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INFO   :::  Projects > Archives > The Helsinki Charter: Promoting Serbia's Europeanization > HC No. 141-142 > Text





By Sonja Biserko

The advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legality of Kosovo's declaration independence, as well as the decision of the Westminster Magistrates Court in London to turn down Belgrade's request for Ejup Ganic's extradition, are important developments in the conclusion of the long historical process of Serbia's decline over the past half century. In recent decades in particular, Serbia has lost the foundations on which to build its dignity and self-respect. The last two events show to what extent Serbia's present is filled with defeat, frustration and humiliation. This is precisely what happened before the London court, which had been asked by Serbia to extradite Ejup Ganic on the grounds that the Bosniak side had started the conflict as part of an international fight against the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA). Serbia had argued that an agreement with the Bosnian Government on a JNA pullout from Bosnia had been concluded before the time in question (2 and 3 May 1992). It will be recalled that the dates relate to the clash between the JNA and Bosniaks on Sarajevo's Dobrovoljacka street. Serbia insists that the clash was provoked by the then Bosniak leadership of which Ganic was a member.

In truth, the attack on Bosnia had started a month before, i.e. immediately after Bosnia was internationally recognized as an independent state. Serbia and the Bosnian Serb leadership headquartered at Pale near Sarajevo had been preparing to conquer Bosnia for a whole year before that. In April 1992, eastern Bosnia was subjected to ethnic cleansing and genocide that culminated in the slaughter at Srebrenica in 1995. It was at that time that the most serious crimes were committed along the Drina river at Višegrad, Zvornik, Bijeljina and Foca, as well as in Brcko and Prijedor...It was also at that time that the concentration camps, in connection with which people were tried at the ICTY, were established. The majority of ICTY judgments relate precisely to that period. The Serbs gained control of more than 70 per cent of Bosnian territory already in the first few months and held it until the Dayton Accords in 1995. However, the fact that the world's attention was attracted chiefly to the siege of Sarajevo, which had begun at the same time, enabled the Serbs to finish their 'job' unopposed in parts of Bosnia to which they asserted 'ownership rights'. Radovan Karadžic and other Bosnian Serb leaders insisted that, according to land registers, Serbs were entitled to more than 65 per cent of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

At that time Bosnia was already under JNA occupation in consequence the JNA's withdrawal from Slovenia and Croatia. The Bosniaks believed, a belief frequently voiced by Alija Izetbegovic, that the JNA would not attack them and would play a neutral role in the impending conflict. Apparently, the Bosniaks had not paid much attention to Bosnian Serbs' statements that they needed no other army than the JNA and to the fact that the army's leadership had already taken clear sides in Slovenia and Croatia. If the chaos and loss of life on 2 and 3 May 1992 can be blamed on anybody, they should be blamed on General Milovan Kukanjac, who tried to take advantage of the general confusion to carry out a state coup, replace Izetbegovic with Fikret Abdic, divide Sarajevo and evacuate all weapons from Bosnia. By the time of the incident on Dobrovoljacka street, Sarajevo had already been shelled, with the main post office building and other important institutions destroyed the night before.

Belgrade's allegations put forward in support of the application to the London court (as well as those made before and during the trial of Ilija Jurišic) relate to the agreement reached by the Bosnian Government and the JNA on the latter's withdrawal. The allegations, however, are incorrect: Ganic's lawyer Damir Arnaut testified before the London court that the agreement was concluded only after the incident. In truth, the Bosnian Government had first requested the JNA's withdrawal immediately after the proclamation of the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (27 April 1992). It was this blatant lie on the part of the Serbian prosecuting authorities that caused judge Timothy Workman to render his ruling, in which he also highlights the authorities' other impermissible moves. One of them was an offer to Sarajevo to support the Serbian National Assembly's Declaration on Srebrenica, in return for which Belgrade would 'reward' Sarajevo by dropping its extradition application.

This was judge Workman's last case before retirement. Tim Workman is known for turning down Russia's applications for the extradition of Russian nationals on the grounds that were unlikely to have fair trials at home. The same argument was put forward in Ganic's case, based on the treatment of Ilija Jurišic during his trial in Belgrade on similar charges (a clash in Tuzla during the JNA's withdrawal from the town). Jurišic was sentenced to 12 years.

This ignominious discredit is a logical consequence of Belgrade's policy based on lies and imputations. The London court laid bare this shameful policy larded with lamentations about 'injustice' suffered at the hands of the entire world, the ICTY and countries in the region, a policy pursued ever since Serbia allegedly changed 2000. These political 'skills', condoned by Dobrica Cosic as, 'The historical conditions [forcing us] to tell lies...', were debunked in this case with disastrous consequences. The case has also exposed the individuals' and institutions' loss of legitimacy, bearings and moral credibility. The effects of this moral decline, which are felt throughout society, are also in evidence in the region. This is why it is necessary for Serbia, more than ever before, to acknowledge the facts and the context as a precondition for moral posture and action.

The opinion of the International Court of Justice about the Kosovo independence declaration has disconcerted the Serb legal elite with its precision. The opinion de facto closes the issue of Kosovo's status as far as the international community is concerned. Prominent domestic jurists had been expecting a formulation resembling those they had been receiving all these years, a formulation giving Belgrade scope to continue its policy of undermining the efforts of the international community in Kosovo. In spite of the clear message that any resumption of talks on Kosovo's status and, especially, its division is out of the question, Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic is proceeding with his diplomatic initiative at the UN General Assembly although, by his own public admission, he is aware that its failure is a foregone conclusion.

The recent disclosure of an intercept of a conversation between Dobrica Cosic and Ratko Mladic in the wake of Operation Storm in 1995, whatever the motives, has also had a sobering effect. The intercept leaves no doubt as to the clout wielded by Cosic regarding everything connected with the implementation of the national project; this goes not only for the preparation and implementation of the programme but also for formulating Serbia's present policy of pursuing what is left of the programme. His possible criminal responsibility during the period of his presidency of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1992-3), the time of the most serious crimes, has not been subject to investigation by the ICTY. Cosic disregarded the ICTY's summons to appear as witness at the Miloševic trial. His unease about the ICTY is nevertheless visible in Slavoljub Dukic's book Politicko groblje.

Cosic's role as 'opinion maker' on Serbia's political and intellectual scene has been and remains of crucial importance. He is still recognizable for his anti-Titoist rhetoric, a front he uses to hide the essence of Serb resistance to Yugoslav federalism. During the existence of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia almost the whole 'dissident' movement in Belgrade was created under the patronage of Cosic and his circle. The movement was and remains part of a wider national movement in Serbia, reaching its heyday under Miloševic. The then anti-communist opposition not only supported his project: it was its instigator. For instance, Ljubomir Tadic writes that Miloševic took over the project they had conceived. At present, the circle's activities consist in mere carping about this or that, with no alternative being offered.

One should also bear in mind the speech Cosic delivered on being presented, at the Russian embassy in Belgrade, with an order from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. One notices that, in addition to setting forth fabrications about the World-War-Two resistance movement, Cosic, once an authentic opponent of the Chetnik movement, sought to portray it as an anti-fascist movement. Cosic himself resorts to rationalizations such as claiming that Milan Nedic collaborated with the occupying forces in order to protect the Serb people against destruction. Cosic said, 'Historical truth requires to highlight the anti-fascist motives of the Ravna Gora Movement, the Chetniks' combat activities in the first months of the uprising in Serbia and Montenegro and their longer and more determined fight against Croat-Muslim Ustashas in Serb parts of Herzegovina, Bosnia and Croatia.

The fate of that other anti-fascist movement, which spent itself in collaboration with the occupying forces and was abandoned by the allies in the autumn of 1943, was determined by the rationalization of the price of the struggle and, most of all, by the anti-communist ideology, strategy and tactics for achieving victory in the civil war.'

Serbia must build a new identity and legitimacy based on truth. The moral relativism, which has come to express the extreme opportunism of the almost entire elite since 2000, must be replaced with moral credibility. The latter is attainable only by reliance on one's own values based on respect for the rights of every person, on the equality of and respect for all. Only in this way will Serbia be able to break the deadlock of its relations with the world and the region in particular, which it still keeps hostage to its ambitions.

Pacification and reconciliation are voluntary acts for which Serbia, such as it is, lacks the necessary capacity. Such acts require courage, lucidity and perseverance. Such acts should also be sustained and imposed on society as a long-term fight which is never completely won. The fight necessitates a mature leadership, an adequate legislation and appropriate institutions. Educational measures constitute an integral part of such a policy. A people or society is known by the leaders who pursue its aims. At one time, the Serb people embraced Miloševic and the aims that had been long prepared. At the moment it seems that, as far as some of their fundamental strivings are concerned, the people are a step ahead of their elites. Therefore the present elites should pay heed to this stream of consciousness that is slowly emerging from the depths as an expression of the people's instinct for survival.



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