In January 2005 Plamenko Cvitić published an attempted assassination of my character based on the alleged evidence of anonymous witnesses. Presented as in-depth research which he claimed was both in collaboration with unnamed foreign journalists and supported by the testimonials of entirely unnamed former combatants; he perpetually ridiculed himself and in almost 3,500 words practically breached almost every ethical code of the Croatian Journalists’ Association. Due to his on-line article recently reappearing on search engines I hereby update and elaborate on the circumstances surrounding his buffoonery.
At the Millennium celebrations, the pyrotechnic display triggered memories of my experiences as a volunteer combatant in defence of Croatia in 1991.
It inspired me to write a manuscript consisting of the following facts: several of my ancestors had fought as Óglaigh na hÉireann Irish Volunteers including my grandfather, an officer and IRB man noted for a prison escape; and that I was a trained soldier. I described in detail my participation in four operations on the Western Slavonian Battlefield. Two seek and destroy operations as a member of Ante Gotovina’s team; and two subsequent HOS operations, the last occurring the day Vukovar fell in which two of our men were shot by sniper-fire, one also wounded by landmine. I further stated I participated in the defence of the Zagreb HOS HQ when the then HSP President Paraga was arrested, that my team then departed Croatia at the Sarajevo Ceasefire and concluded that I considered my role was ‘little compared to others.’ All the above are undeniable confirmed facts; and indeed have all been confirmed whether by historical documentation, hospital records, or testimonies, including video-interviews of named former soldiers, fellow participants, and other published statements including by the HOS co-founder. They have also never been questioned by anybody other than non-war participants Plamenko Cvitić and his boss Ivo Pukanić as being anything other than fact.
Puppet in a Box
In January 2005 however, four years after my manuscript had been publicly accessible, reported in the Croatian media, and serialised in the Australian-Croatian Hrvatski Vjesnik; Ivo Pukanić of Nacional magazine attacked my character in my absence during a live Croatian TV political debate show. Soon after the verbal venom sprayed from Pukanić’s forked tongue, he opened up a box marked ‘Puppet’, tugged on a string - and out popped Cvitić. What followed involved Nacional’s standard ingredients of distortion, omission and pure invention.
Despite having no previous history whatsoever of writing about Croatian War related affairs, transparent from his shoddy article, Cvitić and his fictional workshop transported me through space and time to places I've never been and had anonymous sources for every occasion, including medical and academic experts to provide my psychological and educational diagnosis. Over fences they had me leaping, wearing uniforms I've never worn, attributing quotes I’ve never stated, and wandering confused in places I’ve never been. I have to admit, it was the funniest thing I’d read in ages.
His continued gaffs grew increasingly ridiculous. He sought for instance to discredit me on the grounds of my age yet hypocritically accepted the alleged testimony of someone else the same age; and it subsequently transpired Cvitić himself had been a 14 year old boy during the war. Then he claimed nobody in Croatia knew my name though, when it suited him, he alleged he had shown my photo to numerous veterans who identified me by the same name he said nobody knew. When he claimed that weapons I described in my manuscript ‘didn’t exist in the Croatian forces arsenal’ smirks turned to chuckles as he could only have been referring to Heckler and Kochs or Argentinean FAL’s. Whilst both weapons were widely known to have been used by certain Croatian units, the latter were confirmed via a highly publicised arms trial of the former Argentinean president Carlos Menem.
I remind the present reader that Cvitić’s opening contradictory contention was that, despite supposedly not being a fellow combatant of Ante Gotovina, I was, he claimed, a fabrication of British intelligence attempting to discredit the then ICTY-hunted General in exaggerated media reports by connecting him to organised crime and terrorism. In fact, his original plan, still transparent amidst his jumbled text, was to say I didn’t even exist at all.
The media was unquestionably rife with exaggerated media reports concerning Ante Gotovina, and British intelligence, who had no justified grounds to interfere in Croatian affairs, most likely was disseminating misinformation, essentially supporting supposed evidence that Ante was in Croatia.
Attempting to support his Brit Intelligence fantasy with more lies, he proceeded to state that I and my manuscript first publicly appeared on a web site in 2003. This was directly demolished by a 2003 statement issued by Ante Gotovina’s attorney stating not only that my connection with Ante was a ‘widely known fact’ but that the web site hosting the manuscript had been there the past two years, i.e. 2001. My manuscript had actually been written during 2000, several former participants were consulted, and it was sent to the Croatian government for verification prior to its 2001 internet publication and also prior to Ante Gotovina’s indictment. Significantly, Cvitić claimed to have read my manuscript then proceeded to give his analysis and criticism based on content and statements which weren’t even in it.
Enter his anonymous academic experts deeming me ‘poorly educated…incapable of writing a book...’ unable to ‘write three complete sentences’ and, absurdly, criticising that I never wandered around the front lines jotting notes.
Furthermore, the media reports speculating I was connected to Ante Gotovina’s absence, apparently based on a 2003 (POA) Croatian intelligence report, suggested Ante was outside Croatia; whilst MI6 and the ICTY prosecutors were trying their hardest to prove he was in Croatia and were (unjustly) blocking Croatia’s EU entry based on this. In presenting one of his many non-existent arguments Cvitić stated that the British military authorities could have identified me to the police and issued an international arrest warrant and as this had not occurred, Cvitić illogically suggested, then this indicated that I had no military previous experience, did not participate in my described Croatian military operations, and never came into contact with Ante Gotovina.
Besides the fact that the (false) media allegations relating to me to which Cvitić referred specifically concerned the alleged transportation of Ante Gotovina from Croatia prior to the unsealing of his indictment, I could not have been suspected of having committed any crime for any warrant to have been issued by any judicial body. Furthermore, if a Globus report citing an alleged unnamed source close to the then ICTY Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte is to be believed, the Croatian government had submitted the aforementioned classified POA report to Del Ponte containing information concerning me of which her office had apparently already been aware of the previous year. Whilst annoyed it was leaked to the press, the ICTY was no longer interested in pursuing: ‘…the single foreign (alleged) collaborator in the complex organization of Gotovina's escape…’ on the basis that they seemed convinced he was back in Croatia.
Our ‘intrepid’ journalist never ceased to amaze. Whether he was too engrossed meditating on Josef Goebbel’s the bigger the lie the more it will be believed; or distracted by the scissors and paste on his desk when he concocted this one remains unclear. Because the simple truth of the matter is that the false unsubstantiated allegations of organised crime and terrorism against Ante Gotovina originated exclusively from, and were disseminated by, Cvitićs own publication.
Ivo Pukanić was the very first journalist to attack Ante Gotovina and other defenders in the late 1990’s with unsubstantiated allegations of criminality and had obsessively launched a series of malicious attacks against him in the run-up to the election that ousted the ruling nationalist HDZ. Indeed his fixation with discrediting Ante only culminated in 1999 when Pukanić accused Ante of plotting a presidential coup resulting in his dismissal as Chief Inspectorate. Unsurprisingly, these Nacional articles were mostly based on the supposed evidence of ‘anonymous sources’.
But there was much more. Such as the May 2002 report from The Centre for Geo-Political Drug studies of alleged ‘Powerful Criminal Political Networks’ in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina stating Ante as being ‘suspected of arms trafficking in Croatia’ though fails to explain why or by whom. It deserves mention that the only source cited in the entire article was, wait for it, Nacional. Or what about the December 2002 report prepared for the US Library of Congress concerning supposed links between the Croatian ministry of Defence and ‘Irish terrorists, drug traffickers, arms dealers and organised crime’ again unsubstantiated and widely disseminated by both the international media and intelligence agencies which once more cites Nacional.
Despite these facts, Pukanić, oddly, was subsequently promoted as a ‘Gotovina supporter’ in certain elements of the British media during the man-hunt. Notably after reports he had visited London.
Pukanić incidentally was recently expelled from the Croatian Journalists’ Association (HND) for violation of its code of ethics. A ‘disgrace to the entire journalistic profession’ and ‘bully’ to quote javno.com who should be commended for their extensive coverage of the alarming circumstances. He reportedly responded to the expulsion in his typical fashion by cursing ‘ugly insults’ and dismissing HND’s leadership as ‘drunks layabouts and third-grade reporters.’ Update: Pukanic was recently assassinated in Zagreb.
Puppet meets puppet
Cvitić inferred his extensive research skills ‘succeeded in finding’ Goran Pavković his sole named witness and asserted I have at some point described myself as being ‘under the command’ of Pavković, which I have never done as he never was. The truth is, which I have never disclosed before now, it was I who supplied this individual’s details via an associate to Cvitić amongst other names who he never bothered to contact. After Cvitić made email contact and was denied an interview due to Nacional’s aforementioned history of hostility to Croatia’s defenders, he stated he wished to dispel ‘rumours’ and asked for a name to confirm I knew Ante Gotovina. Pavković, exclusively bar and barrack based during the period, was suggested as he could confirm my connection to Ante Gotovina whilst not being in a position to compromise anyone else who may possibly still have been in contact with the hunted General at that time, although I reiterate at this point I have not seen Ante Gotovina since 1991 and neither knew his whereabouts nor communicated with him during his absence. Pavković, who invited me to share his barrack room and repeatedly told my wounded comrade and I to our faces we were ‘heroes who’d never be forgotten’ evidently changed his opinions of us when approached by Cvitić. My final word on that man is for anyone who believes in fact to look him straight in the eyes and ask him if he stole a camera film and then if he was ever confronted by Ante Gotovina over stolen weapons.
Cvitić did get one thing right – my manuscript incorrectly stated our HQ was in Lipovljani, the next village, rather than on the road to Lipovljani in Novska.
But let’s take a further look at his deception. He claimed an anonymous witness stated ‘some of the battles he writes about in his book never even happened, or didn’t happen in the way he described.’ I reiterate my earlier statements regarding the combat scenes I described as both being easily confirmable, and well documented. What’s most interesting about this is that the Novska operations which ‘never even happened’ are detailed in the Tiger Brigade’s official history and both locations were immediately found on my arrival to Novska after 16 years. The local guide who led us on the operations is documented on film in front of numerous witnesses confirming I was ‘one of Ante’s men’ and my accounts as accurate. Furthermore, the guide, a confident of Ante Gotovina who was directly next to him when he was shot on Brezina, also clarified that our team was based separately to the other Croatian soldiers whom we only met on operations as we all, including Ante, ‘moved around from area to area’ and that he himself only knew our faces and not names or identities. Cvitić tried to exploit our ubiquitous activity by first referring to static based army units before wrongly implying I was a member of one, and then inferred I regularly ‘disappeared’ from them.
None of the former participants of the operations or former soldiers still resident in Novska who I have spoken to have ever heard from Plamenko Cvitić or any other Nacional reporter regarding the operations and several have stated it nonsensical any participant would deny the existence of noted operations in which enemy lives were taken and their own lives were at risk to a publication renowned for its hostility.
Cvitić concedes I defended Croatia for six months until December 1991. Throughout that time, which he causally dismisses as ‘only a few months’ Croatia was at constant war. Cities were surrounded and mercilessly bombed by land, sea and air whilst Croatian citizens were subjected to genocide, ethnic cleansing, torture and persecution. Croatia had commenced as the lightly armed underdog in a gross military imbalance hindered by an arms embargo. 14 ceasefires had failed. Over 10,000 were killed, as many missing, hundred of thousands made refugee and 30 per cent of the industrial infrastructure destroyed. The aggressor’s aim had been the complete annihilation of the Croatian army, however by December the latter had equipped and built up quadrupling to over 230,000 men and successfully halted the enemy. At the ‘Sarajevo Ceasefire’, the front lines froze, Croatia’s independence was sealed, and 14,000 Vance-Plan implemented UNPROFOR peacekeepers arrived shortly after. My team disbanded at this ceasefire and departed Croatia. One such ‘month’ of the six, October to be precise, when the enemy launched a widespread major offensive aimed at crushing Croatia within 20 days, was, to quote the then Croatian Chief of Staff, the ‘most difficult month of the entire war.’ Sporadic shelling of Croatia ensued over the next four years with intermittent, though declining, Croatian army liberation operations culminating in August 1995 in the midst of the Bosnian war. However from January 1992, Croatia was neither defenceless nor under savage attack, which was why I, and a great deal of my former comrades – all foreigners free to leave at any time before the ceasefire - fought.
Our revisionist also questioned why I never joined the Osijek-based International Brigade inferring they were the sole existing foreigner’s unit. Presumably due to his complete ignorance of related affairs it’s the only one he’s ever heard of. It was one unit of many and the vast majority of foreigners didn’t serve in it.
Many veterans I’ve spoken with unequivocally rejected Cvitićs sweeping misrepresentation of Croatia’s 1991 foreign combatants – many of whom were killed or wounded – as militarily inexperienced profit-seeking trigger-happy adventurers deployed by the Croats as canon fodder.
Devoid of fact and blinded with completing his master’s quest, as mentioned earlier, Cvitić attempted to belittle me by age (20). In desperation he deliberately dropped it to 19, and inferred this signified I had no military experience. In reality however, I, like several of my fellow combatants, passed regular adult army selection at age 15 and enlisted at 16, a well-known tradition of the British forces that also includes approximately one third of all Royal Marine recruits at the Commando Training Centre of which several of my fellow Croatian fighters had undertaken. Before the age of 17, I’d completed the army's common military syllabus, twelve month intensive Junior Leader course and qualified as a military communications signaller. All my comrades, including former Royal Marine Commandoes and Foreign Legion paratroopers, were experienced professional soldiers. Ante Gotovina also assumed a lead position on patrols and was with us side by side during enemy contacts. He was no armchair commander deploying foreigners whilst observing from a safe distance as Cvitić suggested. His sweeping disparaging remarks concerning those who travelled miles at personal expense to defend Croatia from that tyrant’s forces as the world stood idly by speaks volumes. It was a time with events and people he will never understand. Most deplorable of all, was his attempt to gain an emotive response by stating one of his anonymous sources was handicapped.
Highly amusing however, was Cvitić's post-publication claim that a number of anonymous witnesses had contacted him to confirm the claims of his alleged anonymous witnesses.
To summarise, Plamenko Cvitić consciously, deliberately and maliciously fabricated an article by means of generalisation, omission, distortion and invention and attempted to present it as professional well-researched and sourced journalism. All his alleged sources were anonymous, less the one name supplied to him by me, indicating Cvitić’s alleged sources were probably all fictional. He claimed to be acting in the interests of Ante Gotovina yet denied operations occurred commanded by Ante Gotovina, where enemy lives were taken and our team were at great personal risk. Cvitić attempted to attribute spurious uncorroborated and false media allegations to me, and secondarily, Globus, whereas the very same allegations originated from and were disseminated by his own publication and later picked up by other media sources. He also created confused contradictory arguments attempting to offload his own publication’s previous falsified media allegations by forcing tenuous links or non-existent connections with my manuscript and desperately tried to make them stick. He amounts to a mere propagandist and a failed one at that.
Finally, I have something to personally thank Plamenko Cvitić for. As the publication of his article brought me into contact with several of the individuals from the operations he claimed didn’t happen who I hadn’t seen in years. Thanks for that Plamenko – and for the entertainment.
Now slacken your strings crawl back to your box and close tight the lid.