Slobodan Praljak

Club Punchbowl, a well-known centre for Sydney’s Muslim community, commemorated a war criminal, Slobodan Praljak with a portrait in the club’s foyer, celebrating him as a war hero and a national icon for Croats everywhere.

On 29 November 2017, Slobodan Praljak, a convicted Bosnian Croat war criminal, committed suicide by poisoning himself after his sentence was upheld by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The case received widespread attention in the media and online as Praljak appeared to kill himself during a live hearing of the tribunal, in front of both lawyers and judges, by drinking potassium cyanide.

Praljak’s ingestion of the poison was to protest the court’s verdict, which upheld a 20-year prison sentence for the crimes of which he was found guilty on 26 different counts including acts such as murder, rape, a wanton destruction of cities, towns, and cultural sites such as mosques and bridges, and the persecution of civilians on political, racial, and religious grounds.

These crimes were almost exclusively committed against Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) civilians in central and southern Bosnia and Herzegovina, and occurred under Praljak’s supervision and direction as the Chief of Staff of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War. The HVO was a military force set up to ethnically cleanse the Bosniaks out of the “Croat areas” of Bosnia and Herzegovina and carve out a state for the Bosnian Croats, under the banner of the self-styled Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia (CCHB).

The Croation Club lobby, displaying the photo.

The aim of CCHB’s government and military was to defeat the Bosnian government army and break away from Bosnia and Herzegovina to join with Croatia. This was a similar project to what the Serbs were undertaking in other areas of the country with Republika Srpska and the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS). Just like the VRS, the HVO under Praljak was interested in ensuring their newly formed breakaway state was ethnically pure; removed of Bosniaks (by murder or forced deportation) and all signs of their culture, including the targeted destruction of mosques, libraries, tekkes, waqf-endowed sites, and even a famous 400 year Old Bridge of Mostar commissioned by the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

Praljak’s crimes hit home for Bosniaks here in Australia when his portrait was sighted at Club Punchbowl, a popular venue for Islamic functions and Muslim weddings.

For the uninitiated, Club Punchbowl is a Croatian ethnic/cultural community club set up by Croatians who immigrated to Australia. To some, it came as no surprise that the club would support convicted war criminals as national heroes, given its existing image of Ante Gotovina (an indicted war criminal whose charges were overturned in 2012) in the foyer.

However, there is no reason for the Muslim community here in Sydney to continue to support them by paying them for their space to run events.

Countless charity functions and fundraisers, community iftars, Eid events, and even weddings are hosted there every year. While this stems from Club Punchbowl’s central location for much of the Muslim community here in Sydney, convenience should not supersede moral outlook.

For example, if Muslim community events were regularly being held at an Israeli club, there would be a huge uproar and perhaps even an organised boycott. So the question to be asked is why is there no formal/legal action taken against a club which so clearly supports a convicted war criminal that systematically and methodically committed mass murder and rape against Muslim civilians, such as the Ahmići massacre, and ordered the destruction of Muslim homes, mosques, libraries, and other cultural sites?

Our sense of morality should be upright enough to suggest that pictures of “war heroes” at a Croatian ethnic club should be a cause for concern regardless of who they are, but especially if they have been convicted of war crimes against Muslims. This celebratory image of Slobodan Praljak in the foyer of Club Punchbowl should be enough to elicit community outrage. Praljak was directly responsible for the targeted killings and wanton destruction of property of Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Why do we continue to financially support an institution that supports an individual like that? This is a serious political statement made by Club Punchbowl. There are enough community halls and function centres around Sydney to host these events without needing to compromise our morals and financially support an institution that holds in high regard a convicted perpetrator of genocide against Muslims. It’s time to boycott Club Punchbowl.

I have also started a petition, sign now