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Goran Hadzic's Exit

  • Gordana Knezevic

Goran Hadzic, the last of Serbia's alleged war criminals, makes his initial appearance to stand trial on crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague in July 2011.

Goran Hadzic, the last of Serbia's alleged war criminals, makes his initial appearance to stand trial on crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague in July 2011.

It was the war that gave a boost to Goran Hadzic's career. A warehouse worker before the war, he suddenly found himself in the position of the rebel Serb commander in Croatia, in 1991. Hadzic was a key figure in the uprising dubbed the "Log Revolution," and in carving out a self-proclaimed Serbian mini-state from one-third of Croatia's territory. Non-Serbs in the "Srpska Krajina" were expelled or killed.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) indicted Hadzic in 2004 on 14 charges, the most serious of which were war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the murder, torture, deportation, and forcible transfer of Croats and other non-Serbs. Hadzic was among those responsible for the 1991 siege of Vukovar -- the first European city entirely destroyed by shelling since World War II.

After spending seven years in hiding, Hadzic was arrested in July 2011. He was the last Serbian fugitive sought by the UN tribunal in The Hague.

Hadzic's arrest was seen as the closure of a horrific chapter in Balkan history. It also removed one of the last major obstacles in Serbia's negotiations to join the European Union.

The arrest took place less than two months after the capture of the even more notorious Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, accused of some of the worst atrocities of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, including the Srebrenica genocide. His trial is ongoing.

An unexpected link between Hadzic and Italian modern art icon Amedeo Modigliani was established by Serbia's chief prosecutor for war crimes, Vladimir Vukcevic, at the time of Hadzic's arrest.

Vukcevic told reporters in Belgrade: "The strategic breakthrough in detaining Goran Hadzic came after an attempt to sell a Modigliani painting. We came to the conclusion that [Hadzic] had run out of money and we started to follow that contact and to track communications related to that painting."

The painting in question is a 1918 work titled Portrait Of A Man. It is described as showing the face of a young man with full lips and dark brown hair, viewed slightly from the side, and partially covered in shadow. The head and nose are elongated, a signature characteristic of Modigliani's work.

However, the executive director of the London-based Art Loss Register, Christopher Marinello, told RFE/RL in 2011 that after receiving a photo of the painting from Belgrade, he concluded that it was not listed in the database.

"We can now confirm that the work being held by the Serbian authorities is not listed in our database as stolen, missing, or looted," Marinello said. "That doesn't mean there's not going to be a claim against the work, whether it's for money laundering, or whether there'll be any charges in connection with the painting." And the story about the Modigliani painting curiously died down after Hadzic's extradition to The Hague tribunal.

The story may well have been a red herring proffered by the Serbian security services. While the attention of the media covering Hadzic's arrest was focused on the bizarre tale of the Italian painting, nobody was reporting on the terrible crimes committed in Vukovar and other places in Croatia.

In November 2014, Hadzic was diagnosed with brain cancer and his trial was suspended due to his treatment. In April 2015, the court ordered his release and he died in July. *

The Hague tribunal wanted to avoid the nightmare of yet another high-profile inmate dying in his detention cell. The last was the mastermind of all the Balkan horrors himself, former Serbian President Milosevic, who died in detention at the tribunal on March 11, 2007.

* This story has been changed to amend a passage that was overly similar to text that appeared elsewhere.

About This Blog

Balkans Without Borders offers personal commentary on contemporary Balkan politics and culture. It is written by Gordana Knezevic, senior journalist and former award-winning editor of the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje, as well as the director of RFE/RL’s Balkan Service between 2008 and 2016. The blog reflects on the myriad ways in which the absurdities of Balkan politics and the ongoing historical shifts and realignments affect the lives of people in the region.

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