by Drago HEDL
The most important question is definitely the following: Why did Croatian state, intelligence and military leadership invest so much effort in hiding the crimes committed in Paulin Dvor, going so far as to organize secret burials of the victims in a military dump, hide corpses there for six years, then, again shrouded in complete secrecy, transport them to Lika [on the other end of Croatia] and again bury them there with the goal of making sure they are never discovered?
If it were not everything could have been much easier. Using the same evidence and reasoning as last Thursday the court could have then, immediately after the crimes were committed, sentence Ivankovic to a 12 year prison term - about 6 months for every victim - and by now he would be free. Nineteen residents of Paulin Dvor would be buried at the local cemetery, no one would try to hide their corpses and secretly bury them, let alone make an effort to pack their remains in plastic barrels, used in the region around Osijek for pickled cabbage. No one would expose Croatia to shameful comparison with Slobodan Milosevic and his transports of corpses in freezer trucks and attempts to hide crimes. In that case, why wasn't Ivankovic, the only culprit according to the court, tried immediately after the committed crime?
Why not? Because enough time had to pass to make sure that only as much evidence remains as is needed to sentence only one man, a driver of a brigade that fought in a remote village, for a horrendous crime in which 19 civilians were killed, most of them women and elderly. If in the meantime all the material evidence hadn't disappeared (the house in which the massacre took place has been blown up and destroyed), and if the key witnesses hadn't died (such as Mirko Groselj, former chief of Osijek SIS, whose name was mentioned in the courtroom quite a lot during the trial), if therefore the trial took place immediately after the crime took place it is possible that other today unknown evidence may have surfaced and ensnared bigger fish.
Judge Dragan Poljak, who was simply forced to find Ivankovic guilty to make sure that an acquittal does not push the investigation in the direction of the then commander of the defense of Osijek Branimir Glavas (Paulin Dvor was at the time administratively only one of the local communes of the then Osijek municipality) or the commander of the military operations zone Karl Gorinsek, and their failure to punish the culprits. Unlike Gorinsek who appeared in court as witness, Glavas managed to avoid even that inconvenience, as the investigators found his assertions that he had learned about the crime in Paulin Dvor from - what irony - newspapers credible.
As according to Croatian law hiding of evidence of war crimes is not a crime, and since the time elapsed between the transport of corpses to Rizvanusa (January 1997) and their discovery (May 2002) is longer than the statute of limitation, the most interesting episode of the "Paulin Dvor case" was ignored by the investigation and the trial. Who, why and with what intention hid those corpses for more than 10 years in hope that they would never be found will remain a mystery forever.
Although the investigation discovered part of correspondence between Miroslav Tudman and Duro Decak about what to do with remains of victims from Paulin Dvor, those documents will be filed away and forgotten in some archive. Both Tudman and Decak rejected any possibility of involvement in the case, while the latter, once the documents finally reached the journalists, admitted that in cooperation with M. Tudman he sought a way to move corpses from the military dump Lug, which was under his jurisdiction, lest they be found by Hague Tribunal investigators.
Her body may have been on the edge of the primary grave in Lug and may still be there today. However, this possibility did not elicit the concern of the court. Instead it found it easier to simply drop the name of Milka Lapcevic from the list of victims instead of investigating whether her remains are still buried inside the military dump Lug. Thus it remains totally unclear if on November 11, 1991 in Paulin Dvor 19 or 18 persons were murdered, and if Ivankovic was sentenced to a 12 year prison term for killing 18 or 19 persons.
Although the case will eventually end up in front of the Supreme Court since Ivankovic's attorney has announced that he would appeal the verdict, one should not expect any spectacular reversals in this case. The Croatian judiciary will be able to boast that it has finally solved one extremely difficult case and that it is obviously capable of dealing with other, easier, cases that the Hague Tribunal will delegate in the foreseeable future.