About 10 years ago I read Greek journalist and author Takis Michas book on the role Greece had played during the wars in former Yugoslavia and the close relationship Serbia and Greece during those wars. A relationship that included Greece breaking the oil-embargo imposed on Serbia as a result of the sanctions on the Milosevic regime. During the entire war Greece had been at odds with the EU and NATO, a member of both it had actively participated in obstructing the UN sanctions against Serbia. However the one thing that stands out in all this is the role of the Greek Volunteer Guard played in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, more precisely the role they played in the fall of Srebrenica and the genocide that took place. Takis Michas has been subjected to various forms of harassment and intimidation from Greek nationalists and chauvinists that had wanted to keep him silent over the years. Including a libel suit from one of the former volunteers. However Michas faced an even bigger challange in trying to confront the Greek state with its compilcity in the wars waged by Slobodan Milosevic´s regime. A while back I came across an interview Daniel Toljaga had conducted with Takis Michas in august 2009. At that time a former member of the Greek Volunteer Guard who been in Srebrenica had filed a libel suit against Takis Michas. Now this is all a while back and the matter has been settled. However I do think that his book is worth revisiting, and deserves a bigger audience. I have been given permission by The Congress of the North American Bosniaks to re-publish Daniel´s interview from 2009. I have also tried to compliment Daniel´s excellent interview with more material on the matter hoping that it will create more intrest in Takis Michas book. I plan on revisiting it myself soon. I am thrilled to be able to re-publish Daniel´s interview with the permission of the CNAB and I hope that the added information will both create interest and give a more complete picture.
August 5, 2009
Interviewer: Daniel Toljaga
On 27 July 2009 Mr. Stavros Vitalis, representing the Panhellenic Macedonian Front, filed a libel suit against the acclaimed journalist Mr. Takis Michas, best known for his authorship of the book “Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic’s Serbia.” He is suing the journalist for describing- in the daily “Eleftherotypia” – Greek mercenaries as “paramilitaries who took part in the slaughter in Srebrenica.”
Mr. Vitalis is one of the leading Greek volunteers who have admitted taking part in the Srebrenica genocide. But, that’s not how he sees it.
In a statement distributed to the media, he claimed that the Greek volunteers who fought in Bosnia under the command of General Mladic were there in order to help the Serbs “who were being slaughtered by international gangs that were also stealing their houses, their country and their dignity.”
DANIEL TOLJAGA: Mr. Michas, thank you for agreeing to take part in this interview. To begin with, what is the Panhellenic Macedonian Front that has filed this suit against you through its representative Mr. Vitalis?
TAKIS MICHAS: It is a Greek nationalist political organization which also includes socialists and conservative former politicians. Up until now its central campaign theme has been its advocacy of the view that Macedonia along with everything related to it (history, symbols, etc.) is exclusively Greek.
DANIEL TOLJAGA: What exactly does Mr. Vitalis hope to achieve with this lawsuit?
TAKIS MICHAS: Bearing in mind that Karadzic’s trial will also be taking place next year, what they will be hoping is to create an alternative debate in which the substance of what happened at Srebrenica will be called into question. In other words, while the world is trying the war crimes perpetrated at Srebrenica, in Greece they will be putting the critics of the war crimes at Srebrenica on trial!
DANIEL TOLJAGA: Do you have any comments about the lawsuit and the press statements Mr. Vitalis has made?
TAKIS MICHAS: Yes. First of all Mr. Vitalis explicitly admits that Greeks (i.e. himself) took part in the planning and execution of the Serb “re-occupation” (as he calls it) of Srebrenica. As he says in his press statement “I was present with a group of senior Serb officers in all the operations for the re-occupation of Srebrenica by the Serbs”.
Secondly, Mr Vitalis admits that the recruitment of Greek volunteers for the war against the legitimate government of Bosnia took place with the implicit approval of the leading Greek politicians Andreas Papandreou and (to a lesser extent) Constantine Mitsotakis. As he puts it:
“The whole of Greece knows that the Greek volunteers had the broad support of Greek society as a whole as well as the support of politicians, mainly belonging to PASOK, because of the warm friendship between Andreas Papandreou and Radovan Karadzic. They also enjoyed the support of New Democracy, through the friendly diplomatic initiatives of Constantine Mitsotakis.”
This reinforces the point I have repeatedly made, namely that Greek support for the Serb war effort was not only moral, economic, diplomatic and political but also military.
DANIEL TOLJAGA: Was Mr. Vitalis present during and after the fall of Srebrenica when Greek paramilitaries hoisted the Greek flag over the town?
TAKIS MICHAS: Well in his own statement he said that together with high ranking Serb officers he took part in all the operations that dealt with the “reoccupation” (as he calls it) of Srebrenica. Now as to whether he was physically present in the hoisting of the flag this is something that only Mr. Mladic knows (and perhaps Mr. Karadzic)!
DANIEL TOLJAGA: It is interesting that he publicly admitted being present himself “in all the military operations” related to the “re-occupation” of Srebrenica. Do you have any idea why Mr. Vitalis has not been investigated for possible war crimes?
TAKIS MICHAS: Because, as I have shown in my book, in Greece Serb actions during the war in Bosnia are not regarded as “crimes” but as “heroic deeds”. This applies to Srebrenica as well. No Greek government has made any statement at any time during the last 15 years explicitly condemning the killings at Srebrenica – this is a unique state of affairs for a European country.
DANIEL TOLJAGA: In the words of U.N. Judge Theodor Meron, who served as the President of the ICTY, Serbs – and I quote – “targeted for extinction the forty thousand Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica.” In your opinion, is Mr. Vitalis fully aware that the military operations he took part in resulted in the summary killings of more than 8,000 and the ethnic cleansing of approximately 30,000 people in July 1995? Is he aware that he took part in genocide?
TAKIS MICHAS: According to his own admissions, yes. However, just like Holocaust deniers, these people refuse to accept that mass killings took place in Srebrenica.
DANIEL TOLJAGA: Your book revealed for the first time the presence of Greek paramilitaries in Bosnia. Why has Mr. Vitalis waited so many years since the publication of your book to file a suit?
TAKIS MICHAS: This is an interesting question. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that as I have hinted in other articles I am now in possession of confidential diplomatic documents that show the Greek authorities for the first time admitting the presence of Greek paramilitaries in Bosnia. Possibly they think that by putting pressure on me now they will prevent me publishing these documents. But this of course is only one explanation. There may be others.
DANIEL TOLJAGA: Mr. Vitalis has claimed that the operations of the Greek volunteers “were widely endorsed by Greek society because of the warm friendship that existed between Andreas Papandreou and Radovan Karadzic.” To what extent did this friendship suggest that the government may have been involved?
TAKIS MICHAS: Obviously it involves government in the sense of knowing, tolerating and endorsing the open recruitment of Greek citizens with the aim of fighting against the legally recognized government of Bosnia. It certainly implicates the government of PASOK under Andreas Papandreou.
DANIEL TOLJAGA: I remember, and you also referred to this in your book, that leading Greek judges had publicly refused to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Considering that your right to a fair trial may be seriously impaired by the extreme ultranationalist atmosphere in Greece and the fact that Mr. Vitalis has announced that he plans to call leading Greek nationalist politicians as witnesses, I would like to know whether you intend to seek support from prominent international organizations that specialize in the protection of journalistic freedom?
TAKIS MICHAS: I will certainly be trying to spread the word. Judging from the lawsuit they have filed against me, I guess that from now on they will also be making the glorification of the Serb war effort in Bosnia one of their campaign themes.
DANIEL TOLJAGA: Are you worried about the forthcoming trial?
TAKIS MICHAS: In any other European country this lawsuit would have been thrown out of court. But as I have said repeatedly Greece is not a normal European country. Given the spirit of extreme nationalism that permeates the country and the fact that Karadzic and Mladic are venerated as saints by the majority of the public and the political class, I have every reason to feel worried.
DANIEL TOLJAGA: Thank you for taking part in this interview. We will be keeping a close eye on the progress of your case.
UPPDATE 2013-8-31: In 2010 Stavros Vitalis the Greek business man and former member of the Greek Volunteers in Bosnia and Herzegovina who had suied Takis Michas for libel abandoned the case. On 17 september 2010 Reporters Without Borders ( Reporters Sans Frontières) had urged the Athens Court to dismiss the charges against Takis Michas, calling the libel action against Michas;
surreal, and is clear case of judicial harassment. The only logical and acceptable response by the court would be to dismiss the case. Although he was not mentioned in the article, Vital claims that he was personally targeted. His lawsuit cannot be taken seriously. Despite claiming that his record as an officer in the Republika Srpska’s army is “well known,” Vitalis does not seem to want the media to take too much interest in his past.
Many Greek military officers and politicians do not want the veil lifted on this inglorious part of Greece’s modern history. Michas’ articles are courageous and salutary and he deserves more support from his fellow journalists, who should be calling for his acquittal.
Several years prior to Daniel Toljaga´s interview with Takis Michas, Dutch journalist Ingeborg Beugel had in the documentary “The Greek Way” (2002) by Dutch public broadcaster IKON interviewed Takis Michas regarding his book and tried to lift the veil on the role played by Greece´s political elite during the Bosnian War and their collaboration with Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic.
The documentary points to the fact that Greece was at that point still at odds with the rest of the Europian Union when it came to the causes for the break up of Yugoslavia and the wars that followed as well as the ethnic cleansing and genocide that took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Takis Michas points out in the documentary as he did in the interview with Daniel and his book that Greece was the only country in the world that at the height of the Bosnian War recieved the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic with honors and that Karadzic was honored as a “fighter for peace” by Greece´s political elite including PASOK and New Democracy as well as the the Greek Orthodox Church.
Ingeborg Beugel´s investigation led her to the archives of greek newspaper ETHNOS where she found the first proof of the presence of Greek volounteers in Srebrenica, the greek word for mercenary is; volunteer. In total over 100 Greek volunteers fought in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war, and according to one of the articles 20 members were present at Srebrenica. In an article dated 13th of July 1995 two days after the fall of Srebrenica Greek volunteeers hoisted the greek flag over the town. The volunteers that fought in Srebrenica recived medals from Karadzic for their service. Michas also pointed to the fact that he had several times contacted Greek authorites and asked them to interveine, if not arrest then at least to try and bring some of this people in for interviews since they did take part in the takeover of Srebrenica and were on the ground during the genocide.
In 2002 the NIOD report that the Dutch goverment commissioned into the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide, showed that Greece had sent deliveries of light arms and ammunition to the Bosnian Serbs between 1994 and 1995. The report shows how Greek volunteers were asked to hoist the Greek flag in Srebrenica. Intercepted army telephone conversations, revealed that General Ratko Mladic asked that they record the scene on video for propaganda purposes. Around 100 soldiers made up the Greek Volunteer Guard, formed at Mladic’s request. The unit, which fought alongside Russians and Ukrainians, was led by Serb officers and had its own insignia, the double-headed eagle of Byzantium. According to the report: “Greek and Russian mercenaries were also involved in the attack on Srebrenica. A Greek Volunteer Guard, a unit based in Vlasenica, was formed in March 1995 and was fully incorporated in the Drina Corps”At least four of its members were awarded the White Eagle medal of honour by Karadzic. ( page 2787 )
In April 2011 Bosnian Federal TV (FTV) program 60 minutes (60 minuta) aired never before seen footage after the fall of Srebrenica.
On the footage we could see the bishop of the Serb Orthodox Church for Tuzla and Zvornik Vasilje Kacavenda arrive at a gathering on 13th of July in the town of Vlasenica. Vlasenica is only a short drive away from Srebrenica. He was joined by a of number of Bosnian Serb officers including the former commander of the Drina Corps, Milenko Zivanovic. He was replaced as commander on the same day by Radislav Krstic. In 2001 Krstic became the first person to be convicted for the crime of genocide in Srebrenica. Amongst those at the gathering were several Greek Volunteers. During his speech general Zivanovic pointed out to the fact that when he entered Srebrenica he saw a minaret, pointing up towards the sky. The minaret from the town’s main mosque. He continued by saying: “that minaret should by now be in ruins”
After general Zivanovic, bishop Kacavenda took the floor and began by congratulating the general and his brave soldiers on their glorious victory and praised them for; “always fearlesly going into battle for Serbdom and the values of the Orthodox Church carrying in front of them the holy cross in order to achieve their golden freedom” a reference to the battle of Kosovo in 1389, he then went on to say that he would wish for general Zivanovic to convey the bishop´s gratitude to the soldiers for “liberating” Srebrenica from “nekrsta i kriza” the first being Islam ( nekrst is an old expression meaning non-Christian or in this context Muslim or Bosniak) and the second being “kriza” or “kriz” meaning non-Orthodox or Catholic, or in this context; Croat. Kacavenda ended by saying: “It´s no coincidence that even the Croats are mourning the loss of Srebrenica to the Serbs” after that the he began to speak of blood and vengeance.
Kacavenda started by saying : “Krv vapije za osvetom” meaning that once blood has been spilled it must be avenged. And continued by saying that; ”In vengeance the Serbian people had destroyed empires. And now after this we eagerly await those joyful days which are slowly approaching. After the Battle of Kosovo, we long for that moment when the Serbian nation will once more be united. Whether it be great or small it´s not important, what is important is that Serbs are allowed to live free in her, to breathe freely to work freely (…) Dear god, please allow us to return the favour to our Greek brethren in their efforts to liberate the whole of Cyprus from the Turks, allow them to liberate Constantinople (Istanbul) so that it may once again be the center, the very focus of Orthodox spirituality”
While the gathering was taking place the wholesale slaughter was already underway. On July 13th In the village of Kravica, between 1,000 and 1,500 men had been captured and brought to the largest of four warehouses (farm sheds) in Kravica and summerily executed. Kravica is some 30-35 kilometers from Vlasenica. On december 12th 2012 the ICTY convicted Zdravko Tolimir for genocide in Srebrenica, Tolimir was assistant Commander of Intelligence and Security for the Bosnian Serb army and reported directly to the commander, General Ratko Mladic. He was Mladic right hand man. The judgement mentioned the massacre in Kravica:
In the late afternoon of 13 July, hundreds of Bosnian Muslim men were transported from a meadow in Sandići by bus, and some directed by foot, to a one storey building known as the Kravica Warehouse, in the Bratunac area. When the warehouse was packed full, Bosnian Serb Forces started firing at the men inside, using machineguns as well as hand and rocket propelled grenades. They fired for hours, with intermittent lulls in the shooting in which the wounded moaned and called out names. These executions continued into the morning of 14 July. The Accused’s immediate subordinate, Beara, was directly involved in the burial operation of between 600 and 1,000 Bosnian Muslim men who the Chamber found had been murdered at the warehouse between 13 and 14 July 1995.
On the evening of 13, and morning of 14 July, hundreds of Bosnian Muslim men were transported by bus to a school in Grbavci located near Orahovac. There, they were crammed into the gymnasium of the school building. In the afternoon of 14 July, they were transported by bus to two separate killings sites nearby. Upon disembarking, they were shot by Bosnian Serb Forces. Some of the wounded prisoners were cursed, and left to suffer in agony before they were finally killed. One of the groups of prisoners included a boy of approximately five to six years old, who, after being shot at, stood up from the pile of bodies and called out for his father. Up to 2,500 Bosnian Muslim men were murdered at Grbavci school on this day. They, too, were buried in a mass grave.
The Dayton Accords effectively split the country and redrew it´s map and in the process awarded ethnic cleansing all out aggression and genocide and giving legitimacy to the very ideals that Vasilije Kacavenda mentioned in his speech. He gave his blessing to genocide during that hellish day and the international community rewarded it by granting legitimacy to Republika Srpska in November that same year. An entity whose sole purpose was to serve as place for Serbs to ; “live freely in her, to breathe freely to work freely” a “lebesnraum” if you will for Serbs. In order to achieve that those “others” had to be “removed”
Kacavenda himself continued to serve as bishop of Tuzla and Zvornik until April 2013 when he resigned his clerical duties following a sex scandal that rocked the Serb Orthodox Church. According to a statement given by a former theology student in Bjeljina, the seat of kacavenda´s diocese: ” He observed numerous orgies organized by the 74-year-old bishop and attended by fellow clerics and prominent businessmen. According to the student Kacavenda personally appealed to him to supply young children for sexual purposes and frequently called on high-ranking church officials to organize trysts with young theological students.”
Prior to that a Bosniak girl (Bosnian Muslim) had come forward with accusations against Kacavenda, saying that he had raped her when she was 16 years old and then forced her to convert to Christianity. In 2010 rumors started to spread when a photograph of Kacavenda and a wellknown Belgrade stripper Dejan Nestorovic started to circulate. Nestorovic himself had admitted to having a personal relationship with Kacavenda. However in the beginning of April 2013 Serbian daily “Blic” reported that it had seen pornographic videos of the bishop. In these videos he engaged in oral sex and other sexual activities with young men in various locations. The videos subsequently appeared on various social media outlets and other sites thus proving beyond any doubt Kacavenda´s involvement.
When it comes to the GVG or Greek Volunteer Guard, to this day Greek authorities have not charged any of the Greek Volunteer Guard members that participated in the fall and subsequent genocide in Srebrenica. On July 10th 2005 163 Greek academics, politicians, journalists and political activists issued a statement asking for Greece to officially apologise to the victims of Srebrenica genocide. In June 2006 the minister of justice Anastasios Papaligouras, commissioned an inquiry- the report has not yet been complited.
For further reading I strongly recommend Daniel´s report on the Serb Orthodox Church´s continued support for war criminals, it can be accessed here.
As well as Takis Michas article for The Wall Street Journal called Greece´s Balkan Closets, it can be accessed here.
Vasilije Kacavenda´s speech in Vlasenica can be found in Serbian on the website of Serbian portal e-novine: here
Daniel´s original interview for The Congress of North American Bosniaks can be accessed here.