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Croatia's Moments of Truth: The Domestic Politics of State Cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

  • Author(s): Peskin, Victor
  • Boduszynski, Mieczyslaw P.
  • et al.

This article examines Croatia’s involvement with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The factors that have made the issue of cooperation so volatile in Croatia are addressed, shedding light on domestic politics of state cooperation with the ICTY.

The issue of cooperation--and the challenges it poses to stability and democratization in the former Yugoslavia and to the ICTY’s struggle for institutional survival--will continue to be volatile as long as the tribunal exists. The strong domestic resistance to cooperation in the Balkans underscores the challenge confronting both the ad hoc tribunals as well as the permanent International Criminal Court: how to institutionalize a system of international tribunals in which neither the winners nor losers are immune from standing trial for atrocities committed during battle.

Although the international criminal tribunals prosecute individuals and not nations, nationalist groups in Croatia have raised the political costs of cooperation with the ICTY through rhetoric that equates the tribunal’s indictments against Croatian individuals with an attack against the dignity and legitimacy of the Homeland War (1991-1995) and against the legitimacy of Croatia as a nation.

The politics of cooperation reach beyond the domestic arena and also involve an interaction with ICTY officials, international institutions, and foreign governments. The Croatian government is caught between the competing pressures of nationalists who oppose cooperation and members of the international community who have conditioned Croatia’s entry into Western organizations upon increased cooperation with the ICTY. The result has been an inconsistent, ad hoc policy that has quickly transformed the aftermath of each tribunal indictment of a Croatian general into a political crisis that threatens to undermine stability and the country’s nascent democratization process.

This article begins with a discussion of the tribunal’s mandate and its limited power to compel state cooperation. It then places the Croatian government’s dilemma concerning cooperation with the tribunal in the larger context of the experience of newly democratizing countries that confronted the question of transitional justice in the 1980s and the early 1990s. This is followed by an assessment of Croatia’s cooperation with the ICTY under the authoritarian regime of Franjo Tudjman, which ruled the country from 1990 through 1999. It then evaluates cooperation with the ICTY during the first year of the reformist government of Ivica Racan. Next, the domestic politics of cooperation is examined through narratives of the government’s response to several controversial war crimes indictments: the Mirko Norac indictment in early 2001; the Ante Gotovina and Rahim Ademi indictments in mid-2001, and the Janko Bobetko indictment in the fall of 2002. The article concludes with a discussion of the inherent conflict between the tribunal’s mission to prosecute violations of international humanitarian law and the objective of many transitional regimes to delay such prosecutions in order to bolster their political standing vis-a-vis domestic opponents.

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