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Serbian convicted war criminals gain the spotlight

The Tribunal building in The Hague; Photo: WikiCommons/Julian Nitzsche

A reunion “Not to be forgotten”, attended by ex-soldiers of the Third Battalion of the Yugoslav Army during the NATO bombing, was held last week in Niš, in southern Serbia. Among the ex-soldiers, there were retired general Vladimir Lazarević, a convicted war criminal, and Nikola Šainović, also convicted as a war criminal who served as deputy prime minister of Yugoslavia.

Minister of Defense Aleksandar Vulin and Nikola Selaković, general secretary of the President of Serbia, attended this meeting and attracted the attention of the public with their war-glorifying statements.

In their statements it was highlighted that Serbia no longer has to be ashamed of those who defended our country and people, referring to the above-mentioned war criminals.

General Vladimir Lazarević was sentenced to 14 years in prison by ICTY for crimes committed by Serb troops in Kosovo during the Kosovo War NATO’s bombing campaign, but was released after serving two-thirds of his sentence.

In the same tonality, Nikola Selaković said that this is the way to show attitude towards the army and the state. “It is not only the act of patriotism, but also the act of decency”, Selaković said.

This is only the last in the row of glorifications of war criminals such was the case with Veselin Šljivančanin, former Yugoslav People’s Army colonel, who was convicted by the ICTY for responsibility for the 1991 Vukovar massacre. In January this year, Šljivančanin spoke at the panel discussion about his book, entitled “In Service to the Fatherland’” organized by the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). In June this year, Šljivančanin also spoke in the premises of Belgrade municipality Savski venac, showing that institutions have become part of the history revision trend that takes place in Serbian society.

However, there are groups of people, especially young people, who stand up against the denial of the past such as Youth Initiative for Human Rights. Their slogans are “War criminals are not our heroes” and “War criminals should be silent so the victims can speak”. Last week, the promotion of colonel Šljivančanin’s new book that was planned to be held in Belgrade municipality of Čukarica was canceled under the demands of Youth Initiative and several political parties (Liberal democratic party and Democratic party).

As long as the states of former Yugoslavia do not have all the information about the victims, there will be problems with the past, but also misuse of the past for patriotic purposes. In Serbia, as in other countries of former Yugoslavia, investigations on the victims of war are done by human rights organizations while governments refuse to do it properly.

That these are not only individual failures of the minister and the secretary general of Vučić’s office, is evidenced by the fact that neither the Prime Minister nor the President have distanced themselves from the statements of their members of the cabinet. Their silence might send a message to the Serbian society and to the other countries in the region that this war crimes denial policy might become the official position of the state of Serbia.

Publication of this article has been supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States

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