Our Priorities

It is easier to breathe in Serbia now. I recently saw a policeman beating a hasty retreat down the street, running as if his life was at stake. The young man he was running from explained to bypassers that he had done nothing to the policeman, merely asked how come he felt free to walk around in public. People laughed and said, “Right, we’ll show them we are the boss now.”

Our priority is civilian oversight of the police. We must know first of all what kind of police forces exist. Who are the “Red Berets” or Frankie’s Men”, the Legion, the Special Anti-terrorist Units, the Secret Police, the Federal Police Brigade, the Special Police Units, the convicts working for the police, the VII Battalion of the Yugoslav Army, Captain Dragan, the thugs, the special units under the control of the ex-president of Yugoslavia, and the special units under the control of some in the new goverment. The names of several of these formations can be found in the indictments of the International Tribunal at The Hague.

“Our thanks to the generals” and “the Army stayed neutral,” words uttered by FR Yugoslavia President Vojislav Kostunica, are not echoed in Serbia or Montenegro. Yugoslav Army officers remain silent, afraid of being accused of revealing official secrets if they speak out. But it is only a matter of days before documentation is brought to light to show how the general heeded the Constitution and the right of every individual, including officers and civilians in Army employ, to vote as they choose.

Our priority is a professional Army, not generals who formed paramilitary units such as the VII Battalion in Montenegro. We must know about and see the document designated POV No. 1037-1 of 31 August 2000 and signed by General Milen Simic, over 1000 copies of which were sent by the Information and Morale Division to military units around the country. The document includes an analysis of the political situation entitled “Theses for Information Regarding the Federal Parliamentary and Presidential Elections” under which stands the signature of General Ojdanic, the Federal Minister of National Defense. After explaining in detail who “persons in NATO pay” and “terrorists” are, General Ojdanic orders Yugoslav Army officers to vote for Slobodan Milosevic. On 3 October, just before the announced second round of the presidential election, the Federal Ministry of Defense issued an order for all military personnel to cast their ballots by 9 a.m. at the latest.

The entire world is now looking to us, coddling us, taking care not to irritate us, cunningly holding us back from considering difficult issues such as the extradition of war crimes suspects. Our president Vojislav Kostunica says, “I won’t hand over Milosevic; our priority is democracy,” and the world replies, “Never mind, there’s no hurry.” Nationalist hardliners in the new government tell foreign diplomats that war crimes trials are a “sensitive issue, one that would divide the nation.” And the supposedly free, “liberated” media, fearing no censure or rebukes, continue writing about the glorious Yugoslav Army and Serbian police who “prevented the occupation of the country.”

Our priority is reintegration in the international community. The road leads through the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, organizations from which we were thrown out as a country which failed to meet any of its obligations. Our reintegration depends on the new government, on its readiness to comply with international obligations and standards. There can be no integration in Europe and the world without cooperation with the bodies of the United Nations, of which The Hague Tribunal is one. In a month or two, those who applaud and praise us now as victors will have no understanding for our “sensitivity” about the crimes committed by the Serbian police, Yugoslav Army, paramilitary groups and common criminals. Montenegro has been cooperating with the Tribunal since 1997, and has delivered to the Tribunal’s Prosecutor documentation on the deportation of Muslim refugees in August 1992. Montenegro is not a safe haven for our “war heroes.” The “veterans” and “dogs of war” there will very soon start fleeing to the safe haven of Serbia. Serbia will be a safe place not only for Slobodan Milosevic, Nikola Sainovic, Milan Milutinovic, Dragoljub Ojdanic and Vlajko Stojiljkovic – all of whom have been indicted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide – but also for thousands of others who carried out orders and committed atrocities against ethnic communities in neighboring countries.

We have been at war with all our neighbors. We left their countries devasted and increased the population of our own with thousands upon thousands of refugees, displaced and returning combatants. The last in this long series, the Kosovo Serbs, believe it is only a matter of time before they, the Army and police return to Kosovo and finish with the ethnic Albanians. Because of the evil in us, we cannot take even one small step to bring us closer to our neighbors. Hence the outcry against non-governmental organizations calling for the release of ethnic Albanian political prisoners. The new government and the Kosovo Serbs say that their release must be made conditional on the release of “abducted Serbs” from Albanian and UNMIK prisons in Kosovo.

It would be in the best interests of the Kosovo Serbs for President Kostunica and the new government to agree as soon as possible to meet with and to cooperate with the international administration in Kosovo. This too is a priority. For this is the only way to deal effectively with the issue of missing persons. There are missing on both sides: about 2,500 Albanians who disappeared during the state of war, and about 1,000 Serbs, Montenegrins, Bosniacs and Roma who disappeared after the deployment of KFOR in Kosovo. Their fate cannot be clarified unless a special process for missing persons is established. The question of prisoners is easier. Some 850 Albanians are still in prisons in Serbia. About 1,250 Albanians were released by the Serbian authorities from late June last year to 1 October this year. There is not a single reason why the remaining 850 should not be released too. They cannot be held as hostages. Among them are only two who are accused of murdering Serb civilians. Some 200 are serving terms for ordinary crimes, and 650 are political prisoners. The some 60 Serbs in prisons in Kosovo are accused of war crimes or ethnically motivated murders and the majority have been awaiting trial for a year or longer.

International judges but no Serb judges sit on the benches of courts in Kosovo. Clarification of the fate of missing persons is a difficult process. It cannot be carried out unless the Serbian authorities and UNMIK cooperate with the International Tribunal. It seems therefore that the road from both Kosovo and Serbia leads to the Tribunal. Where the Tribunal is based – in Rwanda, The Hague, Belgrade, Zagreb, Sarajevo or Pristina – is irrelevant.

Natasa Kandic