Can the deputy prime minister finish any task, without crying a river in the process? Of course he can’t. Or, in the words of deputy prime minister himself, can he do one thing in this country without some fault being found? Once again, of course not. And let me just say that this is not a problem of the country itself, but of the deputy prime minister personally. The way he is, one could hardly find a country where he could do anything, without someone finding a fault in his work. Well ok, a little does have to do with this country, since he was appointed to the position he is now, and in addition to that, at least from my point of view, he is being mostly adored by the masses. From the point of our sad Deputy Prime Minister, this is not enough, since he wants to be adored absolutely. This time, the deputy prime minister complained to us that he did not receive undivided praises for clearing the crime of the murder of journalist Slavko Curuvija. Obviously, the praise of the compromised journalists from the Commission, both journalists’ associations, the notorious Vuk Draskovic, the ignorant European parliament rapporteur, numerous politicians from the second echelon of opposition parties – is not enough; what bothers him is that he was not praised by Vesna Pesic, nor by Branka Prpa, the only two voices who have so far voiced their suspicion in regard to the resolution of this fourteen year old crime. If we put aside the fact that all the sycophantic praises cannot have more weight than the doubt cast by Branka Prpa, who was a witness to the murder, let us explain to the deputy prime minister what else is problematic in this entire belated endeavor, and maybe ease the pain in his heart just a little bit. I hope – once a reasonable person is clearly explained what the problem is, that person should understand there is no reason to whine about it; instead, it should give him reason to pause and think deeply about the issue. Or, if not that one person prone to tears, maybe a part of the society at least.

First of all, why is it that the deputy prime minister is the one who is informing the public about this case. What institutional basis does he have to be in any way connected to this investigation, the results of which should lead to a trial of the perpetrators. If he cares about the rule of law and proper procedure, the deputy prime minister should yield the floor to the person who is institutionally in charge or criminal investigations – either the minister or the head of police – or the person who is most responsible for court proceedings – the minister of justice. However, the deputy prime minister has the capability to understand that the murder of Slavko Curuvija, as well as, for example, the murder of Ivan Stambolic or the mass crimes committed during post-Yugoslav wars, in addition to their criminal law aspect, also have a strong symbolic importance. These are the crimes which metonymically symbolize the Serbian regime from the nineties and its criminal nature. Thus, solving these crimes has a social impact that strongly exceeds their punishment handed down by a court of law. More precisely, solving these crimes should be a symbolic act of drawing a line between the bad past and a decent future, between the previous criminal regime and the successor regime which respects the rule of law and human rights. In this regard, the symbolic potential of such crimes makes it justifiable for the most important political figure – thus, the president or the prime minister – to address the public on this issue. However, as we can see, even from this point of view, there is no place for the deputy prime minister, who simply shouldn’t have been the one to inform the public how the murders of Slavko Curuvija have been “identified”. Finally, when viewed from that angle, it is clear that the Deputy Prime Minister practically took advantage of both the murder and the investigation to demonstrate who is actually the leader of the country, as if we did not know this already.

Secondly, the role of the Commission for investigating the murders of journalists cannot equally be explained outside the symbolic context which is transitional in every aspect and implies a normative change from a bad to a decent leadership. Commissions are usually formed when investigative and legal capacities to solve serious crimes are lacking, mostly in the case of mass systematic crimes with large numbers of perpetrators and victims. The murder of Slavko Curuvija, as well the murders of other journalists, cannot be considered as such cases in any regard. This murder is a paradigm for the late regime only in the sense that it was organized by the state, that is, that the perpetrators were employed by the state and were following orders. This means that, all this time, the state was behind the cover-up of this crime, and there is obviously reason to suspect that this is the case now as well. If the regime had truly changed, then there would not be a lack of institutional capacity to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice. And no additional commissions would be needed. Except if the role of such a commission is to once again conceal the fact that a true regime change has not actually happened. While in other places commissions are used for symbolic purposes to signify a normative regime change, in our country this Commission was obviously used to create the illusion of a change that in reality has not occurred. In addition to that, it was used to compensate for the lack of legitimacy embodied in the individuals who are ruling Serbia today. The Commission is supposed to neutralize the one common sense question that arises by itself, and which was already posed by Vesna Pesic: how is it possible that, after fourteen years, the truth about the involvement of the state in the murder of journalist Slavko Curuvija is made public by the person who was, at the time, the minister of information, thus, at the very political top of the criminal state? The Commission for investigating the murders of journalists is meant to fill this void in the legitimacy of the current deputy prime minister. Thus, the question posed by Vesna Pesic invites another sub-question: why have the members of the Commission accepted to be used in this manner?

Thirdly, the key witness to the murder is no longer the eyewitness of the murder itself, but – no more no less – Milorad Ulemek, the man who organized the assassination of prime minister Djindjic. And how does he know the facts about the murder of Slavko Curuvija? Because it was something talked about, and it just happened that those stories have reached him. It is obvious that the involvement of Ulemek has nothing to do with the criminal-legal aspect of the murder. It is also obvious that Ulemek’s pointless testimony, as we as all other “newly discovered” facts – like, for example, the testimony of the wife of one of the murderers, which was also a result of hearsay – have no practical relation either to the confirmation of the identity of the murderers or to the work of the Commission; unless the Commission had also investigated Ulemek and the wife. And that was not the case. The testimonies of the wife and Ulemek are the only novelties in the murder investigation, which allegedly led to the identity of the murderers being finally confirmed. This looks flippant, to say the least, and can hardly revive our faith in the institutions of the system, which have allegedly changed fundamentally. However, once again on a symbolic level, Ulemek, who is speaking the truth without expecting any kind of deal in exchange, should bring about that normative change which was allegedly the issue all the time. Serving justice and truth, as we are told, is the sole and fundamental reward for Ulemek. It is more likely that this time, same as when he took part in the assassination of prime minister Zoran Djindjic, Ulemek only serves an evil state which refuses to transform itself, and, at the same time, under pressure from abroad, uses all means possible to present this refusal as change.

Thus we finally arrive to the fourth element in this “transitional” story – the apology. The deputy prime minister apologized to Curuvija’s family and the citizens of Serbia, and in a manner that provokes incredulity; thus, I will quote the apology verbatim as it was reported in the daily papers: “Several weeks ago, I have said that the fate of Slavko Curuvija is a paradigm of many of our cases from the past, and today, I want to apologize to the family of Slavko Curuvija and the citizens of Serbia for having to wait 14 years for the perpetrators of the murder to face justice.” What is the deputy prime minister apologizing for? The cases from the past for which the fate of Curuvija is a paradigm? What does that mean? When he says paradigm, does the deputy prime minister mean the criminal regime from the nineties? Or the suffering of innocent victims, symbolized also by the fate of Slavko Curuvija? This part of the sentence is uncomfortably ambiguous, and the deputy prime minister should watch his words where such issues are concerned. However, discomfort becomes unbearable when it turns out that the deputy prime minister is not apologizing for the murder itself – he is allegedly sorry that 14 years had to pass before the murderers have allegedly been found. Thus, in one sentence, the deputy prime minister accurately summarized all the hypocrisy of his so-called transformation. Transitional practice recognizes cases in which heads of state apologized for crimes committed by the country they represent. Let me reiterate, they apologized for crimes. Did the deputy prime minister apologize for a crime? No. He apologized for the fact that the murderers have not been discovered in due time. And who is to blame? Well, of course, those who were in power during the last ten years. They carry the entire burden of the crime, because they have not indentified the killers. But who will apologize for the very act of murder which was backed by the state, if not the person who today symbolizes that very state? Here the deputy prime minister shows a shred of human integrity, even if this integrity implies consistent immorality. He still refuses to apologize for the crimes he is at least indirectly responsible for. The most he can say about these crimes is – I knew nothing about it. However, the deputy prime minister has finished law school, and he should know about the existence of the concept of corporative responsibility. When you belong to a criminal organization, you are responsible for the crimes that your organization has committed, regardless of whether you knew about them or not. This is unambiguous evidence, the essential truth, and all that is happening right now – the Commission, the praises, the testimonies of wives and killers – has been designed to hide this obvious truth.

And finally, let us be clear. I do not care at all about the moral profile of the deputy prime minister, his lies and lack of respect that would prevent him from using someone’s death for his own political promotion. I am much more interested in the behavior of the other parties: individuals, organizations and institutions, which once again eagerly demonstrate their willingness to be involved in crime, or, if not in the crime itself, then in its cover-up. In this sense, the epilogue of the murder of Slavko Curuvija is not a sign of breaking away from a criminal legacy; on the contrary, this is nothing but the bare continuity of criminal conduct.

Translated by Bojana Obradovic

Pešč, 23.01.2014.

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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), „Dva lica patriotizma“ (2016), „Fantastična škola“ (2020) i „Srbija u kontinuitetu“ (2020).

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