Svetlana Lukić: We’re now more or less over our anger and sense of humiliation at the fact that the notorious Stabilization and Association Agreement hasn’t been unfrozen. Everybody has been wailing about the injustice done to us by Holland, because of some business of theirs about some battalion. But let’s not forget what that battalion business was all about. The Dutch battalion didn’t manage to prevent, didn’t do enough to prevent, the genocide at Srebrenica – or what President Tadić has recently been calling – the well-known Srebrenica ‘incident’ or ‘tragedy’… Tadić and other politicians mention the Dutch battalion en passant, as if it were of no importance.

Srđa Popović: That’s because otherwise they’d have to explain it all, and the explanation is quite crazy: that the Dutch are greatly frustrated because they let Mladić disarm them, because they weren’t capable of preventing genocide, and they can’t forgive themselves for that, whereas we’ve forgiven ourselves for everything. And [our politicians] don’t dare, of course, to mention what it’s about. Given our moral flexibility, we can’t quite understand that the Dutch really do blame themselves greatly, whereas in our view Mladić himself is not responsible, let alone the Dutch. That’s why [our politicians] say nothing. When Đelić then starts complaining about injustice, I can’t understand how he can possible use the word in this context, given what Mladić did, and that we’ve spent years lying and protecting him, and are probably still protecting him. We recently had the anniversary of the crime at Topčider, and I’m sure it’s generally believed that those soldiers were killed by Mladić’s bodyguards, because he was hiding in that building. Never mind, we pass over all that, and when the Dutch show what we see as excessive moral concern, we cry ‘injustice’.

It’s quite shameful how brazen we’ve become. Those who think the Dutch will give up are wrong; it was a great shock to that society, their government fell as a result, what more need we say? They can’t absolve themselves, for having been involved in the event. It doesn’t matter how marginally they were involved in the event, they can’t pretend to themselves that they have a certain understanding for what happened in Srebrenica, and don’t take it all that seriously. No, they take it very seriously, and no one will make them waver, that’s for sure. It must have been very difficult for them when the Agreement was being signed too, but they were promised then that it was simply a matter of signing the Agreement, that ratification still lay ahead, that candidature lay ahead, and that if Mladić was not surrendered by then, they could stick to their position. There’s a cynical explanation – in which I don’t believe – which is that they serve as a handbrake within the European Union, that can be put on at any time and that can always serve as an alibi in case things do not progress. I don’t believe that, but I’ve heard such cynical explanations, which seem plausible because they’re in line with our own political practice.

People can’t understand how a society like the Dutch functions. It’s a Protestant society, people there take moral issues seriously, they have a high standard for human rights, all those institutions like the International Court of Justice or the Hague tribunal are located there, and these are very serious subjects for them.

I don’t normally read Politika, but I looked at today’s on-line edition and read a text by one columnist, the name’s not important but he writes for Politika, which is partly government-owned, isn’t it? He writes about the Dutch position, which he characterises as peevish – just like that: peevish, insolent, contemptuous. And offers as a comfort that, if we do one day get accepted into the European Union, we’ll be able to place conditions on the entry of others, and make them pay for all this. This is in line with Koštunica’s line about making things difficult – we’ll get in, and then we’ll make things difficult; then you’ll see, when we begin imposing vetoes! Then at the end of his text that same columnist moans and says: but maybe we’ll be the last to enter, and we won’t be able to make fun of anyone. Well, what kind of attitude is this, towards a European Union that we supposedly wish to join? What sort of position is this, in our main daily, partly owned by our government, which talks in this way about the European Union, where the EU is seen in this manner? You can see that we’re really not ready for it. What Holland? It has nothing to do with Holland! I go back to what Čeda Jovanović speaks about – the system of values. How we see ourselves in a community of nations towards which we display such a hostile attitude? That’s why I say the Netherlands is not the problem.

I’d always welcome, of course, Toma Nikolić’s vote in favour of ratification, and Daćić’s too; it’s good even if someone does it without believing in it, because it technically puts us onto a railroad from which there’s later no departure. But then again, motives are important too, our true feelings are also important, and it seems that we’re not ready. And then we have the interpretation – I’m quoting Sonja Biserko now – that perhaps Russia has even welcomed our orientation towards the European Union, precisely because it believes we’ll cause problems there. For then they’ll have a vote of their own there, to impose a veto on every decision that Russia doesn’t like.

Svetlana Lukić: A Trojan horse?

Srđa Popović: That’s right, but [Sonja] brings it up only to explain why it may be in the Russian interest to support something like this. She’s not saying that such an idea exists on the Serbian side too, but our politics have shown that it does indeed exist, and that the two motivations can be in harmony, our own and the Russian. For the nationalism of resentment, what you might also call the nationalism of the Serb loser, has been defeated; but it still exists as a kind of spite, as rage, as a thirst for moral revenge and belated satisfaction for that defeat. This does happen. I often cite Isidora Sekulić, she knew this about small nations when she wrote that they’re affected by periods of euphoria, arrogance, and megalomania which comes crashing down, and then come – this is what I like – ‘the bitter tears after’. You suddenly become transformed into an embittered victim, forget what you yourself have done, start insisting on international law and talking about the injustice committed by the big against the small. So what we have here is a disinclination to take one’s own responsibility into account, and a stubborn need to blame someone else for everything that happens to you.

Svetlana Vuković: Their advice to us is that, although we haven’t signed the Agreement because of the Netherlands, we should start behaving as if we had, nobody’s stopping us.

Srđa Popović: And has anyone ever prevented us from arresting and trying Mladić? Who has tried to stop us? We remain perplexed why they insist so much on Mladić, and never ask ourselves why we ourselves didn’t arrest him when we had him here – for we did have him, and indeed I think we still do. They say: we had him up to 2005. But what were you waiting for up to 2005? And now it’s the fault of the Hague tribunal, for insisting you should hand him over! The Hague tribunal is acting like a subsidiary body here: it will ask for him if you don’t put him on trial, so the situation is of your own making. But there was no political courage, so we always come to the same point, that the residues of the 1990s are still very much present, not only in terms of cadres, but also in people’s heads. But nobody else is to blame for that either.

I might mention, even though it’s a private matter, that I always used to tell my children when they started complaining about some teacher or friend: there’s nothing you can do about it, you can only change your own behaviour. Did you do something that helped it happen? If so, then change that, that’s something you can do, while the rest you can’t change, it’s something you have to put up with. But no, we [Serbians] never think about our own responsibility, we constantly seek to shift the blame onto someone else, so that we’ll appear as victims. This is precisely why we sank so low in the 1990s. When Koštunica starts talking about how he’s defending our dignity, you can be sure that we’ve lost it. We’ve lost even the self-respect that would permit us to turn our attention to ourselves, to our own responsibility, we don’t have the strength to do that; it has weakened us to such an extent, and worn down our moral fibre so much, that we no longer have the strength to think about our own responsibility. That’s something that hardly occurs to us: that we should change the way we are. No, we’re waiting to join the European Union, so that they can change us. It really is a true capitulation, a moral surrender and total lack of self-respect, when you say: I can’t do what needs to be done, please try somehow to force me.

The treatment of Florence Hartmann appears cynical in the extreme. For the fact is she revealed that The Hague tribunal, by a wrong interpretation of its own rights, allowed the Serbian state to censor part of the minutes of meetings of the Supreme Defence Council [of FRY] which made it clear that Serbia participated in genocide [in Bosnia-Herzegovina]. The vice-president of the appeal chamber, who submitted a separate judgement to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, also took this view, since the tribunal did not demand of the Serbian side to provide uncensored minutes of the meetings. The Bosnian side too asked for these and did not get them, but it was The Hague tribunal that first allowed the censoring.

Florence Hartmann describes very precisely how this happened: how at some point in 2004, during Milošević’s trial, Carla del Ponte demanded that the Serbian state hand over the minutes; how this led to much dispute; and how an agreement was ultimately reached – she says with Svilanović – that Serbia would make the minutes available, but that in line with Hague tribunal rules parts of them that might affect Serbia’s national security could be crossed out. What happened was that the Hague tribunal’s understanding of what constitutes national security was extremely wide, with an interpretation that lawyers call contra leges, i.e. an interpretation that contradicts the letter of the law. In other words, something that might endanger Serbia’s vital interests – and it was even said that it might cause severe financial, moral and political repercussions. Which means that on the basis of those minutes we might have been condemned for perpetrating genocide and asked to pay reparations, which the Court judged would have endangered Serbia’s vital interests.

In 2005, another court concluded that it was true that the law was wrongly applied here; that the rules of The Hague tribunal say nothing about a country’s vital interests, but talk only of national security interests, which in this case were not threatened. In other words, the Hague tribunal decided that the minutes should not have been censored, yet in the end they were censored, in line with the logic that the first decision had created an expectation on the Serbian side that they could have crossed out whatever they wanted to in these minutes, and that it would not look good if minutes submitted in this form and with these expectations were nevertheless to be made public. But when you look at the whole thing, it is clear that behind it lies the political logic that the full force of the law could not and should not be applied to Serbia, because to do so would be fatal for it, so we should be forgiven. It was thus a political decision. And now you see the paradox: the Serb nationalists call the Hague tribunal a political court, and so do I, because we were forgiven even though according to the law we shouldn’t have been forgiven.

Svetlana Vuković: This has to do with the charge filed against us by Bosnia-Herzegovina before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Srđa Popović: Right. You can always demand on the basis of newly revealed facts and evidence that a trial be repeated, because it is evident that if the court had known these facts its decision would have been different.

Svetlana Vuković: It is interesting that, when we look at the reaction of Bosnian public opinion to the Florence Hartmann case that has now opened, the Bosnians did not as expected say: great, we are now in a position to ask for a new trial.

Srđa Popović: I feel that they have become so exhausted by all these shenanigans – I cannot describe them otherwise – surrounding the whole question of genocide that they simply don’t believe that it can have any effect. But there will be future generations. The same happened with the Armenians: the first generation was so destroyed and depressed that it wished only to forget it all, and for people to stop talking about the genocide; but the grandchildren of the people who had been exposed to genocide said: wait, let’s see what happened, this thing has to be properly examined. And now, of course, Karadžić too will be charged with genocide.

A strange situation has come about. Technically speaking, the pro-European option has won; but the margin of victory is very thin, numerically thin, and it’s even worse when you weigh it up together with the understanding and the mind-set on each side. You must not forget that Ivica Dačić, who still swears by Milošević, voted for it; that Toma Nikolić – who calls Đinđić a mafia-linked prime minister, who is not sorry about Čuruvija, for whom Dulić is an Ustasha and so is Tadić – has also said that he would vote for it. In other words, at a technical level, if you look only at the result of e.g. the vote on ratification of the Agreement [with the EU], you can say that the [European] option won. But if you look at the values behind it, what ideologically stands behind it, then it’s all very murky. There is still a lot of confusion on both sides.

Turning toBoris Tadić, it’s a matter of perception how strong he really feels, and how much he only seeks to give that impression. I can see that he doesn’t feel as strong as he likes to pretend when he comes out so energetically with some striking phrase, and that he thinks he has to be very cautious with the other side, and must content himself with their superficial and declaratory support. I’m not in a position to be absolutely sure about this, but what’s certain is that the actual balance of forces is not yet clear. I think that in the parliamentary and presidential elections all that has been created in part is the illusion that one side has won. It did win, but in my view the quality of its victory is open to doubt. And I think Tadić knows that, so he has to be content with appearances, and perhaps goes too far. I certainly think it is too much when Dulić says that a coalition between the Democratic Party and the Radical Party is not excluded. Well, I say…

Svetlana Lukić: With Toma Nikolić?

Srđa Popović: Yes, with Toma Nikolić. It is as if everything that Toma Nikolić said in the past, and the policy he has conducted for seventeen years, were suddenly forgotten. But that’s impossible.

Svetlana Lukić: What the Socialist Party of Serbia did isn’t forgotten either. But they’ve told us: it’s a matter of life and death, we must have Dačić. And when on 21 October a new Radical Party is formed, the moment will come when they’ll say: you know, we must go with the Radical Party, because it’s a life-and-death issue. What I mean is that they constantly produce the life- and-death situation, and then appeal to it. In 2011 Tadić will once again tell us that it’s a matter of to be or not to be.

Srđa Popović: In the short run, it can all be just as you say. I’m not sure about the medium run, but it’s quite clear how it will end in the long run. I’m not speaking about whether it’s good or not to join the European Union; I myself think it’s good, but that’s not the question. The fact is that no other end is possible. It’s all a question of the tempo, rather than simply of the speed; because we live lives that are of a certain duration, and it’s important how we live them. For example, whether I shall spend my whole life waiting for the European Union, and whether even you will perhaps have to wait for that, is not unimportant.

Svetlana Vuković: It’s an upward spiral.

Srđa Popović: It’s an upward spiral. It’s moving very slowly, though; it’s like watching grass grow: you watch and say ‘nothing is happening’, but that’s not so, all you need is a larger time frame.

Svetlana Lukić: We’ll need at least 600 years, like the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Srđa Popović: Maybe not so long. […] I always say, rightly or wrongly, that my greatest hope lies with civil society. And people askl me: why, when you know how weak civil society is. Well, fine, my hope may be weak then, but I do have it, because society must be changed from below. That’s why I was surprised to hear Boris Tadić say a few days ago that a good state creates good citizens. I think the opposite is true, you must first have good citizens, the state will follow. But I can see that he still thinks in the categories of social engineering; that he too is forging a new man, as his father used to do.

I have a collection of the statements made by the special prosecutor, from the first one when he said: ‘we shall initiate that as soon as you have completed your presentation’, which was a year and a half ago, to others about how history will decide, and on to ones that look forward to final confirmation of the verdict… And then it turned out that when they spoke about the political background they were in fact thinking about Terzić, who freed Legija even though he knew he would kill Đinđić; or that the political background was Tijanić’s story that Beba already knew two hours later who the killers were, so it was only logical to conclude that he had also engaged them. So I don’t believe in those stories about the special prosecutor doing anything. But I would like the political background to be examined, and perhaps it would be a good idea, for that background was in fact the criminal act of armed rebellion [by the Red Berets in November 2001], in which Koštunica played a very dubious role, and for which we have all manner of evidence that Kljajević gathered for the Đinđić trial. And it wouldn’t need any prolonged investigation to prove and establish all that. This for me is the political background. Why political background? For the reasons which Prijić cited in the indictment: that the armed rebellion was the first step that led to the assassination, that the two matters were very closely related, and that it created the conditions and the means, under the control of the state security service, that enabled the latter to murder Đinđić.

This incidentally is why it’s forever being said that the Zemun [mafia] clan killed Đinđić, and that the Zemun clan had nothing to do with it [the armed rebellion]. Đinđić was killed by state officials, people who worked in the state security service killed him, and the weapons were theirs, according to information coming from the service itself. General use of the phrase ‘political background’ only obscures these facts. It was a matter of armed rebellion, a serious crime against the constitutional order and security, and numerous witnesses have been heard about the circumstances under which that crime was committed; the statements made by the accused themselves show that it was a case of an armed rebellion, and there are even tapes with intercepted conversations in which Koštunica is frequently mentioned, among other things. So this for me is the political background. But no one speaks about the armed rebellion, always and only about some vague background. People then rightly say that this is no legal description, that there’s no such expression in criminal law – ‘political background’ means nothing. That’s true, and the fact that the prosecutor constantly speaks about it is unclear and confusing.

Svetlana Lukić: As Rade Bulatović says, there is no political will to arrest Mladić.

Srđa Popović: Right. His own political party entered into a cohabitation immediately after the assassination. How then can one investigate the political background, where there is a justified suspicion that the DSS and Koštunica were somehow involved. I don’t say what their role was, but Koštunica certainly played some role in it, given that the plotters said ‘only Koštunica can stop this’. If Spasojević says ‘don’t tell Šešelj, we’re in contact with Koštunica’, if they meet with Tomić and Bulatović, if the latter promises that they won’t stop them, if Koštunica doesn’t meet his constitutional obligation as commander-in-chief to suppress the rebellion, then it’s clear that he did play a role, but that it has not been investigated. I think that this will be confirmed only in order to remove the issue from the agenda, so that it’s no longer mentioned, because every time 12 March comes round I think they start to worry and fear that the story will resurface again. They’re waiting for it to sink into the past, to become a historical mystery, and some have even said that ‘we shall never know’. Of course, you’ll never know if you don’t want to know.

I believe that this case will be reopened at some point in the future. It was promptly closed, and for the same reasons that we were forgiven the genocide. When during [Operation] Sabre it appeared that the investigation was leading to Koštunica, the people in the European Union immediately cried out: “Don’t touch it, you don’t have the strength for it, you’ll simply cause chaos, you’re not strong enough to investigate this, he has the Army behind him and you may even cause civil war. Don’t ask anything, pretend to be stupid, you have the plotters, try the plotters and be happy with that…” We are thus always treated like children, like some riffraff who are unable to establish what happened, who don’t deserve any justice, and who rather than bothering with it should seek instead to muddy the whole thing and move on.

That’s how they treat us: let them be, they don’t know any better, let’s just try to contain and minimise it, or let them carry on, what do they know about justice. This stance offends my personal sense of national dignity.

Peščanik, Radio B92, 19.10.2008.

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Srđa Popović (1937-2013), jugoslovenski advokat ljudskih prava. Branio mladog Zorana Đinđića, Brigitte Mohnhaupt (Baader-Meinhof), Vojislava Šešelja, Dušana Makavejeva, Milorada Vučelića, Mihajla Markovića, Miću Popovića, Predraga Čudića, Nebojšu Popova, Vladimira Mijanovića (Vlada Revolucija), Milana Nikolića, Mihajla Mihailova, Dobroslava Paragu, Milana Milišića, Vladimira Šeksa, Andriju Artukovića, Beogradsku šestoricu, profesore izbačene sa Filozofskog fakulteta... Pokretač peticija za ukidanje člana 133 (delikt govora), ukidanje smrtne kazne, uvođenje višestranačja u SFRJ... 1990. pokrenuo prvi privatni medij u Jugoslaviji, nedeljnik Vreme. Posle dolaska Miloševića na vlast iselio se u SAD, vratio se 2001. Poslednji veliki sudski proces: atentat na Zorana Đinđića. Govorio u 60 emisija Peščanika. Knjige: Kosovski čvor 1990, Put u varvarstvo 2000, Tačka razlaza 2002, Poslednja instanca I, II, III 2003, Nezavršeni proces 2007, One gorke suze posle 2010.

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