Protests, like those this weekend in Zagreb and Zadar, after the conviction of a high-profile figure in a Balkans war-crimes trial are almost a given.

A hastily done poll is, admittedly, just that, but it offers a wider view of the Croatian public’s reaction to the Hague verdicts on 15 April against generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac.

Done by the Ipsos Puls agency for Croatia’s TV Nova, the results of this poll were released yesterday.

Most respondents think the verdict treats victim (in this view, the Croats fighting to take back Serb-controlled territory in Operation Storm) and aggressor (the Serbs) in the same way.

By an even bigger margin, 83 percent to 8 percent, most of those surveyed rejected the idea that Operation Storm was part of a joint criminal enterprise, as the prosecution alleged (although 47 percent said they believed crimes had been committed during the operation).

More broadly, support for Croatia’s EU membership fell steeply, from 60 percent on 8 April to 38 percent on 16 April, the day after the verdict. The capture of Gotovina had been a condition for the EU to open membership negotiations with Croatia. (Support for EU membership typically falls at some point during each candidate country’s tortuous accession process, but it doesn’t stay down).

Most seem to attribute the verdict to a combination of factors, but almost all cite either the government’s bumbling (the government had joined in the generals’ defense) or pressure on the tribunal from foreign governments. Only 5 percent think the generals were actually guilty.

You’d look to hard to find a brave, lone voice in support of the verdict in mainstream Croatian media. While not defending the court, one commentator did venture that the level of disappointment was in part a result of the government’s refusal to prepare its citizens for the possibility of a guilty verdict. The defense has appealed the sentences of Gotovina, who got 24 years in prison, and Markac, who got 18 years. In the Ipsos Puls poll, 78 percent of respondents think the appeals chamber will reduce the sentences.

Barbara Frye

Barbara Frye is Transitions Online’s managing editor. Email: barbara.frye@tol.org

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