by A. CVETICANIN
Talking about huge difficulties they faced during the trial, Savo Matic's lawyers emphasized that the acquittal was reached with legal means only.
"On Wednesday, when the verdict was read, the international policemen warned us that, in case the verdict was favorable, we had to refrain from showing happiness. They also told us that they were going to do everything they could in case the audience, ethnic Albanians from three villages, tried to attack us or the defendant," lawyer Branka Slani-Tabarosi described a detail of the atmosphere of the trial.
Savo Matic, as he said, still cannot believe that he is free. He was accused of murdering 42 ethnic Albanian civilians in 2000. During the time spent in prison he went on hunger strike three times, first time for 42 days, then for 23 days, and finally for 14 days, demanding that the trial start and be adequately conducted. Savo Matic did not want to escape from the prison but wanted to conclude the trial using legal means.
According to Vladimir Bozovic, the chief of the legal department, this body will use all means at its disposal to obtain a compensation for the time spent in prison by this innocent man. While Savo Matic was in prison, his house was burned and destroyed and he has lost all of his property.
"Currently, 34 Serbs and 2 Muslim [Slavs] who have expressed wish to be defended by our lawyers are kept in prisons in Kosovo. Next week we shall have precise data regarding how many of them are victims of staged political and nationalist trials, and how many are charged with crimes. So far we have been very successful and secured six acquittals, seven releases from custody for our defendants, while in eight cases the Supreme Court of Kosovo annulled verdicts in favor of our defendants," Vladimir Bozovic said.
by Velimir CURGUS KAZIMIR
I would be very grateful is the Hague became irrelevant. There were two ways to achieve that. The first one was that the U.N. Security Council overnight abolish the tribunal; the second one was that after October 5, 2000, courts in Serbia initiated serious and just trials of all those who committed war crimes, as well as "ordinary" crimes. Both for crimes committed in Yugoslavia and elsewhere. Of course, provided the suspects were in Yugoslavia.
As we all know, the U.N. Security Council did not abolish the Hague tribunal nor does it intend to do so in the near future; here not a single serious war crimes trial has been initiated. Even the discovery of mass graves, one only about ten kilometers from Belgrade, failed to jolt the judiciary from its morbid apathy.
All those who today so loudly question the legitimacy and fairness of the Hague tribunal would have to be prepared to answer one essential question: why was it impossible to organize war crimes trials in Yugoslavia? The answer, of course, has very little to do with law. The critics of the Hague tribunal all claim that "we" did not commit crimes and that all that happened was exclusively the product of war and tragic circumstances. There was no planning, no consciously planned expulsion, individual or mass murders, robbery, torture... Such acts would be "unnatural" for "us". However, they are definitely "natural" for "them".
The denial and rejection of existence of horrible crimes committed by "our" side is so strong that the recently discovered mass graves are denounced as some sort of global conspiracy. I don't find it surprising when those who participated in those acts or silently stood by while they took place spread such stories. However, it is surprising to hear similar assertions from some representatives of the new political elite.
I found it especially surprising that even after the admission of Slobodan Milosevic personally that "Srebernica really happened" there were no public comments by either his supporters or his opponents. Namely, Milosevic stated that as soon as he heard about Srebrenica he called Karadzic and Krajisnik who were also "surprised". Although General Mladic's name was not mentioned, it is obvious that his responsibility for the tragedy of Srebrenica was implied. Therefore, Milosevic does not deny that "Srebrenica incident" did happen, he merely denies his responsibility for it. However, in Serbia there still seem to be quite a few individuals prepared to assert that Srebrenica is also another media lie.
For example, lets consider something much more serious, something that took place in our own country - the abduction in Strpci. A marathon trial is still going on in Bijelo Polje, without much hope that the true culprits will ever be identified. The chief executor, Milan Lukic, also indicted by the Hague tribunal, was at one time arrested in Serbia and released from custody after a few months. Now he is hiding somewhere between Serbia and the Republic of Srpska (I am not sure whether special relations between FR Yugoslavia and the Republic of Srpska also imply arrest and extradition of Milan Lukic to the Serbian judiciary). However, that abduction in Strpci was not organized by some bandits from the Republic of Srpska. All evidence indicates that the abduction was planned and organized in Belgrade, as a part of a criminal plan to intimidate Muslims living in Serbia, especially in Sandzak.
The Hague tribunal is definitely not our problem. Our problem cannot be solved at any particular spot. Our problem is facing the past.
The Hague tribunal, of course, cannot solve that problem. In my opinion, that is its biggest limitation. But, objectively speaking, the Hague tribunal was not founded with that goal in mind. The Nuremberg tribunal was not set up to force the Germans to face their past. That encounter came many years later, after the Eichmann trial, most intensively during the student demonstrations in 1968. Only then new generations of Germans struck their parents with cruel questions: "What did you do in the war?" and "Did you know about concentration camps?"
I do not intend to draw any historical analogy between Nazi Germany and Milosevic's Serbia, between Germans and Serbs. Those analogies are not only superficial, but also unjust because they underestimate and minimize the fates and suffering of millions of Jews, Roma, Russians... under the Nazi occupation. However, when we discuss facing the past we must be aware that some mechanisms are universal. Above all, I am talking about the mass denial and refusal to acknowledge that crimes did take place. That took place in Latin America, in Eastern Europe, in Greece... Everywhere where dictatorial regimes committed crimes against their own citizens or in the neighborhood, we could witness the defense mechanism of denial and rejection.
The war is an especially convenient excuse. In war all sides commit crimes, so that it is a great excuse to make everything relative. Milosevic's defense, which has its fans here, is nothing else but total denial and an attempt to make things relative. The logic that crimes of one side justify crimes of other side is nothing new and exceptional. That logic has been almost a sort of mantra in the former Yugoslavia. As long as it dominates, I fear that there is no chance of a serious encounter with the past.
What happened in South Africa is an exception. There members of the Truth Commission, victims and criminals all cried during public testimonies. I do not see how that could happen in the former Yugoslavia. That is why the Hague tribunal is not only a political and state necessity, but also a reminder that, if we want to take the future in our own hands, we must above all find courage to face our own past. Without that there can be no peace or future for this country.