Natasa Kandic: Military Leaders attempt to Check Democracy in Serbia

The Ljubisa Dikovic File, which the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) published on January 23, 2012, has re-opened the issue of war crimes in Serbia. War crimes became a public topic in Serbia after Slobodan Milosevic’s arrest and extradition to the Hague Tribunal. In order to justify its decision to hand Milosevic over to an ‘anti-Serb’ court, the then new government revealed the existence of mass graves in the police training field in Batajnica near Belgrade. There was no public debate about this issue – instead, the official explanation about Milosevic’s extradition being the condition for international loans was insistently reiterated. A video recording of the execution of six Muslims, first revealed the by the HLC in June 2005, caused a strong emotional reaction among ordinary people in Serbia, who sided with the victims and against the perpetrators who came from ‘their own national community’. The government hastened to explain that the crime had been committed by an isolated group of criminals, who would be tried, and that Serbian state institutions had nothing to do with the crime itself. And this is when we missed the opportunity to broach the question of our own responsibility, to start thinking in a new way, and to build a new attitude toward the victims from the ‘other side’.

The arrest and extradition to The Hague of a number of Serbian generals and senior civil officials, as well as the most wanted fugitives, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, have been carried out under severe pressure from the international community. However, neither the arrests of Serbian generals, nor the ICTY judgments, have disturbed the political elite in Serbia or encouraged them to question openly what happened during the Kosovo war, which led to The Hague Tribunal sentencing almost the complete civil, military and police leadership of Serbia.


However, the recently published File of Ljubisa Dikovic has set in motion public discussion about war crimes. It is important to note that all those who rose in defense of General Dikovic acknowledged that horrible crimes had been committed in Kosovo by the police and the army. It turns out that Dikovic’s lawyers know about the ruthless looting of Albanian property as well. This was the first time that no one denied the crimes or equated the responsibility of all sides in the conflict. This remarkable progress was obtained by our opening of the question of whether an officer who constitutes a part of the heavy baggage of the past may be or should be in charge of the Serbian Army.


But the linking of concrete war crimes with the new Chief of General Staff of Serbia, has been assessed as an attack on the state and civil institutions of the Republic of Serbia. The debate, unfortunately, went in the wrong direction. Instead of discussions about war crimes in the municipality of Glogovac and Srbica, participation and accountability of the officers of the 37th Motorized Brigade (mtbr.) of the Yugoslav Army (VJ), and links to the Joint Command for Kosovo, the head of which was sentenced to prison by the Hague Tribunal, it turned out that Zoran Djindjic’s closest associates have, in fact, great respect for Milosevic’s generals, their war experience, and that they see the war in Kosovo in the same way as the generals. Hence the charge that the Dikovic File represents an attack on the state, the army and state institutions, that the HLC was connected to the “so-called” independent state of Kosovo, and that the File should, in the end, finally break Serbia’s resistance and make it accept EU’s solution about Kosovo.


The most vocal supporters of the life and work of General Dikovic are Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac, and War Crimes Prosecutors, Vladimir Vukcevic and Bruno Vekaric.


The Minister responded hastily, it seems he didn’t quite know what he was saying. He urged the judicial authorities to immediately react, to defend the state and the army, warning that this case would be a test of democracy in Serbia.


He declared the Ljubisa Dikovic File to be false, and tried to persuade all of us that there existed only one file – the official, personal file of Ljubisa Dikovic, stored at the Ministry of Defense, while everything anyone else decided to call a file was peddling falsehoods. Minister Sutanovac claimed that the HLC had released a “fixed” file because it stated that during the Kosovo war, Ljubisa Dikovic took personal possession of two expensive vehicles – as if it is unheard of that officers “borrow” cars during wars, claiming military necessity. Minister Sutanovac laughed when he commented on the HLC’s statement from the File that the former commander of the 37th Motorized Brigade had transported thousands of cattle, sheep and pigs from Kosovo to Serbia. It is an indisputable fact that after the withdrawal of the Serbian army and police from Kosovo, there was no livestock in Kosovo, except for an occasional carcass in a field. HLC’s witnesses claim that expropriated livestock was transported by truck to Raska and Novi Pazar, where it was sold to farmers, retailers and butchers. For more details about the way cattle was stolen in Kosovo, Sutanovac should turn to the officers and soldiers of the former 37th mtbr. instead of threatening lawsuits and democracy-checks.


In the Tribunal’s database, we did not find any information about Dikovic’s training in 1994 and 1995. In the journal Vojska (The Military), however, we found that in 1994, while serving as the commander of the 16th Border Battalion, Dikovic was awarded the rank of Major for his defense of the homeland from the Muslims in Skelani, Srebrenica and Bratunac. Minister Sutanovac has reiterated on numerous occasions that general Dikovic was not present at the locations specified by the HLC. Interestingly, however, the Minister never referred to the facts about the victims found in the zone of responsibility of the 37th mtbr. or to the evidence demonstrating that the units of that brigade were located at point 692 on March 27th 1999, around 3.00 pm, precisely at the place and time when 22 Albanian men were shot dead.


Recently, Minister Sutanovac has been fighting hard for his general. He acted as if he would burst into the HLC premises at any moment, accompanied by the ‘Cobras’, and personally take us all to court, so that he could ‘check’ the standards of democracy in Serbia. In the office of the War Crimes Prosecutor, Sutanovac found his political allies. He welcomed the quick response of the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office which, “with just two simple clicks on the computer,” established that there was no basis for allegations of criminal responsibility against General Dikovic. Within the limits of its professional capabilities, the War Crimes Prosecution Service attempted to document the innocence of General Dikovic. They invoked The Hague Tribunal, saying that the court would have initiated the proceedings against General Dikovic had there been any proof of his responsibility for war crimes. Hence, Dikovic is innocent, ruled Vladimir Vukcevic, and it seems that he was told to say that. The War Crimes Prosecution Service ignored the fact that, according to the UN Resolution, the mandate of the Hague Tribunal is to prosecute the leaders, and that national prosecutors are to initiate the proceedings against the middle and lower-ranking military and police officers. This means that the Hague tribunal is not authorized to say whether Dikovic innocent or not – the general was not indicted, simply because he did not belong to the military leadership when the crimes were committed, nor was he a member of the Joint Command for Kosovo and Metohija. The Prosecution then cited the statements of 120 witnesses, including 10 Kosovo Albanians, who mentioned Dikovic as having rescued three Roma children in Pusto Selo in Kosovo. This act of charity would hardly pass for a heroic deed when stacked against the fact that in the area of responsibility of Dikovic’s 37th mtbr. in the period between March 27 and May 1, 1999, as many as 250 Albanian civilians were killed.


General Dikovic himself assessed that “such allegations [publication of the File] only deepen the hatred in the region of the former Yugoslavia” and concluded: “It is in someone’s interest, it seems, that the wounds suffered early in the conflict never heal, but remain instead a constant source of instability and someone’s profit.” Dikovic proposes that we forget, that we never mention the dead, and especially that we never mention those who responsible for their deaths. He doesn’t seem to understand that he himself is part of a heavy legacy of our past, the legacy that we, the state, and army, the police, and general Dikovic himself must face and deal with. Otherwise, the hatred will remain and generate new crimes. If he really wants to contribute to preventing the recurrence of crimes, Dikovic now has an opportunity to speak out about what happened in Kosovo.


It is not the first time that the HLC and I are ‘on the agenda’ of various ministers and the Chief of General Staff. In August 2000, the General Staff of the Army of Yugoslavia, headed then by Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic, later convicted and sentenced to prison by the Hague Tribunal, filed criminal charges against me for speaking publicly about what the army had done in Kosovo. I wrote then about the shooting of about 100 men in the village of Izbica, about the young soldiers I saw on my way to Albania, and about a column of Kosovo Albanian refugees passing by us. Some young men approached the women with children, offering cans of food, and told them they were not guilty, and that they had not volunteered to come to Kosovo.

During my only meeting with Minister Sutanovac, in 2009, we spoke about the information concerning soldiers who died in the wars in the former Yugoslavia. I mentioned then that the HLC had received information about a mass grave in Pasuljanske livade, and that the convicted Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic knew more about it. Now is my opportunity to remind him of it.


“Danas”, Natasa Kandic, February 10, 2012,