By Natasa Radic
When Judge Alphons Orie read the verdict Friday (April 15th) from The Hague, convicting retired Croatian General Ante Gotovina to 24 years in prison, the hundreds of people gathered in Jelacic Square in the centre of Zagreb started shouting. Women were crying as were old men, who had decorated their jackets with military insignia. The atmosphere was somber, and before long the sadness turned to anger.
“You know, Ante Gotovina is a superhero to us. He is a hero above all the other heroes. And now it turns out that he is some sort of the Hitler, somebody responsible for all wrong done in the world,” said Zvonko Tigar, a war veteran from Cakovec, who volunteered in the police forces from the beginning of the Homeland War.
“How could they do this to him? He liberated Croatia. He fought for his country. And now it seems like we were the ones who were attacking, not the ones who were defending ourselves,” Marko Tarkic, who was also waiting to hear the verdicts at the main square told SETimes.
Many celebrities were among the crowd, including football coach Miroslav Ciro Blazevic, who was speechless after the sentencing.
The scene was very emotional: Croatian flags fluttered in the wind, people were singing patriotic songs and carrying banners that read “No to the EU” and “God save our generals”.
“We are lawyers and we had hoped that the judges would look at the legal material and evaluate the case based on the evidence that was given here. We were obviously wrong,” said Luka Misetic, a chief defence lawyer for Gotovina, who announced plans to appeal.
Croatian President Ivo Josipovic said in a public statement he was shocked when he found out that Gotovina received 24 years of prison and that co-defendant General Mladen Markac got 18 years.
A third co-defendant, General Ivan Cermak was acquitted and released. He arrived in Zagreb early Friday evening, welcomed at Zagreb airport by Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor. Cermak said that he will participate in the appeals process, doing what he can to prove that the other two are innocent as well.
War veterans are urging people to stage public protests. They find it unacceptable that the judgment casts a shadow over the Homeland War and that Gotovina and Markac were deemed part of a criminal enterprise.
The government, all the state institutions and political parties say the sentences must be appealed.