Where does our interest lie?- the logic of Vojin Dimitrijevic
by Srda Popovic
Vojin Dimitrijević, director of the Belgrade centre for human rights, told B92 that his first reaction to Carla del Ponte's insistence that Mladić was in Belgrade was:'She will not rest until she brings the extreme right to power in Serbia, when her argument that it is impossible to deal with people in Serbia will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.' He added: 'She should understand that no trial takes place in a political vacuum. One’s impression is that the only Serbian government that was willing to cooperate has - ever since the extradition of Milošević - been permanently exposed to pressure, which creates a resistance here that is bound to end with a government refusing to cooperate with The Hague.'
Let us examine the logic of this statement.
There is no doubt that the state is obliged to cooperate with the Hague Tribunal and to deliver those indicted to it. Indeed the obligation to cooperate implies nothing other than helping to collect evidence and handing over the indicted. No one can dispute that. It is also clear, on the other hand, that it is the duty of Prosecutor Carla del Ponte to insist that our country fulfils its obligations, i.e. to pressurize the bearer of this obligation. The anti-Hague lobby likes to insist that it is a 'political tribunal'. The essence of this complaint is the allegation that the Tribunal's main and primary aim is not to bring to justice people who are justifiably assumed to have committed war crimes, but to realize other ('anti-Serb') aims. It would be a serious matter if one could establish the validity of this charge. The credibility of a court rests on the delimitation of its task. (Hannah Arendt). The court and the prosecution are not allowed to be guided by any other motive than punishing the guilty.
So what is going on? Dr Vojin Dimitrijević, professor of law, complains that the Prosecution is not political (she does not understand that 'trials do not take place in a political vacuum'). According to Professor Dimitrijević, the Prosecution should understand that there is resistance in our country to discharging our international obligations, and that this resistance will grow in proportion with the insistence that they should be discharged. So if the Prosecution 'wishes' us to fulfil these obligations, it should not demand of us that we do so, since this will stimulate our pig-headedness and we’ll refuse to co-operate. Then we’ll vote for the Radicals. Implicit here is the notion that what we are dealing with is not rights and duties, but interests. It is in Carla del Ponte's interest, Prof. Dimitrijević teaches us, not to do her job and not to insist too much, since otherwise she will obtain nothing, i.e. we shall simply refuse to fulfil our international obligations. So let's make a deal.
But what sort of deal are we talking about, when the interests themselves are misunderstood? It is in our own interest to fulfil our international obligations, and it is in our own interest for criminals among us to be punished, for crimes be individualized, and for the criminal state that planned, incited and aided the crimes to be abolished. If we ourselves do not understand that it is also in our own interest to understand what is in our own interest, then so much the worse for us. No one will bother to intervene, since everyone has the right to self-destruction. Why do we think that it is the responsibility of someone else to worry about our interests more than we do ourselves? Why do we think we can complain that others are not doing what we should do? And why should we threaten them with our own self-destruction? Are we juveniles who are incapable of looking after ourselves, not responsible for our behaviour and our future? Are we so deranged that we think we need a tutor to guide our own affairs? Why do we expect that the whole international community, the United Nations and its Tribunal, the Europe 'to which we have always belonged', should depart from its system of values - that crime must be punished and treaties honoured - in order to humour us, even though that is contrary to our own interest? Why should the whole world worry about and comply with our 'resistance' against basic civilisational values? Why should the world be obliged to feed us and send us donations, while it is our own private decision whether we will use the money to subsidize our co-nationals accused of crimes? (During the US Steel strike [in Serbia], the reporters saw only two banners: 'Give Us The Money!' and 'Go Home!')
In the conflict between law - the duty of the Hague Prosecutor and our obligation to cooperate - and our 'resistance' to law, each of us individually is either part of the problem ('resistance') or part of the solution. To stand aside, flee the actual reality of our society, and 'objectively' register the indisputable and inflexible fact of 'resistance' to law, is to become part of the problem. The strength of 'resistance' derives from numerous passionate propagators and revisionists of our recent past (who began to revise it while it was still being made, and who continue to this day); but it is also fed by those who from a position of 'neutrality' and 'objectivity' accept it as an unchangeable reality in which we as individuals and ‘the whole world’ can only sagely acquiesce.
Translated from Helsinška povelja (Belgrade), February-March 2004