Serbia always defends war criminals
Author: Dragoljub Todorovic - interviewed by B-H Dani
Uploaded: Wednesday, 26 May, 2010
One of Belgrade's most prominent civil-rights lawyers comments on the issues raised by the recent 'discovery' of a mass grave containing some 250 Kosovar victims at Raška in southern Serbia
Reacting to the discovery of the mass grave of Kosova Albanians in Raška in southern Serbia, the director of the Humanitarian Law Centre, Nataša Kandic, said that this location had been chosen ‘in order maximally to avoid public attention, so as to hinder the grave’s discovery’. The well-known Belgrade lawyer Dragoljub Todorovic similarly told Dani: ‘I think that the story of the mass grave at Raška is a result of political pressure. The Serbian war-crimes tribunal had allegedly searched for a mass grave in this area before, but found none. Now, suddenly, there it is!’
Tamara Nikcevic (B-H Dani): What do you think?
Dragoljub Todorovic: It is clear that the tribunal knew of this mass grave before, but for some reason kept quiet about it. Just think: first the tribunal announced, last Monday, that a ‘possible mass grave’ had been discovered in southern Serbia, and then that there would be a detailed investigation. This is the first time ever that the tribunal has made a statement of this nature without having checked first. In other words, they knew about it, but did nothing. Now, however, they are rushing to inform the public as soon as possible about it.
Why the hurry? What sort of political pressure are we talking about?
The same kind that led to the adoption of the declaration on Srebrenica. Don’t believe that the government would have done something like that had the EU not pressed it! They were forced, blackmailed. With European integration, economic aid, such things... The same thing is happening now.
You have heard the statement made by the prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic: whenever he mentioned crimes committed by Serb forces, he went on to speak about crimes committed against Serbs. Professor Žarko Korac calls this ‘symmetry of crime’.
They are forced to do that! Making artificial parity has been the rule for a long time now: if you charge a Serb with a crime, you get attacked in parliament, in the media, and you are forced to arrest, try and dispatch some Croat, Bosniak or Albanian to prison. That is how symmetry functions. The case of Ilija Jurišic is perhaps the most drastic example. The same is true of Ejub Ganic. Talking of Jurišic, I have heard that his case is due to be reviewed by the court of appeal, which doesn’t happen often. Witnesses will be allowed to testify and the trial will start from scratch. This should be good news for Jurišic.
As legal representative of the Albanian victims at the trial dealing with the crime committed at Suva Reka, do you think that the bodies of those victims lie in the Raška grave?
I have heard that the bodies from the primary mass grave in Strelište could be among the 250 bodies mentioned by Vukcevic, so I hope that I might find forty or so bodies of the Berisha family from Suva Reka there. Ten of them were found in the mass grave located at Batajnica near Belgrade. It is interesting that the autopsy was first done by our Serbian pathologists, who would not admit that death had come from gunshot wounds. Then UN experts arrived in Belgrade, who established that they had been brutally murdered. This was not difficult to establish, because human bones don’t change regardless of how long ago the individual has died, making it possible to establish the cause of death.
How did the Berisha family die?
Two days after the start of the NATO intervention, i.e. on 26 March 1999, Serbian special police units, made up of serving and reserve policemen from the police station in Suva Reka, took 48 members, mainly women and children, of the Berisha family to the market place, locked them up in a café, and killed them. In one of my texts I called this crime the modus operandi, the paradigmatic, textbook example of the crimes that Serb armed formations committed against Albanian civilians in 1999.
Why is this case paradigmatic?
Because it illustrates the manner in which the Serb forces treated Albanian civilians. Don’t forget that the full complement of Serbian political, military and police chiefs are being tried at The Hague for crimes committed in Kosovo. Following the killing of the Berisha family, the Serbian forces ordered local Roma to load the dead bodies onto municipal trucks, which then took them to two mass graves lying between Suva Reka and Prizren. The victims’ bodies were later dug up again, loaded into a refrigerator truck and driven to Kladovo, where the truck was sunk into the Danube. The truck was later raised and the victims’ bodies transported to a mass grave at Batajnica near Belgrade. Two women, who miraculously survived the Suva Reka massacre and later testified before a special court, recalled that when they were thrown together with other victims into the truck, they couldn’t decide whether to jump out or to wait for the executioners to throw them into the grave, and then somehow find a way out. It is a terrible, horrific story.
What happened in the end, how were they saved?
They jumped from the truck. The case of the three Bitiqi brothers is also typical. Their bodies were found in a mass grave in Petrovo Selo. Testimony presented at the trial came from the driver who drove the refrigerator truck, the inspector from Kladovo, the police chief, the men who had buried the bodies in the primary grave, and from a number of people who in one way or another took part in this horrific crime. The Bitiqi brothers were US citizens and the US embassy showed great interest in the case.
In the case of the Bitiqi brothers, the role of Goran Radosavljevic Guri remains murky. He has recently joined Tomislav Nikolic’s Serbian Progressive Party, something that was presented as an important addition to the party.
Although the then head of the Public Security Office of the Serbian ministry of the interior and deputy interior minister Vlastimir Ðordevic, who has been indicted by the Hague tribunal for the enforced removal, deportation, murder and persecution of Kosovo Albanians, and Goran Radosavljevic were in my view involved in the crime, the Serbian public prosecutor has failed to secure evidence against them. No one wants to testify! The accused are part of the chain linking those who ordered and those who executed the crime. Popovic and Stojanovic, who were tried in Belgrade, tied up the Bitiqi brothers, threw them into a car, took them to an army training site, shut them up and handed them over to the executioners. The court freed them, because they argued that they did not know what they were doing. How is this possible, given that they tied those people up and passed them on to the killers?! But one should not be surprised. There is a more drastic example. Sreten Lukic, former chief of staff of the ministry of the interior for Kosovo, sentenced at The Hague to 22 years in prison, was after 5 October 2000 appointed Serbian deputy minister of the interior. Lukic ‘discovered’ the mass graves in Batajnica, Petrovo Selo, the refrigerator trucks in the Danube, successfully investigated the killing of Albanians... I think this is a unique case in human history: that the man who committed crimes was given the chance to investigate and solve the same crimes as a policeman. That’s Serbia for you!
It was in Lukic’s time that the story about mass graves emerged, about the so-called sanitisation of the land. Why was it not pursued?
The police chief at that time was Dušan Mihajlovic, who said, you may recall, that bodies of Albanian civilians were also interred under the Belgrade-Niš motorway. Even Bruno Vekaric, current deputy of the special prosecutor for war crimes, has confirmed that special police units organised the transport of civilian Albanian victims from primary to secondary mass graves. And yet nothing happened! Why? You will recall that when the story about the mass graves emerged - I am speaking of the time of hope, the time before Zoran Ðindic’s assassination - Albanian babies with dummies in their mouths, pregnant women, all kinds of horrors were discovered in the Batajnica grave. And what was the public reaction? None whatsoever! No one cared. People reacted as if they were victims of some crime of passion - like when some man kills first his wife and then himself. What you don’t want to know, what you reject, you simply ignore. That was the reaction!
Because Serbia has not undergone the process of confronting the past, the process of de-Nazification. Instead, after Miloševic’s fall, clerical-fascist organisations began to emerge, such as Dveri and Pokret 1389. In this country, the church and the priests set the tone. Public opinion is perfectly indifferent, obtuse, inert. Jeremic says one thing, Šutanovac another... The Democratic Party is in coalition with the Socialists, no one is questioning Dacic about Miloševic and his inheritance, while he himself makes no public apology. The situation in this country is worse than in the 1990s. You cannot expect the public to react, to sympathise in a society like this.
Are you nevertheless surprised by the complete absence of sympathy with the victims?
No, I am not. In this country, only criminals enjoy public sympathy and protection. Look at Karadžic, Mladic, Miloševic.. Serbia has long ago lost the ability to empathise with victims.
B-H Dani, Sarajevo, 14 May 2010