Sunday, 21 August 2011

Paddy Ashdown and Greater Croatia

In 1993, as war raged in Bosnia, its future ruler, the British politician Paddy Ashdown, wrote an article for the New Statesman magazine advocating an ethnic partition of the country.

The partition, he said, would inevitably result in parts of the country being subsumed into “Greater Serbia” and “Greater Croatia”, with a separate state in the middle “that provides a safe homeland for the Muslims.”

Two years later, when the war was nearing its endgame, Ashdown attended a dinner in London where he chatted with the Croatian president Franjo Tudjman. Ashdown described the conversation in 1998 when he testified at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the trial of Tihomir Blaskic, one of the Bosnian Croat military leaders jailed for war crimes. He said that during the dinner Tudjman spoke of his preference for “Greater Croatia.” Ashdown also submitted as evidence the menu on which Tudjman had scrawled a barely legible map outlining his vision for a Bosnia divided between Croatia and Serbia.

Ashdown’s account was accepted as fact by the ICTY.  The judgement against Blaskic notes that during the dinner “Tudjman clearly confirmed that Croatia had aspirations to territory in Bosnia.”

The court’s acceptance of Ashdown’s account helped it to arrive at the conclusion (expressed in the judgement against Dario Kordic, a Bosnian Croat political leader who was also jailed for war crimes) that Tudjman “harboured territorial ambitions in respect of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and that was part of his dream of a Greater Croatia, including Western Herzegovina and Central Bosnia.”

During his testimony in the Blaskic trial, Ashdown quoted Tudjman as saying that “There will be no Muslim area, except as a small element of the Croat State.” Tudjman’s Croat state, according to Ashdown’s account, was to include Sarajevo and Banja Luka, two cities that only the most extreme Croat nationalists would claim. The area Ashdown attributed to Tudjman’s Greater Croatian aspirations in fact bears a resemblance to the Muslim Croat Federation that emerged when the war ended in 1995. This may be why one of the judges hearing the case asked Ashdown, “Do you think that what was reserved for the Muslims was part of a Croat/Muslim Federation or did you think that it was really a cutting up of Bosnia, that Bosnia would no longer exist and that there would be a Greater Croatia?”

Ashdown responded that the way the map was drawn, with arrows pointing from what Tudjman saw as the Croat part of Bosnia to Croatia and from the Serb part to Serbia, clearly shows that it indicated the division of Bosnia between Greater Croatia and Greater Serbia. But this seems a rather flaky explanation, particularly given that the Muslim-Croat Federation agreed to by the Bosnian Muslims and Croats in 1994 included an agreement to set up a “confederation” between the Federation and Croatia. This was still on the agenda when Ashdown and Tudjman dined together.

Any considered reading of Ashdown’s testimony would surely have to leave open the possibility that the division of Bosnia that Tudjman described was the one that had been agreed already, between a Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serb Republic. It is also possible that, like Ashdown in his New Statesman article in 1993, Tudjman was expressing doubts about the possibility of integrating Bosnia’s ethnic groups rather than enunciating his dream of Greater Croatia.

No such doubts are countenanced by the Blaskic judgement, which states that “The Trial Chamber considers that the testimony of the witness [Ashdown] is totally credible and coherent in all respects” and adds, “Nor can there be any doubt as to what the partition of territory between Croatia and Serbia as shown in the sketch drawn by President Tudjman represents.”

The ICTY was set up to uncover the truth about the wars in the former Yugoslavia, helping the ethnic groups overcome their differences. But its unquestioning acceptance of the “Greater Croatia” thesis on such spurious grounds shows that it has failed in this task.


Anonymous said...

A common sense insight. The ICTY often just takes evidence like this and conflates them into hard fact, without considering other explanations - or just ignoring them. We have seen this at work at the Gotovina trial verdict.

My own take on the Ashdown affair:

Mike Baresic said...

I agree with Brian Gallagher's post which links Ashdown's revelation of the "napkin" to Operation Storm. However, I do not believe Ashdown made an "honest mistake." Ashdown has acknowledged his past as an agent of MI6. I believe that Ashdown made the disclosure of the "napkin" during Operation Storm in a determined effort by the British government to undermine the Croat-Muslim partnership that had been formed weeks earlier and which had launched an offensive against the Serbs during Operation Storm.