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NO 107-108

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 107-108 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 107-108

May - June 2007



By Bojan al Pinto-Brkic

Premier Kostunica's new cabinet, enthusiastic and dynamic as it is (and quite unlike his previous one), managed to take, in the first month of its mandate, two out of eight steps towards resolution of a decade-long problem. It extradited Zdravko Tolimi and Vlastimir Djordjevic to the tribunal in The Hague. Now the trials for the Srebrenica genocide and the warring campaign in Kosovo should be in full swing, while Serbia a nicer place to live in.

What only overshadows those extraditions is - a missed opportunity. Committed to cooperation with The Hague Tribunal and Euro-Atlantic integrations, the new cabinet of Premier Kostunica should have taken upon itself the responsibility for the arrest of two high-ranking officers accused of the most severe crimes and sent a message that this is what would befall of those still in hiding - in the country or abroad, whatever. For, should it be genuinely committed to the establishment of the rule of law, the government should have risked enduring some people's angry voices and fierce protests. That would have done Serbia by far less harm than the fact that one half of its citizens believe that the indicted of genocide are boating or, moreover, basking in the sun in the same beaches where their children play.

Serious people could have not but smirked at official explanations. As it seems, whoever has devised them counted on negative reactions. Therefore, the public was told that one of the indicted had been arrested while trying to cross the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina and another as illegal worker in Montenegro. This was probably supposed to send a message that the state of Serbia had not really meant to arrest the accused of war crimes but the circumstances were such that they simply imposed on it such reaction. This was affirmed by ministers whose statements unfortunately failed to reflect the same version of an event even though it was invented. So the most serious governmental moves were devaluated to the level of a country fair.

One cannot but wonder whether governmental officials - so eager to present themselves as unaccountable for law enforcement - lied deliberately. If not, they should prove they had been misguided and order investigation into deluded public. If so, it should be only fair should they immediately resign. Citizens have not voted for the people who avoid the responsibility for law enforcement, let alone for those inventing tales about two poor little rabbits - the darlings so emerged in their innocent play that one mistakenly hopped in Bosnia and other in Montenegro, where bad hunters caught them while we had nothing to do with it, cross our hearts and hope to die! Citizens have the right to know what their democratically elected representatives are doing, be that good or bad. The theory of state refers to that as the right to be accurately and timely informed, the right that is older than the one of governmental agencies to hush up information for some time when deemed necessary to protect national interests (state secret). Under the same theory, governmental agencies should never and under no circumstances misguide citizens. They make keep a piece of information for themselves but later on explain the whys, but they may not publicize a lie. That's how things stand in modern world. Just go through the political history of the 20th century and you'll realize that most of governments fell for trying to lie their citizens. Serbia is specific for its motives: in Serbia no one lies to hold back something bad but to hide the steps towards the rule of law.

The cases of Tolimir and Djordjevic demonstrate that we are deep in trouble. The reality, blurred by the myths of defensive warfare wagged in our neighbors' territories and war heroes that are now on The Hague's list, overcome our capability to differentiate between good and bad. Seven years spent with Kostunica - first as the President and then the Premier of Serbia - benumbed, in many ways, the public born in the campaign against Milosevic. Reactions to the arrests of the organizers of mass murders in East Bosnia and Kosovo were much stronger in the West than in Serbia - where tepid releases and unwilling statements indicated that governmental bodies occasionally and ex officio act by the book. Bearing in mind Kostunica's initial contempt for the country's obligations to the tribunal in The Hague, it is only logical that we are not much concerned with Tolimir and Djordjevic. Citizens of Serbia have been simply induced to perceive those cases as yet another curiosity against the backdrop of Serbia's dull and unimaginative dispute with the international community over Kosovo.

Tolimir's and Djordjevic's significance is crystal clear. Their arrests have turned senseless all the fantasies about the accused of war crimes, whose sophisticated skill for hiding absolutely surpasses the capacity of governmental bodies to track them down. All we have been told about those who are not here, "though maybe they are but we cannot tell for sure," about networks of accomplices or security circles were just pretexts. The word has it that the police, while searching Tolimir's apartment, found a valid public transportation ticket - so much about sophisticated hiding of the escape artist of the Serb Bosnian army. One fine day we shall probably learn that the secret rule issued in Han Pijesak in November 1995 quotes, "The war is over. You shall rent an apartment in military compounds and buy monthly tickets for public transportation. When persons in uniform approach you and show you their badges, you shall produce your monthly ticket. That is the password. The persons in uniforms will direct you to the front part of a vehicle. You shall identify them by their blue uniforms. They may be dressed as traffic attendants, warehousers, policemen, secret agents, but that makes no difference whatsoever."

Djordjevic's fate is moving indeed. People believed for long that he had opted for the eternity of Russian bushes and would live beyond time like Gogol's heroes. "Friends from Russia" have guaranteed his security in Montenegro. He was just about to get himself a steady job when they extradited him! What a sad story about social problems the accused of war crimes are faced with at labor market! Today, vacancies for the organizers of mass murders are scarce and yet the country should prosper.

When it produced Tolimir and Djordjevic out of the blue Kostunica's new cabinet seemed to gain international support to Serbia's accession to the European Union. Serbia ceremoniously resumed the negotiations on stabilization and association that could be soon rounded off if it extradites Goran Hadzic, Stojan Zupljanin and the two most infamous fugitives, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. Besides, the government is expected to demonstrate resoluteness to bring before domestic courts those who are not on The Hague's indictments but are war crime suspects, and make sure that those trials are the outcomes of serious investigations by relevant bodies rather than emotional reactions to some TV documentaries or newspaper stories. And finally, when considering Serbia's candidacy, the EU and NATO will be assessing the attitude towards war crimes and their legacy. And even should security services be willing to arrange the arrests of Hadzic for, say, hard driving, Zupljanin for bribing policemen in Drvar, Mladic for disturbing the peace in Bratunac and Karadzic for toppling the road sign for Republika Srpska, it would be by far harder to change public perception of war crimes.

Serbia must strengthen its institutions and create genuinely critical public opinion when it comes to one of the darkest periods in the history of the Serbian people - critical to those the leadership of which it had cheered and critical to the deeds committed in the name of the nation. Tolimir and Djordjevic were not capable to understand the meaning of patriotism. So they served Serbia in the worst possible way. But Serbia was saving their face the same as they were saving its face.


NO 107-108

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