by Dragan BUJOSEVIC
The American intransigence is not shared at all by one of the American congressmen and is the source of speculations regarding the behavior of the authorities in Serbia and FR Yugoslavia, namely the likelihood that they will try to satisfy the Tribunal with "small fry". That was the motivation for our interview of Veselin Sljivicanin. The goal of the interview was not to examine his guilt or innocence, but to find out about the current mood of this former warrior, whether he fears that the new authorities will extradite him to the Hague Tribunal, whether he would voluntarily go to the Hague if that could be useful for his country and the people by securing foreign donations and credits.
NIN: Do you feel guilty for the acts mentioned in the Hague Tribunal indictment? For the taking of wounded individuals from the Vukovar hospital and the execution of about 300 of them at the locale known as Ovcara?
SLJIVICANIN: I live normally, and move around freely. I meet about five thousands of individuals I know from the front from the time when the army was forced to defend its barracks from terrorists and criminals. Everyone knows what I did there. How could I be among them if even the smallest part of the accusations was true? All of these accusations are lies.
The Tribunal indictment from 1995 was based on the conversations from 1992 between the Tribunal prosecutors and the deserter from the Yugoslav People's Army and later a commander of the defense of Vukovar, Dedakovic, who used to call himself the Hawk and I called him the Chicken. They talked in his house in Virovitica. That Ustashe [Croat pro-Nazi movement from WWII; today nationalist Croats; also a Serb derogatory term for Croats] told them that I had committed crimes. We are charged because of the war waged on the territory of Croatia, although I believe that that war was waged on the territory of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia [the former Yugoslavia]. Supposedly we took Ustashe terrorists from the hospital and shot them in Ovcara, three hundreds of them. There is not a shred of truth in all that.
Ustashe, as they referred to themselves, killed a few of our soldiers by setting them on fire, alive, and none of them have been held responsible for that. We, who defended the state from secessionists, are guilty, and those who tried to destroy the state are innocent.
It is dishonorable to live like a criminal. My soldiers and I are not criminals. I took both Marin Vilic and Vesna Bosanac and many other Ustashe prisoner. Let them say whether anyone as much as touched them. We treated them as guests and let them go, alive.
I heard that they found corpses in Ovcara. But, my people and I do not know anything about that. The legal institutions should prove the identity of those corpses.
You obviously do not accept that the Hague Tribunal has jurisdiction to establish whose corpses were found in Ovcara and who killed those people?
We were a legal state, SFR Yugoslavia, and I was a member of the army of that state, the Yugoslav People's Army. My task was to defend the sovereignty of that state, to disarm bandits. I am not the only person convinced that the Hague Tribunal is a political institution. Why do they not try Americans for Vietnam, Nicaragua, Guatemala...? Why are they prosecuting us, who defended our country? A month ago, the American congressmen Bruce [there is no congressman Bruce in the 107th Congress, elected in November 2000] told me that the Hague Tribunal is directed against the Serbs and that I had no chance of proving my innocence there.
The decision whether I did something wrong should be made by those who gave me a task, and the legal courts in this country. They are absolutely capable of that.
Representatives of the Tribunal attended the hearing in the court martial in Belgrade in 1998. We did not run from that court, our court, the court of our people. The people from the Tribunal listened to my deposition for two hours. Many witnesses, people I do not know, were also questioned. The trial hasn't been concluded...
Did you have a promise from the former authorities that you would not be extradited to the Hague?
There was no need for that. By the way, I do not mind when someone writes that I have been charged with war crimes, but it is not pleasant when someone claims that I am a criminal and condemns me in advance. I am not a criminal and that is why I never requested any form of protection from the authorities. Nether this nor last year I experienced any form of pressure. The only difference with respect to other officers was that I has to be moved aside to make sure I do not harm anyone. I can only be an officer. I was trained for that and received highest grades. I did not shame either those schools or my [Montenegrin] ancestors. I defended my freedom and the freedom of my homeland.
Will the new authorities arrest me? I am confident and do not fear anything. I do not see any reason for an arrest. I suppose that every government would first prove whether its citizen is guilty or not. That is not important for my sake, but for the sake of the state and the people, my family, my three children, for the sake of coming generations. They would not throw an innocent man without a trial in a bottomless pit. I do not feel endangered.
There are speculations that the authorities, as in Croatia and Bosnia, could send "small fry" to the Hague and thereby deflect pressure and perhaps gain something in return?
I do not understand those who claim that we would get all sorts of things if only we extradite suspects to the Hague. We are not a people of beggars. Let the America and the West return the property they have frozen, let them pay for what they destroyed during the unprovoked bombardment, let them pay for ten years of slavery and life in shackles... If they return this, let them hang or shoot me in the center of Belgrade. I would not protest, let them write any verdict they like. But that must be done by our court. The Hague Tribunal cannot try me for anything.
I repeat, I have nothing to fear. I trust my superiors. Of course, the state is more important than individuals. I do not know what the politicians will do. But, if the authorities want to be respected by the people, they first have to prove somebody's guilt, they must respect their people and officers. How can officers carry out their duties if they see that anyone's suspicion is enough for their deportation. There is no war without killing and looting, especially when a neighbor shoots at a neighbor, as was the case here. But, that is exactly the reason why all the facts should be carefully weighed.
I recognize the court of my state and my people. I do not recognize the Hague Tribunal. There is no chance for my defense there. Even the German Nazis were tried in the countries were they were accused of committing crimes. I defended my country, in my country.
But, what if you're arrested...?
They cannot arrest me. I just do not see it - Veselin Sljivicanin in the Hague.