And they partied in the streets to celebrate.
Sure, you might have spent last weekend having cocaine thrown at your face by a load of unfathomably beautiful goddesses, or joyfully rolled around in the sand all night at some beach party in paradise, but unless you were dancing through the unseasonably warm streets of Croatia, you missed out on the world's hottest party. People took to the streets in jubilation and kids were sent home from school after The Hague war crimes tribunal absolved the country of any wrongdoing in the Yugoslav wars. Croatia rejoiced, the Hague's credibility necked a load of pills, jumped off the court's roof and shot itself in the head on the way down.
Three of the five appeals judges voted to overturn the respective 25- and 18-year sentences dished out to former general Ante Gotovina and ex-special police chief Mladen Markac for their involvement in the atrocities committed against ethnic Serbs during Operation Storm in 1995. In case those words mean nothing to you, Operation Storm was a military offensive that reclaimed the tearaway province of Krajina and somehow magically transformed the Serb majority into a minority with – apparently – no ethnic cleansing or wrongdoing whatsoever.
So the Croatian shelling of the largely civilian towns of Knin, Benkovac, Gracac and Obrovac supposedly doesn’t qualify as unlawful, despite the fact that shells were found over 200 metres away from military targets. Oh, and there was apparently no conspiracy to force Serbs out of the region, either. I can get on board with that – the estimated 300,000 people that fled probably just wanted a change of scenery. Or maybe they just mistook that neighbourly banter of indiscriminate mortar fire as an attack on their homes, or something? Those silly Serbs – always overreacting!
The court had transcripts of discussions with Croatia's now-deceased president, Franjo Tudjman – which one of the dissenting judges actually cited as proof of intended ethnic cleansing – but that apparently wasn't strong enough evidence to prove that reducing Croatia’s Serb population from 12.2 percent in 1991 to 4.5 percent in 2001 was a pre-meditated aim of Operation Storm, either. Naturally, Serbs everywhere were pretty pissed off, dismissing the Hague as a kangaroo court – a view echoed by one of the presiding judges, Fausto Pocar, who said: “I fundamentally dissent from the entire appeal judgement, which contradicts any sense of justice.”
This isn’t the first time Croatian war crimes have been whitewashed from the history books. Following the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941, Croatia declared its independence and became a fascist state under the control of Ante Pavelic’s "Ustaša" regime. They then proceeded to enthusiastically butcher anyone who didn’t fit into their contentious standards of racial purity (which, for some reason, ignored the crusades and embraced Muslims and Croatia’s Catholic majority, probably because they aren’t Serbs). They even employed their very own junior Auschwitz: Jasenovac, where between 300,000 and 700,000 Serbs, Jews and Gypsies were wiped out, while another 182,000 got one-way tickets to death camps across Europe.
Although they didn’t have nifty Nazi gadgets like Zyklon B, they overcame their industrial deficiencies with sheer determination, developing a throat-slitting accessory (above), affectionately dubbed the “Srbosjek” or “Serb Cutter”. It's looks a bit like an odd fingerless glove, only with the added benefit of allowing the user to contribute to acts of genocide on an intimate, one-on-one basis.
After the war, Croatia was re-assimilated into that ethnic powder keg we all know as Yugoslavia and no one was held accountable for the Ustaša holocaust because their new socialist leader Josip Broz Tito, an ethnic Croat, realised that the only way he was going to stop everybody from killing each other was to sweep all those corpses under history's carpet.
To date, not a single Croatian has been indicted at The Hague for any of the atrocities committed against Serbs in the breakup of Yugoslavia, and as long as the world keeps its face buried in this lopsided cesspit of selective justice, there will never be reconciliation in the Balkans and the region will always be waiting for the first opportunity to start butchering each other once again.
Follow Aleks on Twitter: @slandr
More examples of people getting away with slaughtering other groups of people: