WORLD

DAMNED IF IT DOESN’T

Serbia must catch its war criminals or forfeit its future

SONJA KOVACS July 7 2008
WORLD

DAMNED IF IT DOESN’T

Serbia must catch its war criminals or forfeit its future

SONJA KOVACS July 7 2008

DAMNED IF IT DOESN’T

WORLD

Serbia must catch its war criminals or forfeit its future

SONJA KOVACS

The weeks that have passed since Stojan Zupljanin was detained have not changed anything in Banja Luka. There has been almost no reaction among residents of the Bosnian city where he lived— not a single protest, no graffiti on the walls. Nobody is selling cheap T-shirts with his face printed on them, and nobody seems to be interested in the man who is the first of four top Serb leaders wanted for war crimes by The Hague tribunal to be tracked down. “Does anyone know on which street Zupljanin’s house is?” a young taxi driver asks his colleagues over the radio. A few respond, explaining how to get to Stevana Markovica Street, and the house of a man accused of crimes against humanity, genocide, murder, torture, deportations and the reckless devastation of Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat towns and villages.

The unpainted, greyish two-storey building, with ruined wooden blinds on the windows, looks more or less like the other houses on this narrow and quiet street in the capital of Republika Srpska, the Serbian entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The gate is closed and two metal pieces of something that once could have been a garden chair lean at the wall. The children next door stop playing football for a moment and turn their curious brown eyes to the taxi. “It doesn’t really look like the house of a war profiteer, does it?” the young driver asks, mentioning what everyone in Banja Luka knows: Stojan Zupljanin made war deals for a portion of good homemade lamb. All he has left behind is a gas station, closed in August 2007 by a Bosnian court decision, another family house, not far from Banja Luka but in similar poor condition—and a wife and two sons without any permanent income. “Because of their father, they can’t find a job,” says a family friend. “The little inheritance they had was taken away. Police had been questioning them daily.”

That’s because Zupljanin’s alleged war activities went well beyond mere profiteering. As a high-ranking police official in Bosanska Krajina during the war in Bosnia

and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995, he was well-known for his leading role in ethnic cleansing, specifically the deportation of 10,000 Croats and Muslims from that region. They were deported through Banja Luka in inhuman conditions, mostly in wagons intended for the transport of cattle: “A certain number of Muslim and Croatian citizens wanted to move out of central Bosnia,” Stojan Zupljanin once said. “No refugee asked for a first-class wagon.”

THE PRO-WESTERN DEMOCRATIC COALITION ONLY NARROWLY WON THE ELECTIONS ON MAY 11

Ever since he was publicly indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in December 1999, Zupljanin had been at large, along with Bosnian Serb ex-general Ratko Mladic, his wartime political boss Radovan Karadzic, and Croatian Serb wartime leader Goran Hadzic. For almost nine years, Serbian police had been trying to locate Zupljanin, and finally captured him on June 11 in the private apartment of a friend and business partner in Pancevo, a town close to the Serbian capital of Belgrade. His arrest, executed in a surprisingly quick and professional operation by state security forces under the supervision of Serbia’s war crimes prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic—who has since received death threats—couldn’t have come at a better time for pro-Western politicians in Belgrade, especially Serbian President Boris Tadic. Only one day before Zupljanin’s arrest, the Dutch minister of foreign affairs, Maxime Verhagen, said that the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) between Serbia and the EU won’t be ratified until Serbia provides solid proof about its complete devotion to co-operating with the UN tribunal in The Hague. In fact, Verhagen suggested that one of the four remaining fugitives should be sitting on an airplane to The Hague as soon as possible, or further efforts by Serbian democrats for EU membership were a waste of time.

The increased outside pressure to apprehend the war criminals only added to the worries facing Serbia’s proWestern democratic coalition, which had narrowly won the parliamentary elections on May 11. After Kosovo, a formerly Serbian district, declared independence on Feb. 17 and was recognized by most European countries, the number of citizens in favour of joining the European Union decreased by eight per cent, and riots broke out all over Serbia. The May election turned into a referendum on joining the EU. And to the surprise of many political analysts, the democratic coalition won, and now, despite lingering anger about the loss of Kosovo, 65 per cent of citizens remain in favour of joining the EU. (A crucial move was made by the EU at the last moment—signing the SAA just a few days before the vote.)

But the democratic block has been left facing a bitter reality. In order to form a government, Tadic is going to enter a coalition with the Serbian Socialist party, whose founder was dictator Slobodan Milosevic, the leader of Serbia during the dark history of the 1990s, who died in jail in The Hague in March 2006. No matter how much the current president of the socialists, Ivica Dacic, is trying to present his party as reformed and socially responsible, this coalition of former political rivals will be one of compromises and political favours. The Socialist party has always been against any co-operation with The Hague, for instance, though given its preference to lead Serbia toward the EU it will likely give in. Meanwhile, as well as confronting increased demands to apprehend Mladic, Karadzic and Hadzic, the new government will be facing the need for urgent military, police and judicial reforms, and to tackle challenges in the education system. More than 1.2 million Serbian citizens lack even an elementary education, and Serbia is the only country in Europe where the number of people with a higher education has decreased in the last 15 years. Only seven per cent of citizens have a university degree, only one in 10 has a passport, though 60 per cent of young people say they would leave the country instantly if they could. Although the economic situation is significantly better than it was three years ago, unemployment is still over 17 per cent, and the average monthly salary is 400 euros ($630).

WARTIME BOSS KARADZIC, THE RUMOUR GOES, IS BEING PROTECTED BY THE U.S.

Not an easy task for what may be a halfhearted coalition, and one that is almost impossible to accomplish without EU assistance—which to a great degree hinges on the issue of the three remaining war criminals. “The arrest of Stojan Zupljanin proves that it is necessary to insist on the total co-operation of the Serbian government with the tribunal in The Hague” said Bart Rijs, a Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Among many Serbs, the fate of the three is now a non-issue. “Who cares if he is arrested or not, I have nothing to gain anyway,” says a woman named Zorica about Zupljanin, as she absentmindedly goes through her purse filled with euros, dollars and convertible marks, the official currency in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A middle-aged woman, wearing a bright-red sweater, Zorica makes a living in the pedestrian area in the centre of Banja Luka as a kind of walking exchange office. She is one of the last relics of the war era, when inflation and poverty encouraged people to sell on the street everything they had, from foreign currencies and diapers to toilet paper, books and food, or else to barter: powdered milk for a pack of cigarettes, a kilo of sugar for five light bulbs.

Today, Banja Luka with its 200,000 citizens seems quite lovely at first sight. On a recent visit, the international festival of short films has just ended, a kids’ basketball tournament has just begun, Sex and the City is playing in the cinema every night, and bars and cafés are packed no matter what time of day. More than half of Republika Srpska’s population—55 per cent—are in favour of the arrest of wanted war criminals, and over 70 per cent support the spirited leader of the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, their prime minister, Milorad Dodik. He was a huge opponent of Radovan Karadzic during the war; nowadays Dodik is more of a populist whose occasionally nationalistic speeches irritate both Muslims and Croats in BosniaHerzegovina. But he was one of the first politicians who asked for Karadzic and Mladic to be delivered to The Hague.

After Zupljanin’s arrest, and 13 years after the notorious massacre of Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica—reputed to be the worst massacre of the Bosnian war, and one of the main crimes for which the fugitives are wanted—$5 million has been offered by the U.S. State Department for their arrest, along with one million euros from the Serbian Council for National Security. If only the authorities knew who is hiding them—and who else, and at what levels, has colluded to keep them safe. “Zupljanin was a small fish, Karadzic’s man without any authority,” says Igor Gajic, chief editor of the weekly magazine Reporter in Banja Luka. If things had a normal flow and order, he believes that arrest should have been followed by the arrest of Goran Hadzic, who is charged for war crimes in Croatia. He was last seen leaving his house on June 13, 2004, carrying a bag. But a mere four hours before, a sealed indictment had arrived at the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Belgrade, along with information on Hadzic’s whereabouts. In other words, Goran Hadzic got firsthand information from the top.

Against such a backdrop of nefarious dealings and conspiracy theories, Igor Gajic believes Karadzic has actually been protected by the U.S. It’s a gentleman’s agreement, “like the one he made with Holbrook,” says Gajic, referring to an alleged and dubious deal between the former Bosnian Serb leader and Richard Holbrook, the American mastermind of the Dayton peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia. According to the rumour, Karadzic was guaranteed his personal safety in exchange for withdrawing from politics. The U.S. State Department has always denied any such deal, but the vast majority of people in Republika Srpska believe that there was one. “The answer to when Karadzic will be arrested,” says Miodrag Zivanovic, a professor of philosophy at the University of Banja Luka and one-time president of the opposition Liberal party, “is as simple as the one to the question, ‘when will the war in Iraq end?’—when Washington decides.” M