12 December 2002, Volume 4, Number 40
IS ORGANIZED CRIME THREATENING THE FOUNDATIONS OF BALKAN STATES?
A telephone roundtable hosted by RFE/RL's Rade Radovanovic.
RFE/RL: But 40 murders and other major crimes remain unsolved. And Mr. [Rade] Markovic has already been sentenced to a year and a half in prison....
Milos Vasic (a leading journalist of the Belgrade weekly "Vreme"): That was a decision of the court of first instance. He was found guilty of disclosing an official secret, which is rubbish....
His main problem is the Ibar highway murder [in October 1999]. During the trial for that crime, the two idiots who were driving the truck -- and caused the accident in which four people from the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) were killed and SPO leader Vuk Draskovic nearly so -- said, cool as cucumbers: "We did not think it was Vuk. We actually thought it was an Albanian weapons smuggler. He was the one we wanted to do in."
For them, it is perfectly normal to stage a traffic accident and kill somebody. At the same time, they are too stupid to think like policemen. They belong to a special operation unit (JSO), which is an army for waging a civil war, not a police force. They don't even have a basic police mentality, which would prompt them to say: "Wait, if there is an Albanian weapons smuggler, we are not supposed to kill him but to catch him, since he is much more useful to us alive than dead." It is thus clear that we are talking about cold-blooded murderers who ask no questions.
So, there is not only a drug cartel [within the police], but also a gang for contract killings: "How much for a murder?" "This much. We will eliminate the guy, and everything will be just fine." This is what we are talking about here.
We are talking about a total destruction of values within the police structures and police apparatus during [former President Slobodan] Milosevic's rule. The new government in Serbia has yet to deal with that problem. They have not even started yet.
RFE/RL: And what about the state attorneys and the courts?
Vasic: The Interior Ministry of Serbia has issued a publication we journalists call: "Who Is Who In Organized Crime." It lists some 236 individuals organized in some 50 criminal groups in 27 Serbian towns.
It is a very interesting and picturesque gallery of characters. According to what is written under some of the photos, [numerous] criminal charges have been filed against some of those people, but none of them has been prosecuted. There must be something wrong either with the police and their evidence, or with the prosecution, which systematically refuses to take action.
This is the problem the gentlemen in power must solve. The judiciary of this country has been wrecked, especially since 1987 [when Milosevic rose to power]. It takes at least 10 years to build a new judicial system, provided that smart, competent, and honest young people start doing the job.
However, you cannot have a judge of a municipal court without at least five years of previous experience, and the same goes for an attorney. Some five or six years of sound and good experience are needed for a district attorney or judge. I really do not know how the government is going to cope with that [lack of qualified personnel].
RFE/RL: You have been talking about crime in Serbia, but, as far as I know, you are very familiar with the situation in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, too. Is the situation in Serbia and Montenegro somehow special, or it is just a piece of one and the same Balkan criminal puzzle?
Vasic: Since I spent some three or four years as a correspondent in Zagreb, I acquired first-hand knowledge about the scene there. My impression is that Serbia will some day have what the Croats have now.
For the past three years, the Croatian judiciary and police have had a lot of trouble with tough criminal organizations ever since they made some spectacular arrests back in 1999, as happened in Serbia recently. The case has gone nowhere....
Just like the poor Serbs, the poor Croats ruined their own judicial system [under President Franjo Tudjman]. What they have is a paradoxical situation in which a greenhorn from the prosecution...is facing a gang of phenomenal, experienced lawyers, who used to be district public attorneys or judges until [Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community] sent them packing because of their ethnic or political backgrounds.
They all know the law inside and out, and of course, completely outclass the young prosecutors. I fear that the same thing might happen here.
Finally, if a spectacular arrest is made, but only two people are charged and only two more detained out of some hundred people arrested, then something is wrong.
Dimitrije Stojakovic (student): First, I would like to say that I am from Leposavic, Kosovo. I would also like to say hello to my fellow-countryman Mr. Leka Pertunaj. I am from the northern and he is probably from the southern part of Kosovo.
Leka Pertunaj (from Sweden): Injustice is the very seed of crime. One cannot sow cacti and expect grapes.
RFE/RL: We have a popular saying: As you sow, so shall you reap. This is how our people, or we could say our peoples, put it.
Stojakovic: I hope you do not refer to me. I have nothing to do with those conflicts there.
Pertunaj: No, I am talking in abstract terms. I welcome all well-meaning people in the world. But people do not want to be equal in rights, and this is why a uniform law for all the people of the world is needed.
People are equal before the law and God. Let us take, for instance, the Ten Commandments. The fifth commandment says, "Thou shalt not kill." We also have the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
But people do otherwise. Weapons are used to kill people, and armies use weapons. All states that have weapons and an army are prone to aggression....
People like [U.S. President] George [W.] Bush, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, or Milosevic control many weapons and troops. They therefore consider themselves untouchable. They impose their will on others, and that is the source of all problems.
Let us start with us. Let us say that the international community was well aware that Milosevic kept all the [former] Yugoslav army's weapons [in 1991] and [that the international community] expected the other [republics] to demand international military assistance [so that the foreigners] could impose a protectorate.
Furthermore, in order to tie the victims' hands, [the foreigners] imposed an arms embargo, just to make sure that the victims would be forced to ask for international military assistance. For instance, [former British Foreign Secretary] Lord [Peter] Carrington said to [former Bosnian President Alija] Izetbegovic, "Do you know with whom you are fighting?" Izetbegovic replied, "We have to fight, otherwise, if we surrender, we will be killed."
Therefore, Carrington insisted that Izetbegovic ask for international military assistance, which Izetbegovic was eventually given. Serbian troops surrounding Sarajevo were bombed, but not for the sake of the Bosnians, but in order to allow the international community to infiltrate its own troops and occupy Bosnia-Herzegovina.
When the moment came for the international troops to arrive in Kosova, they raced to get there first. When the Russians arrived there first, the Americans almost started a fight with them. They are [all simply obsessed] with conquering the Balkans.