TRANSITIONS ONLINE: Dark Scandals: The Unpleasant Arrest
3 December 1995
Antun Gudelj, a Croatian émigré from Australia was last seen at 13:20 on July 1 1991 just outside the village of Tenja, six kilometers south of Osijek. Witnesses said Gudelj dropped the empty magazine from his automatic rifle, reloaded it and walked away from the place where he had just killed three men: Milan Knezevic, an Osijek city councilor, Goran Zobundzija, vice-chairman of Osijek council and Josip Reihl-Kir, the city police chief. That crime was politically very important: the war in Slavonia could begin now that Reihl-Kir was dead.
On November 19, this year, the Frankfurt airport police arrested Gudelj under an international warrant as he was coming into Germany. The warrant was issued by the Croatian police under an in absentia sentence of 20 years from the Osijek district court.
The Tenja murders had an interesting but obscure political and police background embodied in two men: Branimir Glavas and Reihl-Kir. Reihl-Kir was a professional police officer with a brilliant career, much loved and without a blemish. He was named police chief of Osijek, the politically and strategically most sensitive area of Croatia, in June 1990 soon after the HDZ election victory. Reihl-Kir was well informed about the situation in the eight local communities his jurisdiction covered. I met him in early 1991 when he spent a long time explaining the differences and tensions built into Slavonia through mixing and colonization: the tensions were not so much a question of ethnic origin as civilization.
He fought against both sides as much as he could trying to prevent the war: alone and unarmed against Serb barricades; regular and good contacts and relations with local JNA commanders; suppressing Croat extremists and infiltrating his agents into their organizations.
Reihl-Kir's most deadly enemy was among the Croat extremists: Branimir Glavas, Osijek national defence secretary, a man who immediately saw all the opportunities the new regime offered him. Glavas organized his own para-police independent of the police and later the national guard and the official structures of the HDZ made up mainly of extremist Croats whose families were originally from Herzegovina and started doing business: the file Reihl-Kir had on him includes intimidation of Serbs, night shooting and bombings, blackmail, extortion and robberies. What Reihl-Kir built up during the day, Glavas Glavas destroyed during the night. And he had powerful allies.
Reihl-Kir's widow Jadranka says Glavas came to their home in April 1991 with Vice Vukojevic and Gojko Susak demanding that he take them to see the Serb village of Borovo Selo. When he finally agreed and took them there they pulled three Armburst rocket launchers out of the trunk of their car and fired them at the village. "In 10 seconds they destroyed six months of my efforts," Reihl-Kir said later. The Borovo Selo massacre on May 2, 1991 pushed Glavas out into the political scene. He had been hiding from Reihl-Kir and the arrest warrant that Zagreb, i.e. minister Boljkovac had backed. Reihl-Kir knew what Glavas wanted to do to him: at a dinner part with a small circle of friends on Christmas 1990, Glavas said Reihl-Kir wouldn't be around for long. That statement found its way to the Osijek police chief along with other indications because he had agents among Glavas' men. Reihl-Kir warned Boljkovac that Glavas would try to kill him several times. He promised his wife Jadranka that he would either retire from the police or get a post in Zagreb.
On July 1, 1991, Reihl-Kir was killed trying to reconcile Serbs and Croats in Tenja. There are witnesses who said Gudelj had been indoctrinated: he had been told that the Serbs in Tenja had killed his father and destroyed his house (which was a lie); Reihl-Kir had publicly disarmed Gudelj in Tenja weeks earlier in front of Serb neighbors he had been threatening. Despite all that Gudelj was taken into the special police reserve days before the murder and armed with an automatic rifle that he would use to kill the police chief. Reihl-Kir got two fake phone calls in the space of half an hour before the murder aimed at getting him outside. On the day of the killing, Glavas paid for a full page in the Osijek daily Glas Slavonije in which he attacked the Osijek police as unpatriotic and treacherous.
Jadranka Reihl-Kir says Gudelj "walked away calmly after the murder, packed up his family and left the village although there were many policemen there. He spent two or three days with his brother in Osijek and then went to Zagreb and left the country. Gudelj just fired the shots, others aimed the gun."
Under Croatian law, anyone tried in absentia has to stand trial all over again. So far there have been no reports on whether Croatia has asked Germany to hand over Gudelj. If that happens and Gudelj goes on trial again there is a theoretic chance that the people who aimed the gun will be revealed. Politically that means the Germans have put Tudjman into an embarrassing position but have also provided the Croatian president with an opportunity to get rid of Glavas and his sponsors.
That cannot be disregarded at least in theory considering the latest political situation after the elections.
© Transitions Online 2018. All rights reserved. ISSN 1214-1615
Published by Transitions o.s., Baranova 33, 130 00 Prague 3, Czech Republic.