5 June 2003, Volume
THE RIGHT TO A DIFFERENT VIEW.
An interview on RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) with prominent defense lawyer Rajko Danilovic by Branka Mihajlovic.
Have you ever been totally embarrassed by defending people with whom you absolutely disagree?
I do not remember I that have ever defended a person with whom I shared the same or even similar views. I defended people with political and ideological stands completely opposite to mine.
What I defended is an important principle, which I find essential for a society wanting to live in peace and understanding: the right to a different view, or pluralism.
Pluralism is a natural state. Unanimity at any price is unnatural, especially if the price is to remain silent and refrain from expressing one's views.
I defended [everyone's] right to have [their own] political views. Under communism, during the era [of Josip Broz "Tito"] and after him, people could be sentenced simply for having different views.
As a defense attorney in political cases, what were your chances of winning? Were those people already sentenced even before the trials?
Everything was set up in advance, since all those trials were rigged.
It would start with the Central Committee or some other power center deciding that some trend or other had to be fought. After that, the State Security [UDBA] would select candidates for indictment from its zealously kept files. It would also pick people to prepare the trial and serve as a liaison within the prosecution team. The prosecution would then file the charges.
Everything was prearranged and rigged; otherwise, trials like those would not have been possible. What a man said, what the context was, and what he meant by saying it -- those things are so vague that one can never determine what was really said and whether any crime was actually committed.
These were trials of "verbal offense" in which no written documents were involved. But there was an advantage to such cases in that the defense had a lot of room to maneuver.
Were any of your clients acquitted?
We have already mentioned [former Kosovar communist leader] Azem Vllasi. It was a very unusual trial that attracted extensive international attention.
Representatives of foreign embassies attended the trial. All the relevant media from Europe and America were there. There were also journalists from Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia.
That was in 1989, [after Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic had consolidated his power within Serbia proper and was looking towards Kosovo, Vojvodina, and Montenegro]. In Kosovo, the Albanians still controlled some government institutions and media. Local Albanians staged demonstrations, while [pro-Milosevic forces] demanded constitutional changes to abolish Kosovo's autonomy.... Ultimately, some 200 Albanians died in the protests.
What was Vllasi accused of?
Inciting the miners in Stari Trg and Kosovska Mitrovica to strike and revolt against the government.
Could you describe your first meeting with Azem Vllasi in prison?
I took over his defense after the investigation had gone on for a couple of months. His wife, Nadira Vllasi, who was also my student, hired me....
The first thing he asked me was when he would be freed from pretrial detention. I told him to be patient because the longer he stayed in prison, the better his image would be in the eyes of his own people.
The trial went well, and, in the end, the authorities had no choice but to free him and all the others in the dock.
One of the leaders of the [current] Serbian government, [Deputy Prime Minister] Nebojsa Covic, [who is also the government's point man for Kosovo], recently said, "We are sure enough of ourselves to say to the Albanians that we are well aware how they suffered under Milosevic."
I add, "So did the Serbs." I am glad that he thinks so, but I do not think this is his personal opinion, but rather that of the government and the [governing coalition].
Such a statement is long overdue. But Covic's thinking still shows the influence of communism in that he prefers balance to truth. Such an approach is, of course, helpful for any politician, since they deal in compromises. But one should nonetheless be sincere and tell the truth.
The Serbs in Kosovo have not suffered as much as the Albanians. But they do suffer now, and indeed, their present situation is very difficult.
These are the consequences of the catastrophic policies of the communists in Kosovo, in cooperation with the Serbian nationalists. Those polices did not start after the NATO bombing [in 1999] but had been in force for more than a decade.
Speaking about the Kosovo Albanians, which period was more repressive: the time of [former Interior Minister Aleksandar] Rankovic [from early in Tito's rule until 1967], or that of Milosevic?
I find Milosevic's era far more repressive. I am not saying that it was easy for the Albanians under Broz's police regime, because it was Broz who allowed Rankovic to behave the way that he did. But under Broz there was some rivalry between Rankovic's police and the League of Communists, where the Albanians were strong. Within that context, life was bearable.
After Milosevic abolished Kosovo's autonomy in 1989, things became very different. There were no alternative sources of power within the system, and the Albanians were [forced to set up a shadow state] outside it.
If life was difficult for the Albanians, it was also hard for the Serbs. And it became much worse for them when the system collapsed.
Were you relieved when the state of emergency ended [in late April 2003]?
I was actually relieved when the state of emergency was imposed. Before the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic [on 12 March], we lived in a strange state of mind, especially as it was reflected in the media. All the lies, distortions, propaganda....
The government had been preparing for a showdown with organized crime. A year and a half earlier, the police started purging their ranks and gearing up for the day of reckoning with organized crime and the Red Berets. The authorities also laid the legal foundations for fighting organized crime. Only the judiciary had yet to be cleaned up.
But just as things were shaping up, organized crime and its political backers prepared a plot to topple the government. The police, however, were ready for it and struck back hard. They even knew about the top criminals' psychological profiles and about criminal structures in the provinces.
The criminals had hoped for a broad-based coalition government and a change of policy after the assassination of Djindjic. They expected to return to the lives of wealth and power they enjoyed under Milosevic. But what they got was the state of emergency.