Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Croatia - the next country to join the EU?

This summer I has the pleasure to spend 10 lovely days in Croatia for my summer holidays. I visited Dubrovnik, the islands of Korcula, Hvar and Kolocep, and the city of Split.

Like thousands of people before me, I was blown away by the beauty of Dubrovnik ("the pearl of the Adriatic"), which has to be one of the most stunning cities in the world. I was also greatly impressed by Croatia's Adriatic coastline and islands with their pretty seaside towns, spotless beaches and clear sea. With the weather being in the mid 30s most of the time, a dip in the sea was a great way to cool down : )

Dubrovnik's Stradum (main street) at sunset

I found good quality customer service, pretty good infrastructure (at least in the tourist areas), and buses and ferries that arrive and depart on time for which buying tickets was pretty easy. I also found Croats (those working in tourism and fellow holiday makers) to be friendly and at ease in foreign languages; virtually all Croats speak English and many speak German and Italian as well. Many were eager to find out if I was enjoying my holiday in Croatia (and happily I could honestly answer that I was!). 

I got to enjoy Croatian food (lots of vegetables grilled in local olive oil for a vegetarian like me), excellent coffee, decent wine, and expertly made cocktails. I thoroughly appreciated the fact that virtually all hotels and cafes had free wifi for guests/customers (other countries please take note!). This allowed me to annoy friends who were not on holiday by posting pictures of lovely sunny beaches on facebook without paying hefty non EU data roaming charges : )

Looking down on Hvar Town
from the Spanish Fortress

On the subject of EU membership, views were mixed. On one hand, Croats feel a strong European identity and could see that joining the EU would have benefits for the country. However, they were concerned that as a small country within the EU, Croatia might not have enough influence to fight for its interests, and that changes required on the economic front could be detrimental to certain sectors of the economy. 

Another point somewhat relating to EU membership, although not one any Croats mentioned to me directly, is the issue of the indictment and imprisonment of high ranking Croat 
military personnel by the International Criminal Tribunal on former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the 
Hague.  Croatian cooperation with the ICTY to extradite those wanted by the Hague was 
seen as a vital step towards EU membership.

Those tried, found guilty of war crimes and imprisoned by the ICTY include the Croat 
Generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac. Many Croats consider the imprisonment of 
these Generals to be unjust, as the military campaign they were undertaking, named 
"Operation Storm", led to the recapture of Croatian territory that had been seized by Serb 
paramilitaries backed by the Belgrade regime of Slobodan Milosevic. The Generals are 
considered to be national heroes for their role in Croatia's war of independence (often referred to as the "Homeland war").

The ICTY did not question the legitimacy of Operation Storm, but found the two Generals 
guilty of war crimes including the forced deportation of around 90,000 Serb civilians and aiding and abetting the killing of several hundred as part of a deliberate policy to rid the region of its Serb population. A third Croat soldier Colonel General Ivan Cermak was acquitted. There were protests in Croatia at the time of the verdicts. 

During my stay in Croatia, I saw many posters featuring the photo of a man in military
uniform and thought that they might be election posters of a candidate. Upon asking a 
shopkeeper in Dubrovnik whose window displayed one of these posters, I found out that the man on the posters was General Gotovina.

Reminders of the war are everywhere despite massive reconstruction. On Kolocep, a small  
island near Dubrovnik, one former hotel was so badly shelled that it was not worth repairing. As no-one had come forward to demolish it and/or rebuild something else, it remains as it 
was (with appropriate safety measures taken of course).

War damaged former hotel in Kolocep

In Dubrovnik, I went to the War Photo exhibition, which was very moving. It was particularly 
striking to see photos of a deserted Dubrovnik in the midst of being shelled with buildings on fire, then to walk outside and find oneself in a thriving elegant city packed with tourists.

Croatia is due to join the EU in 2013 and there are now Croatian observers in the European Parliament including one in the ALDE group, Mr Jozo Rados an MP from the Croatian Liberal Democrat party. Upon learning that I was an MEP, many Croats asked if I knew for sure whether Croatia would join the EU in 2013. I had to answer that I was not personally involved and had no special knowledge, but that I had not heard anything to the contrary. 

Croatia is a beautiful country with hospitable people and great weather and I would strongly recommend a holiday there. I also hope to be welcoming Croatia into the EU fold in 2013.

Sunset on Kolocep island


Croatian national tourist board

European Commission DG Enlargement - status of Croatia

Croatian war of independence

BBC news article on ICTY Croatia verdicts


  1. The judgement has caused international concern; not just amongst Croats. It may see some of your military constituents going to prison.

    The ICTY very much did question the legitimacy of Operation Storm, portraying it as part of a Joint Criminal Enterprise in which pretty much all arms of the state played a part.

    Indeed, the JCE itself is based entirely on an artillery assault during Operation Storm. The judges invented a 200m rule for artillery i.e any shell outside of that is a war crime. The JCE is based on an artillery strike in which 95% or so shells were within 200m. The 4-5% that did not killed and injured no-one. But the ICTY says that it was intended to push Serb civilians out. That is the JCE, and everything else flows from it. No JCE, no conviction.

    First: This theory using the 200M was never put to the defendants during the trial and has no precedent. This is grossly unfair and is part of the appeal.

    The 200M rule itself has caused extreme concern around the world. It is a standard that no military can reach. Senior military officers, international lawyers (including a former ICTY prosecution official) from the US,UK, Germany, Sweden have expressed concern over their concern over the conviction and the 200M rule.

    In a submission for the defence appeal, UK General Patrick Chapman points out the British Army in Afghanistan, with modern weapons, achieve a 90% accuracy rate - lower than the Operation Storm rate with less sophisticated weapons in 1995. The implications for the British Army are clear.

    It may be of interest also that minutes of meetings in Belgrade, showing that Milosevic saying that the exodus of Serbs from Croatia was organised by the Serb leadership was *withheld* from the defence by the prosecution during the trial. Another point in the appeal.

    In the face of the criticism, the ICTY are running scared. They have held the appeals hearings. Then, in an unprecedented move, the jugdes asked the prosecution if they find Gotovina and Markcac not guilty of JCE, can they be found guilty instead of command responsibility or aiding and abetting. Imagine a British court doing that

    The original judgement did not bother with those grounds, and the prosecution did not appeal. i.e the judges have no legal grounds to this. Instead of freeing the men (or confirming the original sentence) they now want to get out of it by finding them guilty of something else. The generals would be convicted without a proper hearing and without the chance of appeal.

    You might wish to read a recent article by US G Major General Walter Huffman, Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law, Texas Tech University School of Law. It appears in Military Law review (Link below). I quote this line: "General Gotovina’s conviction is based on a rule that is wholly unsupported by any custom or convention, any precedent in international jurisprudence, or any basis in operational art or military capabilities. This rule should be scrapped. "

    You may also be interested in this documentary on the matter, in which I and other commentators feature:

    Best regards

    Brian Gallagher

  2. Dear Mr Gallagher,

    Thanks for adding this comment to the blog, I am sure other visitors will find it useful.

    I am about as far as you can get from an expert on the Balkans, hence I tried to cover the delicate issue of the war in Croatia in a neutral way, which I hope I managed.

    I would just clarify one point; when I said that the ICTY did not question the legitimacy of Operation Storm, what I meant was that they accepted that it was legitimate for Croatia to attempt to recapture the territory concerned by military means, what was not accepted as legitimate were some of the activities that took place as part of that campaign.

    Best regards,

    Rebecca Taylor