THU, 27 NOV 1997 00:00:48 GMT
The Republic of Croatia is increasingly demanding that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia pays 20 billion dollars of war reparations, although its representatives claim that - when everything is summed up - actual damage amounts to 150 billion dollars. It is, however, highly improbable that Croatia will receive any amount of money from Yugoslavia - at least just as improbable as that several hundred thousand banished and refugee Serbs from Croatia will receive compensation from the Croatian authorities.
AIM Belgrade, 17 November, 1997
Judging by reactions of its officials, Yugoslavia has absolutely no intention to pay any war reparations to Croatia. "I do not take seriously any declarations which claim that Yugoslavia should pay war reparations to Croatia, because they are without foundation and contrary to actual facts", declared federal minister of justice Zoran Knezevic in the beginning of November to Vecernje novosti. He added that "the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has not participated in the war on the territory of former Yugoslavia, nor in the war with Croatia". Kosta Mihajlovic, head of Yugoslav negotiators on succession also said that he saw no "connection between FRY and the civil war in Yugoslavia".
Mate Pavkovic, the author of the book on war reparationr in Croatia, declared recently that it was "clear that Serbia and Montenegro as aggressors inflicted great damage on Croatia and that Croatia had a right to reparations". The key word here is "aggressors". For Croatia, Yugoslav aggression is an undoubted fact. For Yugoslavia, there has been no aggression, but on the territory of former Yugoslavia a civil war had broken out due to secession of four former Yugoslav republics contrary to the constitution.
Defining of the nature of the conflict is not just a political matter, because the aggressor is the one who is, pursuant international jurisprudence obliged to pay war reparations. This obligation, however, refers only to international conflicts. In civil wars in which protagonists of a war conflict are the citizens and not states - there is no obligation to pay reparations, nor have they ever been paid before.
It is difficult to imagine that Yugoslavia and Croatia will ever agree about the nature of the war which broke out in Croatia in 1991. The only one who could pass judgement concerning this issue is the United Nations Security Council which is authorized by international law to determine whether there has been aggression by someone, even without consent of the states concerned. The Security Council, however, has never adopted a resolution in which Yugoslavia was directly qualified as the aggressor, not even when the International Tribunal for War Crimes committed on the territory of former Yugoslavia was founded. This international legal foundation for demanding war reparations is, therefore, out of the question.
That is why Croatia mentions other options. One possibility is to include the question of war reparations in the negotiations on succession of former Yugoslavia - which have been going on for several years already without any visible progress. However, the demand of Croatia was rejected by Badintir's commission which instructed Croatia at the time to seek reparations in another way. The idea has become topical again in the past few days, among other thanks to the declaration of Peter Galbraith, American ambassador in Zagreb who just before leaving Croatia said that, according to his opinion, the Croats had a right to war reparations and that this question should be included in the process of succession. American administration believes that former Yugoslavia was dismembered, it does not accept the stand that FRY is a successor of SFRY, and as concerning Croatia - it is its opinion that Vukovar was destroyed after dissolution of SFRY, and that, therefore, it is possible to put forward the question of financial responsibility of FRY which should be discussed as part of the negotiations on succession.
Yugoslav negotiators on succession reject this idea with indignation. "These demands of the Croats have nothing to do with succession", Kosta Mihajlovic, head of the Yugoslav negotiating team, is resolute. It is possible to hear unofficially that the latest Croatian demands show to what extent FRY was right when it insisted (and still does) on continuity with SFRY and when it claimed that the cause of the war was secession of all the other republics. It puts the role of the Yugoslav people's army (JNA) in the war in this context, of course, because "a state has the right to oppose secession". They make comparisons with Russian intervention in Chechnya which was considered by the whole world to be an internal affair. A competent interlocutor also says that the Yugoslavs have suggested to Sir Arthur Watts, international mediator in negotiations on succession to "settle this (matter about war reparations) with the Croats, because as long as they keep hoping to get it - it affects the other stands".
The Croatian demands for war reparations have provoked the customary odium in pro-regime press in Belgrade, but the odium directed primarily towards Peter Galbraith. For inexplicable reasons, almost all Belgrade media - state and independent - carried that Glabraith had declared that Yugoslavia had to pay reparations of 29 billion dollars. The alleged declaration of the American ambassador was quoted that he had taken into account only the damage inflicted in 1991 and 1992 and that they actually amounted to 27 billion dollars, but that to this sum "the right to the seized Croatian property worth about 1.6 billuion dollars (should be added to this), but also the value which belongs to Croatia according to succession of former SFRY which is worth another 16.8 billion dollars, which all together amounts to 45.4 billion dollars! By a simple insight into the text of the interview given to Rijeka daily Novi list which everybody was referring to, it can easily be established that Galbraith had not mentioned any figure. But never mind, Politika Ekspres publishes an article titled "Galbraith Names the Culprit" in which it claims that "by making a connection between war reparations and succession Galbraith stimulates Croatia to write off its war claims, or most of them to enable it not to have to compensate for the destroyed and seized property of the Serbs from Croatia as well as property of private and legal persons from FRY. This practically means that Croatia will not give a single German mark of reparations to several hundred thousand displaced and banished Serbs from former Republic of Serb Krajina, nor pay compensations to citizens and enterprises from FRY".
This is also claimed by many more serious sources than Politika Ekspres. Unoficially but reliably it is possible to learn that Yugoslavia has no intention to agree to such clearing of debts, at least not for the time being. Even if FRY agreed to this under some kind of pressure, banished persons and refugees have not much reason to hope that they will get indemnities from Yugoslav authorites either. Sacrificing people is a custom of the authorities in FRY - even if it had money to pay them, which it does not. If "Galbraith's calculation" of 29 billion dollars would be taken as correct - it would mean that each employed citizen of Yugoslavia would have to give his full salary for war reperations to Croatia for seven long years. This simply is not realistic.