The Hague Tribunal is putting in the final pieces of the mosaic of wars in former Yugoslavia. Last week, Radovan Karadzic was sentenced by first-degree verdict. The verdict was founded on established facts on war crimes and other crimes of international law on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This week, the Court acquitted Vojislav Seselj of any criminal responsibility, stating that there aren’t enough facts to prove his participation in a joint criminal enterprise or that the crime wasn’t proven in one specific case (Hrtkovci). In the case of Vojislav Seselj, the court doesn’t say that Vojislav Seselj is innocent or that no crimes happened, but states that the prosecution has failed to present valid evidence of his guilt. My impression is that it was more of a terminological dispute between the judges and the prosecution, than an attempt to establish the facts.
Courts in general, including the Hague Tribunal, establish criminal responsibility exclusively and not any other form of responsibility. This could mean that this court has decided that Vojislav Seselj isn’t guilty, but that it doesn’t imply that he bears no responsibility. Radovan Karadzic, however, is clearly guilty according to the first-degree verdict. If these first-degree verdicts become final, it would mean that Radovan Karadzic will have to bear the consequences of his crimes, while Vojislav Seselj will only have to answer to the public, if it ever calls upon him. Yesterday we had an opportunity to see what it might look like. Just like in the nineties, Vojislav Seselj is still stirring up hate among the neighboring nations and countries. Just like in the nineties, the majority doesn’t condemn him for it. The influence that the Hague Tribunal has over Serbian nationalism equals an absolute zero. For that nationalism, it’s as if the court never existed.
(Since the dominant perception of the Court here is another form of expression of Serbian nationalism, one could claim that the mere existence of the Court and its work have, in fact, strengthened Serbian nationalism since 2000).
Serbia has been drowning in its aggressive and frustrating nationalism for decades and no decision of the Hague Tribunal has ever changed anything about it. Given that fact, these two verdicts, each in its own way, only prolong this nationalist domestic agony. On the one hand, Radovan Karadzic’s verdict has only confirmed the facts on crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. On the other hand, Vojislav Seselj’s verdict has confirmed that Serbia had practically nothing to do with those crimes (just like it didn’t have anything to do with the crimes in Croatia and crimes against its own citizens who aren’t ethnic Serbs). The protagonists of Serbian nationalism, who created and initiated the chain of wars and crimes from Serbia during the nineties, got a message from the Hague Tribunal that they are allowed to continue spreading hate against the neighboring countries and nations without fear of being punished. The court’s decision in the case of Vojislav Seselj exonerates the creators of Serbian nationalism of any criminal responsibility. This is bad news for Serbia and ethnic Serbs outside Serbia.
Serbian nationalism hasn’t given up on its territorial pretensions against the neighboring countries. This was evident in the comments on Radovan Karadzic’s verdict. Both the prime minister and the president concluded that the verdict is bad, without disputing the facts it was based on. The two of them continue to follow the politics of Serbian nationalism from the nineties. And, with Vojislav Seselj’s verdict, the Hague Tribunal has said that Serbia can’t be held accountable for that politics. That continuity is evident in subordination of justice and morality to the particular needs of the “Serbian” nation, which are produced and imposed by domestic “masters of reality” by using repressive political and ideological means. They say that only that which benefits “us” is justified. At the same time, they authoritatively define “us” – “the Serbs” and “our” – “Serbian” interest. Based on that, they establish the truth about the past, important facts and those that should be forgotten as if they never happened. It’s not important that some people were killed in Srebrenica, but the fact that Radovan Karadzic was sentenced for that crime is important, since Karadzic is a “Serb”. Karadzic is the epitome of “Serbhood” and “Serbian” interest, according to the nationalists in power on this side of the Drina. Hence the message for all “Serbs” that their interest and their identity are hurt by this verdict. Since this is bad, the president would say, the verdict is also bad, regardless of the facts.
Serbian nationalism has, once again, remained safe within the borders of Serbia. Serbian nationalists (since the Hague Tribunal has cleared their past via Vojislav Seselj’s verdict) will continue to spread hate and hold claim to the territories of neighboring countries. Just like in the nineties, they won’t hesitate to push ethnic Serbs outside Serbian borders into a war for territory. If these two verdicts don’t wake up Serbia, they could at least send a clear message to ethnic Serbs outside Serbian borders. It seems that for every crime in which Serbian nationalists from Serbia involved ethnic Serbs from neighboring states, the latter Serbs are held accountable.
Translated by Marijana Simic
Dejan Ilić (1965, Zemun), urednik izdavačke kuće FABRIKA KNJIGA i časopisa REČ. Diplomirao je na Filološkom fakultetu u Beogradu, magistrirao na Programu za studije roda i kulture na Centralnoevropskom univerzitetu u Budimpešti i doktorirao na istom univerzitetu na Odseku za rodne studije. Objavio je zbirke eseja „Osam i po ogleda iz razumevanja“ (2008), „Tranziciona pravda i tumačenje književnosti: srpski primer“ (2011), „Škola za 'petparačke' priče: predlozi za drugačiji kurikulum“ (2016) i „Dva lica patriotizma“ (2016).