Tadic’s visit to Srebrenica is a private act
by Nataša Kandic
Dani: What change, if any, has the broadcast showing the Scorpions’ brutal execution of six civilians from Srebrenica brought to Serbia?
Kandić: There was a sense of great change initially, because ordinary people were shocked. The six victims caught on film, the killing of the four teenagers - the whole business exploded like a bomb. When people saw those young faces, their acceptance of death, and the arrogance, swagger and brutality of the men in uniform killing without a trace of remorse, without a second thought - after which they made it clear that thousands and thousands of people were killed like that - all this had an effect. The video was shown on the evening of 1 June. The television channel B92 showed the whole film. I called RTS [Serbian state radio and television] and talked to its chief editor, telling him it was important that they too should broadcast it. Aleksandar Tijanić responded by saying they had to be careful, that this was only one side - meaning only the Serbs were being accused. I told him that this was the first time we had such clear images of victims and perpetrators, and that we in Serbia ought to see it. That evening he showed just 18 seconds of the film. But other channels followed suit and the videotape became a main topic of debate: people talked for the first time about the crime in Srebrenica as something in which Serbia was involved.
Carla del Ponte, the chief prosecutor at The Hague, arrived in Belgrade on the following day and she and the Serbian president made strong statements about the crime. They did not use the word genocide, of course. They said that during the night following the broadcast the police had arrested eight perpetrators, who would be put on trial. It seemed at first that the political elite too had finally been forced to acknowledge what had occurred, and to accept responsibility for it. But nothing happened - complete silence prevailed. Then came an interpretation of the film according to which the killers caught in action were just some paramilitaries with criminal proclivities, with no connection to the state or the army. These criminals should be tried, but the film should not be used against the state and the Serb people - it had nothing whatever to do with Serbia!
I tried to explain, to the disgust of much of the media, that this is precisely what Milošević used to say: he never denied that crimes had been committed, but always insisted that it was the work of criminally inclined individuals, who would be brought to trial and punished. Ten years later we have the same interpretation and the same arguments. The fact is that the killers were wearing Serbian police uniforms and using weapons that could not easily be obtained by some volunteer unit seeking personal revenge. The political elite, however, does not wish to acknowledge the facts, because they believe that their task is to defend the state - a state which many believe is tied to crime. Rather than trying to break with such a state - saying: yes, the state which organised such units is responsible for what they did; the victims are important to Serbia - they have done nothing. The parliament refused to endorse the declaration submitted by eight NGOs demanding recognition of the crime of genocide, and of the right of the Srebrenica victims to truth and reparations. The attitude adopted by the Radicals prevailed. They, of course, are bound to defend their leader Š ešelj, who is at The Hague, and their members many of whom participated in the crime. So they asked that another resolution be drafted, which would condemn crimes on all sides. In other words, they wanted a formulation that would say nothing in particular - and that would maintain the current state of resignation and the continuation of an ideology and value system that go back to Milošević. No declaration was passed in the end, after which came an attack on the NGOs for spreading anti-Serb hysteria.
This shows that the institutions are on Milošević’s side, that they represent a state that in the period 1991-9 practised a policy of crime in regard to other nations. We have a situation in which the institutions are dominated by the Radicals, who worry only that RS might be dissolved and Kosovo taken away; people who are ready to take up arms again, in order supposedly to defend the Serb people and state. We are the hostages of, but also collaborators with, the existing situation, since we do not have a democratic opposition strong enough to demand a clear political differentiation, based on resistance to the Milošević model and recognition of the crimes committed in the name of Serbia and all of us. This film about Srebrenica shows nevertheless that something has changed as far as public opinion goes.
How do you explain the fact that officials like Marović condemn the crime in Srebrenica, yet are unable to pronounce the word genocide?
One should blame our intellectual elite for this. When Bosnia-Herzegovina decided to take Serbia to the International Court of Justice, the reaction was not that we should seek to establish the truth. Instead, the institutions hid documents from The Hague, hindered the work of the prosecution, secreted away documents dealing with the Serbian forces’ involvement in Bosnia-Herzegovina - all in the name of national interest. People talked instead about indemnities; about how it was all Milošević’s fault, yet we, the people, would have to pay reparations. The strategy was to fan a sense of victimhood rather than encourage a search for the truth. That genocide has taken place has never been admitted - not even after the verdict was upheld against General Krstić. The crime in Srebrenica has not once been called genocide. The president of the Union of Serbia and Montenegro Marović has gone further than anyone else among those who once belonged to the Milošević regime. The Union council of ministers and President Marović did more than the Serbian parliament, in that they did condemn the crime at Srebrenica. But they too failed to call it genocide, or to resist the temptation to condemn simultaneously crimes committed against Serbs.
What do you think of Tadić’s planned visit to Srebrenica?
Unfortunately he does not have the support of parliament or the government for this visit. The parliament wished him to go to Bratunac on that day, to honour Serb victims, and not to Srebrenica. His act is moral but also individual, a visit by a man who happens to be Serbia’s president. His parliament and government recognise neither their responsibility nor the genocide in Srebrenica.
How do you explain Tadić’s repeated defence of the Chetniks in World War II?
One should not forget that he comes from a family and from a circle which view the Chetniks differently from Serbia’s neighbours. They - I have in mind here Serbia’s president and foreign minister, and many others who have contributed to equalising the Ravna Gora Chetnik movement with that of the Partisans - simply do not understand that Serbia’s war of 1991 was largely conducted under Chetnik signs, with symbols, uniforms and conduct derived from World War II. To tell someone in Croatia or Bosnia that the Chetniks were a resistance movement is not just to offend them, but also encourages them to believe that Serbia is returning to Chetnik positions. From 1991 on, many of the most evil deeds were committed by Š ešelj’s Chetniks.
Despite the broadcasting of the Scorpion executions, the Serb Orthodox Church (SPC) failed to support President Tadić in his desire to visit Srebrenica, asking him to go to Bratunac instead. Not even the shots of Father Gavrilo blessing the Scorpion murderers has shaken the Church’s firm faith in ‘the Serb cause’. What needs to happen before the SPC acknowledges its responsibility for fanning war, aggression and genocide?
It is clear that the SPC is not bothered by the participation of its priests in the war, or by their blessing of people who see all Bosniaks as enemies. There were several attempt to initiate a public discussion on the role of the Church, but the Church would talk only about Serb victims. The Church, by all accounts, is unable to come to terms with its responsibilities and its Christian calling, and remains unwilling to acknowledge what has been done in the name of this religion and this nation.
These days Belgrade’s billboards are covered with moving photographs of the aftermath of the Srebrenica genocide. What has been the public response to them?
Ambiguous. Right now the situation has worsened, because I raised the issue of the responsibility of the Serb Radical Party and its leader Tomislav Nikolić. Throughout the war he presented himself as a Chetnik commander who spent all the time at the battle front. Today he keeps Serbia in thrall to an ideology endorsed by the Radicals, the Socialists and Koštunica’s Democrats. In their view, these posters are one further proof of the anti-Serb campaign conducted by the NGOs. There are others, naturally, who approve of the billboards. The institutions, however, remain silent. They do not dare to order them removed. The posters, on the other hand, encourage Radical extremists, so that we can expect physical attacks on the NGOs, whom they view as Serbia’s greatest enemy.
You are aware of the risks that you have run during all these years of working on the crimes committed during the war in the former Yugoslav area. How do you cope with constant attacks, threats, public abuse and media campaigns conducted against you?
It is not a problem, because the work one does is important. I feel that if I do not do it, no one else will. I constantly feel that I am missing something, that I need to note things down, research further. I keep seeing the victims. Since 1991 I have met so many people of great moral stature who remain publicly unknown but who make me feel that what I do is little in comparison. Those people have acted in the most dangerous situations, when they had a gun pointed at their backs or a knife at their throats; when men wearing the kokarda [Serbian/Yugoslav royal insignia] held sway; when Š ešelj’s name was on everyone’s lips, at the time of the [White] Eagles and the ‘Dušan Silni’ unit. There were people on all sides whom I admire for their integrity, who knew nothing about ‘human rights’ but who tried to behave like dignified human beings. I feel that what I am doing is nothing compared to what they did. The Radicals threaten me, but when I think that before they used to wield guns and knives, but today merely court injunctions, I feel that we have made an advance.
This interview has been translated from Dani (Sarajevo), 8 July 2005