The right to a fair trial includes many rights. Some are known to the citizens, although they frequently don’t understand their purpose or their essence and justification. Although most people understand the right to attorney, right to get in touch with family members and the right to trial within reasonable time, not many understand the presumption of innocence, especially in cases which incite legitimate public interest (for example, cases of pedophilia or child pornography). In those cases, almost no one shows any understanding when you say that a suspect is innocent until proven guilty. In those cases, no one even wants to entertain the idea that the suspect may be found innocent at the end of a trial.
However, there are three categories of our fellow citizens who, however guilty they are and however strong evidence against them is, will never be viewed as criminals, while the majority of citizens will find some kind of excuse for their actions. The executive authorities must listen to the pulse of the nation, because they depend of the voters, while the judiciary, which is traditionally independent until you turn the first corner, is always more attuned to the needs of the executive authorities than to what the law dictates. Which are those three categories of people? War criminals, extremists who resort to violence and citizens belonging to the category “Ceca”.
War criminals committed the worst possible crimes in the name of the state, with its help, only taking pains that “Serbia does not participate in war”. At the time, the people clearly wanted Sarajevo and Zagreb to be taken. They viewed other nations only as enemies. Because of all this, when wars were over and Serbia was defeated, a new enemy had to be found. In addition to internal enemies, against whom the “fight” successfully continued (example of success: the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djinjdic), war was waged mostly in courtrooms in Hague and Belgrade. The goal was to prove that Serbia was not guilt for any war crime, that not one highly ranked state, army or police official ever participated in planning of one of the many crimes. At the same time, the goal was to reduce the number of direct perpetrators and medium level perpetrators. Here and there, some do end up in prison, but more as a favor to the “boring” international community, than because it is important for Serbia. That is the moment when the really terrible things starts happening – for the murders of dozens of civilians, only a few defendants get more than ten years, while others manage to “skate by” with only a few years of prison time. Of course, there are always those found not guilty due to “lack of evidence”, and it is common knowledge that you can be released after serving two thirds of your sentence. In the rather solidary brotherhood of war criminals, who are serviced by good lawyers, this is not very hard to achieve. The people do not find these verdicts very problematic – they have supported the wars, they have an understanding for state affairs, even if they include war crimes.
The other category are extremists of all colors. Here, we have “Obraz”, “SNP 1389”, perpetrators of the assault on Teofil Pancic, “Nacionalni stroj”, as well as solo players who attack and threaten members of different minority groups, journalists or activists. There are at least several thousands of them, and they are recognized by the fact that they beat people and break shop windows whenever they are told there is a good opportunity (proclamation of Kosovo independence, the Pride Parade, the arrest of Karadzic and so on). However violent they are, and however surprised with their brutality we might be, over and over again (the murder of Brice Taton and the rampage of Uros Misic are the best examples), the judiciary is sensitive to every god-fearing story of these classical bullies, whose only excuse is – “Serbism”. The wide range of mitigating circumstances, ranging from “they perpetrated no criminal acts in the past”, “they have patriotic views”, “there was no evidence they were present”, “there was no evidence they have attacked/beaten”, “they truly repent” (although they spread hate speech during the trial itself) and similar, coupled with good lawyers who know how to do their job “outside the courtroom as well”, yield excellent results. Thus, in these cases, formally legal basis for ridiculously small sentences exists, and if, by pure chance, the length of the sentence is proportional to the social danger and can serve as an example to others, with the help of the media and “analysts”, justice turns into a circus. All that media have to do is report when the perpetrators will be released (cases of Uros Misic, Mladen Obradovic, Goran Davidovic). One lawyer – analyst, in his numerous appearances, persistently plays down the importance of the length of sentence. If the length of sentence is irrelevant, both repressively and preventively, why does the qualification of an act as criminal exist in the first place? Finally, the common excuse (which “the people” and the media readily accept) when justifying “our mischievous children” is the famous phrase that “a broader social action is necessary in order to prevent violence”. It is possible that this can be implemented in Sweden, but Serbia needs a state first – police, prosecution and judiciary. One can see that this is true simply by noting the verdict issued yesterday for the assault on a B92 cameraman (10 months of house arrest), as well as the verdict for the assault on journalist Teofil Pancic (three months in jail).
Another curiosity related to this second category is the very frequent discrepancy between the criminal act that has been committed and the one defendants stand trial for. All the perpetrators are most frequently accused of “violent behavior”, while various important elements are disregarded (most frequently that the assault was directed against a minority group, journalist and similar). Moreover, instead of considering such motives as aggravating circumstances, lawyers use them to justify the violence perpetrated by the accused, that is, to justify the prejudices towards assaulted groups. Judges remain silent to such arguments of the defence, but by issuing very short sentences they in actuality agree with them (trial of Misa Vacic is an excellent example of this kind of behavior by the lawyer and the judge). The people are silent, because they, themselves, do not particularly like those who are the target of extremist groups, while the executive authorities, for the most part, stand mildly appalled by the verdicts and keep repeating that the judiciary is independent.
The third group belongs to the category “Ceca”. Although media are dealing with this case for days, the reason for the laughable (or better said – hilarious) sentence is very simple. The abovementioned citizen, as well as others similar to her, are celebrities – they have a wide circle of friends and fans, those who are in their debt and who would want to “be there to help”. The people already bought the story about “the mother of two children” while Ceca was incarcerated, and there are many who believe that it was all a “frame-up” or “that it was left over from Arkan”. Its amazing how no one from the “people” saw anything questionable in the video of her hanging out with criminals, i.e. conspirators who assassinated Djindjic, nor in the data from the investigation, according to which she had a serious role in hiding them. She is simply – “Ceca”, this video has been forgotten, the sentence for what people call “thievery” was “mitigated” (Tomo Zoric, Spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office), and she has, paradoxically, become “a single mother”. Needless to say that “the people” believe these two pearls of wisdom offered by Tomo Zoric to be laughable, but, once more, there is no reaction, and Mr. Zoric himself is not chafed, because, from a strictly formal point of view, Svetlana Raznjatovic is a single mother. It is true that her husband has, in the same way, stolen/embezzled almost 9 million German marks (as stated in the indictment), but everyone is behaving like he took that money to his grave. We know that this citizen embezzled 50% less than her husband, and that the price of her concert is the same as the price of an apartment in downtown Belgrade. However, the court obviously paid attention to the will of all parties (both in the government and in the opposition), who are very interested in the pulse of the people a few months before the elections, and facts became less important. A huge number of citizens/voters simply do not want Ceca in prison, so her lawyers are now trying to convince us that this settlement is “rightful for the state, but not for Ceca”.
Only a day later, the people found out that house arrest is not what they believe it to be. In addition to the 2000 square meters of her home, Ceca will be allowed to go to her possible wedding, someone’s funeral, regular doctor’s appointments, as well as to work, which is, in her case, a studio where she will be recording her new album. The minority of “the people” who still believe this to be a scandal were told that she “will not organize concerts because that would be inappropriate”. We will stop discussing the money that she embezzled, while her house arrest will become an attraction, as well as a new way to mock the law in Serbia.
The author is the Programme Director Western Balkans at Civil Rights Defenders
Translated by Bojana Obradovic