War crimes row in Serbia
by Zeljko Cvijanovic
Leading non-governmental organisations, NGOs, and the Serbian independent media are rowing over the country's responsibility for war crimes. The NGOs claim newspapers and broadcasters ignore or downplay war crimes, while the latter accuse the former of wrongly pushing an idea of collective national guilt. The debate - which has raged between the Humanitarian Law Centre and the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights on one side and Radio TV B92 and weekly newspaper Vreme on the other - has attracted significant public attention, and has underlined the failure of Serbia's leading politicians to address the war-crimes issue and the lingering social tension it causes.
Premier Zoran Djindjic and FRY president Vojislav Kostunica have taken few serious steps towards facing the problem of atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia. People who once led operations in Kosovo in which war crimes were committed still occupy major posts in the Serbian police. The post-Milosevic authorities have launched no investigations into such matters. Almost a year ago, the bodies of Kosovo Albanians were discovered in several mass graves at police training grounds in Batajnica, near Belgrade. However, the authorities have not released the results of any investigation, and not a single indictment has been issued.
Djindjic, known as a pragmatic, pro-reform politician, did extradite Milosevic to The Hague, but many believe he did this only in response to Washington's hesitations over approving aid to Serbia. Kostunica has downplayed war crimes, according to some observers, by claiming that all the nations of former Yugoslavia committed such offences, and on one occasion he was quoted as saying that cooperation with The Hague makes his stomach turn. The two political rivals are both avoiding the issue - each perhaps fearing their adversary could accuse them of a lack of patriotism that could then affect their future performance at the polls.
Zeljko Cvijanovic is editor-in-chief of the Belgrade weekly Blic News. This comment is taken from an article in IWPR'S Balkan Crisis Report, No. 364, 4 September 2002.