Zagreb, 23 April, 2011.

Text written by former President Stjepan Mesić, published in Novi list


I am proud of my work By: Stjepan Mesić President of the Republic of Croatia 2000 – 2010              I was visiting the PR of China, when two retired Croatian Generals received their first degree sentences in the Hague and when – immediately after this – a political-media hysteria began in Croatia in which I was accused and singled out as the main culprit for such sentences. It never crossed my mind to defend myself from such allegations. And I will not lower myself to the level of discussing with initiators and protagonists of this obvious political manipulation in which General Gotovina became an object for collection of cheap political points in an election year. They are either political outsiders who are skilled at spreading lies for their own purposes, or they are misguided and manipulated individuals who bought into these lies. Therefore, I will not respond to neither of these groups, but I will say absolutely everything I have to say regarding this subject, as I believe that the Croatian public must be aware of this.          The time has come to be completely blunt about some issues. I will begin with this: it is, to say the least, sad that I am being attacked today by those who have, prior to my assumption of Office of the President, taken the transcripts that could potentially single them out as members of a joint criminal enterprise, or those who were calling for the arrest of General Gotovina, while I was trying – behind the scene – to secure him a status of a suspect that would have been interrogated in Zagreb. This upheaval over the verdict, objectively and in my personal opinion, is aimed at the Government that – it seems to me – did not recognize this in time. However, I will begin from the start.          An impression, or even a conclusion, is being created that I have, after becoming President, inherited all, I stress: all documentation from my predecessor. This is the first big lie.          Upon assumption of the entire Office of the President, which included the staff and the documentation, I took everything over – and I underline this formulation – as it was at that particular moment. That specifically pertains to the documentation. It was kept in three locations: in the office of Vesna Škare-Ožbolt, deputy Chief of Staff, in the Records office and in the Archives located in the basement of the main building along with personnel whose task was to record audio visual material. On top of that, each advisor, assistant and department head had personal safes with various documents, including the famed transcripts. Therefore, the documents were literally scattered all over the Office. To establish order and gain insight over this, in May of 2000. a commission was formed to list, take over and archive documents that were in the Office. I will be precise: these were documents from the office of Vesna Škare-Ožbolt, the Records office and the Archives located in the basement. This was done pursuant to the Record of the documentation of the Office of the President (transcripts) dated 1999. At that time, the last Chief of staff of Franjo Tuđman, Ivica Kostović, formed a committee headed by Ivan Jarnjak, who was then chief of staff of the National security office. From the available records we could see that Jarnjak personally went through and excluded those transcripts that seemed to him, for various reasons, interesting. These were hundreds of documents, minutes from meetings of the National Security Council, the presidency of HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) and from private conversations between president Tuđman and his closest associates. Vladimir Šeks took over a portion of these documents, Miroslav Tuđman took over another portion, while a third portion  mysteriously disappeared, yes – disappeared. For example: there is not a single transcript, except for two or three courtesy conversations, from meetings which were attended by Ivan Jarnjak and Ivić Pašalić.          Nobody is even discussing this today. But some are very outspoken, like the leader of HSLS (Croatian Social Liberal Party), and they claim that I have disregarded the Constitution by putting the transcripts at the disposal of the Hague tribunal, and that the Constitutional Law on Cooperation with the Tribunal forbids that. Here is the second big lie, and I will also add the third one – namely that all transcripts were sealed in envelopes marked as “secret.” Not a single envelope was sealed. Many of the transcripts were not even in appropriate envelopes, neither were all envelopes marked as “secret.” And I will not even discuss the legal relevance of a label on an envelope.          Regarding the Constitutional Law on Cooperation with ICTY, it was enacted when HDZ was the ruling party and when Franjo Tuđman was President. Also, that Law forbids absolutely nothing, it instead puts forth many obligations – for our country and its citizens. I strictly followed those obligations, both as a Croatian citizen and as the President. For example, I was a witness for the prosecutors in the process against Slobodan Milošević. These rabble-rousers would like to forget this. I, however, do not forget, and I also use this opportunity to remind them of that. Also, it is, to say the least, interesting that the accusations I have mentioned are coming from HSLS. Since that is the case, allow me to refresh the memory of those who would like to forget some things. In the Government of prime-minister Račan, Đurđa Adlešić (HSLS) was the chairperson of the Parliamentary Board for National Security, Goran Granić (HSLS) was the deputy prime-minister in charge of cooperation with ICTY, Jozo Radoš (HSLS) was the Defense Minister, and his assistant for security was – Mladen Ružman (HSLS). I am neither singling them out, nor am I accusing them of anything. I am simply stating a fact (accessible to everyone), in order to show who was, when concrete cooperation with ICTY began, at key positions with regards to national security and defense, and – specifically – cooperation with ICTY. ​Some held this against me even before, but now I am being furiously condemned for giving some of the transcripts of the meetings President Tuđman held to media, and through them to the general public. I did that to show where key decisions were being made; decisions that should have been made elsewhere. For example – one of them was related to the sale of the daily newspaper Večernji List, about how it was taken over and it showed the reasoning behind such a decision. So, it is true that I provided some of the transcripts to the media and NGOs, but I always had a clear goal – to inform the public of how policies were being made and to show how wrong it was. I never released irrelevant transcripts to the public – for example, why would anyone be interested in why Hloverka Novak Srzić complained about problems related to the editing and publishing of the Danas magazine, or how she gossiped about Mirko Galić, her superior at HRT (national TV), to Tuđman? Or a transcript about a 90 minute discussion between government and party leaders about who is a homosexual, with a list of names – of course. I would never even think of getting into such things. I am not shying away from the fact, to reiterate it, that I made certain things known to the public. And I am proud of this, because by doing this I have ushered in the process of true democratization of Croatian society. This reminds me of something. Of the people that uncovered the Watergate scandal in USA, who showed how their national leaders made plans for illegal activities that were carried out, and how these people became national heroes. President Nixon had to resign, while his key associates went to prison. And now I am being accused of grand treason! It would be funny, if it were not sad. ​On top of this, and nobody seems to (even wish to) consider that important documents, such as those appearing in the files of the prosecution at ICTY, could have been manipulated even prior to me becoming President. I stress: that was absolutely possible. I know this and I can claim this, what I do not know, I cannot speak of. ​I must, however, be straightforward about something else: neither myself, nor my Office never delivered some of the so called Tuđman transcripts directly to ICTY. In fact, the Government came in to sole possession of the entire documentation as of January 2001, and all requests for transcripts went through the Governmental office for cooperation with ICTY. Let me be completely clear: my Office played a service role in this, as requests from ICTY came to us through the Government’s office, we would or would not find the transcripts, and what was found was sent to the Government’s office that would forward everything to the Hague. As far as the so called Brijuni transcript is concerned, for whose delivery to ICTY I am now being accused of (yet another lie) and which is being singled out as the document that sealed General Gotovina’s fate, I wish to – for the public to know – say this: the so called Brijuni transcript is not even evidence, contrary to claims made by those who lack knowledge or who are ill willed. The original audio recording from that meeting is evidence. That recording, along with a short video recording, was found by POA (counterintelligence agency), whose director at that time was Tomislav Karamarko, in the aforementioned basement Archives. It was taken in order to determine its authenticity, and then it was delivered to ICTY. Therefore, my Office did not even have a service role in this, let alone me personally having anything to do with it. But, since the document is already being mentioned, I repeat: the audio recording is crucial, not the transcript, and I wonder, by the way, why wasn’t it removed by those who went through Tuđman’s documents prior to me becoming President when – I repeat – plenty of things disappeared. This document, however, did not. ​Amidst all of this political-media fever fabricated in Croatia, it seems that no one – except for a few columnists – cares about whether these things that the Generals are being accused of actually occurred. This is, I firmly believe, the very root of the problem. Nobody is wondering is there any truth in these allegations. It seems that this is irrelevant. Instead, it is important to see who helped discover these crimes – I am not speaking of certain individuals, I am speaking in general terms. Therefore: shoot the messenger with bad news! On top of this, the institute of joint criminal enterprise is being further blurred, even though it is not something we learned of just now. Something similar existed at the court in Nuremberg where Nazi political and military leaders were tried. This is not a comparison of substance, but of qualifications. Also, it is – I believe – very important: we must become aware of the fact that the verdict for the Generals is in fact a verdict for Franjo Tuđman, Gojko Šušak and closest circle of people surrounding the first Croatian President. This was after all concluded by the New York Times immediately after the verdicts were read with a headline: ICTY verdict is an indirect conviction for the late Croatian President Franjo Tuđman. After this, no political offensive, no political lobbying aimed at bringing down the concept of a joint criminal enterprise can help Generals Gotovina and Markač. The only thing that can help them is good defense based on disputing their role in the execution of the joint criminal enterprise. The emphasis, therefore, must be on their role and the nature of it. ​I fear that the defense attorneys of the Generals are not capable (or prepared) to do this. I will further explain this by saying why this is the case, and by uncovering something I never talked about until yet. The action I once began with regards to General Gotovina, where I knowingly assumed significant political risk, failed because his attorneys, as well as individuals who are now publicly looking for someone to blame, were against it. This was motivated solely by them not wanting for someone with a political profile such as my own to play any role in finding an acceptable solution. It is very important to point out something unknown until now – that my office gathered some 5000 to 6000 documents that favored General Gotovina. As it is known from his interview in the Nacional magazine, General Gotovina stated that he was ready to make himself available to ICTY investigators in Zagreb (Generals Agotić and Stipetić received such treatment), and in case of an unsatisfactory interview, even to go to the Hague. Unfortunately, under the influence of the aforementioned individuals Gotovina changed his mind, while Carla Del Ponte almost simultaneously refused my initiative aimed at that direction. ​Everyone, of course, is entitled to their own opinion on Carla Del Ponte. I believe that, by refusing my initiative, she made a mistake. But, as far as ICTY is concerned, there is – in my opinion – no room for various judgment calls. I firmly believed, as I do today, that we needed ICTY. Why? Well, because there was no political will in Croatia to process war crimes that clearly occurred on our side. There is no doubt that the country’s leadership knew of them. I contemplated for a long time whether to come out in the open about this, but now I will say it: I was present when a former minister who is also very vocal today reported to Tuđman that Serbian villages in western Slavonia were being burnt down in three shifts. Literally: in three shifts. I will not name this person, I am neither a prosecutor, nor a judge, but I remember what I saw and heard. I will also mention another politician, a member of the opposition, who once said in the Croatian Parliament that he traveled to Knin one day after it was liberated and how all surrounding villages were in tact. When he was returning in the evening of the same day, all of them were burning. The parliamentary majority shouted at him with disgust. I can vouch for his words as I saw the same thing. This is exactly what I stated earlier: there is and there was no will to face the truth. Instead, it is preferred for Croatia to be hostage of a few people, or of a group, instead of dealing with these things once and for all. It is in this context that I was in favor of full and complete cooperation with ICTY, not only because it is our Constitutional obligation, but also because I believed that ICTY trials will help create a climate in Croatia for similar trials and that it will – most importantly – help us move away from even the slightest attempt of constructing collective responsibility. Which is exactly what is being done by those raising a storm over the verdicts for Gotovina and Markač. They are lying about how these are verdicts for Croatia, for those who fought, for Operations Flash and Storm, and for the Homeland War. I repeat: they are lying and they are trying to use Croatia as a shield. Why? That should not be difficult to figure out. ​Personally, nothing would please me more than to be able to say that no crimes were committed on the Croatian side. But, unfortunately there were crimes, in numbers greater than those known to the public yet. Some details are only now becoming known. We had a period when even a thought of this was being refused and qualified as anti-Croatian. We also had a President of the Supreme Court who became famous with a monstrous statement that no Croatian can commit a war crime, while defending his country. Of course, there is always a genesis of a crime, sometimes there exists an explanation that can become an extenuating circumstance in court. But there were crimes on our side – and all discussions with regards to that must end. Turning a blind eye in front of facts will do us no good. On the contrary. I will restate something I said with regards to this matter to a group of students – Croatian and Serbian – in eastern Slavonia years ago: “Criminals must be punished, regardless of who they are. No nation deserves to carry a burden of a crime committed by individuals. A nation is never guilty. It is always the individuals, people with names. And crime is universal, it has no nationality or religion.” Again: criminals must be punished and the national mortgage of their crimes must be removed. That is my belief and that was my policy while I was President. It was a good policy, I am certain, for the entire country, and primarily for the benefit of those who risked their lives to defend their country with pride and honor and who have done no wrong and who really do not deserve to be mercilessly manipulated, as they are now. ​In the midst of all these countless manipulations and lies, the Croatian political scene was, except for a very small number of individuals, unprepared and even reacted in an immature way to these verdicts. Which leads me to conclude that: we are either dealing with people who are participating in these manipulations or with those who bought in to what the lawyers and the media have been telling them for months about how everything will be alright, how the prosecution’s arguments are based on shaky foundations and how the Generals will certainly be exonerated. Expressing shock over something that was to be expected to anyone who was following the trial closely, making statements at a political level that this verdict is unacceptable for Croatia, saying that Croatia was on trial is not only foolish, it is politically dangerous and it leads toward an atmosphere such as the one where the flag of the European Union was burnt in one of our cities. It is pointless to even discuss what sort of an image this creates of us in the world. A bad one – of course. As far as our media are concerned, unfortunately the majority of them have in the past month written yet another disgraceful page in their newer history. They have elevated tensions in a direct, obvious, unethical and unprofessional manner. The countdown to the verdict, opening the main news bulletin on TV, one month ahead of the verdicts, with a statement “everyone is afraid, what will happen if they are convicted,” a report in which a student says (after the verdict) how now we are “labeled as aggressors,” all of this is pure manipulation of the public in order to create inner instability. As far as the ultimate goal of this is concerned, I would rather not try to estimate it. ​It is with regret that I must state how even the Church did not remain immune to this. Quite the opposite. It gave its undoubted contribution to the raising of tensions. First it published a statement by the Iustitia et pax Commission, calling upon everyone to pray and fast for a righteous verdict, thus clearly expressing doubts into ICTY. Then, two days prior to the verdicts, it published another statement that is very negative about ICTY, then it – I daresay – hypocritically called for peace and dignity, only to hold mass services for the Generals on the day of the verdict, and then call these verdicts unfair and even a “crime against God.” All of this, of course without any regard for the fact that these proceedings are still ongoing, that it is a first degree verdict and that, so the say, this is not the end of the story. ​Finally, I must also mention, within this entire context, a drastic drop in public support for Croatia’s EU membership. This especially pains me, as I dedicated both my Presidential mandates to the opening of Croatia towards others and accepting EU standards and benchmarks as quickly as possible, in order to become a qualified candidate country. This drop in support is key proof of how disorientated and misinformed the Croatian public currently is. The EU has nothing to do with ICTY, neither are they in direct connection to each other. It is a tribunal established by the UN, and I must again remind the professional forgetters of the fact that Croatia is among the founders of it. The ability and will to appropriately deal with the fact that there were crimes committed on the Croatian side as well is being monitored and evaluated in our EU accession negotiations. This is true, and this implies an indirect connection. But, it would be tragic if a sudden drop in support for EU membership would also imply that most citizens are not ready to face the fact that crimes were committed. I believe this is not so. I do believe, though, that people are not informed and the aforementioned political-media campaign has had a certain effect. A temporary one – I hope. ​I have presented things as I see them and as they have unfolded. And I will be blunt: I am worried about the present state of affairs in the country, not because of the accusations aimed at me, I am worried about the country’s future. It is not up to me to say what should be done and how should it be done in the future. After all, I am a former President. This is something that those who were entrusted by the citizens to lead the country must attend to. As far as I am concerned, I have no further intent to debate over who is to be “blamed” for the verdict to Gotovina and Markač. I feel that I have explained what I had to explain to the Croatian public. Cooperation with ICTY is our Constitutional obligation – of our country and of all its citizens. I have supported that cooperation, and will continue to do so, and I hope that many of our courts will be capable of taking over war crime trials, not only for those from the other side. And I would like to believe that – with time – there will be less citizens buying into stories told by those who are selling myths and legends that have nothing to do with the truth. Lies cannot control our lives. It is obvious that the creators of the current political-media hysteria never read the Bible and do not know the saying: “The truth shall set you free.” I know it. What I said here is the truth.