Croatia Grapples With Crimes Past and Present

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Croatia may have finally — if reluctantly — jailed a World War II war criminal, but it’s still dragging its feet over more contemporary monsters. Croatian concentration camp commander Dinko Sakic, charged for the death of 2,000 people at Jasenovac — described as the Auschwitz of the Balkans — in 1944, was convicted Monday and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. "They didn’t have much choice but to put him on trial, because letting him go free would have caused an international scandal," says TIME Central Europe bureau reporter Dejan Anastasijevic. The Sakic sentence came in the context of repeated attempts by Croatia’s current president, Franjo Tudjman, to resurrect the reputation of Croatia’s wartime pro-Nazi Ustashe regime, which enthusiastically rounded up Serbs, Jews and Gypsies and ran its own concentration camps during the German occupation of the Balkans — and serious criticism of Tudjman's own human rights record.

"Sakic represents an uncomfortable piece of Croatia’s history, but it’s a long-passed history," says Anastasijevic. "The real test of Croatia’s character will be what it does about its contemporary war criminals." Tudjman is under intense pressure from the U.S. and the European Union to hand over Mladen "Tuta" Naletilic for trial at the International Tribunal in the Hague, on charges of ethnic cleansing against Muslims in the town of Mostar in 1993. But the Croats have been dragging their feet, claiming that Naletilic is too ill to stand trial and charging him with lesser offenses in a Croatian court in order to jam up the legal process. "Sakic symbolizes a past era, but ‘Tuta’ is very much alive and would probably have some very interesting things to tell the Hague Tribunal about Tudjman and some of Croatia’s generals," says Anastasijevic. Until Croatia faces up to its recent past, the Sakic verdict will look like window dressing.