old and new regimes, or truth and reconciliation commissions, or both have been used. The fact that the ICTY has proved to be genuinely independent, especially in the way it has not felt constrained by anyone else’s political inconvenience when issuing indictments, has been a source of frustration to many in the Balkans. (Some of my more excitable friends even claimed that Carla del Ponte bore some of the responsibility for the assassination of Zoran Djindjic – an absurd assertion: the blame belongs entirely with those who planned and carried out the killing.)

However, IMHO that is all irrelevant by now. The international community, including the UN and all the relevant governments, signed up to ICTY when it was set up and they have no choice but to follow it through to the end. It also seems to me that the removal of war crimes indictees has generally had a positive effect on the ground. Look, for instance, at Kozarac, near Prijedor where the first two arrests by SFOR were made in July 1997: then a blasted landscape of ruined houses, now one of Bosnia’s best examples of refugee return. And just imagine how much worse the political scene would be now in Belgrade if Milosevic and Seselj were still in situ, either glowering from their prison cells or, worse, at liberty to whip up their supporters.

Considering that Kosovo is so far behind Croatia in so many other ways, it surely cannot be comfortable for Croatian officials to reflect that the UN protectorate has a perfect score on the one political condition that is keeping Croatia from EU membership negotiations. Vladimir Drobnjak is one of the most impressive negotiators and diplomats I have encountered from any country, let alone from the region, but he has been handed a very difficult situation to try and explain to the European parliament on Wednesday. I expect he will rise to the occasion: I’ll certainly be there myself, and will report back here.

And the first person to greet me with the words, “You are Brussels Gonzo, and I claim my free drink” will get a glass of wine (or equivalent) from me at the hemicycle bar.


Being a de facto protectorate Kosovo really can’t say no and the prime minister knew it. Very brave of him personally, but where’s the political comparison headed?

Posted by: Oliver at March 13, 2005 10:55 AM

The Kosovo Albanians have plenty of choice in the matter. NATO troops in the nearby protectorate of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been unable to catch Radovan Karadzic for nine years now. If Haradinaj had decided to run for the hills, he could probably have made a go of it; if he’d wanted to urge a popular rebellion against international authority, well, I don’t really want to speculate what the outcome might have been.

Croatia and Serbia have every incentive to comply with the war crimes tribunal due to the demands of Euro-Atlantic integration, just as Kosovo does due to its somewhat different situation; but it doesn’t work unless the leaders at the very top make the decision to go in that direction. On that basis Pristina is ahead of Zagreb and Belgrade at the moment.

Posted by: Brussels Gonzo at March 13, 2005 10:43 PM

Is there a hope for Kosovo’s independance, if the EU is commited to preventing it?
Can the EU make a credible threat to the independance of Croatia or Serbia?

Posted by: Oliver at March 14, 2005 08:22 AM

Hi Gonzo,

Great post, and I also agree with you WRT Kosovo and Haradinaj. I do have a couple of quibbles, though.

1) I don’t think del Ponte bears blame for the killing of Djindjic. The key factor there was that, after two years of compromise and failed appeasement, Djindjic was showing some willingness to move against the Red Berets and the whole foul nodulus of corruption, crime and violence swirling around them. They turned on Djindjic because it looked like he was getting ready to start clipping their wings, not because of del Ponte or the Hague

However, this doesn’t let del Ponte off the hook. Her botching of the Milosevic trial at a tactical level made it harder for Djindjic to cooperate with the Hague, and has given aid and comfort to bad actors in the region for a while now.

2) It’s going to be bitchin’ hard to convict Haradinaj (which is why I was mildly surprised that they indicted him). Albanians are clannish and close-mouthed even by Balkan standards, the Kosovo guerilla movements didn’t leave much of a paper trail, and a certain amount of useful information is locked firmly in the archives of the military and security agencies of various NATO powers. So he could go off to the Hague with a rather high degree of confidence IMO.

As to Croatia: FWIW, I’m rooting for the EU to take a firm line. The region needs it, and it will set a valuable precedent when it’s time to talk accession with Serbia, Albania, Bosnia, and even Turkey. I live in Romania, BTW, and I think the EU has been absurdly lenient on accession negotiations here. The pattern that’s emerging so far is that Brussels will huff and puff, but in the end will always roll over rather than upset the prearranged schedule. That’s a paradigm that really needs to be broken.


Doug M.

Posted by: Doug Muir at March 14, 2005 10:36 AM


I think the Hague’s lack of concern for the consequences of how it handles the cases stems from ICTY’s concept of itself as truly independent; but I suspect that a different approach on their part could have made “independent” seem less of a synonym for “unhelpful”.

I hear that the evidence against Haradinaj has been mostly submitted by the Serbs, in which case a lot of it may well fall apart anyway (some has already been disproved, murder victims still being alive, etc). NATO folks had very little on him.

Totally agreed on Romania – have you seen Tom Gallagher’s new book? – but I think the Bucharest chickens are coming to roost in Zagreb. If in no other way, Croatia’s application is linked to Turkey’s in that the EU has a new tougher policy.


Posted by: Brussels Gonzo at March 14, 2005 11:01 AM


The EU (and the international community as a whole) isn’t anywhere near reaching a consensus view on Kosovo independence. EU foreign ministers stated last month that a return to the pre-1999 situation is not on the cards, but that still leaves a very large range of options.

So nobody is in the position of being able to make a credible and immediate promise of alliance with the Kosovo Albanians to deliver independence, let alone of threatening to withhold it if they misbehave.


Posted by: Brussels Gonzo at March 14, 2005 11:09 AM

I’m with Oliver on this.

Croatia can alwasy proclaim that Euro-Atlantic integrations, financial incentives, international co-operation etc. is simply not worth losing “national dignity”. Croatian politicians can always pull the plug on the whole EU/NATO process. In couple of years Croatia will become pariah with living standards of North Korea, but, at least theoretically, it will remain an independent state, and, last but not least, the regime responsible for that policy shift can expect at least couple of years before international community or domestic opposition gets its act together and make serious effort of changing it.

Kosovo, for all the reasons, mentioned by other commentators, can’t use this option.

Posted by: Dragan Antulov at March 14, 2005 11:46 AM

Be warned, that free drink may well be claimed. But maybe not this Wednesday – though spies willé be sent to AFET, just in case.

Posted by: Elaib at March 14, 2005 03:52 PM

Terrific post. But I agree with some of the comments above about the “unhelpfulness” of some of the ICTY’s tactics and maneuverings. The biggest problem to me (aside from incompetence in some prosecutions and the unnecessary fight that the ICTY picked with American news organizations over compelled testimony) is the use/abuse of the “sealed” indictment. There would have been short term hiccups if all indictments were made publicly at the time of their creation, but players would have known where they stood. The sealed indictment and its lack of transparency has created unnecessary paranoia and ill will.

Posted by: Richard at March 14, 2005 04:18 PM

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