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Articles on the Kosovo Conflict


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" its crimes
and has failed to tell young people the truth of what happened in the Nineties.

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 opposite direction!

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.erjavec@birn.eu.com. Justice Report is an online BIRN weekly publication.


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