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South Slavic: May 29, 2003

29 May 2003, Volume 5, Number 14


Part I.

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

Our guest, Rajko Danilovic, is widely regarded as one of the most respected lawyers in Yugoslavia, Serbia, and Belgrade. He enjoys this position because of his long-standing commitment to personal freedom and independence of thought, notwithstanding his and his family's roots in the League of Communists and related organizations.

By the late 1960s, Danilovic had become linked to the ill-fated liberal movement in Serbia. After 1974, he acted as a defense attorney in the trials of some prominent political dissidents or opposition figures. His highly diverse clients have included Marko Veselica, Dobroslav Paraga, Martin Spegelj, Azem Vllasi, Vojislav Seselj, Vuk Draskovic, the Ibarska magistrala group, Slavko Curuvija, and now Svetlana Raznatovic "Ceca."

In the new edition of his book "The Production of Enemies," he argues: "When there are appeals for unity, it is a reliable sign that the rights of individuals, groups, and minorities are threatened. I hope that defending those rights was worth my enduring all the anonymous phone calls and threats I was exposed to during my entire career."

RFE/RL: You were born in Niksic. What ties do you have to Montenegro?

Rajko Danilovic: The ties are both rational and emotional. I have a few relatives left in Montenegro, but almost all of my family has moved to Belgrade or Novi Sad....

I am a Montenegrin; that is how I feel, although I have both Serbian and Montenegrin blood in my veins. Many of my fellow Montenegrins here in Belgrade have [come to identify themselves as Serbs], either to further their careers or to secure some other advantages.

The peoples of former Yugoslavia used to be close. The divisions between them are mostly religious. I cannot agree that there is a linguistic difference, since the language I am speaking right now is the one in use by many others in this former Yugoslav region. We understand each other without any dictionaries or grammar books. We were even able to understand [the Slovenes and Macedonians]. This linguistic closeness, not to mention other bonds, showed how close we are.

I am a Montenegrin. Even when I was a politician [in the Belgrade League of Communists]..., I declared myself a Montenegrin.

RFE/RL: Do you think they have forgotten you in Montenegro, or would listeners there be saying right now, "Here he is, our man in Belgrade?"

Danilovic: I think they would. I have had no negative experiences with my fellow Montenegrins and the way they understand me. I have always felt at ease everywhere in former Yugoslavia.

RFE/RL: Have you ever gotten into difficulties by defending people with unpopular political views?

Danilovic: I have had difficulties, but that doesn't bother me.

I faced very strong resistance in my local community when I defended [former Kosovar communist leader] Azem Vllasi. That was true in Belgrade, among fellow lawyers, and in Serbia.

Many of my colleagues criticized me for taking that case. I said that I did so for many reasons, including professional ones. A lawyer must not refuse to defend any client, just like a doctor must not refuse to treat any patient.

But those reasons are not the primary ones. I also tried to explain how important relations between Albanians and Serbs are, not only in Kosovo but also here in Serbia and throughout Yugoslavia.

That caused me a lot of trouble. Some colleagues demanded my disbarment, wanting to deprive me of my right to be a lawyer. There were also colleagues who criticized me then but later apologized, whether I knew of their critical views or not.

But there were also more primitive forms of pressure. The telephone in my office rang quite a lot. I could hear voices whose accent indicated that they were from Kosovo, threatening my family and me. I replied that [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic will be hanged in [downtown Belgrade's] Terazije area one day, and that made them even angrier, since Milosevic embodied [Serbian nationalist] political demands in Kosovo.

Once I defended two young Muslims, Muhamed Cajlakovic and Asim Stupar, before the military court in Sarajevo. The then-chief of the military security service [KOS], Colonel (and later General) Vasiljevic, worked zealously and managed to find some alleged young Muslim nationalists.

He charged them on the basis of some conversations they had, in other words for a verbal offense. I asked Cajlakovic, who was a Muslim cleric, whether he indeed said what he was alleged to have said. He answered that he did say something like that. I told him to deny the charges on the basis of how he was quoted in the bill of indictment.

A little later, this young man sent me a letter canceling my power of attorney for instructing him to lie, although an attorney is allowed to instruct his client to defend himself -- even to lie -- if it serves his interests and helps him.

A Colonel Belic [of the military court] sent a letter to the Trial Lawyers Association of Belgrade, demanding they disbar me. The letter made my colleagues from the association laugh, since they knew very well that what I did was not illegal. During the trial, Cajlakovic's father authorized me again to defend his son....

RFE/RL: Do you have a moral dilemma when you defend somebody, knowing that he is guilty and still there is a chance to get him off?

Danilovic: That dilemma always exists. There were cases of very serious crimes -- murders -- and the murderers were acquitted. I felt very bad about it. You cannot help it.

Talking about those who were prosecuted for their political convictions, I never felt bad about defending them. I felt bad because people were sentenced to a couple of years or many years in prison -- just for their thoughts. I was sad when I failed to help those people as much as I hoped to.