Biserko: Serbia Still 'At War', Using Other Means
By Dragana Erjavec, BIRN Justice Report
November 4, 2009
Head of Serbia's Helsinki Committee says Serbia still "relativizes"
and has failed to tell young people the truth of what happened in the
Q How is Serbia working on the process of facing the past?
A: It has not even been possible to start the process, despite
the fact that many groups and individuals have worked on it... through
conferences, panels, printing publications, making documentary movies, which are
certainly very important.
But the process has not even started at the state level because
the fall of Yugoslavia, so to say, lasted until last year, and because Bosnia
and Herzegovina has not been consolidated and because Belgrade continues "the
war" using other means.
Serbia continues obstructing the consolidation of Bosnia as a
state, because it wants to keep its wartime trophy, namely Republika Srpska, and
eventually get part of northern Kosovo.
As long as this goes on Serbia will not want to participate in
such a process because all it does today at the level of reprocessing the past
is relativize and transfer responsibility to what it calls, "the conspiracy by
Western countries and the separatist republics of Slovenia and Croatia."
All activities undertaken in Serbia by publishing and
educational institutions, or by the Academy of Sciences and Arts, by all
institutions relevant in terms of organizing remembrance; are heading in the
As a state and as a society, Serbia has not been engaged in the
process at all, particularly since the verdict was rendered by the International
Court of Justice at The Hague in 2007.
This has been the strategy of this state. It is not related to
this or that government. All those who took part in defining the [nationalist]
project, who helped the project and justified it in their scientific or
quasi-scientific publications and researches take part in this.
Q: Could the regional process of facing up to the past be
conducted faster and better?
A: In my opinion a regional process is not possible because we
have seven new states involved. Each has a different historical context and
chronology of events and in each of these cases Serbia was the leading actor.
We first need national commissions in all countries formed after
the fall of the former Yugoslavia. Each has a complex problem; we have Serbs and
Croats in Croatia, three peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbs and Albanians
in Kosovo; it actually determines the character of those commissions.
A regional commission may be necessary at the end of the whole
process but it isn't possible to make a proper framework for facing up to past
processes without respecting what Yugoslavia was and what it represented or
without taking into consideration the war preparation process.
It is not sufficient to mention the people killed or the victims
only. We should examine the war context: how did the war happen and what happed
during and after the war? These are important approaches to understanding what
happened. They can clearly tell us what Belgrade's policies were, for instance,
in relation to Bosnia.
Q: How much has the failure to arrest Ratko Mladic affected the
process of facing the past in the region?
A: The work of the Hague Tribunal has had almost no effect on
Serbian society. I don't think whether Ratko Mladic goes or does not go to The
Hague will have any major effect on the process of facing up to the past.
Last year, when Radovan Karadzic was arrested - and it's obvious
the state knew where he was hiding, because his arrest was done in a picturesque
way, while much pomp accompanied the revelation of his identity - the Serbian
media broadcast stories about how he held the whole world up to ridicule, paying
more attention to his secret life and his "powers and capabilities' than to the
indictment and the crimes for which he was held responsible. This was a cleverly
placed storyline, irrespective of the fact that he went to The Hague.
The international community has failed to create mechanisms to
force Serbia into presenting the verdicts rendered by the Hague Tribunal,
complete or not, to its public in the right way, making it easier for the public
to find out what happened and why Serbia has found itself in this situation.
This goes to show that the Serbian authorities have never distanced themselves
from the politics of Slobodan Milosevic and have continued implementing his
politics using different means!
We now have the example of Radovan Karadzic's trial, which is
being obstructed and prolonged... Using all available means, he is trying to act
like [the indicted Serbian Radical Party leader] Vojislav Seselj or Slobodan
Milosevic. He is doing this himself or being dragged into it by his defence
team. This is Belgrade's strategy: obstruct the Tribunal, not give away the
archives and pressurize witnesses. Nevertheless, I think the Karadzic case is
different. The tribunal has more experience now and I think it has sufficient
material to enable it to easily prove all the allegations in the indictment.
Q: Is the survival of such attitudes towards the past dangerous
for the young in the region?
A: The danger is greatest for the generation born after the
wars. They, for sure, are not responsible for them, but they have not been
acquainted with the facts, either. The majority is frustrated because they lack
perspectives. Their reactions are marked by violence and dissatisfaction.
Another thing not good for the young generation in the region is that they have
never been in a situation to reflect on regional issues together because the
political elites keep them separated.
We must not forget that the region has its joint regional story,
which began before Yugoslavia was created and existed at the time of Yugoslavia
and after its fall. We must understand that we live in the same region, can
understand each other's languages and, above all, have a common culture. People
in the region, especially young people, need to communicate. Such communication
exists at some levels.
But communication has got to include speaking about the truth,
because the recent past will appear in some situations when we least expect it.
A long-term engagement in the project to determine the truth about what happened
in the former Yugoslavia in the Nineties, therefore, remains important.
Dragana Erjavec is a BIRN-Justice Report journalist.
Dragana.firstname.lastname@example.org. Justice Report is an online BIRN weekly