19 April 2011

One man's hero ...

Two items in the news recently underlined the old difficulty of agreeing on who is a terrorist.

Last week a court in The Hague found Ante Gotovina, a Croatian commander in the 1990s war against the Serbs, guilty of waging a campaign of terror, bombing and murder aimed at ethnically cleansing the Serbian minority, and sentenced him to 24 years in prison. Gotovina was convicted of responsibility for shelling civilians, torching Serb homes, slaughtering hundreds of elderly Serbs and forcing at least 20,000 Serbs from land they had occupied for centuries.

Gotovina may be a monster, but not in Croatia. There, he is a hero. Croats are outraged at the court's decision. Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor declared, "Our view of the operation is absolutely clear: it was a legitimate military and police action to liberate Croatian state territory from occupation." President Ivo Josipović said the verdict was "shocking."

Some might puzzle at the intense hostility between two such similar peoples. After all, both are Slavic and speak the same language. But once you are informed they belong to different religions, all becomes clear. Serbs are Orthodox, Croats are Catholic. Catholic bishops denounced the court, accusing it of deliberately confusing victim and aggressor. The Catholic god apparently approves of Gotovina while the Orthodox god loathes him.

Another ideological division explains the contrasting attitudes toward Luis Posada Carriles. Posada, a former CIA operative and long-time enemy of Fidel Castro, was recently acquitted of a series of terrorism-related charges by an El Paso jury. His acquittal may have been influenced by the fact he once served in the American military and El Paso, home of a major military base, is highly sympathetic to veterans. Posada was given a hero's welcome by the Cuban exile community in Miami following his acquittal and congratulated by U.S. Congressman David Rivera.

But again, Posada is not everywhere a hero. He is wanted in Venezuela for the bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people; he did time in Panama for trying to assassinate Fidel Castro; and in an interview with a New York Times reporter claimed responsibility for a string of hotel bombings in Havana. The U.S. government would like to get rid of him but won't extradite him to either Cuba or Venezuela.

So, Gotovina and Posada, terrorists or heroes? Both mass murderers for political ends, yes, but in the minds of many, it isn't mass murder that decides, it's who you mass murder.

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