bosnia report
New Series No: 19/20 October - December 2000
 
Justice as politics
by Senad Pecanin

Justice as politics

Senad Pecanin

We used to be told that national reconciliation in the area of former Yugoslavia was not possible without satisfying a minimum of justice, which demands that at least the most responsible criminals be brought to trial. Yet in recent weeks, in the aftermath of the ‘democratic transformation of Serbia’, the highest US and EU officials and even the UN general secretary’s special envoy for human rights have united with President Koštunica and the Serbian Democratic Opposition (which had already made their views clear) in the view that the new Serbian government should not be bothered with such relatively unimportant issues as Miloševic’s extradition to The Hague. Some spoke of the need for this former ‘key factor of peace in the Balkans’ to be provided with asylum, others thought that he should be tried in Serbia for ‘what he has done to the Serb people’, while yet others were willing to respect his wish to spend more time with his family and contribute to the activities of his Socialist Party now in opposition.

This reaction by foreign statesmen and diplomats in particular is rooted in the seductive philosophy of political pragmatism, which makes every sense when policy is reduced to short-term speculation. At the end of the 20th century the cost of political pragmatism was paid by millions of civilian deaths in Bosnia, Rwanda, Chechnya and Kosovo, despite the fact that this time - unlike in the case of the Jewish Holocaust - the world did know.

Two dangerous messages

The West clearly has learnt no lessons from the expensive mistakes it committed in the many years of its search for an agreement with Miloševic. So the highly compromised Serbian political elite headed by Koštunica is being offered a key concession: toleration for its refusal to cooperate with the Hague Tribunal. This is sending two wrong and highly dangerous messages: one to the Serb people, and the second to those other peoples who during the past decade were the targets of Miloševic’s criminal policy.

The first is that the Serb people has been the unfair victim of an international conspiracy and there is no reason why it should re-examine its role in Belgrade’s sowing of crime, devastation and despair. Here is how the message looks in the interpretation of former Oslobodjenje journalist Ljiljana Smajlovic, published in a recent issue of the Belgrade weekly NIN: ‘The West is absolving its sins in the knowledge that its has broken major laws on our territory: in the first instance human, Christian laws, but also quite prosaic international rules. It has committed war crimes in our country by destroying hospitals and bridges, targeting trains, making people homeless, leaving them without employment, bread and electricity. Our people have been the target of monstrous, lying and inhuman propaganda conducted equally by the regime and its supporters and by the negotiators and supporters of the West. A civic and state order has been established that would allow these errors to be redeemed and the damage compensated. The Serbs will generously and without rancour accept belated Western apologies, Western money and Western atonement.’

The other message, or lesson, could be interpreted by Serbia’s neighbours in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo - and especially by those among them who until recently rejected any notion of collective Serb guilt, any idea that ‘Serbs are all the same’ - in the following way. If Western statesmen and diplomats are now competing as to who should extend the warmest welcome to Koštunica - a man who seemingly feels no sense of pity for the victims of Miloševic’s crimes - should they be taken seriously when they advocate reconciliation between the butcher’s heir and the butcher’s victim? Does the West expect the Association of Women of Srebrenica to apologise to Vojislav Koštunica for the problems Srebrenica has created for the Serb people?

One of the main reasons for establishing the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague was that this institution would prevent identification of whole national groups with their criminal leaders and individual members. It was perhaps reasonable to expect, while Miloševic was in power, that not all Serbian intellectuals would publicly display their sympathy for the suffering of Serbs, Bosniaks, Albanians and Croats in the same way as such honourable and brave individuals as Sonja Biserko, Nataša Kandic, Petar Lukovic and Borka Pavicevic have done. If, however, after Miloševic’s fall the Serbian elite continues to display no understanding that Miloševic ought to be held responsible for Vukovar, Dubrovnik, Prijedor, Sarajevo, Racak, then ... well maybe then Miloševic’s appearance in The Hague would make no great difference.

 

Translated from Dani (Sarajevo), 20 October 2000

 

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