Goodness there’s so much to report about Croatia, ok next is war criminals. First a very brief explanation for the Balkan wars in the 1990s: Tito’s “brotherhood and unity” claimed they were all the same and he pushed identity issues under the carpet. Previously divided nations had to mix—most of which was in Bosnia which is still visible today—and after Yugoslavia broke up the cultural tensions within and between the countries turned into a decade of conflict and continued strained relations.
After the wars of the ‘90s Croats had the easiest and most successful time of regaining nationalism. For EU ascension this worked in their favor because it accelerated their recovery from the breakup of Yugoslavia and from the Balkan wars following that disintegration. People have said this is primarily due to the fact that Croatia after the war with Serbia in 1991 became home of the Croats practically exclusively. Serbia and Bosnia on the other hand have so many minority groups and such a mix of cultures that the national identity is weaker. Similarly many Serbs and Bosnians are Yugo-nostalgic while most Croats tend not to look so fondly to “brotherhood and unity” (Tito’s principal tenet when ruling Yugoslavia). There’s more nationalism in Croatia than in Serbia so understandably Croats have a different attitude towards their war criminals than the Serbs do. War criminals on both sides came out of ethnic cleansing done in each country in 1995 as a part of Operation Storm. Later in the ‘90s Serbia sued Croatia for the genocide inflicted on many by Croats and Croats shot back suing Serbia on the same account. Croatia’s democratic president Iva Josipavic and Serbia’s Tadic officially apologized to each other less than a year ago which is telling for the pace of this dispute. Since the ’91 war these criminals and veterans have been treated as heroes in Croatia. They call them domo ljubi, directly translated as state lovers but more like state protectors/supporters, and are the best-treated war veterans/criminals in the whole region because they are thought of as protectors of the state. In Serbia veterans and war criminals are treated as traitors for losing the war. For Serbs everything from the ‘90s has Milosevic’s fingerprints and it’s difficult for Serbs to be proud of the dealings of that man.
I don’t mean to imply that Serbia has no national pride, in fact select Serb hooligans have too much pride and they expressed their nationalist sentiments by wrecking havoc at Belgrade’s second Gay Pride Parade and at a few football matches last fall. Croatia has similar groups and during WWII the Ustaše were a group of fascist jingoists who focused their hate on the Roma, Serb, and Jewish populations during WWII. They have since been disbanded but their flag still hangs in the Gotovina’s hometown which shows the conservative nature of many.
Before February 2011 the Hague International Court of Justice had only sentenced Serb war criminals to prison, the Croats tried received no jail time. However just a couple months ago two out of three Croat war criminals were given a combined sentence of forty years, the third got off scot-free. I had heard and read that Croats were enraged at these sentences but the Serbs I was surrounded by called it more than just as their war criminals have been punished for years. One of the first things I saw walking around Split, Croatia was graffiti saying “Gotovina heroj.” Gotovina is one of the two sentenced who people regard as a hero. To honor Gotovina Croats wanted to name the main square in Split after him and he, Gotovina, was wise and refused because he knows Serbs wouldn’t ever step foot in that plaza let alone recognize the name change.