by Boris PAVELIC
He was born in 1919 in Sisak. Aged 22 he joined the first Partisan unit in occupied Europe, the First Partisan Unit, formed on June 22, 1941 near Sisak. In WWII he lost his father and four brothers; only he and the mother survived.
A successful military career followed. In the late sixties Bobetko joined the Croatian Spring movement. Not for long: on December 12, 1971 General Colonel Bobetko was fired from the post of the deputy commander of the Zagreb Military Region, and somewhat later thrown out from the Yugoslav Communist League. For the next twenty years he remained silent.
He spoke out in an interview published in the October of 1990. Several months later he was present round the clock in the Sisak police station assisting defense and leading the capture of Yugoslav People's Army barracks in Zazina near Sisak and in Petrinja.
After initial disagreements with Tudman - which never totally stopped - in early 1992 he was reactivated and joined the Croatian Army. In the August of 1992 he became a representative of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) in the parliament. He was given the rank of general and appointed commander of the Southern Front. That was Bobetko's golden period. He led the liberation of Dubrovnik, Maslenica, and Medak Dzep, visited front lines, encouraged soldiers; he was labeled "the liberator of Croatia" and "the man who brings victories". In 1993 he replaced Antun Tus on the post of the chief of staff of the Croatian Army.
The 76-years-old general was in hospital during the operation "Flash", participating as much as he could. A week before the operation "Storm", he was retired - but the same could not be said for his charisma.
Soon afterwards he published a book of memoirs "All my battles". The voluminous book became the most controversial work written about the Homeland War, as some claimed that the Hague Tribunal found in it tons of material for its investigations. But Bobetko did not avoid controversy: because of that book he ended up spoiling relations with many of his former comrades - as well as with all those who did not support the concept of state and army promoted by the right wing of the HDZ. Bobetko increasingly became the central pillar of the movement of those who claimed that Croat war crimes should not be punished; he did not like to discuss dark sides of the Homeland War, dismissing such conversation as anti-Croatian. We can only guess whether such attitude was influenced by allegations that his son was involved in murders that took place in Sisak in 1991.
Elderly, but persistent, after the HDZ became opposition Bobetko joined the clique of retired generals, becoming probably the only communist general from WWII cheered at the end of his career by black shirts. And the only one to live to be indicted by the anti-fascist Europe for whose freedom he fought - for war crimes.
by Zlatko CRNCEC, Drazen CIGLENECKI, and Bojana MRVOS
The Prime Minister warned against making hasty decisions, and added that consequently a break of five, six days is needed before making the final decisions. In that "time out", as Racan referred to it, dialog between legislative and executive branches of the government would be initiated, and the Prime Minister also announced that he would ask citizens to help him in making "the most prudent decision having in mind interests of the country".
"Gentlemen in the Hague can wait. We need to pass the big test we are facing now. Against our will, we have to decide the fate of individuals and of our homeland. We need to protect innocent individuals, but also make sure that Croatia does not end up in isolation," the Prime Minister stressed calling for consensus.
Thereby Racan accepted the demand of the opposition to guarantee that he would not extradite Bobetko before consulting the Parliament. Consequently, the opposition gave up its demand that a parliamentary debate on the extradition be held immediately after somewhat around 4p.m. the Prime Minister informed the representatives that the Government had been contacted by the Hague Tribunal and that the Tribunal wanted to send the Government the indictment against Bobetko.
Racan announced that the indictment would most likely be received on Thursday evening.
Until the appearance in the parliament the government except for the written request [from the Hague Tribunal] had no other documents about Bobetko's status, so that the Prime Minister did not want to comment on the indictment. He emphasized that within its competencies the government would try to help the former commander of the Croatian Army as much as possible. "We are aware of the difficulty of the situation and our responsibility. The government will act in accordance with the Constitutional Law on Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal. But, this is a test for all of us. We must figure out how to act to further both general Bobetko's interest and the interest of Croatia and neither opportunism nor political extremism will help us in this situation," Prime Minister Racan emphasized.
There may be disagreements regarding what would be best for both General Bobetko and Croatia, the Prime Minister conceded, but "we must find a way out of the whole situation by strengthening democracy and our national unity". Today an extraordinary session of Racan's cabinet will be held.
Before addressing the parliament, Racan and Granic met with heads of parliamentary factions and informed them about the indictment. We have learned that to the question from Vesna Skare-Ozbolt from the Democratic Center, whether they were aware that this indictment is against the then commander in chief of the Croatian Army, Racan and Granic allegedly simply shrugged their shoulders.
Yesterday afternoon, a high ruling coalition official indicated to Novi List that Racan may opt for a break in the relationship [sic] with the Hague. He believes that now is the crucial moment in the relations between the Government and the Hague, because if he agrees to extradite Bobetko "Racan need not run in the next election because he is bound to lose".
On behalf of the Croatian Block club of representatives Ivic Pasalic said that the parliamentary debate about the indictment does not make sense unless the government can guarantee that it would not make any decisions before the debate. Istrian Democratic Council (IDS) representative Damir Kajin said that the decision by the Hague is bringing down Racan's government, and that the atmosphere in Croatia was highly incendiary, and would be impossible to control after a future explosion. "God help us if the street takes over!", Kajin concluded, proposing that the parliament first learn more about the indictment and then open a debate. Anto Djapic [from the Croatian Party of Rights (HSP)] on the other hand proposed a referendum in which citizens of Croatia would decide about future cooperation with the Hague.
Maro Arlovic, from [the ruling] Socialdemocratic Party (SDP) said that his party did not oppose a debate in the parliament, but he also emphasized that the debate should not be started before all the facts are known, in order not to harm Bobetko, or the state interests. He added that with its decisions the parliament would take responsibility for the fate of the country and the nation. Arlovic proposed that the proposals by the HDZ to modify the Constitutional Law on Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal and the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) that the government be required by the parliament not to make any decisions before a decision by the Constitutional Court in this case be debated together. He added that "it is necessary to create conditions that the defense prove that General Bobetko is not guilty so that he can be acquitted of all charges".
Luka Trconic from the Croatian Peasants' Party (HSS) agreed for the most part with Arlovic, and advocated that through dialog it is established if "Croatia must be so consistent, even if it goes against its interests".
A civilized parliamentary debate about the Promotion Of Investment From Abroad Act was interrupted yesterday around noon by Vladimir Seks demanding that the session be adjourned until the Prime Minister informed the parliament about the situation in connection with the request from the Hague Tribunal Prosecutor's Office to question General Bobetko as a defendant.
Seks reminded representatives that Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic had said on Tuesday morning that the government was not aware of any documents indicating that Bobetko had been indicted. "We have reliable information that at that time both the Prime Minister and his deputy were aware that Bobetko was going to be indicted," Seks said.
However, unofficially we have learned that leaders of the ruling coalition of five political parties received news that "something was up with Bobetko" only on Tuesday night, during their regular meeting, from Croatian ambassador in the Netherlands Jaksa Muljnic. The official communication from the Hague Tribunal arrived a bit later. Despite Tomcic's attempts to convince the representatives to continue with the agenda, the session was adjourned until Racan addressed the parliament.
After explaining the facts, Granic said that anything else he would say would be simply speculation. In conclusion he said that he would inform the parliament about Government's stance after the end of its session, which is to be held later today.
Rather than unleashing a public and political storm, we should approach this issue with a clear mind. The formulation about "questioning of General Bobetko as a defendant" can be compared with the approach to General Stipetic, with one difference that the latter was not formally described as a defendant nor had an indictment been issued. Secondly, only a court, not media and politicians, is entitled to decide about the existence or lack of war crimes, if a trial ever takes place. Fourth [sic], the procedure described in the statute of the Hague Tribunal and the Constitutional Law regulating cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, should be closely followed, until the Constitutional Court decides on the merit of the request filed by the HDZ to annul the Constitutional Law on Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal as unconstitutional.
The question if war crimes charges against General Bobetko have any merit has no direct connection with the procedure, but it can not only influence the fate of the wartime leader of the Croatian Army but also the whole Croatian political and public discourse. Bobetko's book, which many have described as prime evidence for involvement of Croatia and General Bobetko in the conflict in Bosnia-Hercegovina does not offer any evidence of his participation in any specific crimes. Even the transcript quoted in the American magazine Harper's Magazine dealing with the operation Medacki Dzep, clearly does not indicate that Bobetko either ordered that crimes be committed or that he was aware of committed crimes and failed to do anything to prevent them or to punish those responsible for committing crimes. Therefore, if the Hague Tribunal prosecutor charged Bobetko without any concrete evidence, and Bobetko at this point seems to be acting reasonably agreeing to talk to investigators from the Hague and claiming that he has nothing to hide and that the only incriminating circumstance is that he undeniably was the commander of the Croatian Army when some crimes did take place, the Hague Tribunal will itself, directly affecting the political situation in Croatia, deliver "ammunition" to Croatian advocates of total severance or limiting of cooperation with that institution, and their charges, by no means limited to Croatia, that the Hague Tribunal is above all a political court.
The situation is becoming increasingly tense with every passing hour. The "Hague bomb" in Croatia is about to explode, so that the least that should be expected from political factors, parties and all those who create policy is to stay calm. Yesterday afternoon in the Parliament they passed their first exam. Namely, neither the government led by Prime Minister Racan, nor the coalition that supports the government, nor the opposition should fall for the temptation of irrational and start making foolish moves. All data and information should be made public and a clear and precise decision should be reached after a responsible debate, with understanding of international obligations of Croatia. We really do not need new mass rallies and protests.
by Sergej ABRAMOV
"As the oldest anti-fascist fighter in Europe and the commander of the Croatian Army, and as a soldier who fought in two wars in two victorious armies, I was convinced that all my battles were behind me. But they are not. Aged 83, I must wage a new battle against yet another aggression against Croatia. This time the aggressor is the purported war crimes tribunal, whose true goal is to delete our history, condemn our freedom, and repress our memories of proud days of struggle for the freedom of Croatia," Bobetko said.
To the Croatian public, and above all his fellow soldiers and families of fallen defenders [war veterans] Bobetko told to remain dignified and free, because they live in their own country, which has its own parliament and courts.
"You fought for Croatia, you spilled blood for her. Do not allow them to punish you for that. I won't be living for long, but you will live for Croatia. Croatia will need you in the future! I have made my decision. I will not go to the Hague. Where was Mrs. Carla Del Ponte when we spilled blood for Croatia and when our homes were destroyed and our people murdered? We do not need her now, that's for sure. There is no court anywhere in the world that would try members of an army that has liberated its country, nor will such a court ever exist. Be aware that this is the first and last such example. I personally will not allow such treatment," Bobetko was adamant.
After reading his public statement, Bobetko concluded the press conference without allowing the journalists to ask any questions. He only added that no one should doubt his ability to fight those who may come to arrest him.
"I will resist. They can only take me dead to the Hague. Do not send my fellow soldiers to arrest me. Send instead Serb and Yugoslav spies who did that dirty work in the past as well. I am waiting for them," Bobetko stressed.
Yesterday attorney Goran Mikulcic left Janko Bobetko's team of lawyers. Bobetko explained that he did not need attorneys appointed by the authorities, and that people he had been friends with for the last ten years were enough. Attorney Mikulcic was dismissed yesterday, while Bobetko will now be defended by Bosiljko Misetic and former state attorney, currently a lawyer, Petar Sale.
"We came on behalf of the HDZ to express our support for General Bobetko. I will only say three things: General Bobetko is a hero and a symbol of the Homeland War; General Bobetko is a honest man; General Bobetko will not go to the Hague," Sanader stated before entering Bobetko's house.
Deputy President of the HDZ Andrija Hebrang emphasized that Racan's cabinet is responsible for events in connection with Bobetko, but he added that their mistakes could be corrected. To the question how, Hebrang responded by saying: "By refusing to extradite Bobetko and by changing the Constitutional Law regulating cooperation with the Hague Tribunal".
Somewhat later, around noon, Bobetko was visited by former interior affairs [Police] minister Ivan Jarnjak, who, according to some circles, is also being investigated by the Hague Tribunal. Jarnjak said that he hadn't discussed the indictment with Bobetko, but he added that an indictment of the Chief of Staff of a victorious army is a precedent in world history.
"That is a trial of a victorious army and results that army achieved," Jarnjak said.
Yesterday morning Bobetko was visited by attorneys Bosiljko Misetic and Goran Mikulcic. Neither one of them wanted to speculate about the contents of the Hague indictment. Mikulcic only mentioned that according to the Hague Tribunal's rules of procedure it is possible that General Bobetko responds to the charges in his own home. However, he added that in most cases Hague indictments are accompanied by arrest warrants.
Besides politicians and attorneys, Bobetko was visited by retired generals Ivan Kapular, Marinko Kresic, and Miljenko Filipovic. Kapular was mostly in charge of "logistics", that is of buying sparkling water and food. Our of his fellow war veterans, Bobetko was visited by his former aide de camp Zdravko Vladanovic and Damir Gorseta, former secretary of Bobetko's cabinet, while Bobetko was the Chief of Staff of the Croatian Army. During the day Bobetko also received numerous messages of support in mail.
"Due to enormous contribution to the defense of Gospic, especially because of the action Medacki Dzep when terrorists were pushed back from their positions near the city, I am honored to give you this Charter," Professor Milan Stimac said. "The citizens of Gospic are aware of the importance of that action and will forever be grateful to you for contributing the most as a Croatian General that the action be successfully completed," Professor Stimac said among other.
Obviously unwell General Bobetko was nevertheless pleasantly surprised to receive the delegation from Gospic. He hopes to recover soon and would like to visit Lika and Gospic as soon as tomorrow. Instead of envisaged ten minutes the visit and conversation with the delegation from Gospic went on for more than 30 minutes.
"I know that this document is a sign of your sincere respect and for that I am immeasurably grateful," General Bobetko said. "Especially because I have become an honorable citizen of Gospic due to my contribution to the Homeland War, a historical crossroads deciding about the survival of Croats in Lika. The action Medacki Dzep could not be avoided because a fall of Gospic would have placed in doubt the very survival of Croatia as an independent country. Citizens of Croatia control today the fate of our country and they deserve the right to choose people who will lead them in these important times and who deserve to be trusted with the future of Croatia. All of this is nothing but a well ‘orchestrated' action against the Croatian nation, because we were not supposed to win the war and survive as an independent country. I was in Gospic and I felt the Gospic frontlines. I was aware of the danger emanating from the Medak Dzep. If I have to be guilty for preventing the fall of Gospic, I am extremely proud of that guilt. Let me repeat one more time: I will not surrender. I lived my whole life as an upright and honest man; I defended my people and my Homeland in the war. Those who live with dignity should have a dignified death as well. That is my last will!"
To offers from the Zagreb Clinical-Hospital Center of accommodation in a specially prepared room, General Bobetko responded that these offers have a totally opposite goal.
"Look, now all sorts of hospitals are offering their services, but they did not do the same in the past. Why are they doing that? They want me to go there, to put me in a helicopter, and in a few hours I would be in the Hague! There is little sincerity, so much hypocrisy. This is not only about one man, because after all I am just a man. This case has much wider implications. There are very few people who are prepared to sacrifice for higher goals, for important ideals. Unfortunately, too many of them died in this war. I send my greetings to people in Lika and, hopefully, I will visit Lika soon. I do not need a guide. I know the road very well!," General Bobetko said on parting with his visitors from Gospic.