By rehabilitating Draža Mihailovic, Boris Tadic rehabilitated also Ratko Mladic
Author: Srda Popovic - interviewed by Robert Frank
Uploaded: Thursday, 15 November, 2012
With Boris Tadic set to be replaced as leader of Serbia's Democratic Party at its forthcoming congress, following his loss of the presidency last May and his party's loss of governmental power in June, this prescient and insightful interview conducted earlier this year provides an authoritative judgement on Tadic's political record.
The Belgrade lawyer Srda Popovic is a leading Serbian intellectual. His opposition to Greater Serbian nationalism and to Slobodan Miloševic’s policy led him to spend most of the 1990s in the United States. Over the past nine years he has represented the family of the murdered Serbian prime minister, Zoran Ðindic, in its efforts to uncover the political instigators of his assassination. Popovic’s frank talk has made him persona non grata with all Serbian governments since the start of the 1990s. This position does not bother him, but further motivates him to engage in critical investigations of Serbian political realities. This interview was prompted by several recent events: Draža Mihailovic’s rehabilitation, supported by all leading and opposition parties in the country; the ninth anniversary of Ðindic’s assassination; the imminent parliamentary and presidential elections [which have since taken place], where the candidates for the posts of president and prime minister are in the main people who, he believes, are in one way or another implicated in Ðindic’s murder. In addition to Vojislav Koštunica, Vojislav Šešelj, Tomislav Nikolic and Cedo Jovanovic, Srda Popovic talks openly and mostly about outgoing Serbian president Boris Tadic, and the weaknesses of his policy, his lack of individuality, his empty declarations, opaqueness and affirmation of negative values.
The ninth anniversary of the assassination of the prime minister Zoran Ðindic passed a few days ago. As an attorney acting on his mother’s behalf, you remain determined to uncover the political background of his murder. But you have had, alas, little success thus far.
As early as October 2005 I raised the question of the responsibility of the former prime minister, Vojislav Koštunica, and of the chief of the military security service, Aleksandar Tomic, for the criminal act of armed insurrection that preceded Ðindic’s assassination. The armed insurrection cleared the path, prepared the ground for the assassination. The insurrection, unfortunately, succeeded in that it achieved the dismissal of the heads of the intelligence service appointed by Ðindic. The insurrection was politically supported and aided by Koštunica and Tomic, primarily as opponents of cooperation with the Hague tribunal. It is interesting that when Tomic himself was arrested following Ðindic’s murder, Koštunica sent him a letter with the suggestive message that they understood each other best in silence. He thus advised Tomic to remain silent and bear up. I filed a criminal charge against the two in 2011, and a little later also against Nebojša Covic, the deputy prime minister in Ðindic’s government, but in reality Koštunica’s mole, who was mayor of Belgrade under Miloševic. He is now manager of the Red Star basketball club. The criminals Miloš Simovic and Sretko Kalinic, who were recently extradited from Croatia to Serbia, confirmed that Covic was among those who had ordered Ðindic’s assassination, and a protected witness had made a similar statement before them, during the trial of the assassins. This is why we are charging him too with incitement to assassination.
Koštunica suited the Americans
Did the police and the prosecutor act upon your charges?
Incitement to insurrection, which I insist on with my criminal charge, is of the greatest importance. As early as 2003, in his proceedings against Legija and other assassins, the prosecutor himself established that the armed insurrection was a necessary step in the preparation and execution of the assassination. Through their armed insurrection, this group of people took control of the intelligence system that was supposed to guard the president, and then used it to keep themselves informed about Ðindic’s movements. Ðindic’s political opponents supported the Special Tasks Unit’s armed insurrection not from a distance but, like Koštunica, quite openly. But armed insurrection as a criminal act was deliberately not included in the charges against Legija and others, because it pointed to the political nature and background of the assassination.
Do you still believe that journalists such as Alexander Tijanic used the media to prepare the ground for Ðindic’s murder? Tijanic famously stated immediately prior to the assassination: ‘If Ðindic lives, Serbia will die.’
Tijanic was Koštunica’s advisor, and he played a most active role in the creation of the tobacco mafia story which, as was established later, originated in Koštunica’s office. They went so far as to cook up alleged proofs of Ðukanovic’s and Ðindic’s involvement in tobacco smuggling, then translated these into Italian and sent them to Italian investigators. The most extraordinary thing to me is that they were aided in this by the American ambassador William Montgomery. I say this was so because their contact with the Italian prosecutors was established through a CIA agent located in Belgrade.
It would seem, then, that for a moment the Americans preferred Koštunica to Ðindic.
This was true at first. The Americans believed that Koštunica would proceed slowly, that he was a moderate, a traditionalist, an urbane politician. But Koštunica is a national and religious fanatic, seeking for himself a place in Serbian history. Although he likes to give the impression of an academic somewhat out of his depth when it comes to politics, he in fact promptly surrounded himself with dangerous and unscrupulous people ready to do whatever was needed to bring Ðindic down. He saw himself as a leader with a great and holy goal that justified every means and sacrifice, and that therefore it was right to surround himself with people who would perform some ugly and sordid yet indispensable deeds. Essentially, deep down, he consoled himself that everything he was doing he was doing in order to save the Serb nation. The allegedly ‘moderate’ Vojislav Koštunica was at this time favoured by the Americans, unlike Ðindic, a man of revolutionary inclination and a left-wing past, whom the Americans did not really trust and whom they saw as unpredictable. Speaking of the American policy towards Serbia at this moment, no one has ever fully understood the role which Montgomery played in all this, especially in regard to Koštunica. So far as I know, Montgomery is now unable to return to the United States , allegedly because of problems concerning his tax returns. Namely, he set up a firm in Serbia, together with someone from Koštunica’s party, supplying security and security guards. He evidently did not report his business to the American tax authorities, so finds himself in a difficult situation.
Standing on glass legs
Let’s go back to the prosecution and to the police and their doings, i.e. their obstruction of your criminal charge against Koštunica in connection with Ðindic’s murder.
I have been talking about the armed insurrection for the past seven years. The prosecution knew - and I indeed insisted on it - that it pointed to Koštunica. Already in 2003, during Operation Sabre, the investigation led to Vojislav Koštunica’s door, which meant he should have been questioned. There were many indications and pointers suggesting the existence of a link between the killers and Koštunica himself, through the chief of the military security service, Aca Tomic, and the head of the state security agency (BIA), Rade Bulatovic. Although Koštunica was prime minister, I asked that he be questioned. But this never happened.
Let’s return to Mihailovic’s rehabilitation. How true is it that the Americans, including apparently former senator and current US vice-president John Biden, have been insisting on this?
I think it unlikely. I have met Biden, talked with him. Biden had an excellent position on the wars of the 1990s. He is clear about everything, about who the aggressor was and who were all those attacked. He supported the military intervention [against Serbia] because he was aware that there could be no agreement with Miloševic. This is why I think that the USA and Biden did not intervene in favour of Mihailovic’s rehabilitation, despite the fact that he was anti-communist so the Americans favoured him during the Cold War, and despite the rescue [by Mihailovic’s Chetniks] of American pilots during the Second World War.
Strange things happened during the trial. The trial began with the prosecutor and the court-council president nominated by Zoran Živkovic’s government, which succeeded that of Ðindic. In 2004, when Koštunica came to power, the president of the court council was forced to resign and the prosecutor was dismissed. Koštunica replaced them, of course, with his own people. The pressure included the arrest of a deputy prosecutor for allegedly revealing an official secret to his wife. Just imagine bothering with that sort of thing! The only witness to Ðindic’s murder was killed on the eve of the trial. Koštunica’s interior ministry announced that the killer had not been found, but that this had ‘nothing to do with the trial’. Then the minister of justice, another Koštunica appointee, asked that the Special Court [dealing with Ðindic’s assassination] be abolished, because they had not yet succeeded in winning control over it. Even these obstructions proved insufficient, however, and rumours began emanating from Koštunica’s party that the case of the investigation into Ðindic’s murder was essentially flawed, that it ‘stood on glass legs’, as well as that the real assassins had rigged the trial. It was clear that the government did not want to clarify the political circumstances of Ðindic’s murder, while on the other hand I would not give up on the armed insurrection. Six years later, on the eve of the elections, the prosecution decided, for tactical reasons, to process my criminal charge, its only aim in my view being to be able to close the case, arguing that there was no valid case against Koštunica and Tomic. They now think that, having rejected my criminal charge, they have got rid of that burden. In the meantime five more members of the Special Task Unit have been arrested and will be tried.
Having evidently been sacrificed by their masters, why don’t the members of the Unit say publicly who was politically responsible for the armed insurrection which preceded Ðindic’s murder? Why don’t they speak up in order to perhaps cut back their sentences?
They hope that they’ll be rehabilitated on the arrival to power of Koštunica or those close to him. For example, four years ago Tomislav Nikolic talked about their eventual rehabilitation during his election campaign. This is the murderers’ only hope, which is why they have remained silent about what they know.
You think that they look to Tomislav Nikolic, who has split with Šešelj, cleaned up his image a little, adopted Montgomery as his adviser, and is now most likely to win the coming elections?
Absolutely. Nikolic has said that if he wins he would re-examine the court’s decision on the guilt of Ðindic’s murderers, and the very basis of their indictment. It is interesting that Vojislav Šešelj, Nikolic’s former chief and now his political enemy, said on his departure for The Hague [in 2003], which he himself opted for, that blood would be spilt in Serbia and that he would return when all was over. There is no doubt that Šešelj knew about the preparations for Ðindic’s murder and the coup. At the same time, Legija - we are talking of the period of one month prior to the assassination - sent letters to certain politicians calling for resistance and insurrection against Ðindic. He didn’t have to send them to Koštunica, who like Šešelj knew all about it. He sent them to Velimir Ilic, the leader of New Serbia and a minister in various post-Miloševic governments, and to Covic. They did not report this to the police, of course.
The Widow as Party Mascot
It is clear why, during Koštunica’s term, the investigation into the political background of Ðindic’s murder was blocked. As you say, this was because of his own involvement. But why didn’t President Tadic, given the powers he has been wielding for years, try to complete the investigation in order to finally reveal the plot? After all, Tadic belonged to the same party as Ðindic, and one would expect him to feel duty bound to do that.
On this issue Tadic and his Democratic Party have been completely passive. They never talk about it, though once a year they join Ðindic’s widow in laying a wreath on his grave. For they have adopted her. She has no political weight in her own right, but serves as the party’s mascot. They gave her the house previously used by Ðindic and, as Stanko Cane Subotic recently confirmed, also one and a half million US dollars from the fund Subotic had set up to help Zoran Ðindic’s Democratic Party.
How do you view the fact that Rasim Ljajic, head of the National Council for Cooperation with The Hague, has offered the tribunal, clearly with Tadic’s permission, guarantees for Vojislav Šešelj’s early release? One view is that Tadic did this in order to weaken the electoral front-runner Tomislav Nikolic, because it is perfectly clear that Šešelj would promptly attack Nikolic, his former party colleague and best man who has betrayed and abandoned him, and thus directly help Tadic.
There is that too. But Tadic himself figures in this story too. He wants to be generous to everyone. With his guarantees for Šešelj, he is courting the ultra-nationalists. According to Subotic, after Ðindic was killed Tadic and the widow came to see him and he agreed that the money be given to her. In any case, Tadic wants the whole story surrounding Ðindic’s assassination to end with the killers who have already been sentenced.
Is it not surprising, indeed suspicious, that Tadic is against finding the truth about Ðindic’s assassination?
A very important person, whose name I will not reveal because it would be embarrassing and indiscreet, told me at the time of the trial of Legija and others that Tadic, clearly convinced, conveyed to her the crazy idea that Ðindic had been killed from another location by a third bullet. According to Tadic, it would seem that Legija and others were not involved in the murder. The story of the phantom third bullet was launched by Legija’s defence, but the court rejected it. This person then asked Tadic how could he believe such nonsense, how could he observe the trial with such indifference and live in peace with the knowledge that Koštunica was obstructing the proceedings. Tadic then made what seems to me to be a key statement: ‘You know that Ðindic wasn’t any too fond of me, which is why he kept me on ice.’
You must know that Tadic’s political life consists of avoiding any serious political conflict. He appears as a unifying ruler, president of all Serbs who never engages with anyone in a substantive dispute. He has even proclaimed national reconciliation - which shocked his party - with the socialists of Ivica Dacic, currently minister of the interior, Milosevic’s close collaborator who directed all Serbia’s wars in the 1990s. He has even formed a coalition with the Single Serbia of Dragan Markovic Palme, the mayor of Jagodina, which is the successor to Željko Ražnjatovic Arkan’s party. He also aided the insincere refashioning of Tomislav Nikolic’s party into a ‘pro-European’ outfit. Tadic is in reality politically pretty weak, with a minimal majority, which is why he has positioned himself at the centre, not opening up any fronts. At the same time, he has the power to forgive something to each of these characters, crime to some, criminality to others. He behaves publicly as a great healer, and is sharing loot with them all. He relativizes everything, hence also Draža Mihailovic’s rehabilitation. Tadic’s assembly first passed a law according to which the Chetniks were just as anti-fascist as the Partisans. A further step has now been made: to rehabilitate Mihailovic himself. This is Tadic’s concession to the right, which views the Chetnik movement in a different, historically erroneous manner. This is the same Chetnik project that operated during the wars of the 1990s. We are dealing here with Boris Tadic’s cowardly philosophy and tactics, making political and nationalist concessions for the sole reason of remaining at the centre of the political spectrum. Draža Mihailovic was rightly condemned for collaboration and war crimes. He ethnically cleansed Bosnia of Muslims in the name of the same ideology as was followed by Mladic fifty years later. Accordingly, in a way Tadic has rehabilitated also Mladic.
The Role Played by Dobrica Cosic
Is Tadic’s dalliance with the Chetniks and Draža Mihailovic’s rehabilitation merely pragmatic behaviour designed to attract right-wing voters in the coming elections, or does the Serbian president actually believe in what he says?
I know Tadic well, going back to his student days. In order to answer your question more precisely, I must go back a little, to the start of the 1990s and the formation of the Democratic Party, which was ambivalent in its nature. Ðindic was in it from the start, and invited me to join. I looked at the programme. I immediately agreed with its first part: rule of law, market economy, creation of democratic institutions... But the second part of the programme, I noticed, was pure nationalism. I was astonished. Ðindic told me that the society was in a highly nationalist mood, and that it was important to attract moderate nationalists. I told Ðindic then that he would end up with a monster. The Democratic Party has followed this policy ever since. In order to satisfy both wings of his party, Tadic takes two steps first in the one and then in the other direction.
Could you be more precise about Tadic’s attitude to the Chetnik ideology: is it pragmatism or political conviction?
Dobrica Cosic, his political and ideological father, has played a crucial role in Tadic’s decision to support rehabilitation of the Chetniks and their equalization with the Partisan movement in the anti-fascist sense. This is that ambivalence of his, his two-sidedness, his seeking to give something first to the one then to the other side. So he plays a little with ultra-nationalism and a little with Europe, which is against it. These two cannot be reconciled, however.
Jovo Kapicic, former chief of the [state security service] UDB, one of the greatest opponents of Chetniks and of the rehabilitation of Draža Mihailovic, whom he delivered to Aleksandar Rankovic, recently said of Tadic that he wanted both: Chetniks and Partisans, Kosovo and Republika Srpska, and also the European Union. Is this not what Tadic has been advocating, and what he is bound to advocate in the coming election - a unity of opposites?
It is either or! Tadic must choose. He cannot have it both ways. Tadic has chosen a narrow path for his political manoeuvring along which it is impossible to advance in fact. The problem is that there are two paths in Serbia, two options: one being pro-European, the other nationalist and Orthodox, tied to Russia. The pro-European path has been bequeathed by Ðindic, despite all. Tadic cannot quite renounce it, though perhaps he would actually like to do so, for that would destroy his party’s identity. It would betray Ðindic by whom his party still swears, if only formally. Because of all this, from the position he has adopted Tadic appears insincere, ineffective and untrustworthy to both sides, to both the Partisans and the Chetniks, to those who are pro-European and those who occupy the opposite, nationalist positions. He is seeking to unite opposites, a man accelerating with one foot and breaking with the other. So he stands still, with the car shaking until it falls apart. His sole desire is to survive for another term, another year, another month or only one more day. He shows, in doing so, that he has no policy, that he represents stagnation, which is catastrophic for the country.
I did not expect so much criticism of Tadic.
He is a nonentity. A straw man. Nothing more. There is nothing there. He is a political dummy.
Is it possible that for all these years, because of his hurt vanity, given that Ðindic clearly didn’t think much of him, Tadic as president has done practically nothing to uncover all the various aspects of Ðindic’s assassination?
It is indeed possible. Vanity is crucial, for sure. The fact that Ðindic remains the strongest political personality in Serbia clearly irks Tadic.
All happy with the status quo
Is Cedo Jovanovic Serbia’s future, even though few actually vote for him?
Cedo Jovanovic faces many problems. For example, Tadic understood long before him that there is a political class, and that all parties have become class conscious. Tadic realized that every party has its tycoons, its management committees, and distinct material privileges. And that for this reason no one active on the political scene seeks to make problems. Cedo Jovanovic made problems and then realized that there was no longer any need for it. Tadic corrupted him, not directly with money, but in all sorts of other ways. Jovanovic was told: if you will be our opponent, we will crush you. But if you want to work with us, then that’s fine. You will sometimes compromise, and in return you will get your share of the cake.
Did he too really get it? He at least was perceived as a constant oppositionist. True, it is terrible that he, a convinced anti-fascist, ended up in coalition with Vuk Draškovic, who re-animated the Chetnik movement at the start of the 1990s.
Naturally he got his share. For example, he got a share of government in Belgrade, and he got control of the lucrative pharmacies in Serbia. This was his share within their division of spoils. In the city of Belgrade, his representatives helped in the re-allocation of the Belgrade port area, which placed hundreds of millions of euros of profit into some people’s pockets. So you see, Tadic’s Democratic Party succeeded in entwining absolutely all political interests. This is why, on any important issue, Jovanovic will not attack anyone nor will he be attacked by anyone. A status quo is thus maintained that serves them all.
A month ago, though, Jovanovic came into sharp conflict with the leader of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, when he accused Republika Srpska of being born from the massacre at Srebrenica, which is a notorious truth.
Jovanovic is quite right on this subject, as he is on the question of Kosovo. But on the other hand, where one expects him to be concretely engaged too, on the issue of corruption, he keeps out. He tried, and gave up. Nor is he concerned with Ðindic’s murder - which he occasionally mentions only ritually. What is interesting about him also is that he is financed by a well-known tycoon, well known as an unscrupulous money-grabber.
The candidates of continuity
May we return to Ðindic’s assassination and summarize who knew about the preparations for his murder, especially those among active politicians who are standing as candidates for the posts of prime minister and president.
People among the general staff knew about it, and so did Covic, Ilic and Tijanic, people who are not candidates in the elections, and also those who are: current interior minister [now prime minister] Ivica Ðacic, along with his ‘Miloševicites’, Tomislav Nikolic [now president], Vojislav Koštunica and Vojislav Šešelj. Tadic, who is campaigning to become prime minster or president, is also compromised in the story surrounding Ðindic’s death. Although Tadic did not know about or participate in the assassination, he has subsequently done all he could to prevent justice from reaching the true instigators of the crime.
How is it possible that they all knew about the planned assassination, yet this information failed to reach Ðindic?
Ðindic knew that his assassination was being organized, but he could not prevent it.
It seems very likely that Serbia will get a president and a prime minister who were either directly or indirectly involved in the murder of a prime minister nine years ago, or have been obstructing the investigation surrounding the crime. Serbia seems the only country in the world in which a person involved in a plot to kill an earlier prime minister is very likely to become one himself.
That’s right. That’s the paradox. All these peoples are candidates of the status quo. They have the same attitude to the wars and the crimes. With the difference that in all this Tadic got for himself a comfortable position - he will lay a wreath in Croatia, go to Srebrenica, hobnob with [Croatian president] Josipovic.
How sincere is Tadic in what he is doing?
I wouldn’t say he is sincere. It is questionable whether he has any political substance at all, any clear or strategic goal. Maybe it is to join the EU in a way that leaves everything unchanged in Serbia. That, however, is impossible.
Translation of an interview published in the Croatian daily Novi List (http://novilist.hr/Vijesti/Svijet/Srda-Popovic-Tadic-rehabilitacijom-Draze-Mihailovica-rehabilitira-i-Ratka-Mladica)