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Balkan Report: June 10, 2005

10 June 2005, Volume 9, Number 18

A VIDEO SHOCKS SERBIA. Thousands of Serbian television viewers recently saw a video depicting Serbian paramilitary police participating in the killing of Muslim civilians near Srebrenica in July 1995. The government took quick action against the individuals shown in the video, but the effect of the images on Serbian public opinion is mixed.

Geoffrey Nice, who is the lead prosecutor at the war crimes trial of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague, showed the court a video on 1 June that depicted a group of bloodied Bosnian Muslims held by an armed Serbian paramilitary police unit called the Scorpions at Srebrenica in July 1995. The Muslims were then driven in trucks to an area where they were shot by their captors amid a torrent of verbal abuse. Nice stressed that the killers were not Bosnian Serbs but rather part of the "infamous Scorpions unit, under the command of the secret services, or DB, of Serbia's Interior Ministry, and within...Milosevic's chain of command and control." Before the men tortured and killed their victims, they were blessed by a Serbian Orthodox priest.

The video was shown as part of the cross-examination of defense witness Obrad Stevanovic, who was a top Interior Ministry official under Milosevic. Stevanovic told the court that his men were not involved in the massacre and that he would have known had they taken part, a point he repeated on 6 June. If the tape is accepted by the court as genuine, then it could constitute the long-sought "smoking gun" clearly linking Serbian forces under Milosevic's command to the massacre of up to 8,000, mainly Muslim, males after the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995.

The video was broadcast by several Serbian television stations on 2 June. Rasim Ljajic, who chairs Serbia and Montenegro's National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, said in Belgrade the next day that several people were arrested after being identified in the tape. Legal charges were subsequently filed against 10 people, at least eight of whom are in police custody. The two fugitives are believed to be abroad, RFE/RL reported.

Serbian President Boris Tadic said of the video: "Serbia is deeply shocked. Those images are proof of a monstrous crime committed against persons of a different religion. And the guilty had walked as free men until now." The president added: "The killers had walked freely among us, on our streets, behaving as if they were ordinary, honorable citizens. All those who committed war crimes must be held accountable; only in this way will we be able to have a future. We must not close our eyes to the cruelty that took place." He added that he is ready "to go to Srebrenica to pay tribute to innocent people of another nationality."

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said that "it is important for our public that we reacted immediately, and that based on this shocking and horrible footage several of those who were involved in this crime have been arrested and will be brought to justice."

Most observers took particular note of Kostunica's remarks because he has a much more pronounced nationalist profile than Tadic. Kostunica usually stresses that all sides committed atrocities during the conflicts of the 1990s in former Yugoslavia and denies any particular guilt on the part of Serbia or Serbs. Some pundits even suggested that Kostunica's tough remarks about the footage and the quick action against the men shown in the video were designed to prepare the public for an impending arrest of leading indictee and former Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic. Other observers suggested that the evidence presented in the video constitutes a moral imperative for the Serbian authorities to ferret out and extradite Mladic as soon as possible.

Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor and not usually given to praising the Belgrade authorities, said in the Serbian capital that the arrests were "a brilliant operation because in few hours [the Serbian authorities] were able to identify the perpetrators." She added that she hopes the authorities will be equally decisive in arresting Mladic.

In any event, most observers concluded that the video is indeed the "smoking gun" and provides irrefutable evidence of Serbian participation in the massacre of civilians.

In addition, RFE/RL obtained a similar, exclusive video showing members of the Scorpions and Serbia's elite Red Berets engaged in other bloody activities in the Cazinska Krajina area of western Bosnia in April 1995 (see The Red Berets were commanded by Milorad Ulemek (aka Legija), who has been linked to the March 2003 killing of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

London's "The Guardian" wrote on 3 June that the Srebrenica video served to "provoke a bout of soul-searching in Serbia, parts of which are still in denial over the horrors of the Bosnian war." But at least one unidentified Belgrade woman had reservations, saying: "I truly doubt that the video will help [alter] public opinion. [Showing it] will cause a further division among the people. I doubt that the film will help the families of the victims. As far as I'm concerned, the film shouldn't be broadcast."

An RFE/RL program on 6 June noted a similar ambivalence. Jovan Mirilo of Sid, a town in Vojvodina on the Croatian border, is a key witness in the video affair. Some of his friends and neighbors wondered aloud why he willingly brought potential trouble into his life and that of his family by coming forward with his story. The broadcast also suggested that at least some Serbian authorities are not in any particular hurry to protect the Mirilos.

Another aspect of the video affair is the presence of the Serbian Orthodox priest, who was subsequently identified as Father Gavrilo from Vojvodina. Some believers attribute special healing powers to him and seek him out from all over Serbia, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 6 June.

His role in blessing the Scorpions led to a discussion in Serbia and Montenegro as to whether he was justified in doing so, RFE/RL reported. Some observers found his behavior disgusting, while others pointed out that one of the duties of priests is to bless soldiers going off to war, and that the man in the video was simply doing his job.

As of 6 June, the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) had made no official comment about the video or the priest. RFE/RL noted that the SPC seemed to be almost the only institution in Serbia that had not commented on the events depicted in the tape. Some people in Bosnia and Croatia pointed out that the SPC has also remained silent about Serbian war crimes committed during the conflicts of the 1990s in general, adding that time has come for Patriarch Pavle and the SPC to discuss the church's role during those wars. (Patrick Moore)

DID NATIONALIST LEADERS PLAN TO DIVIDE MACEDONIA ALONG ETHNIC LINES? Ever since fighting broke out between the ethnic Albanian insurgents of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and the Macedonian security forces in early 2001, there have been persistent but unconfirmed reports that some politicians in Macedonia had a hidden agenda to partition the country along ethnic lines in order to consolidate their own power.

The most prominent politicians widely suspected of working on such division plans were former Prime Minister and former Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) Chairman Ljubco Georgievski, who governed the country from 1998 until 2002. The other main suspect was Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) Chairman Arben Xhaferi.

When the VMRO-DPMNE and the PDSH formed a coalition in 1998, there was speculation about what prompted two rivals like the Macedonian Georgievski and the Albanian Xhaferi to collaborate. Both had a reputation of being nationalists, and analysts have repeatedly raised the question whether there was more to cement their good working relationship outside their shared conservative, strictly anticommunist ideologies.

At the height of the conflict, in May 2001, the Georgi Efremov, then-president of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts (MANU), proposed to cede the heavily Albanian-populated areas of western Macedonia around Debar and Tetovo to Albania, while Macedonian-populated areas on the western bank of Lake Ohrid in Albania were to be added to Macedonia. The scattered Albanian population living throughout Macedonia was to be "resettled."

At that time, there were widespread rumors that Efremov's plan was a trial balloon launched on Georgievski's behalf. Given the openly hostile public reaction to that plan, Georgievski subsequently denied that he considered any territorial swap or the division of Macedonia along ethnic lines.

But in late March 2003, Georgievski himself wrote in a column that changing the existing the borders in the Balkans might be a way to resolve interethnic problems. Shortly after that editorial, he followed with another, in which he discussed the question whether Albanians should be "resettled" in order to "save" the ethnically mixed cities of Skopje, Kicevo, Kumanovo, and Struga for the Macedonian nation.

Two years after these editorials appeared, in late June, Xhaferi told Kosovar television broadcasters that he and Georgievski repeatedly discussed the issue of dividing Macedonia along ethnic lines while they were in power. The interview was subsequently republished by two Kosovar dailies.

Xhaferi reportedly said that already in 1998, he and Georgievski started to talk about a plan to peacefully divide Macedonia. Both agreed that that a multiethnic society could not function and that such societies were "fictions" of the international community.

Xhaferi also said they discussed a possible division with politicians from neighboring countries, most notably with the late Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Xhaferi added, however, that he and Georgievski did not agree on concrete modalities, not least because of the war in neighboring Kosova in 1999. From Xhaferi's point of view, the peaceful division would have avoided bloodshed in Macedonia.

In a press release in response to Xhaferi's interview, Georgievski denied that he and his colleague discussed the division of Macedonia before the 2001 conflict. "We talked about the issue for the first time when the daily 'Vecer' published a text on the 'Exchange of Territories and Populations between Macedonia and Albania' in May 2001," Georgievski said. "At that time, Mr. Xhaferi did not want to discuss this problem and the conversation was over."

Georgievski's new party, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization -- People's Party (VMRO-NP), said it does not support any division plans. For VMRO-NP acting Chairwoman Vesna Janevska, Xhaferi's interview was simply the beginning of the PDSH's campaign for the 2006 parliamentary elections. Janevska added that the VMRO-NP supports the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement as well as a multiethnic Macedonia. "This is the party's one and absolute position," she said. "Multiethnic states are a reality, and we are convinced that radicalism does not have a place in Macedonia any longer."

Xhaferi's interview seems to have taken even his own party by surprise. A PDSH spokesman said his party will wait for the video recordings to arrive from Prishtina to see whether the reports in the print media correspond with what Xhaferi said on TV or whether his interview could be interpreted in a different way.

Ermira Mehmeti of Macedonia's governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) said if Xhaferi now believes that a multiethnic Macedonia has no future, he must explain why he signed the Ohrid peace agreement -- which provides for the consolidation of a multiethnic society -- in the first place.

In the meantime, Public Prosecutor Stavre Zikov said his office will scan Xhaferi's interview to see whether there is any reason to take legal action against the PDSH leader.

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "I did something entirely normal. I just did it in an abnormal country." -- Albanian writer Ismail Kadare, on his literary career in Enver Hoxha's Albania. Quoted in "The Guardian" of 3 June, reporting that the first annual Man Booker prize for modern literature went to Kadare.

"Lame duck meets dead duck." -- Headline in London's "The Times" on 4 June describing the meeting of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac.