Tadic’s Serbia as Noah’s Ark
Author: Žarko Korac
Uploaded: Friday, 16 September, 2011
Authoritativeinterview with a leading Serbian opposition politician and former prime minister about the contradictions and denials of current Belgrade policy, both domestic and regional.
On 22 July 2011 Goran Hadžic, (former president of the ‘Republic of Serbian Krajina’) the last remaining fugitive from The Hague, was delivered to the tribunal after spending seven years in hiding. In this interview given to the Sarajevo weekly Dani, Žarko Korac, president of the Social Democratic Union of Serbia and professor of psychology at the faculty of philosophy, University of Belgrade, talks about who was hiding Hadžic and why, about the problems that The Hague might have with Ratko Mladic, and about the role played by the Serbian nationalist elite in ‘fanning delirium among ordinary Serbs’. ‘Unlike Ratko Mladic who wielded real power, Goran Hadžicwas a mere pawn in the hands of the Serbian state security service and Željko Ražnatovic-Arkan. Hadžic was brought to power so that they could direct political events in [the Croatian region] of Slavonia and maintain control over the inordinate and bloody pillage of that region, which they sought to justify in terms of a struggle for Serb nationalist interests’, Professor Korac told Dani. ‘Hadžic’s case will prove the best test of what command responsibility concretely stands for in the eyes of the Hague tribunal. Hadžic’s life-story - the rise of a small man, an ordinary warehouseman, to a man with power able to decide the lives of others - highlights the cynicism displayed by Slobodan Miloševic and his regime.’
Dani: Were you surprised by the speed with which Goran Hadžic was arrested, following so closely upon Ratko Mladic’s own detention. After all, here was a man who had spent seven years in hiding.
Korac: If I wished to be kind, I would say that Mladic’s arrest allowed the state security service (BIA) finally to concentrate on finding and arresting Goran Hadžic. Less kindly, I would say that after the replacement of Vojislav Koštunica’s trusted man Rade Bulatovic as head of BIA, the security service finally started to do its job. And if I were quite disagreeable, I would say that Hadžic’s arrest shows that the decision to deliver war criminals demonstrates just how desperate Tadic’s government is to gain the status of an EU candidate by the end of the year. If the media and others behaved professionally, they would try find out whether Hadžic did indeed spend some time in Russia, which is what he claims, and if he did who supplied him with the necessary documents. And if he was hiding out in the area of Fruška Gora [in Backa, Vojvodina], which contains many monasteries, it would seem logical - public prosecutor Vukcevic also mentioned this - that he was helped to do so by some member of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC).
But Bishop Irinej promptly denied this.
Yes, for he is responsible for Backa. It is possible, of course, that Hadžic lived in some monastery without Bishop Irinej’s knowledge, but certainly not without the permission of SPC clergymen. But the church was not the only one involved in hiding Hadžic. You may remember that though Hadžic had been under BIA’s surveillance, he fled in an ‘unknown direction’ only two hours after The Hague indictment was delivered to Belgrade. This shows that he was warned. Who could have warned him? We should remember that soon after his disappearance, the Serbian foreign minister at the time, Vuk Draškovic, made a very strange statement: Hadžic’s indictment, he said, was delivered to the ministry of foreign affairs, though it would have been more logical for it to be sent to another institution, such as the Committee for Cooperation with The Hague.
What does this imply?
The suspicion remains that Hadžic was informed by someone from the ministry of foreign affairs. I would like to refer you on this to the report issued by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, in which the author Sonja Biserko explicitly states this.
Is it known who in the foreign ministry told Hadžic about the arrival of the indictment?
An informal internal investigation was apparently held, the results of which were never released.
Why is Hadžic’s testimony being heralded as being of exceptional importance?
Hadžic’s trial could reveal the direct link that existed between the Serbian security service under Jovica Stanišic and the Serb leadership in Slavonia. This would allow one to gain accurate information on the extent to which the official Belgrade, despite its constant denials, was actually involved in the wars in former Yugoslavia. Which explains, I guess, why Hadžic was kept hidden away for such a long time.
Do you think that Hadžic might prove willing to speak about this, as part of his defence?
Goran Hadžic is not a man who has ever shown much initiative in his life. As far as one can tell, he did not seek education, or career advance. He always relied on others. Psychologically he doesn’t appear as someone who might undergo a Copernican revolution during the trial, and decide that this is the moment to speak up. It is more likely that he will continue in a role which would cost him personally the most.
What about Mladic? Does his behaviour in the courtroom surprise you?
I have never met Mladic but, watching him, I get the impression of a highly arrogant and aggressive man who - in view of the many years spent in hiding, in isolation, away from his family and, I hear, addicted to alcohol - is bound to cause serious problems to the tribunal. Mladic is a man who could obstruct the proceedings with some self-destructive gesture such as, for example, by going on hunger strike. He does not possess the intellectual capacity of a Vojislav Šešelj; his intellectual capacity is more limited. Although he remains convinced, I am sure, that he is a great hero, a deliverer and defender of the Serb people, Mladic cannot be unaware of the fact that he is accused of the worst and most monstrous crimes committed in Europe since the Second World War. It was, therefore, interesting to hear his defence lawyer insist that Mladic does not have, nor could ever have had, anything to do with the crime in Srebrenica. After Mladic’s arrest, I talked to people who had been in contact with him, and they all said that he knows where he is and is able to communicate.
Have you discussed this with the Serbian assembly leader, Slavica Ðukic Dejanovic?
I have heard that this colleague of mine - she is a psychiatrist and holds a chair at the [Belgrade] university - has said she treated Mladic professionally. I wonder, you know, whether she would have responded in the same way if the request had come from some pickpocket in Padinska Skela [prison]. This VIP treatment meted out to war criminals is distasteful, to say the least. When Rudolf Hess was taken from his English prison to the court at Nürnberg, some psychiatrists argued that his was a classic case of paranoia, and wondered how a man like that could have risen so high in the political hierarchy.
Looking at those who over the past twenty years have made a career for themselves in public life, you must have asked yourself a similar question.
Indeed I have. On detecting pathological elements in the behaviour of leaders, one automatically wonders about the ways in which their psychological state corresponds to pathological alterations in society itself. It is known that the psychological state of a leader relates to the masses who follow him: the times throw up a leader who in turn shapes the masses. I am sure that most Italians now feel ashamed watching Mussolini’s theatrical appearances on that balcony in Rome. The same happened here: Slobodan Miloševic’s pathology corresponded to the pathology of the period.
Miloševic was an autistic person, disconnected from reality. Though highly popular, he displayed a total lack of empathy with the pain and suffering of those who followed him. Thus, for example, during the years of his wartime career Miloševic never visited a hospital or met with those who were injured fighting for his megalomaniac idea. He was the great, mythical leader, quite above the suffering of ordinary people. Miloševic’s coldness and grave emotional impairment corresponded peculiarly with the emotional disability of a Serbian society that in the same way remained indifferent to the sufferings of people in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo. Preoccupied with the pursuit of a great national goal, Serbian society simply abandoned humanity, empathy with the misfortune of others. Miloševic didn’t feel compassion for his own people, nor did they for all the others - we could call that time a time without compassion.
Have have matters changed in this regard over the past decade or so?
In Serbia, some people believed that things would change once Mladic and others finally showed up in The Hague. In theory this is known as catharsis. Unfortunately it rarely happens in real life. People find it difficult to confront their own responsibility, for the paradoxical reason that in order to be able to function man must think well of himself. In facing the responsibility for a grave crime, a crime committed in your name, you automatically confront the problem of the image you have of yourself. This is not so easy.
How does one defend oneself? What do you call this mechanism?
It is called rationalization. You keep saying: others have done the same thing; better we do it to them than they to us; or they have done it to us and we are only returning in kind. This seems to have become the universal Balkan mode. It is strange, don’t you think, that a society so wrapped up in Christian phraseology defends itself by resort to pre-Christian models. Attempts to defend oneself by reference to alleged historical cycles of evil cannot provide any appropriate explanation for what we have done to others. War is evil, but this does not justify us in committing genocide in Srebrenica. Speaking of which, I confess I was very surprised that this year no one from Serbia went to Potocari.
Why do you think no one went?
I assume that it was a question of the following logic: We have arrested Mladic, what more do you want? But that’s not right! Srebrenica is our moral obligation! Imagine that after 1945 the Germans told the Allies: Hitler is dead, you have bombed our cities, you have levelled Dresden to the ground, you have arrested the criminals, what do you want now? But the fact is that the Germans remain ashamed to this day of what was done in their name. Here in Serbia, however, there is no such awareness. Our politicians are beach guards in the winter season, third-rate personalities devoid of vision. Bearing in mind who its leaders are, I am at times quite astonished that Serbia has made any progress at all.
To make a comparison, if Miloševic was the image of Serbia as it was, what do the ‘beach guards in the winter season’ now in power tell us about the contemporary state of Serbian society?
I think that the current government mirrors accurately the total confusion in which the country finds itself today. President Tadic represents this very well: a pleasing image lacking all content. Mladic, Hadžic and Karadžic were arrested primarily because the government sincerely wishes to join the EU. But at the same time the nation is not made to confront the crimes which people like them committed in its name. I wonder if you have noticed that, responding to Goran Hadžic’s arrest, the deputy prime minister and minister of the interior Ivica Dacic made a highly cynical statement: Serbia has been freed after twenty years in prison. Yes, but you were one of the prison guards! Surely a man who acted as spokesman for the policy that led to Serbia’s incarceration cannot dismiss it all so lightly. Dacic has never criticised this policy, never condemned the crimes committed in the area of the former Yugoslavia. I mean, it is impossible to want the EU while lacking all will to confront the harsh and painful questions of our past.
Such questions are not being asked out of calculation? Or from a belief that to pose them is to lose political support? Or maybe because it is not understood that a president has the duty to tell the nation the truth.
Before answering your question, I wish to remind you that a little while ago Dobrica Cosic returned to public life, and in a big way. Though a man of advanced years, Cosic has published several new books, in each of which he as a rule takes his leave of us and imparts to us his political testament. These books contain an ever growing hatred for other nations: they are increasingly filled with true, authentic chauvinism. President Tadic has unfortunately come to symbolize the effort to align two completely opposite political programmes, one of which is modern and oriented towards Europe, while the other is rooted in the model of an autarchic, Balkan state, which doesn’t know where its borders are, which plots conspiracies, which undermines legitimate governments in neighbouring states, and all the time views its role in the region in a very strange manner. Thinking about it, I often get the impression that Serbia continues to be ruled by Dragutin Dimitrijevic Apis!
Would you say that in terms of the old Apis policy of constantly scheming against and destabilizing their governments, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina remain Serbia’s biggest and most important battlefields?
Absolutely. It is unbelievable how much energy Serbia expends in keeping open the question of the borders and political status of these countries! The question of Kosovo is genuinely an objective one, but this cannot be said for Montenegro or Bosnia-Herzegovina. Speaking of Montenegro, we are dealing with the continuation of a policy unwilling to accept that it is an independent state. This is why it is constantly obstructed, and an unbelievable ill will to say the least is displayed towards it.
In the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia has returned to its 19th-century position according to which our national unification is not yet finished, and the problem derives from a large part of the Serb nation having been left outside our borders. It is said: we accept Dayton, we accept the independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina; but in practice we support Milorad Dodik, who daily questions Bosnia’s territorial integrity, and participate in his electoral campaign. Yugoslavia’s break-up meant defeat of the Serb national programme. But - this is what Dobrica Cosic continues to tell us - our strategy is to keep that programme in a state of semi-hibernation; to try to keep it going somehow, despite the catastrophic defeat suffered little more than ten years ago. So once again we hear the nonsense that Serbia wins wars but loses the peace, which - given that we are unable to start a new war - only fans new collective frustration among the population.
In order to face up to the past, to dismantle the state services and structures that have caused so much evil, how important is it for the population to know who has been hiding war criminals all these years, who has financed their concealment? We see President Tadic constantly promising that this will be investigated...
Yes, the president makes promises but nothing ever happens. Although the Court of Appeal recently rejected the decision, Ratko Mladic’s aides have nevertheless been set free. We are daily made aware that the old regime’s tentacles are still very strong, and that the criminals whose hands are covered with so much blood are still doing well. Is it not strange that Radovan Karadžic was arrested the moment that Rade Bulatovic was dismissed from his post as head of BIA? This fact demands investigation, to say the least.
An investigation is also needed into the role played by the current Serbian minister of health, Zoran Stankovic, who - according to an interview given to Dani by the former head of [the JNA counter-intelligence service] KOS Aleksandar Dimitrijevic - was in 2005 appointed minister of defence of the then state union of Serbia and Montenegro in order to prevent the army from arresting Ratko Mladic.
What Dimitrijevic said about Stankovic’s appointment is true. Why do you think Stankovic visited Mladic in prison? Surely not in order to examine him. He went in order to ensure that Mladic would not reveal how he used to treat him and supply him with medicine. That much is clear. And now, after all this, Mladan Dinkic, our great European, makes him minister of health! You know why? Because Dinkic has calculated that in giving Mladic’s friend a ministerial job, he may gain a few patriotic votes at the next elections. We are constantly going back, and if you ask me if something could be revealed my answer is - never!
Boris Tadic sees Serbia as Noah’s Ark: the ugly and the handsome animals, the tame ones and the predators, we all should travel together towards a happy future. The president is Noah, Serbia’s great father, who thanks to his tolerance, talent and ability will make peace among us and take us into Europe, our great desired aim. But for this very reason, it is unlikely to happen.
Professor Žarko Korac teaches psychology at the philosophy faculty of Belgrade University and is one of the founders and president of the Social Democratic Union in Serbia. He was deputy prime minister in the Serbian government under Zoran Ðindic between 2001 and 2003, and sits in parliament as part of the LDP-led coalition. This interview has been translated from B-H Dani (Sarajevo), 29 July 2011.