by Slobodan RELJIC
If someone thought that this sentence was the work of an out of control judge in a local court, he would be disappointed. The Supreme Court of Croatia actually castigated indecisive local judge for "failing to correctly measure the gravity of the crime... especially taking of windows and doors from the houses of the Croatian population, which exposed those houses to ruin with time." Consequently, the war criminal (something like Eichman) should receive a more adequate sentence: "an eight years prison sentence".
The documentation-information center "Veritas" has sent this case to thousands of addresses all over the world. Everyone responded - impossible! "Possible," responded the president of "Veritas", Savo Strbac. "He is serving the sentence in the prison in Lepoglava."
As of ten days ago, Bogdan Benic (64) is not any more in the prison in Lepoglava. After six years, the Croatian president Stipe Mesic decided to (supposedly) grant clemency in his case, and release him together with another four Serbs. The Red Cross transferred "war criminals" to FR Yugoslavia.
This is what happened. After the operation "Storm", Cedomir Milos waited in his village of Vrbnik, above Knin, together with six elderly persons, the arrival of armed Croats who were conducting "the cleansing of the terrain from Chetnik dogs that were left behind". As Cedomir was wearing a uniform, the elderly folks went to greet the Croats. And all of them were immediately killed. Cedomir fled, but fell and broke his leg. He tried shooting at the Croats from his rifle, but as he was a bad marksman he missed. Finally, as "they were advancing as if they were drugged", he activated a hand grenade. As a man who had never fought, he was so skilled in that act that he inflicted grave wounds to himself (head) and light wounds on one of the Croat soldiers (leg).
The court felt it would be too much to sentence a satirist for a war crime, but instead charged him with an attempted murder of a Croat policeman. Since the Croatian authorities, under the pressure from the West, on September 1996 passed an amnesty law, judges who are given the task of putting a Serb in jail have only two options - either a war crime or ordinary crime. That is how Cedomir Milos became an ordinary criminal and was sentenced to ten years in prison. The Supreme Court of Croatia judged that "ordinary" criminals are less dangerous for Croatia from "war criminals" and reduced the sentence to seven years in prison.
According to the official data from May 2000 (source the Croatian State Prosecutor), the Croatian judiciary had processed 4,396 ethnic Serbs (reported crime, investigation, indictment, sentences). There were 1,349 indicted and 554 sentenced Serbs. "At this moment there are far more both indicted and sentenced Serbs," Savo Strbac from "Veritas" says. "It is assessed that, as the Croatian judiciary is churning out sentences to Serbs as on a conveyer belt, that by now the number of sentenced Serbs has grown to about 800."
It seems that Croats, who by the way carried out the "biggest ethnic cleansing since the beginning of wars in the Balkans in 1991" (according to the American weekly Time), have decided to achieve a world record regarding the number of war criminals found in another ethnic group, the victim (what a coincidence!) of ethnic cleansing. If the number of processed Serbs is compared with the number of inhabitants of [the former] Republic of Serb Krajina (about 430,000), it seems that more than one percent of Serbs from Croatia have committed war crimes. A comparison with the Nurnberg trials, where 25 Nazis were tried, leaves the impression that every Serb village contained at least as many monsters as the whole Hitler's state.
Veljko Dzakula, the president of the Serb Democratic Forum (SDF) in Croatia, first reminds that there are some changes in the Croat public. "Now there is discussion of the crimes committed in Lora war harbor in Split; the Croatian TV journalists admit that the HDZ had ordered them to incite ethnic hatred; slowly the media are reporting about discovered mass graves." However, "during the last three months 30 Serbs have been arrested. The new authorities are justifying that by saying that they want to reexamine everything that was left over from the time of Tudman's judiciary. But that really disturbs every Serb. Even some Serb policemen, who based on the agreement between Klein and Tudman transferred to the Croat Police, are now being suddenly arrested."
The consequence of all this is a total breakdown of a minimum of established trust in the good intentions of the Croat authorities. Recently, an arrest, as was reported, of a former member of the RSK Police, Natasa Jankovic, provoked quite a lot of interest. She had crossed the Croatian border six times without any trouble, but on January 31, 2001, returning from Belgrade to Banja Luka, where she now lives, she was arrested and presented with a sentence issued in absentia - eight years in prison. Her former neighbors from Bosanska Gradiska organized the signing of a petition in which they claim that Natasa Jankovic was not a policewoman in the prison in Stara Gradiska. The Prime Minister of Srpska, Mladen Ivanic, offered guarantees, so that she could defend herself from freedom. Croats ignored everything.
Based on the official verdict, in possession of "Veritas", the war crime was committed when the policewoman forced a female prisoner to perform a felatio on a male Croat prisoner and forced another male Croat prisoner to lick her shoe. "If it was really proven that she did that, that would amount to an ordinary crime, but definitely not a war crime," observes Strbac.
First he walked in the column in which males aged between 16 and 65, including a few aged over 70, just in case, were marched and looted and humiliated on the way. After that, Kulic spent days in the sports center in Bjelovar, together with another 800 persons. Many individuals were taken from the center and never came back. Then, he was separated into a group of extremely dangerous individuals that "was beaten at night with some sort of pipes." Then he was incarcerated at the Bjelovar prison, where up to 15 persons were kept in cells that were supposed to be used for solitary confinement. "When they took me to see the prison warden, I saw in his office portrays of Pavelic, Artukovic and Luburic [Croat pro-Nazi leaders from WWII; carried out genocide of Serbs, Jews and Roma]. That was not the only official room in which I saw those portraits."
As a former employee of a UN agency, he was finally assigned a lawyer, with help of his brother who lives in Switzerland. However, neither Kulic nor his lawyer were ever handed the indictment. He was tried for "organizing a rebellion" (that was before the amnesty law). The trial lasted 22 days, and included 63 witnesses. Some women remembered that he had helped them. "As that was obviously a staged process, I thought from the start that everything was a setup. They were showing me photos of corpses, so that I could supposedly identify them. That was supposed to demonstrate my involvement." On September 26, 1995, the prosecutor gave up due to lack of evidence. Kulic was released after six months.
Mladen Kulic today lives in his Slatina, in his house. At one point 35.7 percent of population in Podravska Slatina was Serb. Today, the number of Serbs is significantly lower. Some Kulic's friends, who before the war were undoubtedly Serbs, have now assumed glaringly obvious Croat names and surnames.
Veljko Dzakula assessed that "all that will soon be revealed for what it is. It is even possible to impose international monitoring of the Croat judiciary. The case Norac is, in a way, supposed to be a chance for the new authorities."
However, it is undeniable that the Hague Tribunal, with jurisdiction over war crimes, hasn't so far gotten significantly involved. In June 1997, the Hague demanded from the Croatian authorities to allow its legal experts to examine cases against Serbs (at least those kept in jails) because of numerous and serious complaints. In July 1997, the Croatian authorities rejected that demand as the international treaties do not oblige them to do so. On October 2000, another letter was sent from the Hague. Carla Del Ponte received an identical Croat response with surprising equanimity.
Serbs in Croat prisons have on several occasions initiated hunger strikes (in 1998, 1999 and 2000), among other demanding that they, war criminals, be tried by the Hague Tribunal. "The response from the Hague was: 'We cannot do anything as there is no evidence that any of them are war criminals!' What an absurdity," says Savo Strbac.
But, indeed, the rules of the Hague Tribunal about the procedure and evidence, especially article 9, make it difficult to find a reason. All three clauses of that article are actually concerned with making sure that, for example, Croats try their compatriots without leniency. Cases of application of the Croatian justice on Serbs haven't been taken into account.
True, the Rome Rules of the Road (February 1996, signed by Milosevic, Tudman and Izetbegovic) envisage that when a national court arrests someone, the case file is sent to the Hague, where it is decided whether the Tribunal will take over the case, return it to the national court, or dismiss the charges. The Croatian authorities claim that the agreement does not apply to them because only Bosnia-Hercegovina is mentioned in its preamble.
Recently, the deputy prosecutor (he was the deputy of all three prosecutors in the Hague so far) Graham Blewitt, publicly explained in Belgrade that the reasons can also be of financial nature. Namely, the "poor" Hague Tribunal does not have money for such trials. Instead, that would have to be paid by extremely wealthy Serbs who are sitting in Croatian jails an who usually do not even have enough money for a postal stamp and are usually supported by their relatives, mostly refugees.
Errors that horrify. The number of "accidental" mistakes has recently increased so much that it appears to confirm the conclusion that "the Croatian national political thought hasn't changed for the last 150 years, since the time when the old Croatian nationalist politician, Ante Starcevic, often referred to by Croats as 'the father of the homeland', averred that Serbs in Croatia, and Serbs in general, were a 'trouble-making factor' for the establishment of the Croatian national essence and the Croatian state, until today. From Starcevic to Tudman, that thought hasn't been changed." (Jovan Raskovic, July 31, 1992, NIN) Then: "If we add to that that Tudman, when everything was finished, said, and I heard it myself, 'haven't I told you that after this war the Serbs will be less than 3 percent of population in Croatia?', we can conclude that a plan for ethnic cleansing was incorporated in the operation 'Storm', which was a legitimate liberation action. That plan was perhaps in some elements agreed with Milosevic as the authorities of the Serb rebels also urged evacuation and abandonment of territories." (Ante Nobilo, March 6, 2001, Pravi Odgovor)
That is it. Besides, all of this can be viewed as an episode of a big historical drama.
On August 6, 1995, he heard on radio Tudman's message: "We are determined to guarantee all human and ethnic rights to Croatian Serbs within the constitutional-legal order of the democratic Croatia." So what happened? "They transported us on tractors to Vrlika, to the school that I had attended as a child. They would turn off the light and beat us, all 30 of them. They kept beating us up the whole night. One of them was hitting me and screaming 'Who killed my grandfather in 1941?' Out of five of us, four ended up in hospital. My ribs were broken, but they did not let me go to hospital."
From there he was taken to Sinj, to a hangar of sorts. They kept up the beatings, day and night. "However, the worst experience was when they stripped us naked and started hosing us with cold water in the courtyard. Croat civilians would watch, women and children, and shout 'dirty Chetniks [derogatory term for Serbs; WWI royalist Serb guerrillas; committed crimes against Muslims and Croats]!' We, the young ones, could take it, but it was so hard on the elderly and weak persons..."
After that, he was moved to the prison in Split, in Solin Street. He was tortured by electrical shocks delivered by inductor phones. "Or, they would lay you on a table and hit you with a baton on the feet. You lift your head from pain and inspector Nikola Damjanovic slams it against the table. I was supposed to confess that I had looted Croat property. I did not, but if I knew what sort of court was going to try me, I would have. At least I would have avoided torture. Then at two in the morning they would take me to be questioned by an investigative magistrate."
Later, they were moved to Solin. Thirty persons were kept together in a small room, 15 by 15 feet [5m by 5m]. "12 of us became the 'Peruca group'. Supposedly we mined the Peruca dam. I have never even seen that dam! That was a fake blowing up, some sort of agreement between Tudman and Milosevic. The chief expert Filipovic said at the hearing that the mining was carried out by professionals and that we had nothing to do with that."
He waited for a trial for two and a half years. The trial lasted six months. There were more than one hundred witnesses. "None of them accused me of anything. But they did not care. A witness came and said for Jovan Bilic: 'He did not maltreat me. I was wounded and if he hadn't helped me, I would have died.' The prosecutor said: 'I see, sir, you collaborated with the Chetniks.' Bilic was sentenced to 12 years in prison. I was sentenced to five years. My verdict was written on 146 pages."
Famous late Split lawyer Mirko Franceski, who defended five defendants from "the Peruca group" focused on Dragic's case in his appeal to the Supreme Court. According to Franceski "Dragic was more forceful than others in his defense. Not only because of his temperament but also because, in a way he became a precedent and a proof that someone can be indicted and found guilty without a single proof."
"I spent time in all prisons where most of imprisoned Serbs are held, in Remetinec, Lepoglava and finally in Osijek. Interestingly, more than fifty percent of them do not have completed primary school. Almost all of them are farmers. There are no officers, politicians, civilian persons serving in the army, wealthy individuals. All of them are poor. Only one had more education than a completed high school. They, supposedly, planned and implemented the idea of Greater Serbia, commanded and what not."
Farmers, but prison authorities do not allow them to do any work. They spend twenty two hours in cells and have two hours for a walk. A horrible punishment. "In the courtyard, between the buildings, you can see only a bit of blue skies. Only after a hunger strike, after three years, we were allowed to make phone calls. And we bought for $17 a small TV from a Croat."
Ethnic Croat prisoners are allowed to work, go out, go home for weekends. "They at least know why they are in prison. We know that we are innocent and that makes everything much harder. I would voluntarily go to the Hague to prove my innocence."
A debilitating experience. "I've seen all sorts of stuff! Predrag Sarajlija from Pakrac is serving in Lepoglava. He was sentenced to six years in prison for maltreatment of some policemen. During the trial, two witnesses said that, on the contrary, he behaved well. Miljenko Stanisavljevic from Pakrac was sentenced to 10.5 years in prison because he killed the very same two policemen. Both of the 'dead' policemen were live and kicking and working for the Pakrac police station in 2000."
What an age! The Croat court for which the Yugoslav People's Army was so-called and the Republic of Srpska Krajina also so-called, issued the so-called verdict. Everything was so-called, only the wasting of Srecko Dragic's life was real. He is still unemployed and lives with his parents, refugees, near Belgrade. He asked to be allowed to emigrate to the so-called third country. No one wanted him. Misery is seldom imported, unless it is the so-called misery, which can be used for something.