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South Slavic: November 30, 2000

30 November 2000, Volume 2, Number 42

Where To Try Milosevic: In The Hague Or Belgrade? Part II.

Stanko Pihler is a criminal law professor of the Faculty of Law in Novi Sad. Dusan Batakovic is an assistant professor in the History Department of the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade. The two men spoke together recently on RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) with Omer Karabeg. Part I appeared on 23 November.

Dusan Batakovic: Mr. Pihler's doubts are quite realistic. However, one must bear in mind that [Serbs] will not accept the prosecution of war criminals without the involvement of our legal system.

I also think that it is important for our moral purification that the trials are organized on our territory. It would have a moral impact on those who supported--one way or another--the policy that was dominant in Serbia until recently and that lead us towards catastrophe and collapse.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Pihler, do you think that Milosevic might become a martyr for some people if he were extradited to the Hague, and do you agree with Mr. Batakovic that, for moral and political reasons, it would be better if he were tried in Serbia?

Stanko Pihler: Someone could always try to make a martyr out of him, no matter where he is tried.

Dusan Batakovic: It is not the same when someone is made a martyr because he is tried by a court made up of those who fought against him until recently, or when he is tried here for the crimes he committed against his own people, as well as against members of other ethnic and religious communities.

It seems to me that a sentence pronounced by a domestic court would be more convincing and have a long-term effect. Were that to happen, this long-suffering population of Serbia, which has spent the last decade suffering under an arrogant, oriental tyrant, would obtain moral satisfaction by trying him in our county. That does not exclude the possibility that observers from the Hague tribunal could take part and thus give a necessary international dimension to the trial.

Milosevic is guilty, and I do not think that there will be peace in Serbia until he is put behind bars. If you allow me a little digression, I would remind you of Al Capone's fate. He was responsible for the deaths of several dozens, and maybe hundreds of people, but he was arrested and sentenced for tax evasion. He spent the rest of his life behind bars. I wish Milosevic were indicted for war crimes, but we have no documentation. We should therefore immediately start with charges concerning other crimes for which there is plenty of evidence. That would make it possible to put him behind bars together with all the others from his establishment.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Batakovic, if Milosevic were tried in Serbia, he would be tried--as you have just said--for what he did to the Serbian people. However, the Hague indictment is about crimes committed in Kosovo, and there were indications that it might be extended to crimes committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. Do you think that there is willingness [in Serbia] to try him for these crimes?

Dusan Batakovic: It is absolutely necessary that he be tried for all sorts of crimes. I do not think that a single detail should be left out. If the trial were organized in Serbia, the indictment should be extended to crimes against his own people.

The point is that Milosevic and not [the Serbian people] should be tried. That is something that has not been clear enough in The Hague so far. There were attempts to blame the entire national elite, and even the entire population.

It seems to me that a trial in Belgrade would be important for Serbia's moral recovery, as well as for the Serbs and for other peoples who live in Serbia. A trial in Belgrade would have a deep political significance, while Milosevic's extradition to The Hague in the near future would become an argument for those who are trying to show that the new government is a mere instrument of the Western part of the international community.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Pihler, an opposition leader recently said that Serbia is not ready yet to extradite Milosevic to the Hague tribunal. What do you think?

Stanko Pihler: I agree with him. Serbia is not yet politically mature enough to do so. Serbia has proven to be mature to some extent, but we are dealing here with crimes that resulted from policies legitimized by the electorate. It seems to me that there is a sort of collective amnesia here about everything that went on, and that people do not face up to reality and feel ashamed.

I would say that, as far as co-operation with the Hague is concerned, there are two sorts of arguments--legal and political ones--that are often confused. It seems to me that the first one is treated as secondary, although it should be the most important. People usually take a political and moral stand, and only then do they use appropriate legal argumentation to justify that attitude.

This is why, basically, I consider cooperation with the Hague tribunal a political issue. There is no uniform attitude towards that issue in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. We had the official stand of Milosevic's regime, which repeatedly refused to cooperate. The opposition--or the major part of it--had the same attitude.

There is a completely different stand in Montenegro, not only by the legitimate government, which is ready for that cooperation, but also by others there.

As far as [Serbian] public opinion is concerned, I am not aware that empirical research has been conducted on this topic, but I have the impression that public opinion is somehow still divorced from reality on such issues.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Batakovic, if Milosevic were tried in Serbia, then one could hardly expect that Karadzic and Mladic would end up in The Hague. Where would they be tried in that case?

Dusan Batakovic: They are citizens of another state--Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Omer Karabeg: I think that Mladic is a citizen of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Dusan Batakovic: They have to be brought to justice and that court should determine how guilty they are. I think that it is important for every ethnic community to publicly condemn every crime against a civilian population.

Stanko Pihler: My general attitude is that the principle of equality should be applied--all of them should be tried in The Hague.

Omer Karabeg: And, finally, Mr. Batakovic, where do you think Milosevic will end up--in The Hague, before a domestic court--or might he not be tried at all?

Dusan Batakovic: I think that Milosevic should end up behind bars. It is not so important where and how he is tried.

I do not think that he can now avoid justice because he missed his chance to escape it. By that I mean that after he lost the elections, he failed to ask for asylum in a country that does not recognize the authority of the Hague tribunal and has the political will to refuse the tribunal's extradition demand.

By remaining in Serbia, Milosevic has in effect recognised the authority of this state, which will decide whether he will be tried here or in The Hague. The most important thing now is to bring charges against him.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Pihler, where will Milosevic end up?

Stanko Pihler: In brief, the question is interesting but the outcome is not clear. I am not a historian, but history teaches us that many criminals have gone unpunished.

Omer Karabeg: You think that Milosevic might not be sentenced?

Stanko Pihler: Everything is possible.

Dusan Batakovic: One should bear in mind that these crimes are not covered by any statute of limitations and that justice must be done, one way or another. I do not see how Milosevic can avoid being brought to justice, unless he first gets killed or commits suicide.