What did you do during the war, Mr. President?
Where we are three decades since the beginning of wars in Yugoslavia and what do generations born during the war years know about the wars? Are we closer to the reconciliation after a series of court judgments for horrible crimes, which were the reason why International Criminal Court was established? Is true reconciliation in fact possible if those who advocated for war policy during the 90s are in power today? Maybe for true confronting of the past, just as in 1968 in Germany, for example, it is necessary for one entire generation born in the 90s all across the former Yugoslavia to ask their parents what they did during the war. This article is meant, first of all, to those “children” who are now thirtysomething year-old.
The final judgment convicting Ratko Mladic to life sentence for genocide in Srebrenica and war crimes in Bosnia came exactly 30 years after the beginning of the wars in Yugoslavia. Although Tribunal’s appeals chamber upheld the trial chamber judgment that found Mladic guilty for his role in murders of about 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebernica in 1995, this verdict has caused different reactions – for some he is a sentenced criminal, for others he is a hero.
For families of the victims, this was a historical day when the justice was done and one of the bloodiest chapters in modern European history was closed. For the government in Serbia, it was a tough day and they did not try to hide it. Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said that with its verdicts The Hague has alienated the region from the reconciliation “since recently no one was held accountable for any of the Serbian victims” and estimated that “this court is without any doubt a political court”. Reaction of Serbian authorities is not unexpected, if we know that for almost a decade the seats in Serbian government have been occupied by those who advocated for the war policy during the 90s.
The most powerful of all – Aleksandar Vucic sent a message to “all the Serbs” to keep their heads up since “neither Serbia not Serbian folks have been convicted for anything”, adding that “it is up to us to work even harder and open the factories”, and that “we are looking to the future, not the past”.
However, in not so far away past, Vucic’ story was different. As a sign of protest against the decision that New Belgrade boulevard would be named after the first democratically elected Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic, in 2007 Vucic was sticking posters with a title “Boulevard of Ratko Mladic”. The same year, as a high official and a Serbian Radical Party MP, he was waving with a sign “Safe house for Ratko Mladic” at the Assembly floor.
“Premises of our party in the Serbian Assembly are and will be a ‘safe house’ for Ratko Mladic. My house, as well as the houses of entire family Vucic, and we are not a small family, will be exactly that – safe house for general Ratko Mladic, a man who is being prosecuted only because he was defending his country. I am proud of it and I am willing to take the consequences.” (Beta Agency, 4 October 2007)
However, only a few hours after the life imprisonment sentence was confirmed for Ratko Mladic, President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic had to respond to criticism during the UN Security Council session why for six years now Serbia is refusing to arrest and hand over the members of Serbian Radical Party – Vjerica Radeta i Petar Jojic to the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague, so they would be tried for contempt of The Hague Tribunal.
They are suspected because in the procedure against their party boss, Vojislav Seselj, they have been exerting pressure on witnesses through threats, blackmail and bribe forcing them to either change their testimonies or refuse to testify. Charges against Radeta and Kojic were filed in October 2012, a few months before the Serbian Progressive Party came to power.
This case is open for years now since the government is turning a deaf ear to the invitations for extradition, invoking the decision of the Higher Court in Belgrade that there are no legal grounds for these persons’ arrest and extradition, and it is also questionable, if they would be tried in Serbia, whether that trial would be objective and unbiased due to Vucic’s connections with Serbian Radical Party – SRS.
This suspicion is not unfounded, yet supported by the fact that Vojislav Seselj, although a sentenced war criminal, has been an MP in the National parliament until last summer, despite the fact that the Law on Election of Members of Parliament stipulates that term of office of an MP would be terminated if an MP is sentenced for a prison sentence of more than six months in a final judgment.
Let us remind you that in April 2018 in The Hague, Seselj was finally sentenced for ten years of prison for inciting persecution, deportation and forceful resettlement, and forceful removal of Croats in Vojvodina village Hrtkovci in 1992. Tribunal’s appeals chamber then established that on 6 May 1991 at the promotion of the Serbian Radical Party in Hrtkovci, Seselj said, among other, that “there is no room for Croats in Hrtkovci”, and added – “we will take them to the border of the Serbian land, and from there they can continue on foot, unless they leave by themselves”.
In the judgment it was noted that Seselj had influence on members of his party, that he was an ideological leader and that some even looked up to him “as God”, and that his speeches had a significant effect on his listeners.
Vojislav Seselj advocated the policy of “unification of all Serbian territories” into one, joint Serbian state, so called Greater Serbia, which would include Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and big parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as a part of Croatia by the line Karlobag- Ogulin-Karlovac-Virovitica. He made flammable, warmongering speeches and organised volunteer, para-military units, which were known as “Seseljevci” and “Chetniks”.
In the 90s, he was an ideological leader and a political father to Aleksandar Vucic, who is perceived as the guarantee of stability in the region today. Vucic joined Serbian Radical Party in autumn 1993, after previously spending eight months in the Republic of Srpska as a final-year student of the Faculty of Law – two in the front line, and six at the television in Pale, where he managed Serbian-English newsroom. He spoke about it in a special edition of the Radical party publication Greater Serbia in September 1997.
“Ever since I was a student of the Faculty of Law in Belgrade, I have experienced the atmosphere where both opposition and current government forces operate with equal strength. It was neither easy to think differently in those years, nor to gather a large number of like-minded supporters. This air of lynching was present towards anyone who supported neither of the forces, the atmosphere was similar to the one today, and I have often arduously argued with my professors as well. In that period of crisis for our people, I had a dilemma that pained many, especially younger people, but it was resolved by my forty-day volunteer stay in Sarajevo. When I came back from the battlefield, I went to a lecture of Serbian Radical party, because at that time I preferred the most what Vojislav Seselj spoke and advocated”. (Greater Serbia, September 1997)
In a special big interview, the then general secretary and Serbian Radical Party candidate for MP, spoke about his experience as a journalist in Pale, saying that unbiased reporting was impossible in war circumstances and that “it is normal that you openly support your people”.
“If you think that I have supported Croats or Muslims – I have not and I would never be ashamed of that. I love my people, I do not hate others, but I love my people and I will take our side”. (Greater Serbia, September 1997)
In the same edition of Greater Serbia – in the section “Vucic at close”, it was noted that Greater Serbia is his dream.
“That would not be Greater Serbia in derogatory way. That would be the Serbia tailor-made not by the socialists but tailored for entire Serbian people”. (Greater Serbia, September 1997)
In April 1994, in magazine Greater Serbia, in his article “Scenarios of past”, Vucic commented on the press release from the meeting of the representatives of Republic of Serbian Krajina Milan Martic and Borisav Mikelic with the President of Serbia Slobodan Milosevic, which “emphasized the mutual agreement in understanding that the greatest danger for Serbian people comes from extremism and extremists, especially actions of some members of Serbian Radical Party”.
Vucic said that many Serbs believed that Croatia and its leader Tudjman and their unruly army were the greatest enemies of Serbian people, but that Milosevic “tried again, God knows how many times he had tried, to convince the entire public that only he knows who are(not) our enemies”.
“However, it is good that we have found out where lies the greatest danger to us, even though it came after almost three years of fighting and battle for Serbian people freedom with the abovementioned ‘extreme members of SRS’ being among the first. Perhaps this was against our former naïve beliefs that maybe through the pores of the socialist government some Serbian national spirit was circulating. Nevertheless, it is never late to learn. As far as I can recall, after the battles at Borovo selo, Skelani, Benkovac, the same Serbian Radicals were celebrated as the greatest heroes, Serbian liberators, by the very President and this government (…). Our hopes and aspirations for establishment of a single Serbian state on Serbian ethnical space have not been dispersed by neither our ‘internal’ nor some other enemies, but the very President of Serbia”. (Greater Serbia, April 1994.)
In his interview for Greater Serbia in September 1997, he said that Serbian people, unlike the others, wanted less not more at the time of dissolution of Yugoslavia. “While everyone wanted secession from Yugoslavia, internationally recognised sovereign state, our people wanted to stay within it”.
“The republics should not have separated, Serbian people should have been preserved within the same state where they lived since 1918. Serbian people created this state, and the final referendum of Serbs in Croatia and BiH confirmed that wish. Leaders of ‘Together’ have staunchly defended those borders and the idea of national freedom inherited from the communists, saying that this was not our war, inviting the youth to desert the army. What is the difference between Pirot and Knin? The 90 per cent of Serbs lived in Knin, 97 in Donji Lapac, in proportion, more than in Belgrade today. Does anyone today know that Donji Lapac was Serbian? On the border of Una River, the bystander looks at cities and villages on the other side of river bank, which used to be Serbian, for centuries, and now they are devastated. Croats got three times more territory than what they had ‘dreamed of for thousand years’, but their beautiful country once had room for 20 million people, and they cannot even populate Kistanje.” (Greater Serbia, September 1997)
Although Republic of Serbian Krajina fell into the hands of Croatian army in August 1995, Vucic later said that he did not consider this a lost battle, “risking that he would attach to his name a phrase ‘national romantic’”. He described his vision of the future mission of the Serbian Radical Party in “the recovery of ancient Serbian territories”.
“I do not have big ideals, and although I am dedicated to the party with my body and soul, trying to spread the ideas of Serbian radicals by all political means, what firmly keeps me here is the national programme, which keeps us positioned in forming our Serbian state, along with the understanding that Serbian Radical Party is the only political party which does not recognise the occupation of the Republic of Serbian Krajina and a part of the Republic of Srpska. We are not fools, although some are simplifying matters, and love to say for us that we are ready to fight with the entire world. However, if we get power in Serbia we will send daily reminders that these territories are our ancient land and we will break the resistance which communists nurtured against the same people on the other side of Drina for decades. (….) If we give up on our territories, our holy Serbian land, we will lose Kosovo and Metohija, Rasina region, we will lose Krusevac, Kraljevo, Leskovac and Bujanovac. We have to show our teeth at some moment, so they would stay away from us”. (Greater Serbia, September 1997.)
At the great rally that was organised by SRS on 17 June 1995 because of the arrest of Vojislav Seselj and Tomislav Nikolic in Gnjilane, Aleksandar Vucic, the then general secretary of the party, held, as noted in Greater Serbia, “an inspiring speech” and “enlivened the rally which culminated at that moment”.
“We are for peace. First, we would create it. We would liberate Serbian lands, placing Serbian army at the borders, so we dare Turks or Ustashas to attack then! None would dare!” (Greater Serbia, June 1995)
In June 1995, in the middle of the National Assembly of Serbia, as a SRS MP, he had a legendary statement – “for one Serb, 100 Muslims”. Later, in 2015, he claimed that his statement was “taken out of context”. This was denied by the recording of him saying exactly the following:
“Okay, throw bombs. Kill one Serb, we will hundreds of Muslims and let’s see if the international community or anybody else may attack Serbian positions and whether they can behave like that with Serbian people.” (National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia, 20 June 1995)
Speaking about the programme of the national television of Serbia, on 20 March 1995 in Glina, municipality close to Vrginmost, Aleksandar Vucic said that he was committed to the plan of creating Greater Serbia. Although later, during his visit to Croatia in 2018, he said to the journalists there that they “had made it up”, as regards Greater Serbia, that “speech from Glina does not in any way refer to anything like that”, but it was again refuted by the recording from rally in Glina.
“(…) We cannot get any news from Krajina. As if that is a foreign country, like it is Croatia…No way! Serbian Krajina and Glina will never belong to Croatia. Banija will never be part of Croatia again! (…) If Serbian Radicals would win and defeat the President of Serbia, you know that you will live in the Greater Serbia, a single Serbian state and there will be no deviations from that”. (YouTube, March 1995)
At the SRS rally in Bijeljina, on 23 March 1996, more than ten thousands of citizens gathered and the protest signs included the messages: “When Serbs conquer Dedinje – Knin will be ours again”, “We will rather wear flowers on our winter hat, than flower in our hair”, “Serbian people stand with Seselj”. The general secretary of Radical Party addressed the citizens, saying that “Serbian nationalism had never been to such an extent defeated and humiliated as it was today”.
“Republic of Serbian Krajina, the most western of the Serbian states, we have lost due to Milosevic betrayal and capitulation. God knows how many Serbian cities were handed over to the Ustashas’ army, and no one ever mentioned them again. Someone just mentioned that unfortunate state television, and in Belgrade we named it Falsevision, please, try to recall when was the last time they mentioned Serbian Knin, Serbian Benkovac, Vojnic, Glina, Vrginmost, Kostajnica, Dvor, Plitvice, Slunj… They have forgotten about it. Serbian Krajina does not exist anymore, as if it had never existed. It is not even mentioned in the weather forecast. They think – Serbs have forgotten! They think Serbs do not know what Serbian means, so they would only believe what the red tyrant from Dedinje says to be Serbia. He betrayed Republic of Srpska even more. (…) See what he has done in Dayton. (…) Do you recall, after everything had been done, he addressed the citizens of Republic of Srpska, wanting to make them happy, so when he said – now, let me tell you what have we won, let’s start from the west, and I was thinking, okay, if there is no Benkovac and Obrovac, for sure there must be Knin and Gracac, and then Milosevic exclaimed – we won Mrkonjic Grad and Šipovo. Almost a centre of former Bosnia and Herzegovina! Then he said – let me tell you what we got in Posavina, we got Derventa, Modrica, Samac and Brod. As if Serbian army was not already holding that, as if Serbs have not been there before, since forever as no one else was ever there! I watched that and thought – either he must be crazy, or we all are! It must be him, since such lies no one else can say! Now, he wants to turn all of us into followers who should thank him for what he had done in Dayton. So we should tell him – well done, you are the bravest and the best. It is irrelevant that you have left Drvar, Grahovo, Glamoc, Jajce, Kljuc, Srbobran, Petrovac, Sanski Most, Srpsko Sarajevo and Gorazde to them… It is okay, you have done well! But, that won’t happen. That is inexcusable! You will never hear that from us, Serbian Radicals.” (Greater Serbia, April 1996.)
In the rest of his fiery speech, Vucic announced elections in Republic of Srpska in Bjeljina and invited the people gathered to vote for Serbian Radicals, who were “always with their people and always when it was the toughest”, and then he scored:
“Serbian Radical Party does not think everything is lost. Serbian Radical Party does not accept the occupation of the western Serbian territories. We will fight with all our might, first of all, in democratic and peaceful way, to succeed in placing what is Serbian – Serbian Knin and Serbian Jasenovac and Serbian Sarajevo – in the Serbian state! All for Serbia – Serbia for nothing! Cheers!” (Greater Serbia, April 1996)
Vucic started distancing from the idea of Greater Serbia and Karlobag-Ogulin-Karlovac-Virovitica border, soon after he left Serbian Radical Party and founded Serbian Progressive Party in 2008. Then he claimed – “You have never heard anything about that border from my mouth, never”. However, it was refuted by the video from the beginning of 2000, when he said
“Today, you may hear some people mocking and saying: where are Karlovac, Ogulin, Karlobag and Virovitica to you now? Those non-Serbian pathetic, miserable and wretched, who kiss the skirts and hands of those who bombed this country, they are trying to say – why you Radicals are not there in those Serbian places today? As if Serbs have never kept Karlovac at all, as if we have not been only a few kilometres from Karlobag and Virovitica, because today there is over 20 per cent of Serbs in Ogulin, as far as we know. As if those were not Serbian places. They rejoice and enjoy that Ustashas had occupied Serbian land and they want to convince us Serbian Radicals that this was not Serbian, that we talked nonsense, that we did not know what was ours, but we have never wanted what was not ours, not then, not now. We want only what is ours, and that is also Karlobag, and Ogulin, and Karlovac, and Virovitica, and all of those Serbian countries. They have to know that. They should be ashamed, those Serbs should be ashamed, since they are Serbs only by their birth, as they mock when they talk about those Serbian places, the Serbian territories”. (Patriotic Congress of SRS, January 2000)
In the Greater Serbia issue of September 1997, it was mentioned that for more than a year Aleksandar Vucic was regularly commenting in Radio Indeks show “In medios pres”. The Radical Party publication published Vucic’s comment from the show, when he was commenting on the situation from Kosovo.
“This week there were new terrorist attacks on Serbian police and police stations in Kosovo and Metohija. Some find it strange this is repeating, when we have, and here I would use air quotes, strong police forces in that part of our state. This was not a surprise to me, first of all, because it is obvious that the Shqiptars were not prepared for these battle methods against Serbian state and Serbian people – and that the State Department and their intelligence services are directly behind them, it is obvious they are providing them with logistic support and assistance for each of the attacks, and the goal of those attacks is political, and that is, first of all, to exert tough pressure on Serbs, so they would get scared, and to start forming the watch again in Serbian villages in Kosovo and Metohija, and then ‘the great rescuer’ Slobodan Milosevic would appear, who would say – you can have it, almost a confederal unit of Kosovo and Metohija, just stay in our Yugoslavia. You will have all the rights, nationality, maximum sovereignty, your territories, just stop with the terrorist attacks. Then, in some new Dayton, he would say – here, we achieved the best we could, it is important that out people are safe and secure. That is a dangerous and malicious tactics of the Western rulers, which they are trying to implement with the help of President of Serbia Slobodan Milosevic. I have heard a Western diplomat saying that arrangements were made for Rugova and Milosevic to meet, but that minimum of what Rugova was insisting on was “Kosovo independence”, while Milosevic at start offered the 1974 autonomy”.… (Greater Serbia, September 1997)
In the last years, as the chief negotiator with Pristina, he speaks about various ideas – from division to delineation, up to “no one gets everything, but everyone gets enough”; but twenty years earlier he had promised that Kosovo will be Serbian. Maybe not tomorrow, but…
“We will recover Kosovo and Metohija, as well as Republic of Serbian Krajina and Republic of Srpska, at least that part which is lost in the last Croatian-Bosnian offence. Whether we will recover it tomorrow, in a few years, or several decades, that is a different matter”. (Fifth Patriotic Congress of SRS, 23 January 2000)
Vucic was a Minister of Information in the Government of Serbia, which was formed by SRS, SPS and JUL on 24 March 1998. During his term of office as a minister he signed the ominous Law on Public Information, which became known for its draconic fines for the media, as well as the dissolution of newsrooms of “Dnevni telegraf”, “Evropljanin” and “Nasa Borba”.
He was the minister during the NATO bombing. There were speculations that on the night when RTS was bombed in 1999, he had moved his mother from the building before the attack, but Vucic refuted that in 2019, saying that his mother was in RTS building that night. “The missile tell a few meters away from her, she was scared… Not only that I have not moved her from there, but she was not supposed to work that night, she was there by accident that night and she did not die”, Vucic said then.
He did not deny the allegations that just before the bombing started, he got himself a home. As the Minister of Information he got the apartment from the state by the end of 1998. As magazine “Vreme” reported, this 120 square meters apartment in New Belgrade was later purchased by him. The critics blamed him for receiving a flat from the state at the time of the war in Kosovo.
War in Kosovo, NATO bombing of targets in Kosovo and Serbia, persecution of 750,000 Albanians from Kosovo, murders of ten thousands of people, mass graves and refrigerator trucks with corpses, about 100,000 Serbs who fled Kosovo and in the end the loss of province, i.e. accepting the international administration of Kosovo and not resolving its final status – this is the epilogue of the government formed by SRS, SPS and JUL, in which Vucic had an important role.