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South Slavic: December 18, 2003

18 December 2003, Volume 5, Number 40

The next issue of "RFE/RL South Slavic Report" will appear on 8 January 2004.


Part I.

A program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) by Omer Karabeg of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service with Srdjan Dizdarevic, president of the Helsinki Committee of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Srdja Popovic, a well-known human rights lawyer from Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8, 15, and 22 February 2001).

RFE/RL: Some of the highest representatives of the states created in the region of former Yugoslavia have recently apologized. In September, the presidents of Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro, Stjepan Mesic and Svetozar Marovic, first offered apologizes for what they called "all the misdeeds committed by their citizens."

After that, Marovic visited Sarajevo and apologized for "all the evil anyone in Bosnia-Herzegovina suffered because of Serbia and Montenegro." A couple of years ago, Montenegrin leader Milo Djukanovic apologized to the Croats for the crimes committed by Montenegrins during the [1991] Dubrovnik campaign.

Do you find those apologizes useful, or do you rather see them as a polite exercise?

Srdja Popovic: Those apologizes included references to some evil things that have never been explained to the Serbian public. Those terms are obviously used as euphemisms for war crimes. But the Serbian public denies that crimes were committed (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003).

Recently, [former Yugoslav President] Mr. [Slobodan] Milosevic accused some Frenchmen of being responsible for the events in Srebrenica, and the media here reported it without any comment. This is why ordinary people here think that we actually send innocent people to The Hague under international pressure and in order to get some handouts -- not because those extradited are responsible for those events.

Under these circumstances, I find apologizes inappropriate. What's more, one cannot kill 200,000 people and just say, "I am sorry." I find that insulting.

Srdjan Dizdarevic: I agree with Mr. Popovic, but we have to start somewhere. No matter how symbolic those gestures may be, they still represent initial steps in a difficult and painful process. At least they allowed us to break the vicious circle in which both sides claimed that they were simply defending themselves, or at least that they had a just cause for waging war while accusing the other side of crimes.

It seems to me that these apologies -- although not very convincing -- enable us to believe that a process of establishing truth and hence promoting reconciliation has begun after eight or nine years.

Popovic: I can understand Mr. Dizdarevic's position and agree that what happened represents a step forward. However, it remains too little compared with what took place and is therefore absolutely inadequate.

Mr. Dizdarevic says that it is good that after eight or nine years someone has finally uttered those euphemistic words of apology, but after those eight or nine years no one has been tried for those misdeeds.

People here [in Serbia] act as if everything has been forgiven, if there was something to be forgiven at all. People should first be told why [Bosnian Serb General Ratko] Mladic was able hide in Serbia after Srebrenica and may still be here. They should know what the Red Berets and other elite Serbian units were doing during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, what the role of the Yugoslav People's Army in both Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina was.

An apology should come after all these things are clarified. If we apologize, we should all know why.

Dizdarevic: I think that justice should be done, and not only based on the Hague tribunal's verdicts.

The fact is that the tribunal will not be able to deal with more than the 150 most important cases before it ceases to exist.

According to some estimates, more than 10,000 people should be held responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. This is why the national courts in Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Croatia must finally start pursuing justice and face the fact that their fellow citizens committed those crimes....

Popovic: I cannot agree with Mr. Dizdarevic and accept the agenda he proposed: first we apologized, reconciliation should follow next, and then we should find the truth.

Once you apologize like Mr. Marovic did, there will be no need to find the truth anymore. The right way to do this is that the group responsible for crimes should acknowledge those crimes. They should then say that they cannot forgive themselves for it, and only then offer an apology that the other side may or may not accept. Only after that can we think about reconciliation.

Dizdarevic: There must be a misunderstanding. What I said is that several things should take place simultaneously. International and national justice should take their course, the truth should be made clear to all, and the process of reconciliation should go forward.

Of course, some truths were deliberately concealed because in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Serbia and Montenegro today, there is no lack of continuity whatsoever with political forces that caused the evil.

That becomes obvious when you recall the names of the ruling political parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina today, which are the same ones that were in power back in 1991.

It is also obvious that de-Nazification never took place in Serbia.... But although I prefer Mr. Popovic's approach, I still think that we can begin only with small and very painful steps.

RFE/RL: From a moral standpoint, do you think the leaders in the region are the right people to be making such apologies? For instance, during the 1990s Marovic called the campaign against Dubrovnik "the war for peace."

Popovic: Of course not. Mr. Marovic does not have a lot of credibility.... No one has ever investigated his responsibility for the misdeeds of which he himself speaks.

Dizdarevic: I remember Mr. Marovic and Mr. Djukanovic from the time of the siege of Dubrovnik and the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and agree that their credibility is dubious from a moral perspective.

Nevertheless, we should not wait for another generation to come along before starting to normalize our relations. Marovic and Djukanovic have been democratically chosen to speak in the name of their respective countries, and this is what makes their words so important.

Popovic: I think that the lack of credibility of those apologizing actually defines the quality of their apologies. That makes the apologies insincere, especially now that we know that these men did not have a mandate from their respective publics to apologize.

Both of Mr. Marovic's apologies were either ignored or even drew protests when he made them. This is why I find it essential that we first determine what happened and only then apologize if the apology is to have any credibility.