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Using and Abusing the Hague Tribunal

The International Tribunal in The Hague was intended as a Sword of Damocles for human rights violators in the Balkans. Within the Balkans, however, it has become a political tool that both nationalists and their opponents exploit in a never-ending game of divide and (hope to) rule. Croatia provides a textbook case of this.

Snags and fissures now bedevil Croatia's infant democratic reforms. The reasons are connected to Premier Ivica Racan's unwillingness to tackle the centers of power left behind by the regime of the late President Franjo Tudjman, whose nationalist-minded party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), was voted out of office in January 2001 following Tudjman's death in December 1999. Tudjman forged an authoritarian regime that blurred the distinctions between HDZ and state agencies, in particular the army and police. This muddied legacy remains at the heart of Croatia's current problems and its relations with the Hague Tribunal.

In January 2001 the then new Premier Ivica Racan faced a sharp choice: swiftly purge state bureaucracies of Tudjman's partisans or yield to the obstructive ploys of HDZ loyalists. True to Racan's instinctive indecisiveness, the Prime Minister dallied. He preferred to concentrate on constitutional reforms that were largely interpreted as a bid to strip the new president, Stjepan Mesic (himself a longtime opponent of Tudjman) of the robust executive powers Tudjman wrote into the constitution for himself.

Meanwhile, the new government failed to investigate numerous war crimes, miscarriages of justice, and the corruption of the Tudjman era. This failure emboldened HDZ loyalists to test the Racan government's resolve.