On April 14, at 2.50 a.m, in the center of Belgrade, two grenades exploded. They were planted in the bedroom window of prominent Serbian journalist Dejan Anastasijevic.
The first bomb burst early. The blast catapulted the second grenade into the street, into some parked cars and away from the sleeping bodies of Dejan, his wife and his fifteen-year-old daughter. This likely saved their lives.
Dejan, who writes for TIME magazine, was among the witnesses at the Hague International War Crime Tribunal against Slobodan Milosevic. As a journalist, his main line of inquiry was the connection between war crimes committed by Serbian military and police all over former Yugoslavia in the nineties. A painful issue. Recently the International War Crime Tribunal in Hague held that the regime of Slobodan Milosevic cannot be directly linked to the mass graves in Kosovo and the genocide in Srebrenica. Therefore the Serbian state is not formally guilty of genocide -- although genocide took place.
Therefore genocide was committed, not by the state, but by non-state actors. Secret armed militias in disintegrating states were novelties in the 1990s. They're not any more.
Nobody tries Al Qaeda for genocide, for they don't even pretend to be a state and even America abandons law and order to chain them in Guantanamo.
On April 10th, a verdict was issued at the special court for war crimes in Belgrade. This verdict involved the death squad called Scorpions, who were involved in the genocide in Srebrenica. In the spirit of the sentence of the Hague tribunal, the local tribunal also found the state of Serbia not guilty of genocide. Neither are the Scorpions guilty.
The Scorpion militia took the trouble to film one of their own misdeeds, so that the court witnessed the Scorpion defendants kicking bound teenage captives, jabbing them with gun barrels, denying them water, insulting them and then shooting them. Nevertheless, this does not constitute a proof of the grand-scale state-crime of genocide.
The bodies of the dead are there on film, the genocidal intent is obvious, but there is no clear legal chain of orders between any formal state apparatus and this covert squad of armed marauders. Who ordered what, when, why...? A whirlwind in the storms of a disintegrating state, says the verdict.
The whole world saw that film, that was the cause of the tribunal, so everyone knows at least that those five indicted Scorpions, in one way or other, did commit the murder of six innocent civilians merely guilty of being Moslems. The president of Serbia, Boris Tadic, declared after the sentence that such crimes deserved capital punishment.
But who in Serbia will give the order to legally kill the state's legally unsanctioned killers? The Scorpion death squad was tripped up by their urge to brag on video, but the same people who ruled Serbia during the nineties are still in power today. Milosevic is dead, Mladic is hidden, but most of their colleagues and collaborators, open and covert, walk the streets of Belgrade, blustering and threatening about Kosovo and their political opponents.
The chief prosecutor of the Scorpions is not satisfied with the sentence. The lawyers of the victims are angry. The defense lawyers of the Scorpions are triumphant. In prison or out of it, the Scorpions consider themselves moral victors; with the evidence so crushingly against them, that strategy was the best they could hope for.
They do have one other strategy: the strategy of covertly killing people. A death-squad is still a death squad, and a gangland atmosphere of lethal intimidation works as well on Serbs as on the alien Other. The death squads lash out against journalists who report them, as Dejan Anastasijevic, who knows the situation well and publicly commented on the verdict.
Did the death-squad who planted grenades in his bedroom window take the trouble to film it?
As as a few aging Scorpions shuffle off to prison for their crimes of many years ago, Serbian civil society remains imprisoned by its worst elements. Journalist Slavko Curuvija was assassinated by Milosevic secret police hit-men, back in 1999. Our late premiere Zoran Djindjic was shot by state mafia in 2003. That doesn't even count the havoc wreaked by state-mafia complex on its own death-squad soldiers, from Chief Tiger Arkan, shot in 2000, through hundreds of underworld less known bombed in cars, shot in cafes...
Dejan has many friends in the world and at home, but he and his family are profoundly unsafe, just like everyone else in a hollow state that secretly cherishes death squads while failing to keep public order. As long as Dejan writes the facts, as long as Serbia lives in organized denial, as long as the tribunals minimize the criminal issues in the name of reconciliation or realpolitik, the truth will act as a bomb in terrorist hands.
Ever since Milosevic reduced Yugoslavia to his private casino, the much battered entity called Serbia has never been a lawful state. State failure may soon become a luxury that the Balkans can no longer afford. Although I never make decisions out of fear, I confess, I am afraid.
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Previous essays by Jasmina Tešanović on BoingBoing:
- Jasmina Tešanović: Where Did Our History Go?
- Serbia Not Guilty of Genocide
- Carnival of Ruritania
- "Good Morning, Fascist Serbia!"
- Faking Bombings
- Dispatch from Amsterdam
- Where are your Americans now?
- Anna Politkovskaya Silenced
- 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