by Julian Borger on 25 Jun 2012 | Comments
Prosecutors say collusion included army, police and Orthodox church but resistance likely as many reject guilt over atrocities
War crimes prosecutors in Belgrade say they are about to expose the role played by the Serbian elite in harbouring war criminals such as Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, but their efforts to press charges are likely
to meet stiff resistance in a country veering back to the right.
The prosecutors say they will bring charges against “well-known” Serbs for harbouring war crimes suspects sought by The Hague tribunal following an extensive investigation into the army, the police, the secret service and the Orthodox church.
But in a nation still wavering between a sense of guilt and victimhood 13 years after the last of the Balkan wars, sceptics doubt they will pursue the top reaches of institutions at the heart of the Serbian establishment.
Doubts have multiplied after the presidential election last month of Tomislav Nikolic, who was once a top official in the Serbian Radical party of Vojislav Seselj who is now on trial in The Hague for atrocities. The prosecutors concede they are uncertain about how or whether the change in political tide will affect their work.
“We have already identified and reconstructed the means by which they supported the fugitives. We have traced their movements. We have identified 11 flats in Belgrade where the fugitives were hidden, so soon we will come out with details on how the network operated.
“Very soon we will prosecute all those who gave them refuge,” the chief war crimes prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, said at his Belgrade office. “That will happen soon because we have all the information we need.”
Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb wartime leader now on trial for genocide at The Hague war crimes tribunal, evaded capture until 2008, when he was found posing as a new-age healer in Belgrade.
He is believed to have had help forging a new identity from Serbian intelligence officers, and his arrest came only two weeks after a change of leadership at the top of the BIA, the secret service, brought in a more reformist generation of spies.
Vukcevic said that Karadzic was recognised in the spring of 2008 as he peddled alternative therapies among the socialist-era apartment blocks of New Belgrade. His identity was definitively confirmed by surreptitiously collected DNA, though Vukcevic would not say how it was obtained.
Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military leader whose trial for the Bosnian genocide began last month in The Hague, lived openly for years in Serbian army barracks with the connivance of sympathetic senior officers.
The last fugitive to be apprehended, Goran Hadzic, who was caught last year, is believed to have had help from the Serbian Orthodox church, and spent some time in Russia.
There is evidence that Karadzic, too, was hiding for some time in an Orthodox monastery during his 12 years on the run, and war crimes investigators have looked into the possible uses of church finances for hiding fugitives.
Vukcevic would not comment on whether the church would feature in his forthcoming report, or for that matter whether priests would find themselves in court.
The support networks are so deeply implanted into Serbia’s most powerful institutions that some question whether Vukcevic will go after their ringleaders.
“He can’t do it. He doesn’t want to do it,” said Srdja Popovic, a leading Belgrade human rights lawyer. “The whole question of war crimes involves the whole society. Everybody deep down feels guilty.
“Slobodan Milosevic [the Yugoslav president who masterminded the ethnic cleansing] won three elections here. Now there is a new kind of nationalism, a defensiveness in which the man in the street likes to see Serbs as victims. You can’t wake up someone who is just pretending to be asleep.”
Nikolic’s predecessor in the presidency, Boris Tadic, oversaw the arrest and rendition of all the Serb war crimes suspects still on The Hague tribunal’s list, and in return won candidate EU membership status for Serbia but the reward was not enough to keep him in office.
It was widespread disillusion with graft and cronyism more than co-operation with The Hague that brought Tadic down. Nikolic only emerged as a viable alternative by distancing himself from his former ultra-nationalist party, the Serbian Radical party, and their warlord leader, Vojislav Seselj, now on trial in The Hague for wartime atrocities.
But nevertheless the political transition reflected a wider backlash against the national mood of collective guilt and self-examination that originally helped Tadic into office in 2004.
Under pressure from the right, Tadic presided over efforts to rehabilitate Draza Mihailovic, the second world war leader of the Chetniks, a far-right militia responsible for countless atrocities, principally against Bosnian Muslims.
Tadic himself was close to Milorad Dodik, the current separatist leader of Bosnia’s Serbs, and a coalition ally of the Socialist leader, Ivica Dacic, who was once Milosevic’s spokesman.
Nikolic has gone even further, however, in repudiating Serb guilt. Despite advice from a coterie of western consultants, including former US and French diplomats, his rhetoric has outraged Brussels and its neighbours.
For the rest of the article including a timeline, follow the link.
Source: The Guardian (UK)