Imagine if twenty years after the Second World War, a German diplomat who also happens to be the chairman of the UN General Assembly decided to schedule a debate on the work and the findings of the Nuremburg trials. Also imagine if one of the main speakers was the German head of state, who during the war had been a member of the SS, the elite Nazi units responsible for a large number of the atrocities carried out during the war. If that´s hard to swallow then imagine if that same head of state had denied basic facts about the genocide committed and had insulted both the victims and survivors and also proclaimed that if he was proud of his service during the war and that he was only in the service of his people. If that´s hard to take in then imagine if the chairmen himself had on previous occasions directly insulted members other ethnic groups and exhibiting what can only be described as delusional frame of mine, where a specific ethnic groups is intentionally or un-intentonally compared to humanoid fantasy creatures. Or if that same chairmen had only recently insulted the victims, survivors of war crimes and the surviving family members by playing a particularly offensive military march that was usurped by extremists and became a backdrop for scenes of ethnic cleansing and genocide, calling it a “peace march” or that same chairmen on several occasions said openly that he is in the position he is so that he can further his own goals and that of his country.
By now you could be forgiven for thinking that such a person could never hold such an important position, a position where one is supposed to be impartial, willing to compromise, working in the interest of peace and someone who takes initiative but won´t put his own country´s interest first, you could also be forgiven for thinking that while it´s a fun hypothetical discussion, it´s really all moot point since something like that could never happened in real life, surely not at the UN!? Well perhaps not in 1965 but fast forward to 2013 sadly that is the reality which we find ourselves in. Vuk Jeremic a former Serbian diplomat is the current chairman of the UN General Assembly. In November 2012 he scheduled a debate at the UN about role and performance of international tribunals founded by the UN such as the ICTY, while I see no problem in debating the work, the successes and failures of international tribunals it´s hard for me to believe that Vuk Jeremic is all of a sudden interested in international law and justice. Well maybe he is, but his interest is selective at best.
In december 2012 Jeremic said on twitter that the blockbuster movie: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, “holds important lessons for who is wrong and right in the issue of Kosovo.” According to Jeremic; the book, and now the film, centers on ”the battle of the brave dwarves, determined to reclaim their stolen land from the evil Orcs and powerful dragon Smaug,” Jeremic went on to say that, the land that the dwarves want to reclaim in The Hobbit has a lot of gold, just as Kosovo holds the important Trepica mines complex. Yes that´s right he was comparing the plot of a fantasy adventure to the situation in Kosovo, where the Serbs were the brave dwarves and Kosovars the evil Orcs, the fact that he felt that he had to sneek in the comment about the disputed Trepica mines complex is just as bizzare, my guess is that he really felt he was on to something with his analogy and wanted to end it nicely. (also it shows that Serbia has very real intrests in Kosovo aside from simply claiming historical ties to the region)
While it´s easy to make fun of Jeremic and his misadventures the fact that the chairman of the UN General Assembly is comparing the situation in Kosovo with the plot of a fantasy adventure and that he is dividing ethnic groups in to good and bad, and in this case comparing the Kosovars to Orcs is should give people reason to pause and reflect on if Jeremic is really the men you want as the UNGA. The fact that he decided that playing “March on the Drina” a Serbian military march from WWI, that was later usurped by Chetnik Royalists and Nazi Collaborators during WWII and by Serb nationalists during their latest campaigns in Bosnia didn´t seem to bother him. The song was banned after WWII due to its links with the Chetnik Movement and their genocidal campaign against Bosniaks in Eastern Bosnia. A campaign that would repeat itself fifty years later. In 1992 during the height of the struggle for a “Greater Serbia” Serbian parliament officially rejected it as a national anthem due to its provocative lyrics and history. Yet Vuk Jeremic had felt it was appropriete to play at the UNGA and also called it a peace march.
Two months earlier in november last year Jeremic got into a very public argument on twitter with Croatian-American lawyer Luka Misetic about the acquittal of Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac ( Misetic was Ante Gotovinas defense council) and called the ICTY, a UN tribunal a “group of international criminals” it was in the wake of this that he scheduled the debate at UNGA, he also stated that “he would inflict serious damage to those crminals” prior to that he had to my knowledge expressed zero interest in the work of the ICTY or the ICJ. Well that´s not entirely true, as Serbian foreign minister, Jeremic asked the ICJ a court founded by the UN, to assess whether or not the unilateral proclamation of Kosovo’s independence was in line with international law. The answer he got from ICJ was that Kosovo’s proclamation was not a violation of international law, after which he has done everything in his power to downplay the importance of that rulling because frankly it does not suit his goal of thwarting the young Balkan state addition into the UN. He has personally said on several occasions that as long as he is at the UN he will not allow any decisions to be made about Kosovo without Serbia having a say in the matter.
Vuk Jeremic´s obsession with Kosovo can be traced back to his days as Serbian foreign minister; his hardline stance on Kosovo equaled that of Slobodan Milosevic and had brought Serbia on a collision course with the EU on several occasions, but to make up for that he and his former party have gained support from hardline Serb nationalists instead, not too much though as Boris Tadic Democratic Party lost last year’s elections to a real nationalist; Tomislav Nikolic is a former member of the Serbian Radical Party, a volunteer in Serbia´s aggression on Croatia and then Bosnia and former right hand man to suspected war criminal Vojislav Seselj. In 1993 Nikolic was made a Chetnik Vojvoda ( a Duke) by the president of the Central Fatherland Administration of the Serb Chetnik Movement who just so happened to be Vojislav Seselj, on Mountain Romanija outside of Sarajevo. He was made a duke for his “bravery and heroism” and for “showing by a personal example how one should fight for the Serb idea in the battles in Slavonia” More recently he has made headlines both in the Balkans but also in the international press for his outright denial of the genocide in Srebenica. For years the two men (Nikolic and Seselj) could be seen side by side often in the company of the current First Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic also a former member of the Serbian Radical Party, prior to that Vucic was most famous for his July 1995 remark in the Serbian Assembly that; ”If one Serb is killed in Bosnia, we will kill a hundred Muslims in turn!” This was days after the genocide in Srebrenica.
On February 13th Serbian news-site B92 reported that Tomislav Nikolic would open the april 10th debate at the UN general assembly on the work of the ICTY. It´s not hard to imagine what his views on the work of the ICTY will be. During the war years Nikolic served as a volunteer in the various notorious Serbian units that attacked together with what was then The Yugoslav People’s Army Croatia in 1991. On 23 june 2005 Natasha Kandic filed a report in which she demanded that Serbia´s War Crimes Prosecution Office initiate an investigation in connection with the war crimes committed in Antin, Republic of Croatia, following the establishment of the Serb Authority (the authority of the Yugoslav People´s Army, JNA) over the territory of Eastern Slavonia in August 1991.
According to Kandic there was evidence and testimony of crimes commited against the civilian population of Antin, those crimes had been committed by members of the notorious paramilitary unit “Seselj´s Followers”, according to Kandic survivors of the crimes perpetrated mentioned amongst other Tomislav Nikolic who at the time (2005) was the vice-president of the Serb Radical Party. Kandic and The Humanitarian Law Center asked Serbia´s War Crimes Prosecution Office to investigate the security organs and the head of the Security Service of former Yugoslav National Army for covering the crime, and of the commanding officers of the YNA unit and of the volunteer units for failing to report the offenders and hand them over to the judicial authorities.
“The fact that almost all institutions of Serbia and the Military Security Service of Serbia and Montenegro have allegedly determined that they are not in possession of any documents implicating or linking Tomislav Nikolic with the war crimes points to, once again, the practice of covering up and denying the crimes committed by the Serb forces in the armed conflicts on the territory of former Yugoslavia. This is confirmed by the fact that the highest officials of Serbia have been hiding the documents about the participation of the members of the Ministry of the Interior in the slaughter of the Srebrenica Bosniacs for the last ten years. The fact that the organs of the military security are hiding the evidence of the criminal responsibility of the citizens of Serbia and Montenegro for the war crimes can be seen from the documents of the Ovcara case conducted before the war crimes chamber of the district court in Belgrade. According to the statement given by a witness, colonel Slavko Tomic, on 14 March 2000, he had, in 1992 or in 1993, informed general Aleksandar Dimitrijevic, the then head of the Security Service, about the shooting of the Croatian prisoners in Vukovar in November 1991.”
According to Kandic´s report Nikolic himself had on several occasions boasted of his war campaign against Croatia. In an interview given to the weekly NIN (19 June 2003), under the title “I went to war with a heart”, Tomislav Nikolic said:
“We proved our belief in the chetnik ideology, our membership in the Serb chetnik movement, during the war outside the territory of Serbia in accordance with the principles the chetnik movement was based on”
Kandic urged the War Crimes Prosecution Office also to review the transcripts of the session of the Assembly of Serbia where Tomislav Nikolic, a member of the Assembly, said that he had been in Srebrenica at the most difficult time and that he had been the last to return from Srebrenica. In her report on Tomislav Nikolic, Kandic continiues by saying;
“The suspicion that Tomislav Nikolic had taken part in the killing of civilians in Antin was first raised by Marko Korac, a member of the Assembly of Serbia, who told RFE (20 June 2005) that the data about what had happened in Antin would be “discovered in the weeks to come”, and by Beba Popovic, the chief of the Communications Bureau in Zoran Dindjic’s Cabinet, in the supplement to TV B92 “Insajder” program (16 June 2005). And lastly, there are the testimonies of the witnesses: “Tomislav Nikolic was in our village together with the chetniks when the most horrendous atrocities were committed to our neighbors”, claims Tadija Mijakic, from Antin, in a statement given to Vecernje novosti (18 June 2005). “I can’t forget him because it was he” (that is, Tomislav Nikolic) “who, together with the deputy chetnik voivode, Slobodan Miljak, forced us to clear the minefield in the present-day Matije Gupca street. We were saved from certain death by a Serb from Markuica who, while we were entering the brushwood, cleared the area by drawing a harrow over it”, says Mijakic about the time when about 50 inhabitants of Antin were killed.”
Kandic ends by saying;
”I have voiced my suspicion of Tomislav Nikolic’s involvement in the crimes in Antin publicly. It is a legal obligation of every citizen, mine in particular, as the director of the Humanitarian Law Center whose objective it is to document the violations of human rights in armed conflicts, to make public or to report any indication that a war crime had been committed. I have learned, from a number of independent sources that Tomislav Nikolic had personally participated in the killing of the old people in Antin. >From a number of members of the Assembly of Serbia I have learned that there had been rumors in the corridors of the previous Assembly of Nikolic having killed some old people and throwing their bodies into a pool. Allegedly, the members of the Serb Radical Party themselves were saying that Tomislav had done it. In his statement for B92 radio station, on 16 June 2005, the chief of the Communications Bureau in the Cabinet of the late Zoran Dindjic said that he had received the information about Nikolic’s participation in the killings in Antin from the former head of the State Security of the Ministry of the Interior of Serbia, Jovica Stansic. From a number of independent sources I have received information that the documentation about Antin is to be found in the Military Security Service (MSS)
As for the perpetrators of the crimes, Serbia has been hiding and protecting them for 14 years. The Military Security Service of the Army of Serbia and Montenegro is in possession of the data about them. The Military Security organs of former Yugoslav National Army, who had conducted investigation of the scene of the crime, have submitted their findings to the higher security organs who, in their turn, were supposed to submit the documentation to the Security Administration of YNA. This documentation contains the names of the officer commanding the YNA unit in Antin, of the corps commander, of the security organs and the commanders of the chetniks and other volunteer units. These documents contain everything about Tomislav Nikolic, from the time he had come to Antin and who he had come with, to the names of the chetniks and other volunteers who had committed the crimes. There lie the answers and the evidence of the criminal responsibility or of innocence of Tomislav Nikolic.
”In view of the fact that the Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia, Vojislav Kotunica, the Defense Minister, Prvoslav Davinic, the Justice Minister, Zoran Stojkovic, and the President of the National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, Rasim Ljajic, have taken Tomislav Nikolic under their protection, they have an obligation to present evidence which will, beyond any reasonable doubt, confirm their statements concerning the innocence of Tomislav Nikolic.”
The fact that Kandic´s report on Antin and Tomislav Nikolic didn´t lead anywhere can be attributed to the fact that Serbia has yet to deal with its tainted past. Most of the nationalists who seized power in Serbia as communism collapsed remain there and have thwarted any effort that Serbia, it´s people and above all human rights advocate´s like Natasha Kandic and Sonja Biserko have put to making sure that the perpetrators of some of the most horrendous war crimes since the Second World War are brought to justice. Telling the truth about Serbia’s past is essential and Serbia´s failure to do that and the fact that the country´s political and intellectual elite has done everything in its power to marginalize the crimes committed and equalize the blame for the wars in former and it shows that rather than dealing with its past like Germany did post WWII Serbia and great many serbs would rather sweep what happened under the rug.
Serbia´s inability to properly deal with its past and the continued genocide denial and attempts at revisionism have hampered any attempts at a real reckoning of the past. Simply put, it´s impossible to expect any form “reconciliation” in the region when Serbia and great many Serbs continue to deny basic facts about the wars in former Yugoslavia and the genocide and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In that sense Nikolic is the perfect man for Serbia. As I have written above one of the first things he did was to deny the genocide in Srebrenica. Prior to that he had in May 2012 said that Vukovar “was a Serb city and Croats have nothing to go back to there″ the statement was made in German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, later he denied that he made that statement but Michael Martens, the FAZ journalist who interviewed Nikolic, confirmed the authenticity of Nikolic’s statements. ”Audio recording of the interview exists, if there are any doubts,” said Martens, saying that Nikolic said there was no need to authorise the interview. In that same interview he said that Greater Serbia was his ”unrealized dream” while earlier in 2004 he said in an interview that the boundaries of Greater Serbia along the Virovitica-Karlovac-Karlobag line were not part of any imperialistic politics, but would always remain a ”dream” for him and other Radical leaders. (Yet he had no problems going to war over those borders,and accept the title of a Chetnik Duke for his “bravery and heroism” )
His conversion from a Serb radical and extreme nationalist to a “moderate” or a “progressive” follows a clear pattern, from 2008 and onwards he has tried to downplay his long-term association with the Serbian Radical Party. Excuse he gives for his past nowadays is that; well it was a time of war and that he was saying certain things simply because it was the official policy of that party, yet his political career with the Serbian Radical Party started in 1991 when he was made a deputy in the National Assembly of Serbia and lasted until 6th of September 2008. During that time he participated in a campaign which saw the non-Serb population of Eastern Slavonia “cleansed” and was for the most part in the company of warmongering racists and extreme nationalists and seemed happy to be there.
In later interviews since his split with the Serbian Radicals, whenever he was asked about his former statements on Greater Serbia he said that this was only in line with the party’s ideology, and that he had changed his mind on much of that, which in itself is contradictory since if he was only going thru the motions, he wouldn´t have to say that he had “changed his mind on all that” However in May 2012 after he won the Serbian elections he had no problems claiming that yet again that Greater Serbia was his unrealized dream and that there was nothing imperialistic about it. Yet for those of us who were on the receiving end of a Greater Serbian ideology that ripped thru former Yugoslavia with tanks, heavy artillery, war planes, concentration camps, rape camps and waged total war on its neighbors, it was not as pleasant as it was in Nikolic´s mind. Which is why Nikolic statements about Vukovar and Srebrenica are so offensive, During the war in Croatia, Vukovar was under siege by the former Yugoslav army and rebel Croatian Serb forces as well various paramilitary units such as the notorious Arkans Tigers as well as Vojislav Seselj´s units, the city was surrounded for 87 days during which the JNA attacked from the ground, the air as well as units of the Yugoslav Navy, at most some 36 000 soldiers attacked Vukovar supported by heavy artillery, rockets and tanks and aircraft and naval vessels on the Danube. At the end some 1700 had died during the siege and the town was reduced to rubble with some 22 000 of its inhabitants ethnically cleansed after the fall.
This pattern would repeat itself during Serbia´s genocidal campaign in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the Yugoslav Army shelled cities, towns, and hamlets into submission all along the it´s border with Bosnia before setting loose Arkans and Seseljs men as well as numerous other paramilitary units that went in to ”cleanse” the area. This way Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs managed to ”cleanse” some 70% of Bosnia´s territory of its non-Serb population, mostly Bosniaks. All this was done with the goal of linking together ethnically cleansed part of Bosnia with that of ethnically cleansed parts of Croatia and transforming it into a ”Greater Serbia” the ”ethnic cleansing” of Eastern and North-West Bosnia took the lives of thousands of civilians, Serbian authorities also set up concentration camps where people were starved beaten raped and killed on a daily basis. Bosnian towns like Sarajevo, Gorazde, Srebrenica, Zepa, Bihac all suffered the fate of Vukovar. Sarajevo was under siege for three and a half years during that time much of the city was destroyed in deliberate terror campaign intended to make the live of its citizens unbearable and bring the Bosnian government to its knees. But nowhere was it as horrible and as desperate as in Eastern Bosnia and Srebrenica, a town which had long before the genocide that took place been dubbed the largest concentration camp in the world and as far back as 1993 Venezuela’s UN ambassador Diego Arria who visited the town wrote in his report that what was happening there was a slow-motion process of genocide. According to Arria, Shocking images of poverty, destruction, starvation and squalor were hidden from the public in 1993 and that the blue helmets in the enclave did nothing to prevent the “gradual genocide” that was taking place there.
The fact that someone who served as a volunteer in what can only be called a campaign of total war and genocide, where rape was used as a form of weapon, a weapon of terror, where persecution based on ethnicity religion and even gender was not a sideffect of war but the very tool of war. Where cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners and terrorsation of the civilian population was a trademark, where the destruction of homes of and religous objects was seen as a necessery war objective, where wholesale massaceres were not only condoned but incouraged, and Nikolic himself is implicated in some of those crimes is now going to open a debate on the work of international tribunals at the UN general assembly is beyond surreal. Frankly words fail me, but then again given the record of the UN when it comes to the former Yugoslavia why should it be a suprise?
It´s also symptomatic of the entire failed approach of the “international community” in the former Yugoslavia. If were are honest Nikolic and Jeremic are as much a product of that failed policy of appeasment as they are of the rampant Serb nationalism. The very same ideology that was allowed with the help of the Yugoslav Army and the “intrenational community” to wage wars of aggression on it´s neighbors. Where much of the political and intellectual elite that was responsible for the rise of nationalism, the same elite that has build what Croatian historian Branka Magas calls a “bi-polar image of its national history” in which Serbs are the constant victims of aggression from numerious enemies including Serbia’s neighbours, faiths other than Orthodox Christianity, and the West in general are still there and are calling the shots behind the scenes. They know very well that the image of Serbia as the prepetual victim has now come under attack.
During it´s now twenty years of existence the ICTY has after some 160 trials and some 4000 witnesses established what happened in former Yugoslavia, and who was responsible for what. In most cases it was written in black and white, the responsibility for the violent breakup of Yugoslavia falls on Belgrade, the aggression on Croatia, the genocidal campaign in Bosnia, the campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo all left a paper trail leading back to Pale and more importantly Belgrade. It´s getting harder and harder for Serbia and it´s corrupt intellectual and political elite to re-write the past, that does not mean that they are not trying to.
In one of the more bizzare cases of attemped revisionism Ejup Ganic former member of the bosnian presidency was arrested at Heathrow airport in march 2010, at the request of the Serbian war-crimes prosecutor. According to the extradition request Ganic was wanted for the deaths of Yugoslav army soldiers at Dobrovoljacka Street on may 3th 1992. Ganic was forced to stay in London for five months while british courts decided his fate. In the end it turned that the only thing he was guilty of, was defending his country on 2-3 may, against an invasion that was to start with an all out assault on Sarajevo. The court in London and Senior District Judge Timothy Workman found that there was no evidence to support an extradition and that the Serbian war-crimes prosecutor´s actions were politically motivated and that what had happened here was tantamount to ”an abuse of British legal process”.
The motive was simple; prior to Ganic´s arrest a debate raged in Serbia on whether Serbia should pass the European parliament’s resolution condemning the genocide in Srebrenica, Serbia´s nationalist guru Dobrica Cosic weighed in by saying that; “Serbia should never accept the lies about Serbs committing genocide in Bosnia’, because this would make the Serbs a genocidal nation on a par with Nazi Germany“. (Pecat, 12 February 2010.) Before him Cedomir Antic, a well known nationalist and serbian historian wrote that; “by having the Serbian parliament finally accept that what happened in Srebrenica was indeed genocide, Belgrade will accept also collective responsibility on the part of Serbia and Republika Srpska for the crimes their armies committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina“ (Vreme, 4.2.2010)
On august 15 2010 Christian Schwarz-Schilling who had 2006-07 served as High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina wrote an op-ed peice in the german newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung where he summed up the verdict and the reasons for which Ganic was arrested.
The second court decision, issued by a London court after a careful examination, ruled as follows: It has freed Ejup Ganic, who at the request of Serbia had been arrested in London on March 1st and was to be extradited to Belgrade as a suspected war criminal. The court determined that there is no evidence that Ganic had in fact committed the alleged war crimes in May 1992. The judge found that it was not legally valid evidence, but political motives that led the Serbian Public Prosecutor to make false allegations; according to the judge, this was an abuse of British legal process.
The grounds for London Judge Timothy Workman’s judgment also showed that the Serbian side, behind the back of the court, had attempted to cut a political deal with London and Sarajevo: Belgrade would withdraw the request for extradition, if Ejup Ganic were put on trial in Sarajevo and if the Bosnian government would signal its approval of the inadequate declaration adopted by the Serbian Parliament on the massacre in Srebrenica, which avoided using the word “genocide.” This attempt demonstrates in what low regard the Serbian government holds the rule of law in London; of course, the court turned down such a request.
Given Jeremic´s and Nikolic past there should be no doubt that the reason for this debate is to yet again try to equalize the guilt for the wars in former Yugoslavia. This time they have the opportunity to do so at the United Nations General Assembly.