Saturday, March 05, 2011

Serbia: It's Time To Issue A Warrant For The Truth

RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

In Serbia, It's Time To Issue A Warrant For The Truth

By Nenad Pejic

On March 3 news broke that retired Bosnian Army General Jovan Divjak had been arrested in Vienna by Austrian police acting on an Interpol warrant issued by Serbia.

The general is accused of involvement in an incident that happened on Dobrovoljacka Street in Sarajevo on May 3, 1992. Gunfire began as Yugoslav Army units were withdrawing from the city. Serbian officials say as many as 40 soldiers died, while Bosnia says 4 soldiers were killed.

General Divjak was at the time the deputy commander of the Bosnian Territorial Defense and had remained in Sarajevo. An ethnic Serb, he was one of the most popular people in Bosnia and widely regarded as a deeply principled man.

Concerted Policy

Divjak's arrest is not an isolated incident but part of a concerted policy by Belgrade.

On March 1, 2010, British authorities arrested Ejub Ganic, a former member of the Bosnian Presidency. They were acting on the same sort of Serbian arrest warrant for alleged crimes committed during the Dobrovoljacka Street incident.

Later that year in July, a British court released Ganic and ruled that no evidence against him had been provided and the Serbian warrant was politically motivated.

In 2007, Serbia issued a warrant for Ilija Jurisic, a Bosnian Army officer accused of war crimes allegedly committed during the withdrawal of Yugoslav Army units from Tuzla. A court in Serbia convicted Jurisic of improper battlefield conduct and sentenced him to 12 years in prison. In October 2010, a Serbian appeals court overturned the conviction, released Jurisic from detention, and ordered a new trial

On the same day that Divjak was arrested in Vienna -- March 3, 2011 -- a Serbian warrant for former Croatian soldier Tihomir Purda, who was accused of involvement in war crimes in Vukovar, was annulled by Serbian war crimes prosecutors. After speaking with 44 witnesses, officials found no evidence that Purda committed a crime. Purda, who had been arrested in Bosnia in January on a similar Serbian warrant, was immediately released.

Who's Next On The List?

So who will be arrested next? All the members of the war-time Bosnian Presidency? Any officer who can be shown to have been in Sarajevo or who defended Bosnia-Herzegovina during the war?

Or will we see the arrests of those officials in Serbia who time and again produce false warrants based on nonexistent or falsified evidence? Hardly.

Nobody in Serbia spoke up when the British court declared the Ganic warrant was politically motivated. There was no probe into who prepared the falsified warrant or manufactured the falsified evidence. Nobody investigated who provided Serbian media with faked television footage. No politician suffered for supporting the production of the politically motivated warrant.

In the case of Jurisic, no one was punished for bringing an inadequate case to court and no one paid for the fact that Jurisic spent three long years in Serbian prisons.

Likewise, no one is asking who issued the warrant against Purda. Deputy prosecutor Bruno Vekaric told RFE/RL on March 3 that the case "was poorly prepared." No one has investigated or responded to charges that Purda was tortured while in a Serbian detention camp. In fact, Serbian officials do not admit the camp exists.

Standing behind all these cases are figures in Serbia's security organs, police, and military who are backed by far-right political forces. Many of these people were involved in preparing the Balkans wars, starting those wars, and losing them. They provided cover for Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic. They continue to hide Bosnian Serb military leader and accused war criminal Ratko Mladic.

They organized the 2003 assassination of moderate Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindic.

Under pressure from these forces, Serbian courts curtail investigations into war-crimes allegations against Serbs. Public opinion in Serbia continues to blame political leaders for losing the Balkans wars, not for starting them.

Despite having all these cases dismissed one after another -- and the case against Divjak will surely be dismissed as well -- the rightists have achieved their goal.

Serbian media covered all the arrests with patriotic jingoism, and ethnic tensions across the Balkans were inflamed. Divisions were deepened. Tolerance suffered another setback. The soil was prepared for future conflicts or partitions. And pro-Western forces in Serbia have been sent a strong message about the power of the far right. They are still fighting a war that has been lost.

Nenad Pejic is an associate director of broadcasting at RFE/RL. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL