As head of the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Association of Serbian Writers, I wrote two petitions in the period between 1986 and 1988, in favor of cessation of the judicial persecution against Vojislav Seselj and his release, as well as several articles published by Knjizevna rec.1 I have assisted a Mladina magazine journalist in establishing contact with him and I took a photograph of Seselj for the purpose of that interview. Later that year (1988), during a short stay in Ljubljana, Seselj brought a large number of his books so that I would sell them, if possible. We used all of those books as fuel during the rough winter of 1992-3 in Ljubljana, in scarcity and with an apartment full of refugees.
To this day, I believe that the evil brought and caused by Seselj could have been, to a large extent, prevented in a customary fashion which had been used in a broad circle of Belgrade elites in cases of dissidents escaping from other, harsher environments: such people would be positioned in some institution, at a corner desk with a typewriter. There were persons crazier than Seselj who were both provided a livelihood and prevented from harming themselves and others that way. What prevented Dobrica Cosic, Svetozar Stojanovic or Ljuba Tadic2 from making an obvious assessment, calming Seselj down and letting him write in peace? Only the fact that, according to my deep conviction, they wanted to take advantage of him. The assessment was perfectly wrong.
What is to be done with Seselj today, following the surprising self-exposure of the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the admission of incompetence in matters of international law and the complete discrepancy with legal principles established by the UN? Serbian authorities can criticize the verdict, they can conduct a legal analysis of all consequences, seek ways of legal reaction. There is only one thing they must not do – namely be neutral in this matter, for Seselj is now solely in their jurisdiction; because, as was clearly stated by the Hague judge, he is now a free citizen of the world, and Serbia is the only country in which he by no means should be free, according to applicable laws. Serbian judiciary should not have a problem with issuing an indictment for war crimes incited and committed against citizens of other states, and it should particularly have no problem with bringing charges for crimes against its own citizens, where the adjective “war” plays no role whatsoever. Due to tardiness, incompetence or any other reason detectable in the judiciary, Seselj escaped domestic justice, surrendering to the Hague court just prior to the murder of Zoran Djindjic. Now is the time for the judiciary to catch up with what has been lost and, aided by the material gathered by the International Tribunal, asses the sequence and manner of its acting.
Therefore, we should leave the Hague Tribunal be, as it has just issued a verdict upon itself and its legal reason and, after all, we should let this process continue according to the rules still in force. We should also leave aside the catastrophically shortsighted prediction by the Serbian Government and its Prime Minister, and the trouble he has brought upon himself playing election games. Finally, Seselj has the right to be tried in a language understood by everyone and in an environment where even his most fervent proponents are not prone to fall for tricks he has been selling at the Hague Tribunal. On behalf of all who have slipped on Seselj’s “banana peel”,3 whether surviving it or not, judicial processing of Seselj’s case would finally erase the shadow, remove the fear, neutralize the haughtiness. And a part of the banished rationality – no matter how small it may be – would return to the citizens’ minds…
Translated into English by HBS Belgrade.
- The Literary Word, youth literary magazine – translator’s note.
- Ljubomir Tadic, Serbian academic and politician – translator’s note.
- Reference to a July 1997 incident when Šešelj made a guest TV appearance with lawyer Nikola Barović as the other duelist. The duel quickly escalated into an emotional exchange that culminated in Barović pouring water on Šešelj. Sometime later Barović was physically assaulted by Šešelj’s security detail, Šešelj himself stating that Barović had slipped on a banana peel and tumbled down the flight of stairs – translator’s note.