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South Slavic: July 3, 2003

3 July 2003, Volume 5, Number 19


Part VI.

An interview on RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) with prominent defense lawyer Rajko Danilovic by Branka Mihajlovic.

RFE/RL: Your political career both started and ended with the Liberals, beginning in the early 1970s. You seem to be proud that none of the prominent Liberals ever took Milosevic's side....

Rajko Danilovic: In Serbia, two political orientations have always been present: the pro-European option wanting a modern Serbia, and a conservative Serbia, which remains very powerful. It plays on vulgar and primitive nationalism, the very important political role of the church, and imaginary ties with Russia that simply do not exist anymore.

The Obrenovic dynasty was pro-European, while the Karadjordjevices were pro-East. The communists continued with this pro-East orientation. Milosevic stressed Serbian nationalism, which [led to] the disintegration of Yugoslavia. It prevented Yugoslavia's reorganization and revival. That sort of nationalism was not supported by the Liberals.

RFE/RL: Unlike the Liberals, the leftists from 1968 became divided, and some of them drifted to Serbian nationalism and Milosevic.

Danilovic: All kinds of leftists bowed to Milosevic: [Veljko] Micunovic, Ljubomir Tadic, Mihajlo Markovic, as well as Sveta Stojanovic, who was [Dobrica] Cosic's adviser. Those people were once ultra-leftists who criticized us for betraying communism and advocating capitalism....

RFE/RL: Once your political career was finished, you became a lawyer. Many of your clients were defendants in political trials. You even wrote a book about the political trials in former Yugoslavia from 1945 to 1991. Were the [pro-Soviet] Cominform supporters the most persecuted?

Danilovic: Of course they were. That is so typical of communist regimes: the harshest measures were taken against those who were the closest to them, those belonging to the defeated faction [of their own party]. The entire history of Stalinism, Leninism, and Eastern Europe confirms that. We were not an exception....

RFE/RL: Which regime and leadership [within Yugoslavia] were the most rigid?

Danilovic: For a long period after World War II, the Slovenes were the most rigid, the Croats were next, and then came Bosnia-Herzegovina. Croatia persecuted the supporters of the [nationalist-oriented 1971] Croatian Spring -- which I called the Croatian winter -- long after the Croatian Spring was over.

Members of all three nationalities were persecuted in Bosnia. The police authorities were very powerful there. There were not so many cases of political persecution in Serbia and Montenegro. The biggest number of persecutions took place in Kosovo as a result of political tensions [in 1981]. Uttering the ethnic Albanians' slogan "Kosova -- a [federal Yugoslav] Republic" was treated by public prosecutors as a very serious offense threatening the constitutional order -- in other words, counterrevolution. Those charged with writing that slogan could be sentenced to five or six years in prison. In former Yugoslavia, [Kosovo's leading dissident Adem] Demaci spent the longest time of all in prison for his political views: 29 years.

RFE/RL: How can a man like him get out of jail and be a very kind person after 29 years?

Danilovic: Those who remain the same after a stint in prison are very rare. Most change: they either become kinder and more generous, or they intensify their views. Some people leave prison transformed into avengers, full of hate, wanting to get revenge on everybody.

The time in prison is a part of somebody's life, not something cut out of it. When you read books about the gulag, you can see that there is both political and intellectual life in there, in spite of the way people have to live and the constant threat of death.

Both Demaci and [Milovan] Djilas belong to the mild type. [Former Croatian President] Franjo Tudjman suffered the least, and yet he left the prison embittered and thirsty for revenge....

Demaci was transformed in prison by Mihajlo Mihajlov while they were serving their times together. Mihajlov provided him with the right literature, since Demaci used to be a supporter of [former Albanian leader] Enver Hoxha's Marxist-Leninist Party of Labor. He left the prison a liberal, a man seeking cooperation. He is critical of both the current Kosovar and Serbian leaderships alike.

RFE/RL: [Croatian] General Martin Spegelj had a very important role in 1991 as a main character of a secretly made film. He was one of your clients, too.

Danilovic: Here is a good example of the intelligence services' role. The [Yugoslav army or] JNA was preparing a coup d'etat. Some influential people like [General Veljko] Kadijevic and Vuk Obradovic went to Russia to ask for their support, since a coup d'etat cannot succeed without foreign support. They came back disappointed.

Something called the 10th Department, in charge of both intelligence and propaganda, had prepared an analysis of the political situation in Yugoslavia and the possibility of its disintegration. The film was supposed to prepare the public for the coup d'etat.... The things shown in it never actually happened as they were presented.

RFE/RL: The state-run television showed the film without any previous announcement. As they said themselves, it was made secretly. It was quite shocking: Spegelj could be seen talking [to other people around a table] about slaughtering people. What was it really all about?

Danilovic: It was a case of special warfare, using hidden cameras. Spegelj spoke about many different things, commenting on the political situation, too. It lasted many days. He was a hunter, and so they also spoke about hunting wild boars. At one point, he explained how a wild boar should be killed, but [the secret services] edited the film and made it sound as if he were giving instructions as to how the Serbs should be slaughtered. I remember that we sent a copy of the film to a Belgian institution to check its authenticity. They found 98 cases of outright tampering, and even entire sentences were pasted together....

RFE/RL: And what about your efforts to have all political prisoners rehabilitated?

Danilovic: When Dobrica Cosic became president [of Milosevic's rump Yugoslavia in 1992], I sent him a copy of my book and suggested that all the political prisoners be rehabilitated. No one ever replied to me, not even after I repeated my demands several times. Then I asked [Cosic's advisor] Sveta Stojanovic to send me back my manuscript, but they could not find it.

When the DOS [Democratic Opposition of Serbia] came to power [in October 2000], I decided to write once again, but this time to multiple recipients. I even wrote to Serbian President Milan Milutinovic. He is the only one who asked me what to do. My answer was that the decision was not his to make.

My letter was also sent to Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, the speakers of both the Serbian and Montenegrin parliaments, and to the respective prime ministers. No one ever replied to me. However, there was an initiative later to start the rehabilitation process, but no one even mentions it any more. I wanted to be very clear: there should be no particular criteria. The only criterion would be that all political prisoners should be rehabilitated and compensated. Even their descendants should be compensated. Unfortunately, nothing ever came of this initiative.