By Bojana Barlovac
Tens of thousands welcomed the former Croatian Army general back to his birthplace of Pakostane following his acquittal of war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY.
Chanting “Ante, Ante” and lighting flares, more than 30,000 people from all across Croatia welcomed Ante Gotovina back to his home town of Pakostane on the Adriatic coast on Tuesday.
Addressing the crowd, Gotovina said he was happy to be home after so many years. “My dear Pakostane people, friends, and all those that are here, good evening! Have fun, this is the night of our victory,” he said.
Last Friday, the Hague Tribunal quashed a 2011 first-instance verdict that jailed Gotovina and another general, Mladen Markac, for 24 and 18 years respectively for crimes against Serb civilians in Operation “Oluja” [“Storm”] in the summer of 1995.
The operation terminated an armed Serbian revolt in the southwest Krajina region but resulted in a mass exodus of Serb civilians from the area, resulting in Gotovina’s subsequent indictment on war-crimes charges.
Gotovina ended his speech in Pakostane with a call for reconciliation, saying that “Christian love should be spread further, especially towards the weakest and those most threatened so that everybody can live happily in this country”.
After the speech, a concert took place including some 15 local musicians and bands. One of the performers was the controversial singer Marko Perkovic Thompson, an icon among hardline Croatian nationalists.
The homecoming celebration went from dusk till dawn. Gotovina also had an emotional reunion with his brother, Boro.
Gotovina spent almost seven years on trial following four years on the run in hiding. He was arrested in Spain in 2005 and transferred to The Hague.