8 May 2003, Volume 5, Number 12
CRIMINALS AND POLITICS IN SERBIA AND CROATIA.
A program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) with Omer Karabeg and Natasa Kandic (Belgrade), director of the Humanitarian Law Center, and Zarko Puhovski (Zagreb), president of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights.
RFE/RL: It is often said in Croatia that the winners of wars have never been tried before, that the Allies were not tried after World War II, and, therefore, that Croats should not be tried now.
Zarko Puhovski: I agree that the nationalists are right about that. An army that has won a war has never tried its generals. But the time has come to stop that practice....
Natasa Kandic: The thesis can be heard in Serbia [that representatives of the Western powers should be put on trial, too]. Many people in Serbia argue that Serbia was a moral victor, even though it was defeated militarily.
The situation in Serbia is different [from that in Croatia] because Croatia had an enemy force on its territory, while Serbia -- although claiming not to be at war -- fought from its own territory.
The war [in Kosovo] ended on a horrible note, with the discovery of mass graves. The graves were shown on television when [former Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic was arrested [on 1 April 2001], because the government wanted to win popular support by presenting evidence of his crimes....
But since Milosevic's extradition to The Hague [on 28 June 2001], the matter has been left aside. Questions nonetheless remain to be answered, and the truth about the crimes must still be faced....
RFE/RL: If I understand correctly, Mrs. Kandic believes that Serbian and Croatian societies must face up to the question of war crimes before they can successfully get rid of their mafias. Mr. Puhovski, do you share her opinion?
Puhovski: Of course I do. However, we have to get our priorities straight and deal with the big killers before we concentrate on the petty thieves and crooks, which has not been the case.
RFE/RL: The killing of [Serbian Prime Minister] Zoran Djindjic and the crimes that preceded it indicate that those sent to kill members of other nations and who were later lionized -- eventually turned against their own people.
Kandic: Absolutely. The killing of Zoran Djindjic showed that a pattern that emerged during the wars of the past decade had repeated itself.
Those who killed civilians in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo returned to their homes once the war in Kosovo was over. While they were making war, they were given carte blanche to kill, loot, hoard, build houses, and start new businesses. But once the war was over and they settled in, they needed new sources of income.
And then Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic announced that he intended to fight those criminal groups. At the same time, the government also made it clear that it will extradite indicted war criminals to The Hague.
Those points are crucial for understanding the attitude of those who supported the policy of Slobodan Milosevic, including some people within state institutions, the police, and the army, as well as those who were protecting [General Ratko] Mladic and [Radovan] Karadzic.
With this new strategy, the Serbian prime minister became dangerous for the so-called "patriotic" forces and alleged war heroes, and this is what made them decide to kill him. Those "patriotic" forces thought that killing him would enhance their strength.
It is true that Milosevic had long been in The Hague, but what happened in Serbia before Djindjic's murder shows that Milosevic was still very, very powerful. It remains to be seen, moreover, whether the legacy and culture of war crimes is too deeply rooted in Serbian society to be removed....
RFE/RL: Mr. Puhovski, do you think that those left unpunished for crimes they committed against other nations ultimately turn against their own nation?
Puhovski: If those who get used to killing remain unpunished, they will simply continue killing wherever they are, and for the moment they are mostly in their own country. In the meantime, that country has been ethnically cleansed of minorities who could make convenient targets. Fortunately, for now at least this is not the case in Croatia.
Finally, if we fail to come to terms with the criminals from the past -- and I am talking about the recent past -- what will eventually happen is that once again we will have a generation whose school education will be totally different from what they are taught at home [as was the case after World War II]. That schizophrenic situation will have a bad effect on a fragmented society, the very way it helped destroy former Yugoslavia.
RFE/RL: Mrs. Kandic, you have mentioned that there is a connection between the so-called anti-Hague clan, the leadership of the police and army, and criminals. Do you think that Karadzic, Mladic, and [former Major Veselin] Sljivancanin would have already been arrested if that connection had not existed?
Kandic: It is clear that the government of Serbia was not ready to arrest Karadzic. As far as Mladic is concerned, he openly enjoyed protection from Milosevic's generals, and later shadowy army groups protected him. His photographs were everywhere in Belgrade, and he enjoyed the support of the majority of the population.
This is why the government was constantly forced to test its strength with those who were protecting Karadzic and Mladic, who usually won out. Milosevic was criticized for allowing the bombing of Serbia, but Mladic was an undisputed Serbian hero.
The new government was able to arrest the former president but did not dare arrest the generals. This was wrong. Obviously, the government was afraid of the power of Serbian nationalist mythology, the Republika Srpska's reaction, and those powerful protectors of war criminals.