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Slobodan Praljak: War criminal or Croatian hero?

Shortly after Slobodan Praljak – the convicted Bosnian Croat war criminal who drank poison in a Hague courtroom on Wednesday upon confirmation of his 20-year jail term for crimes committed during the Bosnian War – killed himself on live television, messages posted on social media mirrored divided public opinion in the Balkans.

For some, this was the final desperate act of a selfish villain; for others, that of a wrongly accused hero.

Journalist Amer Obradovic, who as a teenager suffered horrors in a prison camp run by Croatian Defence Council (HVO) soldiers under general Praljak’s command, wrote on Twitter: ”People who were with me in the camp survived the most horrific torture, but none of them took their own life. Camp detainees are brave people. And these ‘great army leaders’ and generals are mere cowards.”

Others saw Praljak as a ”hero” – with this tag being tweeted even by some Croatian TV journalists.

By the evening, mass was held in Catholic churches in several cities across Praljak’s native Herzegovina. On Thursday, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who returned to Zagreb having cut short a trip to Iceland, spoke of Praljak as ”a man who preferred to give his life, rather than to live, having been convicted of crimes he firmly believed he had not committed. His act struck deeply at the heart of the Croatian people and left the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia with the weight of eternal doubt about the accomplishment of its tasks”.

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