The good past and the bad past: Two Belgrade exhibits

A family tree

A family tree

Picturing the past

Picturing the past

Belgrade is hosting two very different exhibits these days, just a few meters apart: The exhibition Bogujevci—A Virtual History was opened with much public attention, it was less the few protesters who opposed the exhibit, but rather the visit of Ivica Dačić. Even now, a few policemen in front of the exhibit and out on the street keep a watchful eye. Otherwise, there is a steady trickle of visitors… just down the road another exhibit just opened, called Živeo život, a second exhibition about “what we lost and brought with us from Jugo”. Here, unsurprisingly, a much larger number of visitors listens to Yu-Music, marvels at sports stars of Yugoslavia or looks through the Yugoslav supermarket.

A painful reminder of the past

A nostalgic couch

A nostalgic couch

Both exhibits give a central place to a living room, complete with couches, TV, dark brown wall unit and kitschy decoration. In both, they are reminders of the past. The first represents the home of the Bogujevci family in Podujevo before most family members were killed in 1999, the second is generic living room of Yugoslavia. Both exhibits try to take historic events out of the larger political narrative of grand events and big politics to a personal level–literally into the living rooms. The exhibit about the Bogujevci family is neither pathetic, nor does it provides for a grand narrative of the wars. It simply shows the consequence of a war crime on a family and the very personal efforts of the family to see some of the perpetrators punished. The exhibit is testament to their effort to remind the public of the crimes. The “Live your life” exhibit instead offers an escape from the present. It puts the red Yugoslav passport into a golden frame, and presents the glories of Yugoslav life and consumerism with little irony or critical narrative.

For visitors, this is the opportunity to put on the pioneers’ cap and scarf, step on a vespa and listen to Yu-music. There is no mention of the inflation, the shortages, poverty, or the absurdities of the political system. Where the House of Terror in Budapest and similar exhibits  try to paint a picture of Communism as a period of pure horror, this exhibit does the opposite by mixing personal nostalgia with the memories of a country gone by. These two exhibits shed two very different perspectives on the past and how large events effected everyday life.

Red passport--golden frame

The Strange Verdict of the General with a Checkered Past

Back when they got along: Perišić and Milošević

Momčilo Perišić is the latest of a series of high ranking inmates at the ICTY that have been freed by the court. The last time I recall him being released was from his duties as Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister in the first DOS government of Zoran Djindjić. He had to resign after he was caught meeting a US embassy official at Motel šaric outside Belgrade in what looked a lot like a conspiratorial meeting. While the “spy” affair never was fully cleared up, it seems that Perišić tried to pass on incriminating documents against Milošević. It also served as ammunition for Vojislav Koštunica and his loyal army chief Pavković against Djindjić. Perišić broke with Milošević in 1998 over Kosovo, but already met student protestors in 1996-7 to assure them tanks would not be used. After his break with Milošević he created his “Movement for a Democratic Serbia” and joined DOS. However, his movement was never more than a personal vehicle and once he was arrested and then dismissed as Deputy Prime Minister, he movement and political engagement came to end. It is thus ironic when a comment for Sense notes that “Momcilo Perisic was the only senior official from Serbia and FR Yugoslavia convicted by the Tribunal and sentenced for crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Slobodan Milosevic was charged with the same crimes, and the judgment can be considered as Milosevic’s posthumous acquittal for Sarajevo and Srebrenica.”

The latest judgment is troubling in challenging a number of key findings of a number of earlier rulings of the ICTY about the linkages between the army of the RS (VRS) and the Yugoslav army. The key argument of the judgement is that the concept of “aiding and abetting” is only applicable, if it was directed towards committing crimes and it does not suffice if assistance was used to commit crimes. The understanding o the appeals chamber of the VRS leads to rather odd conclusions “Appeals Chamber agrees with the Trial Chamber that the VRS was not an organisation whose actions were criminal per se; instead, it was an army fighting a war. The Appeals Chamber notes the Trial Chamber’s finding that the VRS’s strategy was “inextricably linked to” crimes against civilians. However, the Trial Chamber did not find that all VRS activities in Sarajevo or Srebrenica were criminal in nature.” (para. 53).” This is reiterated later on: “VRS was participating in lawful combat activities and was not a purely criminal organisation.” This assessment is highly problematic. First, the purpose of the VRS seems hard to reconcile with lawful combat activities, second arguing that not all activities were criminal is about as convincing as stating that the Mafia is not only involved in criminal activities and thus supporting it does not mean that one is “aiding and abetting” criminal activities. I agree with the dissenting opinion of judge Liu who argued that “to insist on such a requirement [of a specific direction] now effectively raises the threshold for aiding and abetting liability. This shift risks undermining the very purpose of aiding and abetting liability by allowing those responsible for knowingly facilitating the most grievous crimes to evade responsibility for their acts.” (para.3). Liu also challenges the idea that even if the Trial Chamber did not consider the VRS a criminal organisation, it was found to have conducted “systematic criminal actions against Bosnian Muslim civilians” (para.4) and that Perišić know about the crimes committed by the VRS (as in fact anybody reading a good newspaper at the time did) (para. 8).

In brief, the decision suggest that you can provide crucial support including weapons to an organization conducting a war that committed “systematic criminal actions” and get free because you did not direct them specifically to commit these crimes.  Although the judges note (para. 72) that “that this conclusion should in no way be interpreted as enabling military leaders to deflect criminal liability by subcontracting the commission of criminal acts. If an ostensibly independent military group is proved to be under the control of officers in another military group, the latter can still be held responsible for crimes committed by their puppet forces,” it seems to have become a lot easier to do just that.

“Mixed Meat” or a lesson in national purity in Republika Srpska

One comes across a lot of bad, hateful and nationalist texts when reading newspapers in former Yugoslavia, but a recent column in the Daily Glas Srpske (Voice of Srpska) called “Mixed Meat” (Miješano meso) stands out as a highlight to which lows of hate speech the public discourse in the RS has sunk.  The columnist Nikola Pejaković describes in great detail his opposition to mixed marriages, marriages between individuals of different national or religious background, and suggests that they are essentially a expression of communism, to be precise: “a Yugo-melting pot with the goal or creating a Yugoslav nation, atheist and based on the teachings of Marx, Engels, Stalin and local šalabajzer” (an untranslatable term standing for something like a simpleton).

He accuses particularly Serbs for having given up their god and been to willing to enter mixed marriages and points out “the experience of the past war has demonstrated that mixed marriages have resulted in many problems for these people and their families. Thus we should no longer beat around the bush. Ok, love happens, but when it happens… But where to marry? In whose church? Or again in the municipality, like the marriage is a municipal matter, a building permit.”

In the end the columnist concludes that “in my humble opinion marriages that remain mixed (sic!), where one doesn’t know who is the man and who the woman, neither to which god the children should pray, where for the sake of peace at home they celebrate neither Easter or Bajram—are just a misfortune for the lover and for their children.”

Of course such a language is nothing new to Glas Srpske, which was owned by the Republika Srpska government until a few years ago when it was sold to Željko Kopanja who used to be considered a critical and daring journalist in the RS.

While the hate speech of the war and immediate post-war period has declined it remained loyal to nationalist rhetoric of SNSD. Amidst glorifying the RS and the war, downplaying war crimes committed, the suggestion that “mixed marriages” stands out as particular offensive. The fake care for children from mixed marriages cannot hide the fascist (and I do not like to use this word) assumption: nations should marry among themselves, some kind of national purity would thus be maintained expressed through religiousness and worship of the imagined ancestors of the nation.

Not only does the author clearly oppose mixed marriages to be concluded, but also against the ones that already exist. Ironically, the authors claims that “Excuse all those who are in mixed marriages or from mixed marriages. This is not against them, but against the communists and their pro-Nazi plans, playing with people-nations and genetics, against their experiments which cost us 60 year standing in place ….” (of course there were mixed marriages before Communism and after)

Of course, it is the author who is promoting ideas of national purity which is a lot closer to the terms he accuses the communists of. The fact that such ideas which present the legal relationship between two individuals of different national or religious backgrounds communist and undesirable in 2012 in a European daily is hard to fathom, especially for a newspaper published in Banja Luka where Radoslav Brdjanin said 20 years ago about children from mixed marriages “We shall throw them into the Vrbas and those who swim out are certainly Serbs.”

Arresting the wrong general

Dobrovoljacka

The arrest of Jovan Divjak is an embarassement. After Ganic’s arrest last year in London, the arrest of General Divjak  in Vienna on a Serbian arrest warrent undermines Serbia’s credibility. Serbia’s request to have Ganic extradicted for the “Dobrovoljacka case” was thrown out by a London court with the explanaition that “proceedings are brought and are being used for political purposes, and as such amount to the abuse of process of this court.” There is not much to add to the arrest of Divjak. It is not without irony that his role during the Dobrovoljacka case is well documented: He is shown during the incident in the BBC documentary The Death of Yugoslavia trying to convince the ragtag group of Bosnian territorial defense forces  to stop shooting. Clearly they ignored him and an unidentified soldiers tells him to f*** off (see documentary, 44 min, hat tip to Ivana) Hardly the stuff war criminals are made of.

As with last years’ case, it is also entirely unclear on which grounds Serbia claims jurisdiction over the case. The arrest of Divjak is even more ironic. Not only does he come from a Serb family, opting to defend Bosnia and standing for a multiethnic society, he has remained moderate and without bitterness after the war. While he was retired after the war because a Serb general no longer fit into the ethnic categories imposed at Dayton, he once told me that he was grateful to have more time to work on humanitarian projects.

Pursuing this case is doing Serbia and the domestic war crimes chamber a great disservice. It undermines the credibility of the Serbian war crimes chamber and other European countries might have to start thinking twice as to whether to executed Serbian arrest warrants.

After there has been much progress in recent months in terms of judicial cooperation in the region, preventing criminals seeking refugee across the border through mutual extradition agreements, Divjak’s arrest constitutes a major blow to these efforts. It has also helped to fuel tensions in Bosnia as Dodik has immediately seized on the arrest and stating that “this should have happend a long time ago. The crimes committed by Divjak and others Dobrovoljačka in Sarajevo are obvious.”

In order to help to clear up this case once and for all, it would be good for the Bosnian war crimes chamber to seriously investigate the case. It began a parallel investigation with Serbian authorities, but it needs to ensure that it does not appear to be a non-investigation. Instead it will need to clarify the number of victims which remains contested, the exact events and those responsible. I strongly doubt that Jovan Divjak would find himself on such a list, but it will need to be a Bosnian court to determine this.

 

 

Srebrenica typo

If you thought that the Department of Records in Brazil mistyping “Buttle” instead of “Tuttle” was one of the worst historic bureaucratic blunders, you’re wrong.
In a court case in the Netherlands in which survivors sue the UN and the Netherlands over the genocide in Srebrenica, the UN noted that “its office in Sarajevo refused air support in Srebrenica because the Dutch commander there failed to fill the request form correctly.”

Did they cross in the wrong box (please support us with UN navy maritime support) or did they wrongly identify what happened in the form (calling it mass murder prior to an independent UN confirmation based on an extended fact finding mission) or where some signatures missing (of the victims/perpetrators confirming events) ? I’m curious.

Chirping about evidence


When crickets become evidence… Jutarnji List reports that some have questioned the recently released recording of the meeting in Brijoni of Tudjman and the army to plan operation Oluja in 1995. According to the report there is no sound of crickets when Tudjman talks about the expulsion of Serbs, unlike elsewhere on the recording. In its comprehensive reporting, it also shares some information on crickets: they only chirp when its warmer than 25 degrees (in fact you can calculate the temperature by the frequency of the chirps) and they don’t chirp when they are in danger or they rest.
So if there was no chirping during during these statements, I would propose several alternative theories to that of a doctored tape: a) the crickets were exhausted and took a quick break; b) they thought they would be expelled next and as noted above, crickets in danger don’t chirp or c) there was an unexpected drop in temperature (a certain chill in the air so to speak) or d) they just didn’t want to be on the soundtrack to such a project…

Veljko in Florida?

Where’s Veljko?

A few years ago when looking to rent a flat in Belgrade, we nearly rented from Veljko Kadijevic daughter-in-law. She shared her outrage with us that he was wrongly maligned as the last minister of defense of Yugoslavia. Apparently the USA agrees.
As Blic reports, he is living in Florida, advising the Pentagon in Iraqi bunkers these days. Wasn’t that the same Kadijevic who was raving about the ‘foreign factors’ destroying Yugoslavia …

Don’t cry for me Serbia…

On Saturday, I stopped by the ‘meeting’ to commemorate the death of Miloesvic in front of the Parliament of Serbia and Montenegro. Although the numbers were impressive (80,000 according to police, 500,000 according to SPS), the gathering was pretty pathetic. The atmosphere was too pathetic for a meeting or protest, and too angry for a funeral.
Particularly striking were the women who cried at the manifestation for Milosevic’s funeral not for Slobo, but for themselves. They cried over their own misery and poverty. The tragedy lies in the fact that they do not realize that the one they are formally crying for is the one mostly responsible for their misery.

Needle in the haystack

I guess that Minister of Defense of SCG Zoran Stankovic took the metophor of parallels between finding Mladic and finding a needle in a hay stack a bit too literally.

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