On March 28, 1999, Milosevic’s Serbia celebrated the Statehood Day and 10th anniversary of the unanimous adoption of 40 amendments to the Constitution, which proclaimed the “rule of the people” and started the campaign of systematic achievement of “historic and national demands” of Serbs within Yugoslavia. While in celebratory mood, Milosevic’s government and party officials congratulated each other on achieving the ancient dream of defending sovereignty and integrity and protecting peace – while the unprovoked bombs of world powers, allies to “Albanian terrorists and separatists” kept falling from the sky.
The government of national unity had already declared victory in this unequal battle of the whole world against a small, freedom-loving Balkan nation that tries to preserve its greatest sanctity – the southern province affectionately known by a bureaucratic acronym “Kosmet”.
A decade long discourse of moral right to self-defense from anyone who wishes to harm Serbs – and there were a lot of those during the 1990s, enhanced by vicious racism and hate against foreign enemies and national traitors, turned into a linguistic rampage during the months prior to the bombing. Monstrous minds of vicious barbarians who frantically shower us with bombs only because we are trying to preserve our sovereignty and integrity and similar mantras echoed Serbia daily. Echoes and reactions about Kosovo Albanians – hordes, beasts, terrorists, barbarians, monsters, killers of the weak and children, sworn to destroy everything Serbian – were the official oath of wartime patriotism.
On March 28th 1999, the Republic of Serbia’s Ministry of Police reserve unit “Skorpioni” killed 14 members of Bogujevci and Djurici families, as part of an ethnic cleansing operation against Albanians from Podujevo. Seven children and seven women were killed: Shpetim (1989) and Shpend (1986), sons of Safet Bogujevci, his wife Sala (1960), Nora (1984), daughter of Seljatin Bogujevci, his wife Shefkate (1956), Shehide Bogujevci (1932), Nefise Bogujevci Llugaliu (1945), sister of Seljatin and Safet, her daughter in law Fezdrije Llugialiu (1978), Dafina (1990), Arber (1992), Mimoza (1995) and Albin (1997), children of Enver Djurici, Fitnete (1963), Enver’s wife and Isma (1930), Enver’s mother. The oldest victim was 69, the youngest was 2.
Five children were severely injured, but survived – Saranda (1985), Safet’s daughter, and Seljatin’s children Fatos (1986), Jehona (1988), Lirie (1990) and Genc (1993).
The first verdict for this crime was passed in Belgrade in 2005, against “Skorpioni” member Sasa Cvjetan, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Four years later, members of “Skorpioni” Zeljko Djukic, Dragan Medic and Dragan Borojevic were sentenced to 20 years in prison each and Miodrag Solaja was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The children who survived were witnesses in every process.
An investigation to determine command responsibility and possible culpability for direct ordering and organizing the crime was never initiated. Direct perpetrators were treated as renegades out of control. Members and accomplices of the regime which implemented ethnic cleansing in Kosovo were never lustrated due to climate of social acceptability and confirmed impunity for crimes in Croatia and Bosnia.
Fourteen years later, the crime from Podujevo is presented in an exhibition, opened last night in the “Podrum” gallery in Belgrade’s Cultural Center. Presented as “homage to all families and victims of war”, the exhibition is actually a personal testimony molded into an objectified reminiscence of the crime. Remembrance of moments when Bogujevci children, surrounded by their murdered family, pretended to be dead is not a mere artistic expression; it was preserved mainly as evidence for legal proceedings against the perpetrators.
Prime Minister and Minister of Police of Serbia, Ivica Dacic, was also present at the opening of the exhibition. Former high official of Milosevic’s party (1992-2000) said that he and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, former Minister of Information in the government of national unity (1998-2000), jointly “advocated for the exhibition” when they heard of the threats the organizers received. Because it is “important to us to secure total freedom to hear about human destinies that left severe tragedies during the wars in ex-Yugoslavia”.
The exhibition consists of a reconstructed living room from the home of Bogujevci family, the hospital room where wounded children were treated after the crime and the court room where they testified against the members of “Skorpioni”.
After the opening, the authors of the exhibition – Saranda, Jehona and Fatos Bogujevci – showed Ivica Dacic around and presented the reconstruction of the crime in Podujevo in 1999. Dacic stressed that all perpetrators of this crime are convicted: “They didn’t do this on behalf of Serbia, nor did anyone authorize them to”, said the Prime Minister and expressed his condolences to “all victims”.
Dacic also said that “instead of an apology, the most important thing is that anyone who has committed crimes, on any side, will be held responsible”.
Although several extremist organizations announced their protests against the exhibition in the last couple of days, only about 20 people gathered in front of Belgrade’s Cultural Center and the space in front of the gallery was secured by riot police. Police officials said that there were no incidents and that nobody from the group of protesters was arrested.
The day before the exhibition opened, the media reported that Ivica Dacic was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, together with Hashim Tachi, whose warrant for arrest was issued in March 1999, and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton who managed to get the two prime ministers, former war enemies, to talk.
The Bogujevci children, in order to exercise their right to reparation, sued the state of Serbia for the crime committed against them by police officers on March 28th, 1999. Insensitive attitude of the judges, prolongation of the process, unnecessary repetition of harrowing testimonies and the denial of responsibility of the state and society will, perhaps one day, be the new episode of the reconstruction of Podujevo crime.
Let the ones who must – forget about it.
Translated by Marijana Simic