Analysis 16 Aug 16

Milosevic’s Old Allies Celebrate His ‘Innocence’

Disputed claims that the Hague Tribunal said that Slobodan Milosevic was innocent are being trumpeted by Serbian ministers, but analysts believe they are trying to whitewash the country’s wartime past.

Sasa Dragojlo BIRN Belgrade
Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Photo: Facebook.

Two Serbian ministers - Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic and Labour Minister Aleksandar Vulin - have been expressing triumphant satisfaction for days about claims that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia’s verdict convicting former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic also said that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic wasn’t guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Dacic and Milutin Mrkonjic, his colleague from the Serbian Socialist Party - Milosevic’s former party - have even proposed that a monument be erected to their old leader.

“We all knew that Milosevic was not guilty. He should get a street [named after him] and a monument in Belgrade. I’m going to ask for that at his grave on his birthday on August 20,” Mrkonjic said on Monday.

“When such a tribunal recognises that Milosevic did not participate in an organised criminal enterprise, it is clear that Serbia was right,” Vulin argued on Saturday.

Dacic has said meanwhile that the Karadzic verdict also shows that Serbia itself was innocent of wartime crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But some Serbian analysts suggest that they are simply using these claims of Milosevic’s innocence in an attempt to rehabilitate the former leader’s policies and their own role in the wars of the 1990s, with which the country has never truly come to terms.

The claims that Milosevic was exonerated by the UN court became a hot topic in Serbia after the publication of an article by British journalist Neil Clark on Russia’s RT website, quoting a previous article by Andy Wilcoxson on a pro-Milosevic website called Slobodan-Milosevic.org.

Clark accused the world media of ignoring the news that “one of the most demonised figures of the modern era” had been found to be an innocent man.

“Even the ICTY buried it, deep in its 2,590 page verdict in the trial of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic who was convicted in March of genocide (at Srebrenica), war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he wrote.

The ICTY has confirmed that the judgement in the Karadzic trial said that “there was no sufficient evidence presented in this case to find that Slobodan Milosevic agreed with the common plan” with the Bosnian Serb leadership to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But in the same paragraph of the judgement, it also said that “Milosevic provided assistance in the form of personnel, provisions and arms to Bosnian Serbs during the conflict”.

The ICTY has also pointed out that it made no conclusions regarding Milosevic’s guilt or innocence during the trial of Karadzic.

“The trial of Karadzic was of him and him only, and therefore has no impact on the separate case against Slobodan Milosevic,” the Hague-based court told Radio Liberty’s Balkan service.

Clark’s article has been widely quoted by pro-Milosevic politicians, but Nemanja Stjepanovic from the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre argued that the conclusion that the former leader was innocent was taken out of the context of Karadzic’s verdict.

“At Karadzic’s trial, nobody judged Milosevic, nor was evidence presented against him or the Serbian state. Milosevic’s role was just illustrated briefly for the sake of understanding the context,” Stjepanovic told BIRN.

He said that if the verdicts from other ICTY cases were selectively quoted, such as the case against Milan Martic, former president of the self-proclaimed wartime rebel statelet the Republic of Serbian Krajina, Milosevic could be declared guilty of involvement in a joint criminal enterprise to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Croatia.

“Of course, that is not legally correct, since every case is considered separately. As for Milosevic, at his trial there was so much evidence... If you want to judge his case, you need to check what the ICTY did up until his death,” he added.

Powerful legacy

 Milutin Mrkonjic, member of the Socialist Party's main board and a leading supporter of Milosevic. Photo: Media Centre

The proceedings against Milosevic were terminated after he died in his cell in the UN detention centre on March 11, 2006.

However his allies still wield influence in Serbia today - men like Foreign Minister Dacic, who was the former leader’s spokesman and now heads his former party. Dacic is also the country’s deputy prime minister.

Milosevic’s right-hand man Nikola Sainovic, who was released after serving a jail sentence for participation in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at forcibly displacing the Kosovo Albanian population during the 1999 war, is now a member of the Socialist Party’s main board.

Labour Minister Vulin meanwhile was a member of the United Yugoslav Left, Milosevic’s wife Mira Markovic’s party.

Dejan Anastasijevic, a journalist who reported on the 1990s wars and was a witness at Milosevic’s trial, told BIRN that the former leader’s legacy in Serbia is still strong.

“Everyone in Serbia should be aware of Milosevic’s criminal role, of which Serbia should be ashamed and not proud,” Anastasijevic argued.

He argued that Vulin and Dacic were trying to rehabilitate their own pasts as Milosevic’s associates, and said it was ironic that the two men who have often criticised the ICTY were now holding it up as the ultimate authority.

Stjepanovic claimed that the Serbian security services and military are still full of Milosevic’s people, which is preventing real reforms.

He cited the case of Serbian Army chief Ljubisa Dikovic, who has been accused of committing war crimes in four Kosovo villages in 1999 - allegations which Dikovic strongly denies.

“Both the Democratic [Party] regime [which came to power after Milosevic was ousted in 2000] and the current one [led by the Serbian Progressive Party] have protected [Dikovic], even giving him medals of honour,” he said.

Failed lustration

Both Stjepanovic and Anastasijevic said they believed that the failure to lustrate members of Milosevic’s regime in the first years after his downfall was decisive in allowing his legacy to live on.

Serbia’s Lustration Law came into force in 2003, stating that all prospective public officials should be checked for human rights violations dating back to 1976, when the former Yugoslavia ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

But the law was never implemented and the Serbian parliament failed even to fully staff the commission intended to implement the lustration. Almost all the members of the body then resigned in 2004 due to the lack of government support. The law then expired in 2013.

Critics have often said that the reason why the law was never implemented was the lack of political will.

“After 2000, we had a chance to finish with Milosevic’s legacy once and for all. However, it was not done, and after [Prime Minister Zoran] Djindjic’s murder [in 2003], we have just been going backwards,” Stjepanovic said.

“Now, we are in the worst position regarding facing our wartime past and Milosevic’s role in it,” he added.

Not all senior politicians who were linked to Milosevic in the 1990s have sought to make political capital using the claims that the ICTY thought the former Yugoslav leader was innocent.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic - who was information minister in the Milosevic administration in the late 1990s - has refused to comment on the arguments made by some of his ministers.

“I don’t have time to deal with that stuff… I do not have the slightest intention of living in the 1990s, I live and work for the future of Serbia,” Vucic said.

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