Central Europe Review Call forpolicy proposals...
Vol 3, No 16
7 May 2001
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News from Croatia
All the important news
since 1 May

Dan Damon

 

Stealing the past

A former Serb museum curator from southern Croatia was convicted in absentia to four years in prison for illegally removing 156 icons from local Orthodox churches and sending them to neighbouring Serbia during the war with Yugoslavia.

The ruling, made Thursday at the district court in Benkovac, ordered the Orthodox church and the National Museum in Serbia's capital, Belgrade, to return the icons to Croatia. They are then to be returned to Croatia's Orthodox church.

 

Whose church is it?

The court said the artworks were taken out of the country without local authorities' knowledge and should therefore be returned. But the ruling raises complex questions of authority, borders and ownership. The Orthodox church in Croatia, founded in the 17th century, is part of the Belgrade-based Serbian Orthodox church, and the latter could, in theory, claim ownership of the icons.

The curator, Milorad Savić, 49, ran the museum in Benkovac, 300 kilometers from Zagreb. He was still in charge when war broke out in 1991, when the country's Serbs took up arms to rebel against Croatia's independence from the former Yugoslavia.

The court said Savić collected iconsimages of saints characteristic of the Orthodox churchand transferred them to Serbia between 1991 and 1995, while the region was controlled by the Serb rebels.

 

Safe in Serbia

Savić was among some 200,000 Serbs who fled the country after Zagreb recaptured the region, along with other Serb-occupied areas in 1995. Judge Miljenko Marinović said that if Savić enters Croatia, he would be arrested, but would also have the right to be retried.

Croatia and Yugoslavia are also negotiating the return of dozens of painting and statues removed from the museum in the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar which were later located in northern Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia, last year, returned paintings taken from another museum in southern Croatia.

 

More Serbs accused

Police told the media that they have arrested seven ethnic Serbs in eastern Croatia on war crimes charges stemming from the 1991 Serbo-Croat wara move likely to antagonize the Serbs.

The seven have been indicted for war crimes committed against Croats in eastern Slavonia during the war, which erupted when the country's Serbs rebelled against Croatia's independence from the former Yugoslavia.

Police spokesman Ivan Krizić identified the seven only by their initials. He said a warrant had been issued against them, but he did not disclose the exact charges or other details.

 

Return to tough policy

The former government of late President Franjo Tuđman charged a number of Serbs with war crimesthousands of Croats were killed by the rebels, many more expelled from their homes and villages and cities were ruined in bombardments.

Under pressure from Western governments, which complained that wide-scale prosecution was spreading fear and insecurity among Croatia's Serbs, Tuđman's government pardoned thousands of Serbs who participated in the armed rebellion. It also slowed down arrests of war crimes suspects in the last years of his rule. Most of the suspects also were unavailable, as more than 200,000 Serbs fled the country in 1995, when Zagreb recaptured lands seized by the rebels during the 1991 war.

 

Tuđman's deals don't count anymore

The arrests of Serbs increased last year when the pro-Western government took power. Dozens of Serb suspects, or those convicted in absentia in previous years, have since been arrested. More arrests apparently took place as growing numbers of Serbs returned to Croatia following the defeat of Tuđman's nationalist government.

The new government, which took power in January 2000, has pledged to prosecute all war crimes. It also has opened probes into the wartime atrocities committed by Croats and has aided similar investigations headed by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

United Nations officials in neighboring Bosnia, where most Croatian Serbs fled in 1995, have protested against the growing number of arrests, saying they discourage the return of Serb refugees to their pre-war homes.

 

Hate crime suspected

A 17-year-old Roma girl was stabbed and slightly injured this week in an attack believed to have been carried out by skinheads, according to Zagreb police.

The girl, who was not identified, was attacked in the centre of Zagreb by four unknown young men, a police statement said. The victim was admitted to hospital but released shortly afterward.

Police are searching for the assailants, suspected of being members of a skinhead group.

 

Growing problem in East and West

In the last five years, Zagreb skinheads are believed to be responsible for at least ten attacks, the statement said. Most were carried out on Roma and foreign citizens, usually immigrants.

In two separate incidents in April, a Roma teenager and a group of Kurds were beaten up by skinheads. In both cases, the victims were not seriously hurt. The police are still looking for the offenders.

Dan Damon, 4 May 2001

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