WHERE ARE YOUR AMERICANS NOW?
Today , in the special court for war crimes in Belgrade, eight paramilitary police were indicted for torturing, killing, looting and dispersing the Albanian civil population in March 1999, when the NATO bombings against Yugoslavia under Milosevic started.
This specific trial is concerned with 48 members of an unlucky family named Berisha, who were executed in a couple of hours in a village called Dry River. The dead included women, children, the elderly: from yet unborn babies to a 100-year-old grandmother. The Dry River is bloody and full of tears.
The eight out of ten indicted (two others died in the meantime) are sitting in the courtroom in front of us. They look so normal and common that, compared to them, their lawyers seem like freaks. They are men, along with one young curly haired blonde with a gypsy skirt like mine.
This morning I thought twice when I dressed in order to be admitted in the courtroom. My clothes are simply not proper for this country and its dark history; the best I could find was a black T shirt with the English word REVOLUTION written on it in big letters of hot pink.
[Continue reading this essay after the jump: 2500 words.]
One of the lawyers looks like Albert Einstein, and the other like Seselj, the ugly indicted war mongrel currently in prison in Hague. The chief defense lawyer, who presided as Milosevic’ s judge against many imprisoned Albanians, looks like a priest and acts like a God. This lawyer tries to impeach the judge, and to throw Natasa Kandic, the representative of the victims, out of the court. This tactic is deliberate legal obstruction, so we wait the whole morning for the three judges presiding to make their way through the legal jungle.- - - - -
While we wait in the smoking room, two waitresses comment on some other terrible massacre, which they know about because the bodies were transported in a refrigerator truck and buried in the outskirts of Belgrade. They are appalled but they have to whisper.
My gay icon Milos, who recently dared to publicly apologize to Albanians for the loss of unborn Albanian children, has befriended a young Albanian law student, gosh how cute he is... But my girlfriends are clustering around an incredibly handsome tall Albanian whose four sisters and mother were executed. He looks like a movie actor and smiles constantly. I am afraid of him, he is too handsome and kind and he is in Belgrade. In his place I would be a beast by now.
I feel painfully guilty and I know life goes on, but he said: we used to be a merry family dancing and playing music, now we are telling our children the stories of the past.
Here in Serbia we are still obstructing the justice and telling lies to our children about our history.
In the court hall we are socializing like a cocktail party. I notice a modishly-dressed woman: she nods at me seriously. Lord, I recognize that woman from the park where I spent years with my small daughter. She used to be a judge. Her husband used to be the main legislator for Milosevic’ s criminal state. Now she is here in the court playing a hostess to the criminals and their lawyers.
I remember how her daughter, the age of mine, came to school in fancy clothes, driven by a chauffeur, while other children were fainting with hunger. I remember how the teacher asked her kindly to stop that practice because her child was so hated by other children. I remember how I felt sorry for that child, whom I saw as an innocent baby burdened by her parents' immorality. Now I wonder, why is this woman still haunting Serbian courts? Is that democracy, is that reconciliation of truth and justice?
The first indicted is pleading NOT GUILTY, saying he expected to get a promotion to a general but instead he got arrested 11 months ago. He already won many medals and his family had given blood for the state in World War Two, says he. So he tells us his version of history: Albanians were against Serbs, and NATO in the name of all the world was also against the Serbs. So he was fighting the whole world.
In the indictment, one of the soldiers is quoted as saying, while executing the Albanians, "AND WHERE ARE YOUR AMERICANS NOW TO DEFEND YOU. WE WILL EXTERMINATE YOU ALL"
They're in Iraq, right now, but they did try to defend the Albanians during those years of Clinton. The Americans certainly couldn't protect all of them, and only now, years later, are the massacred people of Kosovo getting their own state as a recompense. It's a traumatic loss for nationalist Serbia.
The indicted says proudly: Everything is public now, as it was then. We fought a clean and just war and we never touched a civilian. Our orders were: better to die than hurt ordinary people.
How on earth can the man say such things after the mass graves were excavated? Just as I wonder: how can the American Congress vote for legalizing torture and placing American soldiers above all civil laws? They are simply legalizing a future host of tortures and crimes to be done against Americans and Americans people.
The failed general is proudly describing the fashion details of his paramilitary cop uniform, his bullet proof pocket-wise vest, his fancy cap, chemo change... He says: I want to tell you who I really am.
We are bored to death besides disgusted by his extremely plain small talk. Are these the guys still running my country and ruining my life? He speaks like Milosevic and is proud of his dead leader and his phantom state. The phenomenon of Milosevic clones all over Serbia beats the Napoleon mania. The other cops in the courtroom, who are guarding the eight indicted have sour smiles on their faces listening to this ramble.
Our almost-general proudly claims how his state-organized troops in the early nineties were also in charge of repressing civilian demonstrations in Belgrade.
At the time we protesters did know that the cops beating us were from south, Serbian refugees from Kosovo, paid very well and dressed to kill.
They are all younger than me, yet they look twice their age. Crime is not good for your looks in a uniform.
The handsome Albanian guy says to me: if somebody saves Serbia, it will be these women who are judges.
Yes, almost all the women in these political trials seem young and rather good looking. Where do they all come from, I ask myself? They are trying to prove that it was state-organized war crime, and that the rot is still there because Serbia has never managed a clear cut with the criminal past. I hoped these other women knew what they are doing, because I myself was about to faint.
So I left the court and went out for a beer.
October 3 2006
When it comes to his pride, and the duties which brought him handcuffs instead of a general's rank, the first indicted colonel in this Dry River trial never speaks of "Serbia." Instead, he speaks of Yugoslavia.
Slobodan Milosevic, his leader, started the troubles in Kosovo, declaring in a rally, "Nobody will beat Serbs here." Yugoslavia lost all the wars at that same battlefield, and was reduced to nothing but a name.
As the eight indicted enter the courtroom again, we sit again next to the victims' family. One of the killers smiles and nods his head at a member of the family.
I am amazed, asking all around me: did he do that on purpose, did he do it spontaneously? Why? The man who nodded back, whose forty-eight family members were killed by that guy, says: We were neighbors. We knew each other for years.
For all those years they lived next to each other, sometimes even living together, and then Milosevic, by coining one slogan, makes one man kill the whole family of his neighbor. Am I missing something?
The first indicted is finishing his interrogation today: he repeats strongly and solemnly: he heard from satellite TV and Boris Yeltsin that NATO bandits were bombing Serbian Kosovo.
That’s what he knows about the war: he never saw any Albanian refugees, or the long shuffling floods of people between borders, terrorized by the Serbian police, whom he himself commanded.
He never uttered that order, the death sentence, for which he is indicted here in this court: burn, loot, kick them and kill them... What are you waiting for , for me to do it? He steps down from the bench with a big sigh, louder than his speech in his own defense.
He never mentioned the name of Milosevic, not even once.
His lawyers are cat-fighting the general prosecutor: the temperature is rising and the trial is becoming a political battleground, where the wounds and passions are personal and dangerous. Like these hot days in Serbia, whose parliament wants to pass a new constitution for "Serbs" and "Others Living in Serbia," including Kosovo.
The second indicted was the local police commander. He is directly accused of having given the orders for executing the above mentioned sentence.
His first words: I believe in this court and its justice, which will not be political. I expect a fast and clear verdict of my innocence. Everything I did in those days was written as a record, as a diary.
As I listen, it strikes me that in those days I was also writing my "Diary of a Political Idiot," which started when the first Kosovo riots began. He and I wrote parallel diaries.
He claims he knew nothing of the massacre that happened in his village, next to the police station of in his charge. He claims he knew the ex-mayor of the city and other members of his family. He says the killing was done by some madman, now dead, that he didn’t meddle and that everything is written in his diary, which he neatly handed to his superiors when it was all over.
My "Diary" was published in many languages, yet his diary is still a top secret in this country where General Mladic is still in hiding, maybe in my own street. The chief of the local police admits that he collected the bodies and buried them -- properly, with due honors. He admits that his work may have been neglectful, since he never asked how many bodies were buried in mass graves, but he denies that he ever committed a crime.
The family member sitting next to me is now sighing heavily.
October 4, 2006
I always like when people in this court utter some sentence that gives me the title of my text. It breaks the tedium of sitting in that stuffy courtroom listening to details of horrid crimes, enduring the disgusting audacity of the blatant lies of the indicted, which ridicule our presence in this world and their own, this world where people kill for fun and never regret it.
These Serbian policemen from kosovo would do it all again, with even more vigor, even when not ordered to do it. Their only regret is not having done more and better. That their regime lost the war. They had to flee instead of killing all the Albanians. As 10 percent of the Kosovo population, they had to leave their property to the 90 percent majority. They were Orthodox and Serbs, the superior race in their holy land, living in paranoid agression for centuries on end.
The third indicted ex policeman today said this: "He was a NOTHING. Just like a woman."
He referred to his college policeman, a young “kind and tender guy” ( his words) who is the protected witness of this trial, who gave them in, who could not live on with the crime on his conscience.
In the corridor, I heard a lawyer saying to his wife, while patting her on the shoulders: Step by step, we will destroy the witnesses’ credibility. She smiled, protected: I wonder if she, as a woman, realized she was nothing?
Other relatives from the audience cannot restrain their hatred when Natasa Kandic, that heroine of our dark times, interrogates the witness and makes him stammer and look stupid. Natasa simply asks him common sense questions. She is not even a lawyer, but a human rights activist.
These guys don’t need the law to get indicted. They and their relatives look poor and ignorant. They've been reduced to miserable, criminal refugees by a criminal regime which waged its war against the entire world. And yet, they would do it all again, especially today, since they now have nothing to lose and nowhere to go. The whole world should shiver at them, and be afraid of them.
The father of a murdered girl is here: silent, proud, white haired gentleman in a dark suit. I marvel at his patience and composed behavior. The indicted salutes him -- again, as a provocation .
The arrogance of the blatant falsehoods is killing us all in the courtroom: well prepared, well organized lies endorsed by a loud set of lawyers.
The guy today claims he was not there, knew nothing, saw nothing... so WHAT ABOUT THE BODIES in the small village where he lived and worked as a deputy chief of police? A house full of people was burned in front of him.
He didn’t notice that, he claims, talking of the many details of his busy day, the food he ate, some petty thoughts he had. All that in the first days of the heavy bombings of Kosovo, when we all remember very little but the panic in each other's eyes?
He starts his speech by declaring: as a parent, I swear on the life of my children that I had nothing to do with the crime.
After that, I am tempted all the time to believe him, until I realize he is talking for hours about the wrong day, citing wrong, hours skipping in a few seconds over the time of the massacre, as if it never occurred.
His trauma on that dire day was that his commander shouted at him. The same commander who, only two days ago, claimed in this court that he was not there at all.
Because the commander also saw nothing and did nothing during the massacre that never happened.
When Natasa reminds us of the bodies patiently transported to Serbia, one of the judges loses his patience as well, saying: I just can’t understand how dare you testify like this! The presiding judge replies: it is still a legal defense.
The special troops were never used in Kosovo, claims the Number four indicted, except to secure the concert of a minor turbofolk star in Kosovo. And that singing star was a little nothing of a woman -- she was not even Ceca, the consort of Arkan, warlord of Tigers and eminence of Scorpions.
Previous essays by Jasmina Tesanovic on BoingBoing:
- Slaughter in the Monastery
- Mermaid's Trail
- A Burial in Srebenica
- Report from a concert by a Serbian war criminal
- To Hague, to Hague
- Preachers and Fascists, Out of My Panties
- Floods and Bombs
- Scorpions Trial, April 13
- The Muslim Women
- Belgrade: New Normality
- Serbia: An Underworld Journey
- Scorpions Trial, Day Three: March 15, 2006
- Scorpions Trial, Day Two: March 14, 2006
- Scorpions Trial, Day One: March 13, 2006
- The Long Goodbye
- Milosevic Arrives in Belgrade
- Slobodan Milosevic Died
- Milosevic Funeral
Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: firstname.lastname@example.org.