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Goran Hadzic, the last of Serbia's alleged war criminals, makes his initial appearance to stand trial on crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague in July 2011.

It was the war that gave a boost to Goran Hadzic's career. A warehouse worker before the war, he suddenly found himself in the position of the rebel Serb commander in Croatia, in 1991. Hadzic was a key figure in the uprising dubbed the "Log Revolution," and in carving out a self-proclaimed Serbian mini-state from one-third of Croatia's territory. Non-Serbs in the "Srpska Krajina" were expelled or killed.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) indicted Hadzic in 2004 on 14 charges, the most serious of which were war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the murder, torture, deportation, and forcible transfer of Croats and other non-Serbs. Hadzic was among those responsible for the 1991 siege of Vukovar -- the first European city entirely destroyed by shelling since World War II.

After spending seven years in hiding, Hadzic was arrested in July 2011. He was the last Serbian fugitive sought by the UN tribunal in The Hague.

Hadzic's arrest was seen as the closure of a horrific chapter in Balkan history. It also removed one of the last major obstacles in Serbia's negotiations to join the European Union.

The arrest took place less than two months after the capture of the even more notorious Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, accused of some of the worst atrocities of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, including the Srebrenica genocide. His trial is ongoing.

An unexpected link between Hadzic and Italian modern art icon Amedeo Modigliani was established by Serbia's chief prosecutor for war crimes, Vladimir Vukcevic, at the time of Hadzic's arrest.

Vukcevic told reporters in Belgrade: "The strategic breakthrough in detaining Goran Hadzic came after an attempt to sell a Modigliani painting. We came to the conclusion that [Hadzic] had run out of money and we started to follow that contact and to track communications related to that painting."

The painting in question is a 1918 work titled Portrait Of A Man. It is described as showing the face of a young man with full lips and dark brown hair, viewed slightly from the side, and partially covered in shadow. The head and nose are elongated, a signature characteristic of Modigliani's work.

However, the executive director of the London-based Art Loss Register, Christopher Marinello, told RFE/RL in 2011 that after receiving a photo of the painting from Belgrade, he concluded that it was not listed in the database.

"We can now confirm that the work being held by the Serbian authorities is not listed in our database as stolen, missing, or looted," Marinello said. "That doesn't mean there's not going to be a claim against the work, whether it's for money laundering, or whether there'll be any charges in connection with the painting." And the story about the Modigliani painting curiously died down after Hadzic's extradition to The Hague tribunal.

The story may well have been a red herring proffered by the Serbian security services. While the attention of the media covering Hadzic's arrest was focused on the bizarre tale of the Italian painting, nobody was reporting on the terrible crimes committed in Vukovar and other places in Croatia.

In November 2014, Hadzic was diagnosed with brain cancer and his trial was suspended due to his treatment. In April 2015, the court ordered his release and he died in July. *

The Hague tribunal wanted to avoid the nightmare of yet another high-profile inmate dying in his detention cell. The last was the mastermind of all the Balkan horrors himself, former Serbian President Milosevic, who died in detention at the tribunal on March 11, 2007.

* This story has been changed to amend a passage that was overly similar to text that appeared elsewhere.

Vladimir Barovic (left) was a rear admiral in the Yugoslav Navy in 1989.

It's an honorable exception to the rule: An NGO's proposal has been accepted and implemented by the president of Montenegro. On July 13, a Montenegrin naval officer who chose to take his own life rather than obey an order to bombard Croatian cities in 1991 was posthumously awarded a high-level decoration by President Filip Vujanovic.

Vladimir Barovic was a rear admiral in the Yugoslav Navy. He was born in 1939 in Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina, to a Montenegrin father -- a general in the Yugoslav People's Army -- and a Slovenian mother. After World War II his father was appointed commander of the Pristina region, in Kosovo. He was dismissed because he opposed the policy of terror against ethnic Albanians. This prompted his son Vladimir's friends to remark, when recalling the younger Barovic's actions in 1991, that "the apple does not fall far from the tree."

Vladimir Barovic followed in his father's footsteps when he was appointed commander of the Pula military sector in the early 1990s. Shortly before the onset of war he took part in the negotiations over the withdrawal of the Yugoslav Army from Pula. I was in Sarajevo at the time. Convoys of military equipment were moved from Croatia to military barracks in Bosnia.

In hindsight it was obvious that war was coming our way, yet somehow I still shared the belief of my friends and colleagues that Bosnia would escape such a fate. I believed that we were protected by the fact that the country was a mix of nations and ethnic groups. I did not know that being mixed was precisely what made us the perfect target for the architects of ethnic cleansing. Our war is still referred to as a "civil war" by many. For me it was above all a war against civilians. I believe that Barovic saw it the same way.

During negotiations in Pula he made a promise: "There will be no destruction here while I'm in charge -- and if I'm forced to order the destruction of Pula and Istria, that will be the end of me."

On September 29, 1991, Barovic received an order from Belgrade to start bombing coastal towns in Dalmatia.

He did not approve of the military actions of the Yugoslav Army and Montenegrin reservists against Croatia. In his view, it went against Montenegrin honor and military honor. He refused to carry out the order.

That same evening, Barovic made good on his word and ended his own life. In a suicide note, he wrote that he had decided to die with dignity "because I do not want to wage war against the brotherly Croatian people." Furthermore, he did not want to "take part in the aggression of the Yugoslav Army against Croats, which would be an act contrary to Montenegrin honor -- because Montenegrins cannot fight and destroy a nation that has done them no wrong."

Barovic was buried in the Montenegrin town of Herceg Novi, his father's birthplace. An initiative by the Montenegrin Citizens' Alliance to have Barovic's actions officially recognized has been adopted by President Vujanovic. Barovic's posthumous medal came on the 75th anniversary of the Montenegrin uprising against Italian fascist occupation in 1941, celebrated as Statehood Day in the Mediterranean country. The NGO's director, Boris Raonic, told RFE/RL in Podgorica:

"This decision is also highly significant because Vujanovic was a minister of justice in the early 1990s, and later the minister of interior. So he was part of the regime whose policy drove Admiral Barovic to take his own life. With this, along with some other recent moves, including an apology issued to the city of Dubrovnik [besieged and bombed by the Yugoslav Army in 1991], Montenegro is on the right path to acknowledging its own role in the wars of the 1990s [as a junior partner in alliance with Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia] and dealing with that unpleasant past."

There is also an initiative afoot to have a street in Montenegro's old city of Cetinje named after Barovic. It was in Cetinje that the first antiwar demonstrations took place. The city was also the source of a sincere message of apology to Dubrovnik, in verse. ("From Lovcen Mountain the fairy cries, please forgive us Dubrovnik" -- Sa Lovcena vila klice, oprosti nam Dubrovnice)

Even a quarter of a century after his death, the official recognition of Vladimir Barovic is timely. In the first place it gives meaning to Barovic's life, which ended so tragically, but it also raises hope for the future. The legacy of the 1990s in Serbia and Montenegro is a lengthy catalogue of villains, and very few heroes. Until recently, the former were more likely to be celebrated, the latter forgotten. With the posthumous medal awarded to Barovic, that may finally begin to change, along with perceptions of that recent past.

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About This Blog

Balkans Without Borders offers personal commentary on contemporary Balkan politics and culture. It is written by Gordana Knezevic, senior journalist and former award-winning editor of the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje, as well as the director of RFE/RL’s Balkan Service between 2008 and 2016. The blog reflects on the myriad ways in which the absurdities of Balkan politics and the ongoing historical shifts and realignments affect the lives of people in the region.


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