by Jasmina Tesanovic
The Scorpions: The Design of Crime
I never had a homeland, I never had a mother language, I never believed in God. I grew up as a pumpkin on the garbage, as my mother used to say…
I grew up between countries, languages, customs. In my various schools I spoke English, Italian, Serbian… I borrowed other people’s troubles to write about.
I wrote, emoted, wept, with all the empathy of a mockingbird.
In fifth grade, in a Yugoslav school under Tito, I received a homework assignment to write about the glorious battles of the Yugoslav communist army. I knew about English Tudors and Stuarts, the French revolution, the American Civil War… but none of those grand narratives had mentioned any communist glory. So I asked my father, a native from Herzegovina, for a schoolgirl digest version of the good guys beating the bad guys in World War II.
And my father told me a terrible story; cruel and heroic with him as an actor. That was the first time that I heard the term “mass graves.” Serbian people in Herzegovina were seized by Nazi occupiers and lashed together with knotted ropes, three in a bunch. Then one victim was shot and other two tumbled together into a common trench. Hundreds were killed in rows in this fashion before the death squads left.
Once the killers disappeared, my father and other teenagers from the town dug for the whole day trying to save survivors. Some few unearthed victims did survive, enough to tell the tale. So I wrote that, exact place and date, and I won a literary prize in the Yugoslav school. A couple of weeks later I was publicly deprived of my prize: my dates didn’t match the official history of the Resistance. The struggle I described had occurred a month or more before the official communist uprising, led in that part of the country by a Comrade So-and-so. This apparatchik, still alive and in power at that time, was making it his business to control the local history for both the dead and the living.
I never asked my parents what nationality we were: we were Yugoslavs, I knew that. We had the best passport in the world: I heard that. My mother was small and dark and my father was tall and blond. They named me”Jasmina” because of a folk song.So things stood until the early nineties: then something happened in the air, on the ground, in people’s minds. Especially in Serbia, where I happened to live at the time.
My mother started speaking about Kosovo as if it were her homeland. My father talked in much the same way about Bosnia. As a couple, they had both lived in Belgrade since 1941. We had never bothered to visit their native lands. Then dark stories emerged of war crimes from Serbs in Bosnia and Kosovo. I told those stories to my parents. They didn’t want to believe me. My mother died with Kosovo on her lips and my father,still alive, does not speak to me of such things anymore. In June 1995, I was writing a book on refugees from former Yugoslavia, “The Suitcase”, (University Press of California), and interviewing local women and men of various ethnicities who’d been displaced all over the world.
One of my contacts was a young man from Srebrenica: displaced in Vienna. He was a Muslim, very polite and kind to me, as a Serb writing for American publishers. He invited me to his flat, offered me dinner and told me how he fled the troubled country through the Red Cross in Belgrade. He considered himself a Yugoslav and loathed the wars, according to him made by remote politicians, not the people like himself.
And at the end, he said something I will never forget, a sentence that at the time sounded creepy and muddy: If something happens to my family back there in Srebrenica, which is a Muslim enclave protected by UN troops, I swear to God that I will kill with my own hands the first Serb I come across here, and I don’t care that he is not guilty, I don’t care if I go to prison forever…
He meant, presumably, his Serbian co-worker, a fellow refugee in Vienna whom he saw most every day. A few weeks later, the massacre happened in Srebrenica; more than 8000 people were executed in by the army of Bosnian Serbs led by General Mladic. UN troops looked the other way. Bodies were buried all over the region, some in Serbia proper, with an unprecedented efficiency.
Today, more than ten years after, some people, in Serbia and all over the world still look away from Srebrenica. In Serbia, the claim of the silent majority is that crimes were equal on all sides and should therefore be systematically obscured and forgotten. In the larger global world, itself increasingly terrorized, militarized, and extra-legalized, the justification for such an attitude is: let the violent local tribes fight it out in the Balkans.
This is the splendid isolation of those who imagine that they can afford isolation. I don’t know if that man’s family was killed in the Srebrenica massacre, and I don’t know if he killed his neighbor the Serb. I have never heard from him since. After the Srebrenica massacre of July 11-14, the Croats bombed Krajina in the beginning of August. Two hundred fifty thousand Serbs fled Croatia.
A few months later, in Dayton, a peace treaty was signed between the three warring sides, (Serbs, Muslims and Croats). I remember waiting awake all night in order to see if they reached an agreement. I remember my 11 year old daughter coming every few hours out of her bed to ask me: DID THEY? When finally I said yes: she went to sleep and I started crying. Those were not tears of relief but of despair.
The Dayton treaty was signed by Milosevic and Karadzic. They shook hands with Bill Clinton, they publicly performed as peace makers, and I immediately knew that the eight thousand bodies from Srebrenica’s mass graves would return someday, as sure as Hamlet’s father, because there would be no reconciliation and peace without truth and justice.
In December 2005, I first went to the Srebrenica trial of the Scorpion paramilitaries. I went to support our women friends from Bosnia, who came to testify at the war crimes tribunal, to identify their murdered loved ones. I went as a member of the Non-Governmental Organization,”Women in Black.
When I first heard the Scorpions speak publicly, these men who had secretly participated in Srebrenica as well as other, lesser massacres, I decided to stay until the trial’s very end. Not merely for the sake of the victims, but because of the criminals.
These people spoke in my own language, they had the body-language of my own neighbors, and the reasoning of my own family. They were part of my family story and history, the part which went bad, went astray, committed crimes, killed and obscured the killing. My duty and my privilege was to hear them at first hand, to take notes and try to convey the historical truth.
What kind of obscurantism and denial could make eight thousand victims vanish? In three mere days? All “operated,” all killed? What design could execute such a crime? Looking at and listening to the Scorpions, these heroes in their own minds, whose turbulent war years passed as common looters, killers of their neighbors, who then sank into frustrated years of peace as an aging brotherhood-in-blood, a small-scale, patriarchal mafia… I wrote these pages struggling to make sense of that, to respect the words and thoughts of the actors in the court, and to convey a bigger picture to the world.
In Jerusalem after World War II, Hannah Arendt followed the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Some of her fellow Jews were offended and appalled that Eichmann was given the right to speak in his own defense after six million Jews were denied any due process and executed. And yet it was her presence in his court that allowed Hannah Arendt to understand and describe the banality of evil. Historical crimes are designed. The dead are silent but their legal ghosts are loud. Their best port-parole is sometimes the voices of their executors.
A Human Package December 23, 2005
I hail a cab. It is snowing and gloomy, Friday 23 December. People in Belgrade are already hysterical because of the New Year holidays.
Please hurry to the special court, ex military court. Do you know where it is? Of course Madame I know, it is a very famous place these days, it is round the corner, you don’t need a cab really.
True, the military court is an old renovated building for new war crimes, a monument to the last wars, my friend Stasa says. It’s much fancier than The Hague court room. In my street live some war criminals, so no wonder they made their court there.
We Women in Black are official NGO onlookers. We enter the building with Natasa Kandic, the woman most hated by nationalists in Serbia, Natasa Kandic the representative of the victims and a human rights lawyer, plus the family members themselves: 15 women, all in all.
This is the last day of the first round of the trial of the Scorpions, the special military formation which executed 6 Muslim war prisoners in the days of Srebrenica genocide. During this mass murder of the Muslims, the Scorpions unwisely filmed their own crime.
On June 1st 2005 Jeffrey Nice, the prosecutor screened in the Hague tribunal during the Milosevic trial an excerpt from the video cassette. The same day in Belgrade Natasa Kandic publicized the entire tape .Some family saw the faces of their missing for the first time.
Now we see the faces of the arrested executioners. One young woman, a victim’s relative says; it is so relieving to see their faces, so soothing, to see who killed your loved one, to see if he is a human, and to hear him speak for himself. It is so important to start making a difference between those who did the crime and those who didn’t.
That is the whole point in this trial: of the entire accused, only one pleaded guilty: he pulled the trigger, claiming that he obeyed orders. The incriminated men are relatives themselves, they all look the same, big, dressed in black, bald or short-haired, with tattoos on their necks: the symbol of Scorpions. When Natasa Kandic asked them about the tattoo, they refused to answer, claiming it was personal.
Aleksandar Vukov, who is the last being interrogated, is pleading not guilty. He claims he knew nothing of the execution: he was there in that no man’s land only to receive ‘The Package’ as they called in code the ammunition. The Package did not arrive, but instead some prisoners were brought by the same ammunition van, and then executed. Vukov is lying; the judge, a blonde intelligent woman, is politely vivisecting him.
The accused arrives on red crutches, he lacks one leg. He is young, intelligent and well educated: he says, I am a double victim, first of one regime which made me an invalid, and now of this new one which is sacrificing me as a goat. Other accused show sympathy towards this young man who moves me with mixed feelings all the time, I am angry with my emotions.
Then I realize he looks and speaks exactly as a very close friend of mine, who instead being a war criminal is a war deserter, who instead of knowing everything about war games and disciplines plays Internet games. Do we all have our doubles who made the opposite choices in our dark times of no choices? Is there a Hyde Jasmina somewhere in this courtroom too?
This guy is not guilty of crime, the lawyer of the victims tells me, but he is protecting his military superior.
I am sitting behind their family and fans: they all look aggressive and afraid at the same time. They laugh loudly and wave their hands at the accused, through the glass that is dividing us.
The five lawyers of the accused are grim and aggressive. They behave as war heroes; no wonder Mladic and Karadzic, the responsible Bosnian leaders, are not yet arrested but respectfully quoted in Serbian books as historical figures.
We had great discipline and wonderful moral qualities: nobody was questioning the orders. We were actually protecting the oil fields in the region, and were well paid for that responsible job by the oil company. I joined the group after the Arkan’s organization was dissolved and this formation was part of the Vukovar army: Legija was in it too.
For those who don’t know: Vukovar is the place of major Serbian war crime in Croatia, Arkan is the war criminal and bank robber famous for killings and looting of non-Serbian population, Legija is the guy who killed our Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. And this episode is part of the Srebrenica genocide when 8000 Muslims were executed by Serbian army led by Ratko Mladic. I am facing the best of the worst. My women are sitting behind me very sober; one of them says, I am illiterate but I understand everything he is saying. He is lying.
The one-legged accused is boasting about the fancy uniforms they had and NATO caps… The code they used to say everything is fine was ‘Whiskey 55′…the war games played 24 hours, for years on end, reveal energy and volunteerism which resembles our Women in Black peace activism. Only we have no hierarchy: they have a chain of responsibility and system of mafia omerta, as in jails. Even if they are telling different stories in front of the judge, they avoid incriminating each other as much as possible. I remember how the word ‘mafia’ in its original sense meant solidarity, friendship, support, and high ideals and morality. Now it represents this Horror.
The first accused in the chain of responsibility, who denies his guilt of any war crime, says: I take off my hat to this young man who was my deputy and a neighbour. I saw him grow as a kid. His orders were to take off the heads of the Muslim prisoners not their hats. Those Moslem kids too were his neighbours and kids he saw grow up, but the code word for them was The Package. A package of flesh and blood turned into movie extras.
Nazis too filmed their genocide endeavours as art or war victories. Now that they are sitting and breathing only a few meters away from me, I feel painfully the difference between virtual and real.
The silence of the dead is overwhelming: we who support the victims and their families are suffocating in the back rows behind the glass screen. It’s been 10 years now since the genocide was successfully committed, and nobody is yet convicted. How can you tell good from bad guys anymore, who is the Jekyll who is the Hyde: the war invalid and the war criminal cannot control his transformation anymore? He is the same person.
The President of Serbia, after the trial, shook hands with the family of the victims for their courage to come to Belgrade, to attend. Is there a Hyde Jasmina somewhere in this courtroom to attend the trial? To make us see that difference, to make the virtual become real.
Who Gave the Order
Day 1, January 23, 2006
The fifth indicted Scorpion hardly speaks. When he does, one cannot understand him, in this small courtroom where the Scorpion trial continues today. It is minus 11 degrees here in Belgrade, it snows, we still have our Russian gas heating on, but for how long?
He mumbles, groans, and shakes his head while the severe judge woman interrogates him. From behind, I see his thick neck and body, distorted as if in pain. He is a couple of meters away from me. He is asked to speak louder, but he has nothing to say really; he pleads not guilty. Until recently his defense was silence. Today the few words extorted from him by the impatient judge are I DON’T REMEMBER, I DON’T KNOW… He twitches and his eyes are-directed to the patch of floor in front of him. He was the chauffeur who took the six Muslim prisoners to the meadow where they were executed. He had a Kalashnikov, he had a pistol, and he claims he didn’t shoot. He saw them being executed but he says: my eyes were blinded by sudden darkness, I know nothing.
For five hours he tells this story. He was the driver, supposed to bring bread to his fellow soldiers, but brought them prisoners and then death. They shot first only four prisoners, and then made the other two take the bodies to a house nearby, where they shot them too. Lawyers and judges are interrogating him. He has nothing to say.
Finally one other indicted member of his paramilitary group comments that he was the one who shot the last two prisoners in the house. Then he screams: of course I shot, we all shot… Again, he lost his temper. Night blinded his sight. The judge is angry with him. She says: all this time you claimed another thing! He recoils… hustle in the courtroom.
“I saw the film for the first time on TV and I think the film was manipulated, some people who were there are missing…”
Who is missing? The victims, the Bosnian officers, his paramilitary friends… again he knows nothing. The trial is adjourned.
We are silent, we Women in Black, together with friends of the victims who came again to Belgrade. The brutality and banality of the killer’s coming-out has sucked away my sense of morality. If he has no regrets, nothing to say, is there anything at all to say in this world?
Day 2, January 24, 2006
Day of maps and confrontations. Today, hardly anybody mentions bodies or guns. It is a day of military jargon and display. If one didn’t know the trial was about the Scorpions, one could even get interested in their discourse. All of them have inflated egos and high self-esteem: now they are sitting in front of each other, and clashing in front of the judge, with their varying versions of who said what, who was responsible for what, who was where… Ten years ago, that very day when innocent civilians were executed in cold blood.
That is not their main issue. Their topics are loyalty, the silence of omerta, honoring their hierarchy and sacred military duties. They are relatives, kin, godfathers to each other and to their children. One of them is married to another’s sister. The judge asks him to explain their family ties. He replies: why do you think that being in bed with a woman makes me closer to her than to her brother?
He is the number one indicted, obviously responsible for the execution, but he is playing it tough, denying everything, waving his long hair in arrogance and showing off his built-up body as if he were a gay model. He despises the court, the judges and the audience. He answers only to himself, and to Serbian honor, and he lies. He lies all the time, denying everything.
His subordinates are deluded. They are heavily disappointed and sad. They are spilling the beans, revealing what they think they know, but the deeper truth is coming out. Even the arrogant top guy didn’t give the ultimate orders. He got his orders from somebody else, from some proper Serbia authority, from the secret police, from the regime.
Tell the court who gave the order.
YOU tell, if you know. They are fighting each other. The name hovers in the air. Nobody is saying it.
Their pledges of sympathy and innocence have nothing to do with reason or politics.
The courtroom was packed up, the press hustled from our media center room so that they could not get a proper insight. Another parallel trial is going on, the trial of the murder of our late Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Not the trial of the Scorpion paramilitaries, but the trial of the Zemun Clan mafia.
We all meet on the coffee shop. We stare at each other during the recesses. A sinister guy from a mafia family hisses at us: Women in Black! When the Radical Party gets into power, you will be DONE!
I heard that many judges who presided firmly and justly against the clan power-structures were put aside afterwards. Who rules in Serbia today? Who pulls the strings and gives the orders, six years after Milosevic left for The Hague?
Day 3, January 25, 2005
After days on end of war criminals and their lawyers, the victims appear on the podium. These are the grieving survivors. We no longer have the actual victims, for they are not only dead, but, as DNA tests proved, their scattered bones were dissipated into several mass graves. Some pieces are still missing. Is there hope to restore the identities of the missing?
Six family members of six victims are entering the courtroom today. Mothers, sisters, children and other kin, they came to Belgrade from Srebrenica and around in order to testify and identify their nearest and dearest. With Muslim names and clothes, they are aliens to this big dirty city, with war criminals loose, and to this clean fancy court, where justice is attempted.
Every day, B92 television is broadcasting documentary material about the Scorpions. I hear that, even when in prison, they are still among the richest war-profiteers in Serbia. Even if they get a life sentence, which in practice means 20 years, once they are out, being men in their thirties now, they will still be rich and powerful.
The judge in the court says: International law is above the national law. So, we have to respect the decision of several other family members, who are afraid to come, but will testify via Internet. This is a big offense to swallow for the war criminals and their nationalist lawyers.
The first witness testifies, in despair more than in tears. This mother recognizes her missing 16-year-old on the film of the killing. The audience trembles.
This morning I mingled with the relatives of the criminals.
They are always loud, and they sit in the first rows. I broke through their solid, shoving front-line and sat in the first row myself. Now, their wives and sisters of the killers are sobbing uncontrollably, along with me.
The sister of the dead boy has to interrupt her testimony, because she cannot speak. She manages to say: You cannot imagine the situation that day, July 11, 1995. The UN troops were doing nothing. The Serb militia were raging. People were being bombed, pushed from one side of the country to another, divided up, and executed… Girls were torn from their families and raped. In the camp where we spent the night, we fifteen thousand souls, insane screams would wake us during the night, and we would all start shivering. Waiting to be executed, people were committing suicide, or going out of their minds. Nobody knew the truth of what was happening, but we all felt death, and we were right.
The eighteen-year-old son of the executed father says: I was eight. I saw him leaving us. I knew I was seeing the last of him. I saw the film, made a few hours later, shown here ten years after they shot him. He had that same shirt, and that same face I loved so much. I will never forget. I need no DNA tests. I know that is my father.
His father was filmed while executed. And the 8-year-old boy was also filmed, while being given sweets by Ratko Mladic, the child fed candies while his father was shot.
Another mother cannot go on with the photo identification. She does not even weep; she simply faints. I understand this woman best. When they tell us: if you were not there you cannot understand, I can recognize that: I know that I don’t understand. These six people in front of me lost almost all of their nearest and dearest in those few days of killing.
They all have the same earnest question: WHY. Those who were killed were not soldiers. All they wanted was to flee the UN enclave and live. Invariably, after their speeches, they turn in amazement to see the faces of the guys who did it. They stare. The men she did it stare back. Nobody utters the words: ethnic cleansing, genocide.
One of the indicted even manages an apology. A witness hears him: my deep condolences. But I obeyed the orders.
One question is the central issue at this trial. Who ordered this? Natasa Kandic, human right activist, wants to prove that was state terrorism. The criminals want to define themselves as honorable civil warriors. We sit through the evening with our new Bosnian friends. They ask only justice, and even believe they will get it here in the special-court in Belgrade.
We are knitting our new lives together. We speak the same language, though we call it different names. We share a history, though from opposite sides. We have the same beliefs. Call them justice, and truth, or love for the world.
In this second round of the Scorpion trial, the banality of evil was revealed by these six simple heartfelt voices of reason.
Belgrade 21 February, 2006
When Bad Guys become Good Guys
Today the ” Good” Guy of the Scorpion Srebrenica trial finally spoke out: I shot the six Muslim men, I am guilty before God and you will decide, from the special court for war crimes, if I am guilty for you too. I obeyed the orders… Others, the “Bad” guys at the same trial, are in denial.
At this hour, B92 and some other media are unofficially reporting that General Ratko Mladic in charge of Srebrenica action is being arrested, but the Serbian official government is in denial. Only a few hours ago, the special adviser of president of president Kostunica said he knew nothing, except that it is imminent.
I just arrived from the mountain place close to Belgrade where Mladic has been reported to be hiding in the past, in a military base.
Mladic has been seen a little bit everywhere. Until 2002 Mladic was openly “hiding” in Belgrade, he was buying bread at the same bakery as my friend, but since 2002, the rumors, or stronger things, have even killed some supposed eye-witnesses involved in his hiding.
At this moment there are difficult negotiations in Vienna for the future status of Kosovo, torn between 90 percent majority Albanians, demanding autonomy after Milosevic’s troops pulled out in ’99, and the Serbian central government which is fighting for its sovereignty in that part of a once-united country. A difficult task for the EU leading the negotiations,but an excellent opportunity to demand that all the parties comply with international war tribunal.
Mladic, who until recently was claimed to have big popular support for his non-surrender, seems to have lost all of it these days; from good to bad guys.
Yes, we all know he gave the orders.
8 p.m Contradictory news on B92, is he arrested, about to be arrested, or already flown to Hague?
Again, as when they were arresting Milosevic back in 2002, we are relying more on tips and foreign press…
B92 is broadcasting a football game, they will interrupt if the biggest goal in Serbia is scored…
Less than Human
(The Cunt, the Gun, The State)
22 February 2006
I refuse to speak the name of the Bad Guy Who Became the Good Guy. When Milosevic was in power, for years on end, his words and face everywhere, his and his alone, while those of us, the political idiots, the victims, were so baffled and mute, I gave a vow to myself: the Word is power. I will never mention his name, privately or publicly.
This Bad Guy who became a good guy, because he pleads guilty in front of his God: he wants attention.
He gives long speeches, speeches full of himself and his new way out of prison: out of himself. He pleads for our sympathy, for compassion as though this lessens his guilt, and the victims’ relatives feel disgusted. So does his boss, the number one indicted,who gave the order, who conveyed those orders from somebody else… He, who plays the game of the big Serbian hero from past centuries, and displays his grandeur saying literally:
I care for only three things in life: the Cunt, the Gun and the State.
God knows how many women he raped, whispered a relative sitting next to me…
His wife is sitting in the audience too… Today they are loud and laughing. While the Bad Guy Who Became Good is describing how he executed his first victim by asking the “Poor Thing” to step out of the row and then shooting him, the sister of the shot man sobs aloud in court. The Good Guy chose his first victim at random, and he does not know if his hasty shot actually murdered the man. He claims: I wanted to do it fast and clean — for their sake.
Answering the question of his own lawyer, he continues, yes, they had military elements in their clothing, they wore short trousers, thick socks. They were banging metal cooking pans to make noise and irritate us. He still despises them for this. An unrestrainable moan is coming from the audience. I believe even his women could not stop it.
We are not gypsies, he adds: we are telling the truth here and facing each other. We are not proletarians, says his superior, whom he fights for not facing the truth and admitting he gave the orders.
He says: We have still our people outside the courts and prisons, we are doing this for our country, our children. I am a Serb and this is my nation.
As we are silently sobbing, fighting the urge to scream, one of hero’s supporters turns around nervously and proudly shouts: stop whimpering, you sissies…
The Scorpions are named for the guns they carried, the second major value they killed for. They carried the guns out of their homes, and used them on any land they felt it was their country: that third value.
I am in a judgmental mood. I find it incredible that they believe such bullshit for even a second.
Their relatives swagger in overpriced finery, from head to foot: ugly and fantastically vulgar, but preening with self-esteem.
The Bad Guy Who Became Good is not whimpering: in his haughty manner, he is claiming that, for ten years, he slept badly: not because of their atrocity, but BECAUSE of the film. If it hadn’t been for the film, he could have forgotten the episode of executing six bound young men, face-down in a ditch, but the fact that the film existed made him come out. The others claim they too have come out: to be arrested for various noble reasons.
Are we all dreaming? Not one of these indicted criminals gave themselves in: they were all caught and nailed. Just as the ghost of their true hero and leader is still hanging in the courtroom… Today, when the press hysteria about his alleged capture once again has sunk into passive despair.
So you feel guilty because of the film? asks Natasa Kandic.
The Good Guy who claims God will condemn him, fails to deny this; the film is God’s stick of chastisement, come out of heaven.
The director of the atrocity film — tomorrow, he testifies himself — apparently asked for stage help from both victims and killers. He required to arrange themselves in a convenient way before he himself started shooting the video sequence. An assistant director had to charge the camera’s batteries…
The Bad Guy Who Became Good, who was the first one to pull a trigger, claims that his commander wanted this video made to endear himself to somebody important. That was the purpose of this artistic endeavor. But in his rage and for all his broken illusions about the grandeur of his leader, he still is not spilling the beans…
The women in the audience are cat-fighting the women of the victim’s families, and us the Women in Black. A mother just breaks in tears: to Hague, to Hague with all of you…this is too much… We are hushed by the policeman in the courtroom, I am hissing at the hysterical laughter of their women. We should not really sit together. We are repeating the primal scene from ten years ago, only with lawyers rather
The Good Guy is speaking of the humorous slang they used, of the “packages” that were human beings, of the “petrol order,” meant not for their cars but for cremating corpses. They referred to prisoners with the word “jala”, as if they were cattle, the less-than-human. Jala, I’ve never heard of it. I am sitting with the mothers just like myself, women who gave birth to “cattle,” children executed for being less than human.
The Good Guy says: we were trained to kill, but not to bear the consequences of going through with it: I never expected a clear order, I never got a clear order before: “kill these guys.”
Hard to believe: in those days 8000 people were killed through hints and insinuations: the Divine Eye never registered it.
Nobody wanted to be a cunt, repeats the Good guy, meaning a coward who refused to kill.
Meaning…what? He is explaining genocide. Nobody acted normally, he is adding, we were nervous, tight and laughing, but we faked it…
A lawyer points out that if the war criminal didn’t know he could refuse the orders, then he is treated as somebody fighting for his own life.
Our hero claims he never heard of the Geneva Convention, how to treat prisoners or civilians… and yet he speaks so much of military pride and honor…
It goes on. Two men, godfathers to each other’s children, start insulting each other in a confrontation. They are almost in tears with each other, falling out of love… I wonder why the judge is letting this indecent family scene go on forever.
This morning, one of our young punk-styled Women in Black was not allowed to enter the courtroom, because she was dressed “indecently.” The lawyers are lamenting that they are not allowed to use the local restaurants, by law, even though, thanks to their profession, they are spending entire days inside the court…
Did you say, or not, that I ratted us out as a CUNT?
Yes I did say that, says proudly the Other.
Did you say that one of the Scorpions didn’t
shoot because he was a CUNT?
Yes, I did.
That is my philosophy, says the commander. This tape is of an incident I didn’t know about — but even if I did give the orders to kill, and killed, I would never say sorry afterwards. Destiny was on my side at that time, and someday it will be again. I have nothing to regret and no need to apologize.
Maybe it is a good thing to hear a bad guy turn good. Then you can see what it means when the Other remains bad and claims that destiny will redeem him.
That God, that destiny, they shared more than a bed, more than a love, those words that we Women in Black hear, record, compare in our notes, whisper over in the court, and promise to each other, trembling, as if raped by their intact criminal ethic, that we will never pronounce. Because the word is power, but power is in words, too.
That is why we write this.
The Court Jester
February 23, 2006
His video is probably one of the most-viewed pieces in the short history of that medium. He is different from all the other Scorpions I’ve seen, behind the bars or free. Dressed in a classic light-colored suit with an ironed shirt, bald thin and gaunt, the video artist seems to come from the 19th century, though he is only forty.
He has no big muscles, no tattoos, no arrogance, no macho pride, no war knowledge. He is the comical figure of this worldly tragedy. Yes, even we hard-core weepers at the trial are laughing when the video artist unfolds his story. Not because there is anything funny per se in the tale of this former provincial street cop, who ended up in the Scorpions because of war, ties to his relatives, and good money. It is because of his uncanny way of putting things in their ‘right perspective.’ He does not shun from being who he is. He has such low esteem within the criminal group, because of his humble looks and low potential. That his modesty and straightforward emotional codependency on big bosses becomes his trade mark.
The boss, he says, wanted himself surrounded by distinguished people, big and muscled, not like me, for example, so he down-graded me… and he was right.
Nobody could do anything without the boss’s control, he had his spies everywhere, nobody even tried to do anything, and those who made a mistake were punished . For example, one soldier had to take his clothes off and bathe nude in the winter in icy water.
The Artist wasn’t the real video artist of the Scorpions. He held that camera only for a short period while the real cameraman was sick. Still, his eagerness to be of some use to muscled guys made him execute any order without doubts.
I played cards with the boss, drank coffee, cooked food and made him laugh. He would tell me, take that camera and go to the troops on the front-line. They are bored. Give them some fun. And I did it.
Usually I would go to bed very late but make all the food arrangements before going to sleep. That morning they woke me up early and told me: get your camera, off we go, you will film an execution.
Yes they were all there… The Artist proudly identifies the indicted lot; he himself is not indicted. He must feel once again excluded from history. He hasn’t the faintest idea that he is a historical figure already, thanks to modern media. His short film was downloaded all over the world, so many times, that this one short and efficient execution of six people become an endless symbolic display for the execution of all 8000, killed in those days.
Our antihero is diligent. He tells not merely the truth, but the details. He drove a refrigerator truck full of food to the front lines. Those chilly refrigerator trucks are famous in Serbian criminal history for conveying the bodies of killed enemies all over the country, so to hide the corpses, disperse them, and bury them in mass graves. We are still digging in Serbia, very close to Belgrade too… He does not speak of that, maybe next time…
Now he is the Court Jester. He speaks of how he provoked some fun among the Scorpions and the boys they were shooting, first the four civilians, then other two. The Scorpions were poking the bound prisoners on the ground, while still alive, and asking them cynical questions, like:
Did you fuck something?
No, says the young boy.
And you won’t, says his “witty” executioner.
The Artist is filming the scenes just as they come, he claims. He is worried about his batteries and technical quality of the material.
He wants his boss, the commander, to have a nice memento, he says.
And he was given orders of course.
The last shot prisoner, taken to the abandoned house, asks for some water he sees in an ashtray, the rain water fallen through broken window… They let him drink it. Then they shoot him.
Back to the truck, in silence.
Back to the headquarters to drink coffee and report to the commander.
One of the Scorpions, the Cunt, did not shoot. The artist wants to check out that accusation. He helps the coward clean his gun.
His hands trembled so much that he could not do it, and yes, he was a cunt, his gun was full of ammo, he did not shoot. I called him the epileptic because he would always faint when he had to shoot.
In those times it was a shame to admit you did not kill and shoot. He was hiding the truth.
After that, his camera broke. He gave it to somebody else. He never ever saw his masterpiece until recently, among the police. He tried to see it earlier, but the fast-rewind didn’t work. Afterwards, he said proudly, as a true artist heading for new endeavors, he didn’t care much for the massive reproduction of his art in video clubs.
When the footage is played, when he is interrogated about the shots, he thinks twice to identify his work. He is fussy and nervous, anxious to make sure it is his own work, not a plagiarism.
We are exhausted. He is exhausted, the judges and lawyers too…
This is a joke. This is a war crime tribunal, this is genocide and yet it rings a bell. Even the best artists or writers in the world have never been a stronghold of morality. Just as the lousiest court jesters in the world, such as this pathetic creature, can aspire to the grandest crimes.
24 February, 2006
We should not be sitting in the same room, Them and Us, but also the “Us” within the same group. Today when the film was screened, the entire footage, some twenty minutes or so, with clear pictures, sounds and words… the son of the killed victim, now eighteen, screamed uncontrollably: Goddamn you chetniks…and rushed out…
The hysterical wives and mothers in law of the criminals screamed back at the boy: Behave, you are not alone.
This guy has been on pills for days, cigarettes and pills, he does not speak much, even to us, who are trying to be in the court for them, too. Also the other two young women seem unable to relax or confide. They shun away and stick together, and now I am shunning away from them. I just cannot share their pain. I feel whatever I say is wrong, and whichever move I make is followed by tears, theirs and ours. I belong to the ethnic group that killed their families. I feel guilty even though they say, only the guilty should pay… I feel guilty for staying alive.
The cameraman says; In those moments I didn’t think at all, I became aware of it only a year later.
Why didn’t you report the murder? asks Natasa Kandic.
I didn’t have the cassette, if I had it I would have reported it maybe, I didn’t dare otherwise.
The Boss confronts him:
If I knew only of this bullshit video, you would have stayed there.
The film is still missing three scenes, claims the Artist.
In the truck while the prisoners are lying, one of the killers kicks a prisoner in his head and yells: what are you trembling for, fuck you… they stink, the fucking bastards
While the prisoners are lying, one of them is asking for water.
No water, fuck that water.
While shooting the crime through the distance of his lens, the cameraman proclaims on tape: “So near and yet so far.”
After they killed four prisoners, one of the killers says to the other two prisoners still alive:
…come on drag him, drag him…
The cameraman is anxious: wait, wait a moment I must shoot…
After the execution is over, one of the killers says, wait, I have another three bullets, but his pal in crime is nervous:” oh fuck, you don’t have to waste them all…”
The images are clear of the victims and murderers, if any doubts were there before as who killed whom and when.
In the courtroom confrontation, the boss treats the cameraman as if he were his slave, to the point that the judge has to intervene.
The boundaries are vanishing. We are all alone now, though sitting in each other’s laps. I find myself amazed at the composure of the mothers, seeing their children not only killed but abused, beaten, frightened… I find myself fantasizing at the same time about the young children of the criminals, who will be persecuted by the deeds of their fathers, in their personal and public history: I am positive I could not endure to watch the cruel death of my child, or ever pardon my father for such a crime.
Today in Belgrade, we had a demo in the central square, by the Radical Party who treat Mladic as a hero and support other war criminals in Hague. How can I understand or explain that to the victims?
I think of all the violence in the movies which reconstruct somebody’s true stories; front line violence, concentration camps. But no film or theatre can be compared to this reality show, sitting in the same room, without boundaries, for days on end of crime and confessions, while the moving pictures are cementing the truth.
I wanted to scream, too, but I did not know what to scream.
March 13, 2006
Military Box 9189/19 Vukovar
That’s how today’s witness presented himself: a low-key thirty-nine-year old locksmith, grim and uncomfortable in his role. He executed his legal duty with obvious physical pain and loud moans and groans, as if barbecued slowly by the impatient woman judge, who looks every time more like a Hollywood star.
“Boca” is just a nickname here, commonly given to the nice kid round the corner, and Vukovar used to be a time-honored city in Croatia. However now, we are talking about Scorpions destroying that city, together with the Jugoslav National Army, the JNA. Recently a movie was made about that scene of the crime and bloodshed. Once again the reality show and the documentary material beat all the moralizing words of the accused war criminals.
This guy, Boca, today knows nothing. His most common words are Probably, Maybe, This, That. Again, if one didn’t know the cultural context and the body language of intentional lying , one would say that the guy is bewildered and stupid.
The judge burst out angrily:
According to you NOTHING happened? In one of the worst places of the crime, he overslept the war, while wearing one of the scariest uniforms in the world.
He says: all of us wore uniforms with animals: the Croatians had tigers, we had Scorpions, Wolves.
Other questions, as to where whom and why, he answers: NATURALLY , NORMALLY. Then he looks helplessly at his defense lawyers.
Tell us what you have to say, shouts the judge at him. We heard you were threatening one of our chief witnesses here, the cameraman, who claimed he knows that the indicted commander gave the orders…
All of a sudden the scene changes. This is not a common dumb and deaf witness under pressure. This is the gray grim guy who is threatening in the name of the incarcerated criminals. A professional criminal, he threatens and intimidates those accomplices who are not yet behind bars and are willing to speak out.
With girlfriends from Women in Black, I am munching sweets . At the break a security policeman screams at me: I will throw you out next time you eat. This is court not a cinema. Right, I say… He is shaming us and humiliating us, because, last time, one of the criminal’s family made a public scene and the judge threatened us all.
At that point a man from the first rows in the audience smiles broadly at me, as if to protect me from this overbearing court security. It takes me five minutes to realize that he is a Scorpion.
We in the audience are mixing way too much. It is getting scary and unpleasant.
The witness goes on: So I talked to the cameraman and told him that I was worried for his life, since I heard death threats after he testified against the commander.
A wave of alarm runs through the courtroom lawyers.
Both prosecution and defense are breaking in with questions,
Yes, says the judge, the cameraman has reported death threats to the court few days ago.
The know-nothing man knows too much. Too much to say the name of those who are still giving the orders.
The relatives of the victims are sighing too. They just gave an interview to CNN. They, too, came to Belgrade for this trial, notwithstanding the death of Milosevic as the highest-ranked in the chain of responsibility.
But yes, the show does go on.
The Liar, the Fall of an Army
March 14, 2006
“I am going to pronounce something that I may regret for the rest of my life — is there is any left after this — but if I knew all this would have happened, I would have preferred to stay there in that meadow together with the victims.
“Mothers, you whose children were killed in cold blood, you should know that they never did anything to provoke or deserve their death: they had no uniforms and they were just kids. They were killed because we got that order, and because they were Muslims.”
The only indicted Scorpion who shows some humanity. In his tremulous voice and red sweater, is the one called the Cunt, the coward who didn’t dare to shoot… He turns towards the audience behind the glass, heated and blurred with our wary breathing, while uttering this unexpected speech.
Then he turns to the witness who took the whole day to tell one big lie, which held no water by the end of the day, when even the guards started puffing with impatience.
His was the historical sentence, uttered in this miserable place called the ‘special tribunal for war crimes,’ in front of a crowd of war criminals, their criminal lawyers, their criminalized families, and us, a bunch of sobbing women. These brave mothers from Srebrenica are broadcast every single hour on CNN. These days as they speak of Milosevic’s escape from the prison and punishment, though his death.
Then he turns to the Liar and says, you should be ashamed of yourself, swear on the life of your children, if you cannot respect the Bible and a legal oath.
The Liar, who claims he is not a believer, doesn’t blink; he says: I swear on the lives not only of my children but of my only granddaughter, Milica.
We are dumbfounded.
The manus lunga of crime is ready to sacrifice not only the next but the third generation. For a commander? For the two new cars he got? For 7000 euros he embezzled from a fellow soldier. Out of fear of the law? Out of revenge? All of this… or something we are missing.
Like the truth. The witness claims he does not believe in God, nor do I, but I do believe in truth, and not because of others, but because of my human condition and my sanity. The Liar has killed the dead over again with his lies. He tried to drive us all crazy in that courtroom, saying obvious contradictions, nonsensical constructions.
He even announced proudly at a certain point: I am a professional soldier (and that is not a lie, he really was a life long soldier of the ex Yugoslav army). If I ever did get that kind of order, I would have disobeyed it. I am sure that my commander never gave that order, nor would I have obeyed such an order.
Even in the army a soldier can refuse an inhuman order against humanity.
Don’t you raise your voice on me, screams the blonde judge at the 52 year old, toothless, bald. and wrinkled sacked soldier to whom even a pension is denied (he claims). He looks seventy. He was a volunteer in Croatia, Bosnia, and even Kosovo. He is not yet indicted, but the map of his moves is that of the worst crimes and mass graves on the territory of ex Yu. He symbolizes also a decadence of an empire: armed bloodshed of civilians carried out by state terror.
His personal story is our miserable history. I feel no disgust in this case, as I did with the beasts who pulled the triggers, I feel hate, for the first time in this trial. As they are becoming more human, I am becoming less. I think of his poor granddaughter Milica, whom he probably holds in his lap every evening.
He is ready to drop her at the first order of his beloved commander, who is not hiding his pride for his disgusting success today in the courtroom. He is displaying his muscles more than usual and rambling utter nonsense about how great a soldier he was. He even shouts all of a sudden; I was always very eloquent with words … I do remember his last speech, when he sang his manifesto about his trio of core beliefs, “the cunt, the gun and the state”… He sways from his bench to face the court and the Liar.
I am not calming down until they put handcuffs on his hands again. But even with those handcuffs on, he raises his hands high above his head and salutes his faithful crowd, as if he were Mary Stuart, the Catholic martyr queen.
I look at those girls in court, half his age, married to him and other Scorpions. I realize they bought those wives after they killed and raped… they bought them with war loot. These women, now mothers of their children, are their hostages if not their accomplices. Some of them probably never knew what their husbands did for a living. Some maybe even tried to leave them, but then, some are just standing behind their men, as women often do.
“Serbian bodies were scattered all over the place. I was seeing every day at least one dead Serb. Why would I pay attention to stories about an execution of six prisoners who were infiltrated to kill us…?”
His story is the history of an army too, not only of a nation. As he transformed from a high-ranking officer in the official army, into a special military, paralegal killers gang. He had the power to sign papers and confer ranks.
In those days he asked a Scorpion — the cowardly one — now tell me which rank do you want? And the coward said, give me the rank of a general…
You can’t have that one, we Scorpions already have our general…I will give you the next high rank…
Who was their general I wonder: that hero they tried to please cutting off people’s heads? Mladic, Milosevic, Karadzic, Hadzic, Martic, Arkan, Legija…? These big shots are rarely mentioned, if at all. But they all seem to know who gave the orders, even if they lie about it.
Crime came from Serbia, from Belgrade, but it spread all over former Yu territory. Dead bodies were taken back to Serbia in huge freezers, to be hidden in mass graves.
At this hour, the body of Milosevic will also be probably coming back here to Belgrade . If it does arrive, and I had my choice, I would bury him in one of those mass graves, with his victims. We Women in Black would dress in white for his funeral.
The Liar knows that “ammunition” was referred to in code as “food,” but he does not know the word in code for actual “food.” His job was to carry weapons to the Scorpions. and that was called food. He was precious because of his skills and experience. They wore Scorpions on their uniforms and the Serbian flag to show their ethnicity.
How can you tell a Serbian decapitated corpse in jeans from a Muslim one, I wonder…? Yet he could tell somehow, and he saw the corpses every day, everywhere. That’s what we were told for years on end by Milosevic, that’s what some people believed and died for, even honest people, such as simple soldiers who didn’t loot, but were food for enemy tanks… Their real enemy was their best friend; or their commander, as in this case.
All of a sudden I think of Shakespeare.
The Liar reminds me of my friend, who was a poet.
Because he invented words and plots, my friend was called a liar. The power of a lie is like poison. I need an antidote immediately. Truth is not enough, tears are not enough… Punishment? Revenge? or is that, too, a further loss, another step down that same road of hate violence corruption and vice.
“Not one cop in this country is not corrupted.” Our former premiere Zoran Djindjic said that, when he got the power to rule after Milosevic. When he tried to rule without lies and corruption, he was executed. These guys here have his blood on their hands too.
We Scorpions were legally part of the official Yugoslav Milosevic army: I had those papers and you can find them now in Serbian part of Bosnia. You can ask for those, you are the special court. Do it, says the Liar proudly: I have nothing to hide. Ours was a great battalion and a lot of public injustice is done to these heroes who were only defending their own people.
As he answers toothlessly, hissing in the mike to the judge and lawyers, he often sweeps his hands across the empty table in front of him. I wonder what does he see there that we don’t? As he sits during the recesses that the judge forces on him, to recollect his memory and maybe speak to his lawyer, he sits on the bench alone with glowing, blinking eyes. as if he had a nervous tic. Compulsive obsessive behavior. He must have been a very successful soldier, a killing technician.
The Bad Guy Who Became Good by admitting that he pulled the trigger makes an elaborate verbal trap with vivid plot and imagery.
Do you remember the place where we used to stop every time we were going to the headquarters? Together with the commander to take orders and instructions? That place with a clear overview of the enemy’s positions? That place we never missed?
Yes of course I do…says the Liar convincingly.
Well there is no such place. We never stopped there because you never traveled with us. You are lying. You cannot be the commander’s alibi anymore…
Silence. Blank silence without morality or conscience. We are exhausted by lies, we need the silence of the dead to get back to our humanity. I wonder, after this experience: would I ever manage to lie like this, even if I had to save my child’s life?
A young woman tortured in the Second World War by the Gestapo, because she was a Communist, sent word to her comrades before she was arrested: scramble all of you. I will say anything when they torture me. I cannot stand the pain…but instead she simply died in silence.
Stasa has a brilliant idea that boosts us from the deadly silence: let’s make a tribunal in Hague for crimes against women. Hurray!
March 15, 2006
The Tin Soldier
I repeat, we should not mix anymore. This is not healthy, it is perverse, it is sickening: my gay friend, a Woman In Black, is looking at the Scorpion witness today and saying: he is so cute…
In his early thirties, dressed in a fancy suit, with an upright muscled body, he lies at full speed. His voice is scarcely audible, so that his contradictions cannot be followed. We, the audience, are huge today.
Most of us are law students, led by their right-wing professor from Belgrade law school, who thinks very well of the Scorpions, and very badly of all other ethnic communities on this territory. They are the clerico-fascist party in the government coalition; in the nineties, they used to be Milosevic’s best allies, supporters of his troops such as Scorpions.
The “cute” witness was in his teens back then.
Today he is obviously a professional criminal, blackmailed and pampered by his famous commander, who still makes them all tremble with his praises or scoldings.
Back then, the Tin Soldier was a war orphan, hired to drive a truck. A truck full of food-tins, he claims: food for the troop. Today he remembers nothing, or next to nothing, of names places deeds words. Not even one Name, not even one Place.
He has become a true geek, autistic and narrowly determined. He is a Tin Soldier, whose emptiness clanks like an empty tin, its contents eaten by Scorpions. He says he has no friends, no wife, just a boss whom he drives. The Tin Soldier needs no money for his expenses. He just wants to go. He says, many many times, as any answer to judge’s questions; “everything is possible.”
The Commander, who has eaten his soul and heart, explains this amnesia or dementia of the tin soldier: I myself acted as a British secret agent in the Second World War. Nobody knew of my movements or whereabouts. I was under cover, I was in disguise. My skills are numerous. One day I was the postman. Tomorrow, the commander…
The ego of this maniac is expanding beyond the boundaries of safety. His followers are fascinated and smiling at him as if drugged. They are aggressive toward those of us who are plainly disgusted.
As I said, we should not mingle anymore.
It is becoming dangerous. These guys are still very dangerous, on either side of the law, and on any side of prison bars. They can explode in a moment, returning to their patterns of violence. Their next trial will relate to some other mass grave: the same methods, the same people, only different location, more innocent victims, and perpetrators with animals tattooed on their bodies.
One of the Scorpions in the audience with us has a bizarre symbol tattooed on his bald head. He is huge, and his eyes are blank and shining. He looks really scary and mute, like a Golem. The Golem looks brainwashed, lobotomized really. I say to my friend: it is the brain he tattooed on his head, since he has no brain in his skull. He overhears my comment and blinks.
My friend, the gay peace activist is upset during the break. He tells me: I cannot go to the male loo, it is full of Scorpions. I feel embarrassed.
Don’t worry, you can come with me, I say. The female loo is full of the Scorpion women. In that place of uncanny intimacy we are all equal, queuing politely one after another.
A Srebrenica mother asks me amused - And why would she go to the male loo in the first place?
- Because he is a man, I say.
Sincere hearty laughter takes over my Srebrenica friend. – I could never tell that, he is as pretty as the prettiest girls I know. And his long hair is just like fairy’s, she adds, sharing with her bereaved mothers her stunning discovery.
The last witness is a real soldier. He is not very much of a liar, for obviously he does not have much to hide. He was on the front-lines, fighting enemy artillery, without artillery of his own. His solders were wounded and killed.
He was not brave, he admits, on that battle-front.
However, he gives a very precise and heartfelt account of the bravery of his idols, the Commanders. The Commander was a brave man. He never abandoned his men to the enemy fire. He always tried to take us back away from the front-line with him, to where it was less dangerous.
While he is saying this, I realize that he is not aware that he was physically braver than his commander. He just stated that as a presumed fact. He fought the senseless war without a word while his Commander ordered it and then retreated to safety.
But yes, I am not the only one to comprehend this. Among the Scorpions in the audience, in burst of foul language, a very loud guys comments: it wasn’t him who gave the orders, you idiot! The big boss was even braver! Frenki was braver, and he was in Serbia at the time.
Frenki was a Milosevic chief of the police, now indicted in Hague. The links in this chain of crime are connecting like a network. I still notice incredible parallels between women’ s activist world networking and this war-crime solidarity. We simply have completely opposite values and definitions of bravery. My gay friend is brave enough NOT to fight any war.
The role model for the Scorpions are cruel outlaws like Milosevic: just like him, until he died in Hague, they learned how to defend themselves in courts: by using totemic words, such as Homeland, Serbia, Guns, Territories.
We women have and need none of those things.
Belgrade 11th April, 2006
The city is flooded. The Danube is rolling at high speed through Northern Serbia. If it were not a drama it could be romantic fun. If we didn’t know that the changing climate is no longer natural, we would paddle in rowboats and sing with mandolins. Instead we know it’s sure to get worse with global warming, electricity cuts, bad Internet connections…
Today from Hague tribunal, on video link, a protected witness is speaking at the Scorpions Trial. The connection is bad but his message comes through with full impact. He looks flat and distorted on the screen, like a cartoon character, his egg-shaped head is protruding towards the indicted Scorpions while his body shrinks behind his words, delayed and out of sync with the image. He is so far and yet so near: he is the guy who owned the video cassette with the execution of the six Muslim civilians.
This small woman is fearless today in the court as well as in 2004 when she first got the video. We heard that the cassette existed, and was distributed among video clubs in the region. And today’s witness confirmed this: we all knew of the crime… I made copies and played them in the soldiers’ dorms. This film distributor in the war-criminal economy did many other useful things for the cause: he owned transportation vehicles for fruit, food, whatever… and of course, now it pops out without any doubts, he transported PEOPLE; the Human Packages.
During all these court sessions, it was obvious that Scorpions were not much of soldiers. One lost his leg on the front-line and is the pet of all the others; but since the weren’t in fact soldiers, what were they actually doing?
This protected witness with no address, escaped to Hague with his family after he sold the cassette to the Justice. The big Boss, the famous commander kicked him out of the gang because they fought over the spoils, the original cassette, the money-making deals, confiscated goodies… He said loudly: the Scorpions were transporting the civilians in buses from Srebrenica, close to the border line with Muslims. They executed them there and the bodies were left to the other side be collected and buried. To Fake it: pretend they were killed in a battle.
Our buses were mingled with humanitarian buses, inside the protected enclave which should have saved the civilians.
Today is the anniversary of the professional killing of the journalist Curuvija following the orders of the secret police. No one is indicted yet. A film exists in that case too… but that film has not yet been sold out.
The killer of our premiere Zoran Djindjic left his gun to be found by the police: because it belongs to history in a museum, he said proudly.
This is a time of New Normality, when law and justice find their ways through the fearful leaks of those who are selling history in bits and pieces.
April 12, 2006
The Muslim Women
Belgrade is sinking today, heavy rain. The link to Hague is back: the cassette owner witness today is going into details with the Bad Guy Who Became Good by pleading guilty as to how many people he shot.
- I don’t know, says the witness, two or three people.
- For me it is very important if it is three or six…says the indicted. Because I am a moral person.
Sighs from the audience. Today we are sitting in the usual crowd with relatives of victims and criminals, but there is a new, third lot in dark suits and fancy caps.
The wife of one war criminal asked the men in suits: who are you, if I may know…
We are the police, says one, slightly embarrassed. He meant the secret police…
She retreats in awe. I guess her husband claimed too that he was on a secret mission. A mission of secretly executing as many people as he could.
- So, specifically, what does ‘certification of the shot bodies’ mean? asks the indicted Scorpion of his ex pal, the protected witness Scorpion. They are exchanging their small talk in court as if it were small-arms fire.
- Yes, sure, we must be precise; you shoot the body in the head with a pistol. You use the gun only rarely. That is not a proper certification then.
This witness was beaten and sent away because he contradicted the Commander. The others got the order to shoot with the gun and camera.
Now we moan in the audience… but soon it will be over… The next protected witness asks to be questioned via video link and not in public. This even though we know his name and that he is the one most responsible for spilling the beans to the Justice.
Only some viewers get to stay inside: the secret police, few humanitarian lawyers… We Women in Black together with relatives of the victims and the criminals are all tossed out in the rain. I am angry and disappointed, so are their women. I nearly offered the Scorpion women peanuts while we were waiting for the guards to let us in on special permit.
I choked back the instinct, but I still wonder, would they have taken the peanuts? Since they call all of us: The Muslim Women.
April 13, 2006
Today’ s session was closed again for the audience, however we Women in Black managed to get a permit to attend since that is our trade, the judge said. She judged me from head to foot as I entered her office,seated me and signed the permit, but then once inside she asked us not to write about the testimony of the protected witness And I won’t, also because all he said I already knew and wrote in the sessions before:
I guessed out what this Internet witness from the Hague said.
- that Scorpions were a special military group aided and directed by the Serbian chief of the police Frenki
- that the nickname for them was the cleaners, like in a Tarantino movie
- that they executed the Muslim prisoners in masses because they were given the orders
- that they could have refused them maybe
-that he maybe would have refused them
-that he is witnessing just to obey his duty and get his passport renewed
-that they were an elite group dressed in fancy military gear
-that Mladic send them their piece of cake meaning the human package they had to execute
-that he saw the film but he didn’t pay much attention to the execution since he was more interested in some other things in that documentary. (What other things I wonder?) Weapons, cars…he explains.
His body language is that of a troubled man who is hiding something but saying as much as he can.
He sounds intelligent and sly. He says a historical phrase, there always is one; a normal person would not execute such order, not that I was normal then, but a normal person would say NO,there have been examples in history of people who did it and got away with it.
Asked as to what is normality for him he explained thoughtfully: a normal person would not go to fight a war, he would stay back home. Once you are there you stop being normal.
We Women in Black almost applauded him.
“I hated the Muslims and they hated us Serbs — not that I love them now , why would I? But to kill them, why would I? But maybe by doing nothing against it, I gave my silent consent not that I could have stopped it… being on the front-line that was somehow OK, but this was something else . It is nasty to mention any names in this place, but I will do it. I knew immediately that they will be executed when I heard the Commander use the word shovel, that is a word I heard in other groups before Scorpions , it meant execution.
One kills from the back the other certifies the body by shooting the back of the head.
The bodies were burnt, I know the guy who did it, he was a friend of mine and he told me.
He remembers how they burnt a snake too and ate it: in front of every of those camp houses we would burn something, he added with nostalgic smile.
Speaking to the young engineer of death without one leg he is melting with love and reminiscence and respect: he allows him to insult him, deconstruct him and call him a liar, a Hague tribunal traitor, a coward…strange is this male soldiers solidarity; it is beyond homosexuality, it is really perverse exclusive. It is a death drive spoken in the language of killing. It speaks the universal language of violence , torture and abuse. It is void and strong, like a religion, sect, blind faith…it has the urge of love but the target is death: the way is short and straight to the shovel, it reminds me of my family from the mountains,their cruelty and vitality, of slaves and sultans. It makes me shiver and feel sick: I get hungry and emptied of humanity. Every time the session is over we need food and a beer, an assertive attitude of life, a circle of women, a voice of reason…
During this long and painful session the Commander turned towards us: he smiled at the policeman sitting next to me who smiled back, then he stared at me winking flirtatiously. He did it several times afterwards: out of boredom, out of freedom, out of lack of respect. My girlfriend said, shall we leave?
No I said, I will stare back at him and make him leave. He didn’t stand up to speak to the judge as we all have to do, she yelled at him and he stood up swiftly and lazily…what a small man he is I realized, the Commander who was made a hero by his men and now is behaving as a bad boy with us women who stare back at him, make him stand up, lock him in a slammer hopefully for good…
Belgrade May 11, 2006
Merry without Cause
These days in Belgrade are like an L.A. action movie: low-flying helicopters over our heads, special police bursting into houses all over town, right-wing politicians announcing coded messages on TV, and the official government, laid-back as usual, with its evergreen brainwashing phrase: we are closing in. Soon Mladic will be arrested.
Who cares, I don’t; I have already been denied my Swiss visa because of his failed arrest and I didn’t even put up a fight about that. Who cares about going to Switzerland? That state is so expensive and clean: no floods, no wars, no flaming dustbins, no Mladic around, except, presumably, for his bank account…
I don’t know who I am or what state I am living in, so I have to admire Max Frisch, the Swiss author of “I am not Stiller,” meaning I am not Swiss. The Swiss are the absolute opposite Balkans, tidily uniting so many mountains and languages, while we are here today balkanizing, facing yet another set of splits in the former Yugoslavia: Kosovo, Montenegro. Our last joint heritage is the “dot.yu” Internet domain.
On May 9th we had another street protest, celebrating the anniversary of Europe, a rally called JOIN EUROPE, to mark the stark fact that we’re now kicked OUT OF EUROPE by the Mladic failure. Great banners: Better Daughter a Whore Than Son a Priest; a dot-com address to Impeach Kostunica… Danish conceptual artists are tagging the city; Mladic, we know what you eat… The new leader, Cedomir “Cheda” Jovanovic, is a Djindjic fan, a handsome politician whom girls adore and boys imitate: he has credibility, if anybody does.
After protesting in front of the Parliament with its self proclaimed, home-made nationalist flag, we burst in the hall with our rainbow flag and bumped into the President himself. He was waving his hands at the German ambassador, trying to explain this “out-of-Europe” situation. It was a fancy party for all the diplomats and main political players in Serbia: Women in Black were invited, but we had to deposit our rainbow flag at security.
A broadcast calls Mladic a Serbian Napoleon, the man who outdid Milosevic and whom Milosevic failed to murder in time. My dad says: if Mladic turns himself alive then we will have to pay reparations for war crimes, while if he commits suicide, we won’t.
My friend the playwright says, why are you interested in Scorpions? They are just violent peasants speaking gibberish. Well today he was right.
It’s the first day of the May trial session, with two completely anonymous witnesses.
The first witness looks sixty but was born in 1960. His importance for this trial has to do with buses: that there were many buses, that they transported the Muslim victims to be killed and scattered, following Mladic’s genocidal order.
Why did you join the Scorpions? the judge asks.
Well they saved my life, the Commander himself saved me…
I was drafted, and thrown into a bus myself, along with many other men who were to be taken to nowhere, to a battlefield, never to come back alive.
-Who was drafting you?
-I don’t know, screams the witness, some people in uniforms.
- But true, it was happening all the time… Nobody in those buses was ever coming back. It was the local army I guess, Serbian this or that… Oh lord.
He sweats and unbuttons his jacket. It is painful to watch him because I do believe him. I remember those days in Belgrade. True, our men were not merely drafted, they were abducted by people in uniforms, dragooned and vanished, never to return…
-So I used my one legal phone call and I called the Scorpion Commander, who dug me out of that mess and gave me a Scorpion ID. That was like a miraculous passport in that fatal year 1995, it saved my life. It gave me an identity, so I never had to fight any war and risk my life.
There you go, we women too protected our men to save their lives… so the Scorpions were hiding war deserters, while we women encouraged and hid other war deserters…
-So I did what I had to do, to escape death.
He drove between the lines: he transported bodies, alive or dead, the human package, driving the bus in order not to become a human package himself, while those passengers were less lucky.
In the World War II we called them collaborators, quislings. Yes, Scorpions were collaborators with war, and were paid extra for murder.
This is an unusual day in Belgrade; we had a violent spring storm with polluted hail, we had a distant Richter 4 earthquake… Suddenly, inside the court, we hear English spoken in heavy Yankee accents. Some unusual action is going on: the doors are opening and closing during the session, loud blondes are flirting in English, guys in suits with yellow ties are closely examining the chairs and the ventilation pipes in our small miserable chamber of pain. The Srebrenica mothers are again here in court, every time more determined: today we filmed them with our little camera and will take them shopping.
The Americans are the commercial sponsors really, the guys who paid for the special war-crimes court in Belgrade: they take little notice of the peasants and mass murderers, instead they complain about the design and equipment of the too-small kitchen in the lobby…
We are a livelier crowd then ever; one of our Woman in Black is barred from entering the court because her pants are TOO SHORT, meaning they reach only her mid-calves… We are about to raise hell, but then an entire official dress-code is given to me: no sandals, no sleeveless shirts, no miniskirts, no half-way pants… all rules for women. It sounds like a church, although they are not yet asking us to cover our heads…
The next Scorpion witness is hilarious in his miserable sincerity: he wanted to spend his retirement days in that region of Banovci attacked by the Croats. (This part of Banovci is a famous noxious swamp fled by anyone with two legs.)
-So I joined the Scorpions to protect my retirement dream. I never liked living in big cities like Novi Sad.
This witness is more than a peasant, he is a futurist and he is even funny. I assumed that the fat and chuckling long-haired man next to me was some American hippie accompanying the delegation, but when he starts choking unpleasantly with laughter, I realize that he is a huge 180 kilo Scorpion. He laughs and coughs so much that we all start coughing. We are becoming the main scene of the trial. The judge is upset. She asks for a recess.
A Scorpion wife stands up suddenly with a big banner for her handcuffed husband behind the bulletproof glass. It says: I LOVE YOU
The commander is bored to death. All the indicted, though sitting on the same bench, are divided as “cunts” sitting on the left and “dicks” sitting on the right side: the cunts plead guilty, while the dicks admit nothing. But they all hang their heads at the same time in the same way.
- Here, cut my throat here, if I ever knew anything about the Scorpion killings… The witness is struggling to get back our attention… If the fatty laughs again, the courtroom will be emptied. My Shakespearean drama is turning into a Gogol farce. I am ashamed but glad to see even a Srebrenica mother choking back a laugh.
The worst is over in this trial. Memory has a short history, except for the dead, who stay dead. Those six mercilessly executed and filmed guys are being screened on all world media, over and over again. I know their faces better than those of some of my relatives and I certainly love them more than most of the people I know. The next step in the court is to verify the authenticity of that video. As if that mattered: whoever they are, whenever that movie was made, for whatever purposes, those guys’ eyes and gestures will be with me, and not only me, forever as the Anne Frank diary. Does anyone need a video to know that Anna Frank lived?
The War Sports
I always knew my Mom didn’t like the way I dressed, and the Special Court for War Crimes in Belgrade has my late Mom’s taste in clothing. For all these months, the policeman at the door has taken charge of our manners, us, the special small crowd of women related to criminals and victims. He scolds us for chewing gum, sniffling aloud in grief, whatever…
Now he stops me: my summer T-shirt is indecent. The shirt’s neck is too large and it hangs loose. Sandals are certainly not allowed in court, but he tolerates my shoes. The T-shirt’s sleeves are a proper length, but… I am trying to convince him that I won’t suddenly expose my shoulder in the midst of the trial proceedings, but he doesn’t trust my assurances.
At that point, the wife of a Scorpion volunteers to help me. Her skirt is shorter than mine, but she produces a handy pin and and fastens the neck of my shirt. The Scorpion wife and the guard exchange triumphant smiles. I say: next time I will bring a burka … Rules are rules, he does not understand my remark… I have no innate problem with obeying rules, but who is making them, and why?
In this June Session, minor Scorpions are testifying, with a lot of venom and self possession. This one today seems to have known for years that his group committed executions; he even told that years ago to Natasa Kandic, the representative of the six murdered Muslim civilians. He might have spoken much earlier, but he has two children, so…
Today he doesn’t speak of murders, movies or his children, but gives a passionate speech on how the press has abused the reputations of the patriotic Scorpions, who carried out gallant war enterprises for a state which no longer exists. There was no difference between paramilitary and military groups, he claims. We were all honorable citizens fighting for Serbia. During the break, he gets congratulations from his pals and his lawyers for his hard position of utter denial.
This latest witness in particular was a Serb from Croatia, who after a year of battling the Croatian regular army, had to flee to Serbia. He joined the Scorpions as soon as he heard their intention to re-invade and fight the Others. Our witness was twenty at the time. He was a trained sportsman, and he ended up training the paramilitary troops. He has the elegant body of an athlete, and as he utters his denials, nervous tics break out all over him: his nose tickles, his arms itches, he scratches himself and twitches as if bitten by swarms of mosquitos. During other less stressful moments, he is extremely calm and to the point.
His position is that he knew nothing of bad things, only of glorious efforts. His personal ethic was not to die for a state, but to try hard to save the lives of others. That’s his interpretation of the Geneva convention.
When asked how much money he needs for his travel expenses to testify in court, he declares, rather like John F. Kennedy: We give to the country, we don’t ask from the country. He tells the court to give his expense money to an orphanage.
Another witness, the Bad Guy Who Became Good by admitting that he executed underage war prisoners, has, he says, developed health problems after so much testimony. He laments at great length about toothaches after brushing his teeth, with many details, asking for possible cures and the help of specific dentists… I look at the audience, full of toothless people, war survivors who cannot afford dentists at all… I also think of those breathless victims, boys who cannot even afford a grave…and I wonder, who gave these guys such lines? Was it their rich lawyers? Their demanding wives? Was it sympathy for the devil?
The wife of the Bad Guy Who Became Good was the woman helped me with the pin and my indecency. She behaves like a hostess in this courtroom. She moves around, she talks with the guards, she tells us the timetable and rules during the sessions. How did she learn all these rules and roles?
Our tooth-aching witness is proud of his glamorous group, whose brave commander who never said “Attack” but only “Follow me”. He has few names to offer, though he still knows the faces of his comrades. He is even better are remembering the relationships that united them: the men were in-laws… Their women put them together, so I guess that’ s why their women behave as the hostesses in this cavalcade of crime.
Petrol was a major source of income for the Croatian-Serb mini-state that exists no more, so the Scorpions protected oil fields. Just a few days ago, a Croatian Serb “state” suddenly appeared on the Internet as a purported government-in-exile. This unrecognized virtual figment of a state is trying to sell Internet gambling licenses to anyone who websurfs by. I wonder if our witness is in on this new racket, too…
Even after the Scorpion militia split after the war, the members never stopped congregating. By this time, they were a Cosa-Nostra style clan, loyal to their family, and when Kosovo happened in 1999, the Scorpions swiftly reassembled. The sportsman volunteered again to play his patriot-games. The doings then will be the substance of the next trial which will take place in this special court for war crimes: a trial concerning the mass graves in Kosovo. That’s when we will see our witness again, wondering what more he can bring to the table of denial.
I was never a narcissist, he declares to us. I never went there to show off in front of a video camera. I always took my place in the front-lines, I was just a common soldier of the common wars… The sportsman does not make me laugh, does not make me cry, does not make me angry. He makes me at ease with myself, just as he is at ease with himself, because his normality is uncanny, just like mine. His home-made militia uniform, my too-loose T-shirt, they are both suspicious.
June 21, 2006
The Bad, the Good, the Ugly and the Church
I missed yesterday’s witness. My friend told me: you didn’t miss much. He was lying constantly, laughing unpleasantly, and he was just a bad person, and it was coming from every pore of his skin. He accused protected witness A from Hague of lying in court in order to get legal status abroad. He didn’t fail to mention that the “Cunt”, meaning the guy who didn’t shoot the prisoners, had shamefully failed to shoot any prisoners.
When he tried his best to look good, then he was the worst.
Today, instead, we had another show-off witness, though God knows what he wanted to display to us. The other Scorpions in court scarcely seemed to recognize our show-off at all: in the war years, he was a young, very commonplace soldier.
Today his head is shaved, his scalp is full of scars, his smile is crooked and unpleasant, and his body language is distinctly weird. He looks like a deeply traumatized guy to me, like somebody who suffered a lot of hell even before he became a Scorpion.
Clearly that war experience was the highest point of his life. First, he was a prisoner inside Croatia. Then he escaped to join the regular army to fight against Croatians. When he was sent to Serbia for regular military service, he volunteered to become a Scorpion: for revenge, for money and out of shame at having always been a lowly victim.
I can see through his emotional lies: I see a drafted skinny boy (as he was in those years) who dreams of escaping his misery to become a Scorpion, and then, as a miserable Scorpion, furthermore dreams of becoming a Big-Time Scorpion.
There were no prisoners in our war, he says. We would kill everybody in our sight. He echoes the Commander’s words.
His sister, he says, was a hairdresser for the Scorpions.
She travelled faithfully with them, doing their hair. This is the first time that a woman has been mentioned as a member of the Scorpions in active service. I wonder if she was in charge of designing and maintaining their public image: did this hairdresser suggest their shaven heads, their tattooed scalps and necks? I wonder: did she wear their uniform, and carry a gun along with her combs and shampoo?
Until a week ago, the witness was living in Cuprija, inner Serbia.
My mother went to school in that town. I am trying to imagine how my late Mom would comment on this pitiful case of small Scorpion, the hairdresser’s brother whom no other Scorpion remembers. My mother was a very judgmental person and keenly aware of her own regional people.
The courtroom’s technician of death, the guy without one leg, preaches to the judges. You failed with this witness, he says. I’ll handle him now, and he does. He catches the small Scorpion in all kinds of traps as regarding his supposed dates and missions.
The judge too, catches him in contradictions and scolds him severely. I don’t know why, but I believe his testimony. He clearly doesn’t know or remember enough to tell “the truth and nothing but the truth,” but I believe he was there. He is clearly a veteran of many terrible places in his cruel world; the places that he talks about, and many other situations that create very bad people from the good and the merely ugly.
Our witness describes a World War II-era “bunker full of ammunition” that nobody else remembers. This sounds more like a seven-year-old’s power fantasy than a genuine arsenal for professional killers.
He blurs some nicknames from the troop in order to prove he was there with them: the Muslim, the Montenegrin, the Sqiptar (the Albanian). What would he be called, I wonder: the “Croat,” since he lived in Croatia as a Serb? Or vice versa. On those issues the war started really. Was it a problem for him to live with a gang of ethnic cleansers who had such multi-ethnic nicknames?
He tells us how they drank their water from the forest streams, and how horses often brought them food in tins from the locals. Then one day a horse collapsed, and they saved the horse. He smiles with deep emotion at this memory. I realize that he said he was a veterinarian’s assistant. I am sure he had many good reasons to love animals more than people.
He paid no attention to the burnt houses around, though he keenly remembers his romantic bunker from World War II. I believe him again. I am coming to believe that his bunker, or something like it, is really out there.
Then I realize why he is here in court. I finally recognize his face. I saw him countless times on television. He is the famous soldier in the front-lines, who was blessed by the Orthodox priest before going to combat. He was in that famous video cassette, along with the execution and the other Scorpion blessings. My friend recognizes him too, now that he is boasting about his video: he’s both a star and a criminal. It’s hard to say which one of these experiences came first for him, since he clearly wanted to be both all along.
My friend says: if I were the state, I would indict every one of them. I am startled. There’s simply no room in the jails for every combatant in the Balkan wars. I remember men in the early 90s, marauders, deserters. I knew one who shaved his long hair, was drafted into the regular army, saw the horror of Vukovar and deserted in a couple of months. For ten years this deserter stayed out of jail: he had no passport, no official ID. He looks a lot like this Scorpion witness, the same ragged denim, the same red shirt. He is now in his early thirties, and is still a true victim of the war, much more so than these Scorpion guys who lack legs, or brains, or both.
Our one-legged hero, who sports red crutches, gives a political speech today. The other jailbirds, whom he considers dirt, are discriminating against him because of his physical disability. He can’t help becoming rude to them because of this, and so he is risking injury at the hands of the criminal inmates, who lack his glorious reasons for being behind bars. He pleads innocent and wants to defend himself from outside the jail.
His lawyer chimes in with great pomposity and unbelievable tender words and feelings: his brave hero plans to have children before dying, and he fears he will die before managing to sire any. His wife is in the audience today, I think… Yes, she raises her thumb at him after his speech, and he smiles back at her. I never saw him smile before: the future father is looking forward to his basic human rights (as his lawyer calls them). As a woman, I feel cold and numb.
June 22, 2006
My security policeman is unhappy with my shoes today.
They are black, plain flat shoes, yet they have a metal clip at their back. What is that clip for, he asks… It’s to clip to things… I answer vaguely. If that metal clip rings through the security door, then you cannot attend the trial, he decides abruptly.
My shoes do not alarm the scanning machines.
The lobby is full of loose Scorpions today, my Lord, of all colors, sizes, genders and ages. Scorpion moms and Scorpion in-laws are attending too… They seem grimmer than usual.
I have a feeling I know them all now, their familiar faces, their usual worries… And I feel awkward about that. I talk too loud, my friend tells me… So what? I’m no Scorpion and these aren’t my lawyers.
Avoid making trouble, she insists. She works in the humanitarian organizations. All these people here just hate us and are ready to strike at first excuse. Be calm for the sake of the victims’ relatives.
I back down. I remember how many years ago, when a taxi-driver called me a whore, I lost my temper and broke the window of his cab. He sincerely wanted to kill me.
Yesterday I took part in a public performance in the main square in Belgrade called “Not Whores, Not Saints, but Women.” We dramatically threw off our outer clothes and danced in miniskirts, shorts, swimming suits… The police were very tense and uneasily ready to arrest us, even though there was nothing illegal about our show. Today our pictures are in some of the dailies. Do they recognize us Women in Black in this courtroom as those witches dancing in the public square?
Today we are expecting a star witness. This is the guy who first ratted out the existence of the Scorpions’ execution video. He told a human rights lawyer about it, and everything since has followed his revelation. As we wait for the trial to start again, I am trying to guess who this new prosecution witness might be. Again we are crowding the small lobby: the Muslim relatives, we Women in Black, the Scorpions, their relatives, the lawyers, the policemen and the court clerks.
Our body language grows more precise and tense now, as if we are in a car race, where one wrong move can cost your life. We never look at each other or touch, but we are keenly aware of each other. A jungle full of predators and prey.
The judge announces that the witness has not shown up to testify.
Next time, she says, he will be summoned by the cops. The defense lawyer of the Scorpions, who was once a right-wing war volunteer, is rude and aggressive about it. He states publicly: you should look for that witness in your rooms, not at his house.
Score One-Zero for the Scorpions. The war-crimes court is adjourned until the next session in July. The witness may well disappear altogether, though his dice have already been cast. We know they are guilty. They know they are guilty. They know that everybody knows they are guilty. It’s just that they declare their guilt to be Patriotism, while the rest of the world calls it War Crime.
Let’s see what the law in modern Serbia thinks about it.
5 July, 2006
Today in the special court we have a highly educated witness, a legal expert in security who is the owner of a company called Aleksandrija. In the nineties he was a deputy minister during the genocide in Srebrenica. Later he was Minister of Police for the Republika Srpska Krajina, the rump state in Croatia which no longer exists. In 1999 he was also in Kosovo as police and security.
“Twenty-five thousand members of the police were under army command”, says the witness. Gosh that makes me shiver. Twenty-five thousand people? All soldiers, all agents, all secret? Yet that was typical of Yugoslavia: my own father was highly placed in a thriving import-export company that was basically a front for the secret police.
Nobody mentioned such realities to anybody; it was simply understood.
The witness goes on: all the time, together with the police of Serbia and Montenegro, we collected the war deserters and sent them to the front-line. Oh yes, I do remember those days. I remember how they wanted to grab and draft my friend in downtown Belgrade while we were drinking in a pub.
A soldier and a policeman came together and confronted us. I asked them: why take him, why not me? Why is nobody asking me as a woman to defend my country — if it is really matter of life and death? My insistent nagging of the sneering policemen saved my friend, but I never got a straight answer from them. Why does nobody asks women about matters of so-called national survival?
But our dignified witness denies that official Serbia is involved in paramilitary deeds. He insults the defense, and the families of the victims, asking them how much foreign money did they get, for lobbying to get Serbia guilty of genocide?
If it isn’t “genocide,” what else can one call the execution of eight thousand civilians in three days? My first reaction when I found out about that amazing nonsensical crime was: how did they manage to design that? How could they achieve such efficiency? Then I remembered the neat engineering of Auschwitz, it’s gas chambers, the disposal of the victims’ shoes, the numerous papers and stamps and the attention to detail, such as the bills for the lethal gas used in gas chambers being sent to the victims’ families. Yes, that’s it: the basic design of Crime, you make it pay, you pay yourself for doing it.
The Serbian volunteer soldier, now a defense lawyer in this courtroom, picks up every opportunity to show off his superior honor as a warrior. His speeches are long preaching with indecent pauses where he moves his body towards the stage lights as if on a TV show: hunting for admiration. He declares: Under these conditions I cannot defend anybody, the situation makes no sense…
Only a week or so ago, a Muslim leader in Srebrenica was set free, after being tried in The Hague by the war crime tribunal for war crimes against the Serbian population. There was not enough evidence for his alleged crime… This courtroom now suffers the backlash from this legal defeat. The Scorpions in the row in handcuffs are louder than ever. The indicted Scorpion commander interrupts with his pony tail shaking like a stallion’s mane: I was there to defend the Serbian graves in Kosovo. I wasn’t looking at people, I was looking at the enemy.
The Serbian historical paranoia and lamentation, woeful tales of sacred graves and faceless enemies, this Commander repeats this incessantly at this trial, it’s a local mantra really. When he says these things, everybody seems to understand what he is talking about, unless we try to reason out what on earth these terms might mean in court. Whose graves? Whose enemies? Why…when…how? Reason is not a friend to the mantras of paranoia.
The trained and educated highly ranked secret policeman concludes: I defended Serbian people who were in trouble. They needed help from all Orthodox people. ‘Our’ people never kill. I am taking a due distance from Srebrenica crime as a man and as a policeman.
Women form the first row. The women of the indicted are also wagging their tails. In whose name is our witness talking now? Who is US, who is The Other? The Orthodox priest has blessed the killer before the execution, the gunmen admitted they pulled the trigger, and now this highly ranked officer an official is declaring his due distance from the crime. All in the name of Serbian Orthodoxy… the same words that were the mantra for killing now are the mantra for honor.
The first witness today is a suspended policeman from the Montenegro police. He refuses to give a statement before the court, saying: I don’t know who summoned me here and why. I was falsely quoted in The Hague tribunal by General Vasiljevic. I have been through terrible, dishonorable, dehumanizing, non-Serbian treatment. I am not afraid of this trial: I am afraid of the traitors of our people. I am a serious man, a man of my word.
OK man of your word, let’s hear what words you have to say.
He says nothing. Then man of the honorable words is without words. His honor is based on his silence and his deeds on his being Serbian. What’s honorable about that? It’s a sheer silent presumption, the same mantra… a plea to the irrational, an excuse for the inhuman, non-Serbian, dishonorable treatment he has given to the OTHER.
I am not amazed anymore by this small-talk of their clan, based on irrational rituals. I am just wondering: do they ever do something good with the same strength and conviction? If so, why not ask them to build a bridge instead of bombing one?
And finally the witness appears who failed to appear in the June session appears. My gay friend, a young Woman in Black, is excited to see him so handsome, in his early thirties, dark and as Milos calls him: the only disloyal citizen of city of Sid where the Scorpions operated. This is the witness who collaborated with Natasa Kandic. Natasa Kandic is the legal representative of the victims in this court, and the woman in Serbia most hated by nationalists today. Not that she cares about that hatred, but we, yes, we Women in Black who sit with the family survivors, we are happy to finally see our guy. We would have done the same thing as he did. We did similar stuff for years on end, and here we are to support him.
The witness is unemployed. His wife is supporting him. The Scorpion wives giggle in disrespect over this, since they are high-maintenance girls supported by war criminals. In fact everybody is making fun of him now, even the judge makes a disrespectful remark.
I wonder how would his wife feel to hear that; do women marry only money makers, at all costs? I remember warning my daughter against rich guys in dark times. In a time of war even gold will soil your hands.
The witness didn’t serve in the army. He says he was considered “immature.” How did he reach maturity? asks the warrior lawyer ironically. Does he has a psychiatric file? Is he old enough to smoke now?
I have seen so many young people lose all civil rights in order to stay human; that is called Antigone’s choice, and comes from ancient Greece. When the laws are evil one has to take the law in his own hands.
A young man I know very well, lost his passport, his driver’s license, and acquired a file at the mental hospital because he refused to serve the military and fight in Croatia while Croatia was still a part of Yugoslavia. He was 19, and in order to split from the army, he had to pretend he was mad… After some years of pretense, his best friend, who served the army with the same moral doubts but had no guts to feign insanity and humiliate himself, said: I think he is not pretending anymore, he has gone crazy. Last time he was at the doctors who wanted to enlist him, he bit the sink to convince them.
And he did, he chewed the plumbing. But now I think he has really gone crazy.
Well this sane soldier got killed a couple of years later in the next war: his last letter came from a tank in Kosovo: We are sitting all day in our vehicle as an exposed legitimate military target of NATO. We eat one can of liver paste per day, we wash once a week, and we smoke marijuana for days on end. We also drink heavily and talk only among ourselves since we are not allowed to communicate with our relatives back in Serbia. But we are all right.
These two men made different choices but their fates were randomly guided by the criminal minds of others.
The warrior lawyer seizes the limelight; he calls the witness the servant of Natasa Kandic, an officer of Hague tribunal and the criminal court. SO WHAT?
The commander confronts him and calls him a traitor, dirt, a phenomenon in Serbian history… We Women in Black are proud of him.
The Bad Guy Who Became Good, who now wants to play God, has his five minutes of revelation: I know what love is, he repeats several times. I love Serbia and I am proud of it. I understand the families of the victims. He stares at them, as if that will make them love him. He is like King Kong really, destroying love and claiming love. We stare back in silence.
There is something wrong with the language here today. I promise myself: I will never love anything or anybody if that means I have to kill that thing, that person. If love is as blind as faith, let me be the one who doubts.
September 5th, 2006
In front of the special court for war crimes, we meet once again at 9.30 in the morning. The indicted Scorpions are in handcuffs, with their fat corrupted nationalists lawyers, and “the Muslim women” as they now call all of us, meaning us non-Muslim women on the side of the victims, are here too… with the relatives of the dead and their lawyers.
Today the roles are reversed: the security police, and the regular police in special vehicles have shown up for OUR sake. A week ago, the mothers from the Srebrenica association received death threats from the local Serbian police: we will do you in, just as we did-in your men ten years ago. And two days ago, their lawyer, Natasa Kandic, was threatened after a live public show where she supported the independence of Kosovo.
Yet the mothers have come as usual to Belgrade. At the border they were asked by the police where they were going to stay. They got frightened, they thought the Serbian police were about to arrest them. Now in front of the court, one of them, the boy whose father was killed in the film, is not allowed to enter the courtroom, because he misbehaved some months ago. He had an emotional outburst and cursed the Serbian murderers of his father.
We are all standing with him. If he is not allowed in court, we won’t enter either. But the judge gives a special permit against the court security rules. He can stay.
Only a couple of days ago, the chief judge handling the case of the murder of our Premiere Djindjic in 2003, has resigned because of “personal reasons.” We suppose there were threats to his family.
Fortunately our judge is still here with us, as lively and pretty as always. She gives a preemptive scolding to emotional behavior…but the nationalists lawyer still threatens to leave if the boy is allowed in the courtroom.
I know this tactic is called pressuring, or lobbying, or whatever in the legal small talk. Still, that lawyer is the nationalist clown of the day. He particularly annoys me. He imitates real lawyers as if this country’s legal system were real.
His so-called version of Serbia did not exist as a genuine state, it was a gang, a disgrace, a criminal enterprise. The only Serbia that we can call home is maybe this few square meters of courtroom, where he is raving about his hurt pride.
The court police do not let us sit close to the first rows where the Scorpions relatives are sitting today, unusually silent.
The Muslim young boy was threatened by an unknown person before entering the court.
Even my father phoned me telling me be careful. That triggered not my fear but my paranoia. For years on end his phone calls would signal that there is a state within the state, and that he is connected to it and that I am not. That I am not only invisible, but expendable.
To tell the truth, I think they are bluffing today. Natasa refuses to take such threats seriously. So did Djindjic.
The only witness today was the mayor of the city in which Scorpions were born.
He calls himself “Uncle Miloje.” Our mayor uncle is full of tender words and feelings for his own good reputation. He claims: I lied. I have the right to lie, but now i am telling the truth: I WAS A Scorpion.
A lousy one I would say, a liar, a fool, a boaster, and a mayor to boot… and a Scorpion? All the Scorpions were friends and relatives, he says. They all liked to eat, but a few were ready to fight and die. We were “lamb brigades.” We would always roast a lamb on our expeditions. You go to the war, you fight and come back alive. I managed that. We had some good times, he says with a nostalgic smile.
The commander would tell us: be there, fight and die with dignity. Weapons were all around, everybody carried them but few had the heart to use them.
OK, personally, I use my heart in a different way, but the mayor’s story is not about me or people like me.
Our mayor remembers the famous expedition when the Muslims were executed and dumped while being filmed. That expedition went well, he says, only a few of our people were killed, only one I think… So he is not counting the executed, maybe thousands of people?
And then, he says, that video… some women, aunts, grannies were talking about it, like my wife, who was a Croatian. I didn’t see it. I told the commander, hide that video, it will hurt you, us, and here he is now, in prison, I was right…
I lived as a free man, I could have become rich if I had distributed this video. Now, here I am in court… I live in fear and sleep with a gun now. If my confession means freedom to somebody else, then I will confess everything because my daily life is a prison…
Yes, it seems the mayor did distribute the video somehow, but he was stiffed and betrayed by his collaborators. That’s why he boasts with his good tender heart now.
I have sweet blood and that’s why leeches stick to me, he explains.
I am not buying his story and neither is anyone else. He is not sorry for the crimes, he does not even see them or fake any remorse. He is sorry for himself and his lost good times when he was a successful politician, eating lambs and killing Muslims.
He refers to victims of the Srebrenica genocide with pronouns: “that,” “those.”
The Bad Guy Who Became Good asks for his five minutes of moral glory, on the trail of the witness. He asks him to define the Scorpions. Except for the Commander, whom he calls a “liar,” all the rest he calls “real,” “honest” people. One Scorpion even has a name that literally means “Real.” Now I myself feel really unreal. Especially when the police escort is carefully watching over us, and not them.
A month before the end of the trial, have the roles reversed?
The price of life
September 25, 2006
Last time he was summoned to the war crimes court, he didn’t come. Today the Sandor witness is reluctant to speak.
- Why are you holding back things you already said a year ago? asks the judge.
- Because I am afraid. I was threatened by a man and a woman in front of the court. They told me I will lose my head if I testify.
Yet he says something we wanted to hear from the beginning of this trial.
The video with the execution of six Muslim prisoners, the film that brought to the bench six Scorpions, it had a price: 500,000 euros… half a million euros. He and other two other Scorpions asked for that fee, from a lawyer connected to the Hague Tribunal for war crimes.
Sandor says he does not know if this ransom for a video was ever paid. I wonder: how much was he himself paid, when all was said and done? Maybe 5000 euros? The price of life inflated.
When our prime minister Djindjic was assassinated in 2003, his security guard asked for 2500 euros to change the scheduled route and accommodate the killer. The assassin didn’t ask for cash, he killed his country’s prime minister out of patriotism, his sense of honor and duty. Sandor is a disgrace to the Scorpions in this public show, and he knows this. No wonder they are threatening him.
Three days of contradictions
We are closing in. The sentence will be delivered by the end of the year the rumor spreads. The lawyers are jittery. The family members of the accused are loud and rude. The chief prosecutor changes the indictment: two of the Scorpions are no longer accused of performing crimes, but of being accomplices.
The lawyers of the victims and their families are revolted. The family of the victims are already sighing: even if the accused get 20 years in prison, they will be out soon, healthy and well looked-after by friends. Justice is not done here as it would be in The Hague.
And then two witnesses, one after another.
The big-shot general from the ex-Jugoslav National Army claims: Scorpions were never a paramilitary group. They were regular army. We were a serious country. We had a serious army and we drafted young men.
Now that sounds serious: except that the general somehow knew nothing of the genocide, which sounds ridiculous, if not criminal. I would indict him too…for not knowing of a genocide, committed in his name.
If I knew about it, how come he didn’t know? Should we all be generals then?
The second witness, a small-shot from the local military in Krajina, claims the Scorpions were never regular army, that he didn’t even know them, that he saw the regular Serbian police chiefs only once… These police chiefs are now in Hague indicted for several war crimes. One of them is also in this Scorpions business.
The legal defendants of the family are proving with documents that the genocide orders came signed by police chiefs from Serbia… The weapons, the uniforms…the gunmen…
Those who pulled the trigger are sitting here at this bench.
Most of those who gave the orders are walking around Belgrade.
We, sitting on the benches behind the gunmen, are to remember the names of the dead:
Safet Fejzic (17), Azmir Alishpahic (17), Sidik Salkic (36), Smail Ibrahimovic (35) Saib Salkic (20)
The sixth victim executed in the video has not been identified.
November 1, 2006
Today the lawyer for the victims gave a long speech about how Serbia was involved in the war as the major aggressor. The lawyer demanded that Serbian chiefs of police should be interrogated in this court.
But the defense lawyers and the chief prosecutor turned down this request.
At the court the mother and the sister of the last non identified victim appeared, they recognized him on the film.
February 18, 2007
The unearthed bones of the last victim from Trnovo massacre were identified In Bosnia by DNA analysis compared to the blood of the mother and sister. The mother was right: Dino Salihovic, 17 years old.
The trial continues in March, last words of the lawyers on both sides, then the verdict.
I don’t even need one, it’s all transparent, but it would be really useful for our future to have it as truth and justice demand it clearly in this trial ongoing for more than a year… and even better if it does not get annulled by Serbian supreme law instances as in other similar cases.
February 26, 2007
Today the Hague tribunal for war crimes declared Serbia not guilty of genocide, declared that genocide did not exist in Bosnia only in Srebrenica. That Serbia is not responsible for it, not even the Scorpions. That it is guilty only for not preventing the genocide. That it does not have to pay the damage to Bosnia, but only publicly declare the state of the matter, of the genocide and collaborate with Hague tribunal by arresting Ratko Mladic and others.
February 27, 2007
Today in the short session, the judge publicly read out my request to interview the Scorpions. The lawyer war volunteer, the defender of the Bad Guy Who Became Good and of the Scorpion who lost his leg in the front-line, used the opportunity to once again give a long speech on the justice having two sides and many points of views. He also declared himself very pleased that women in the court, meaning Women in Black, want to hear the other side of the story.
Well, my opportunity here is to declare that Women in Black don’t want to hear the “other side” of justice. It is me, the writer, it is she who demands that interview, as the “privileged” witness of terrible months, during which the juridical language of the war crimes has become her native tongue: the language of her own people, of crimes committed in her name. It is the writer who wants to portray and document truths beyond the abilities of fiction.
All these lines that I wrote all these months, they came from the mouths of real people. Nobody from the outer circle of war crimes could invent such language; to understand it takes a kind of anthropology. I am not proud of it, I was the medium of it; Women in Black, or the relatives of the dead, do not want to speak to the accused, or to hear them. I do feel embarrassed for wanting to stand so close to the fire… But my teacher and guide in these matters, Hannah Arendt, discovered the banality of evil during the Jerusalem trial to Eichmann. I still wonder what is the local/Serbian equivalent for that valuable insight might be.
The trial does not end here. Whatever the verdict, in or out of be in prison, the Scorpions are and will remain heroes for many.
If convicted, they will serve a sentence and someday be let out. Their loyal wives will still be coming to see them, spending the loot of warfare and marauding, then finally rejoicing in public as the prison doors clang open… Death freed Milosevic from a similar sentence, and Mladic hides like a phantom while his posters hang all over Serbia… They are the necromancers of our future not only our past… and we will have to deal with that reality.
Today I called two lawyers of two Scorpions I wanted to interview. The lawyer of the commander Boca asked me, why do you want to talk to him if you have followed the trial, everything is transparent. He spoke as if he was on my side. Then he added, I’ll ask him, phone me in a week.
The lawyer of the Scorpion who did not shoot, The Cunt, when he found out that I want to speak to him for the book and not just as a Woman in Black, turned me down decisively, saying, that changes all, that cannot bring him any good.
I didn’t get it why talking to Women in Black would bring him any good but I am proud of that reputation. Even the Scorpions want to be heard by Women in Black.
Mothers from Srebrenica yesterday protested in Hague against the verdict in which Milosevic’s Serbia is not responsible in the chain of command.
Port parole of the special court for war crimes in Belgrade commented: we work too according to the same principle, we condemn only proved issues.
I am reading Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt, her conflicts at the end were with her compatriots from Israel who did not understand her need to hear and see Eichmann’s defense and reach the conclusion of banality of evil in his case. Many thought that a man like him should not even have the right to talk or defend himself.
My need to hear the voice of the criminals live and personally I consider a historical privilege to understand the banality of evil which grows in my garden and as opposed to my other neighbors who became war deserters, these became war criminals. I came to know crime in my mother language and I learned the language of war crimes. It is universal.
Scorpions Trial, March 12, 2007
A team of experts from Bosnia found bones close to a house in Trnovo, the scene of a crime. Only one skeleton was complete, its bony hands bound with iron wire. The bones were transferred to Visoko to be identified as those of Azmir Alispahic and Safet Fejzic, both under age.
Today’s witness was the president of the commission for disappeared people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He said: Thanks to the action of these non human beings, meaning the accused, we don’t have the complete bodies of the victims. The body of one victim was found in four different places, scattered all over the map… The clothes were burnt… We cannot tell the families: here is your boy…
Two women identified the last unknown victim from the film today. One of them said: That is my brother, my father has disappeared too…
My mother and I, secretly from each other, were watching the film of the execution. We didn’t dare look each other in the eyes and say: yes, that is him. We found his body nine years after he was killed.
We buried him only after 18 months because we were looking for the last of his bones. Still, he was buried incomplete.
The family of the victims gave their own blood for the DNA test.
One of the witnesses, whose brother was executed, addressed the court: I am waiting for your verdict, I am taking no excuses, no pity, no regret. I only expect the maximum penalty.
The accused said they were given the orders to kill, but nobody gave them orders to deny the victims water.
At his words, the very loud first row of the geared-up Scorpion wives started giggling and whispering. One of them pulled out a green package of chewing gum and they passed it to each other as act of generosity and solidarity.
The accused Scorpion who is missing a leg rolled into the court in his wheelchair today. The wheelchair sports the license plate SRB, meaning Serbia, the same country that cost him his leg.
In these two days we heard the closing speeches of all the actors.
The chief prosecutor said: the Scorpions were a typical paramilitary group. He asked for maximum penalty because the accused killed children and civilians. Furthermore, they behaved cruelly towards the victims.
Paramilitary of what, exactly? The entire Milosevic Serbian state was a paramilitary fragment of the former Yugoslavia.
The cruelty of denying water to the doomed strikes me as something that only the family of victims can properly feel… The prosecutor is supposed to see the bigger picture, that of the design of a genocide.
Natasa Kandic, the representative of the victims said uncannily: the court was working well until a certain point, and then the investigation plainly stopped. It does not matter who gave the orders: in the film, you clearly see who did what. In this court we had a witness who was a high ranked officer in the military of Milosevic’s Serbia who proudly addressed the Scorpions as his own troops. The justice for the victims is not done.
One lawyer of the Scorpions gave a philosophical speech on how war makes of warriors killers, how all wars past and future create crime, how all people taking part in war are guilty of crime, and that is why he asked for his client, the commander Boca, a verdict which would set him free.
He echoed the Hague: Serbia is not guilty of genocide… my client is guilty only of being a Serb in Serbia.
The defender of the penitent Scorpion, who was himself a military volunteer in those days, in a similar looting nationalist uniform, was always prone to long patriotic speeches. He reached his peak at this moment: my client is a man who hit the catharsis, between man and soldier the man won, he defended his ravaged country, his soul was torn by his emotions while doing the deeds. He should be set free.
The defender of the Scorpion whom they call Cunt because he could not kill asked a prize for his accused, because he remained human notwithstanding the conditions. He never gave up the Lord… Then this lawyer quoted Sophocles, Brahms and, for good measure, Nikolaj Velimirovic, a notorious Serbian racist and fascist from the past.
The defender of the last Scorpion didn’t even defend his client who killed in cold blood and denied ever being at the scene of the crime. Instead, he criticized the work of the trial, the state of the matters in the Serbian state, and the Fund for the Humanitarian Law which discovered the video and initiated the process.
He said: my client was not a soldier, he was a driver.
A driver of death on a fatal journey, I guess.
And last but not least, the statements of the accused.
Commander Boca: time will tell who was right.
I shivered at the future he was predicting; is the future actually the present we fail to see?
The penitent Scorpion: I obeyed the orders to stay alive…I will be penitent to the end of my life, I am a soldier and Scorpions were heroes.
This Scorpion never managed to make sense, it occurred to me. Every time he opened his mouth the beginning of the sentence didn’t match the end. His saying sorry to the mothers, while looking in their faces ended up by saying how sorry he was that Boca gave the order of FILMING the execution. Asked to answer which part he was sorry, he could not. And that I believed him.
Scorpion, the cunt; God knows I didn’t shoot, I had a nervous breakdown, I don’t sleep since then. As a soldier, how could I have helped those people…I keep thinking all the time…during my sleepless nights.
It occurred to me that he looks perfectly healthy and stable, and that his lines sounded familiar to me. It could be some digest Shakespeare, or else a Serbian folk song.
The Scorpion missing one leg: I am angry. My conscience is clean and I am not afraid of justice. I wish you all well in life if you bring the right verdict.
The technician of death has always the same bossy self-assured voice of precision. For some reason he is expecting the court too to stick to his war science.
The silent Scorpion denied that he ever killed anybody.
This may be strictly true, for his job was the dirtiest and least noble killings: the so-called verifications, firing final bullets into people quite likely dead. He did this labor silently and obediently, for he was a in-law of the boss. He and sister have three children. They called him the Dummy.
April 10, 2007
The verdict today in the war crime tribunal in Belgrade to the death squad Scorpions is much as I expected. It is in the spirit of the sentence in the Hague international war crime tribunal that found the state of Serbia not guilty of genocide. The genocide is there, but no legal entity did it.
The Scorpions not guilty of genocide… not enough evidence for such a charge, there are no proofs… The bodies of the dead are there, the genocidal intent is obvious, but who gave the orders? Who was what and did why…? Not genocide, but a whirlwind in the storms of war… that is the sentence today.
Not even the film is enough to prove the guilt… Only two Scorpions received the maximum penalty of twenty years, the bold Commander, and his more silent relative who has three children. This second man claimed to know nothing of nothing, but finally lost his temper and said, I shot! of course I shot! Their words and attitudes counted for more with the court than any spectacle on film.
The whole world saw that film, that was the cause of the tribunal, so everyone knows at least that those five indicted Scorpions, in one way or other, committed the murder of six innocent civilians merely guilty of being Moslems.
The Bad Guy Who Became Good, who pleaded guilty, got seven years less. The so-called Cunt who trembled like an epileptic rather than pulling the trigger, got a sentence of only five years. The veteran who lost his leg limps free to his loyal wife… she who publicly asked the court to let them procreate and make many more Serbs.
When I phoned the lawyer of the one of Scorpions, he said as much: Wait madame for the sentence, it will all be over and clear. It is: if Serbia is free of guilt, the Scorpions are her guardians…
Says the mother of one of the killed boys: All these years we were hoping for justice. All these months we were coming to Belgrade hoping to get it: we did get the truth, but not the justice.
How can somebody who kicks a captive boy with his boots, pokes him with the gun, calls him a coward and denies him a last glass of water and then shoots him, ever escape the capital penalty? Even the president of Serbia, Boris Tadic, declared after the sentence that such crimes deserved maximum punishment.
But who in Serbia will give that order: to condemn the Scorpions? The same people who ruled Serbia during the nineties are still in power today. Milosevic is dead, Mladic is hidden, but most of their colleagues and collaborators, open and covert, walk the streets of Belgrade, blustering and threatening…
Today a host of foreign media people, television and others, a big group of relatives, Women in Black and the Scorpions’ loud group of supporters, all came to hear the sentence. It was a messy, fussy atmosphere, with little relation to the dramatic but low-key stories of human misery that we witnessed for more than a year. The last day of court is a public world stage of indecency, while the day-to-day process was one long slog through the defeat of human condition.
We will appeal for more justice, said the relatives… Their voices are not trembling as during the testimonies, during the identifications of the bones of their children… They were calm and bearing-up. We, their Serbian friends, are feeling impotent and guilty.
The chief prosecutor and the president of our country are not satisfied with the sentence. The lawyers of the victims are angry. The defense lawyers of the Scorpions are triumphant. In prison or out of it, the Scorpions consider themselves moral victors; with the evidence so blatant and so crushingly against them, that strategy was the best they could hope for… And the scale of the prison, a cell or a state, does not make much difference. With this sentence, all Serbians are once again the moral prisoners of their society’s worst elements.
On April 14, at 2.50 a.m, in the center of Belgrade, two grenades exploded. They were planted in the bedroom window of prominent Serbian journalist Dejan Anastasijevic.
The first bomb burst early. The blast catapulted the second grenade into the street, into some parked cars and away from the sleeping bodies of Dejan, his wife and his fifteen-year-old daughter. This likely saved their lives.
Dejan, who writes for TIME magazine, was among the witnesses at the Hague International War Crime Tribunal against Slobodan Milosevic. As a journalist, his main line of inquiry was the connection between war crimes committed by Serbian military and police all over former Yugoslavia in the nineties. A painful issue.
As a few aging Scorpions shuffle off to prison for their crimes of many years ago, Serbian civil society remains imprisoned by its worst elements. Journalist Slavko Curuvija was assassinated by Milosevic secret police hit-men, back in 1999. Our late premiere Zoran Djindjic was shot by state mafia in 2003. That doesn’t even count the havoc wreaked by state-mafia complex on its own death-squad soldiers, from Chief Tiger Arkan, shot in 2000, through hundreds of underworld less known bombed in cars, shot in cafes…
Dejan has many friends in the world and at home, but he and his family are profoundly unsafe, just like everyone else in a hollow state that secretly cherishes death squads while failing to keep public order. As long as Dejan writes the facts, as long as Serbia lives in organized denial, as long as the tribunals minimize the criminal issues in the name of reconciliation or realpolitik, the truth will act as a bomb in terrorist hands.
Ever since Milosevic reduced Yugoslavia to his private casino, the much battered entity called Serbia has never been a lawful state. State failure may soon become a luxury that the Balkans can no longer afford. Although I never make decisions out of fear, I confess, I am afraid.
July 11, 2007
Why did I expect it to be easier this year? Going to Srebrenica was never easy. It is called a “high risk business” by the local Serbian police, even in Belgrade.
On the night before the Srebrenica anniversary, we Women in Black had a commemorative standing in the Square of the Republic, as has been our ritual for the past 12 years. Standing soberly in black with lit candles, holding the banner SREBRENICA Not to be Forgotten, we stood in the city’s largest public square, without press coverage because the Serbian press much prefers to forget.
One hundred and three standing women were guarded by one hundred policemen, almost a one-to-one action. We were separated as a political virus from our non-existent audience, though crowds in past years have insulted us and beaten us.
Srebrenica is now a closed issue, according to local officials. After the sentence in the Hague tribunal last May which declares the Serbia government not guilty of genocide — merely guilty of not preventing it — the Serbian authorities as well as the local silent majority can live in denial with official global approval.
This makes us the crazy women, the fools who still ride in buses to pay due honors to the 400 fragmentary dead, who today joined 8000 others killed and missing, all buried in the Srebrenica mass graveyard after being cunningly scattered all over the region by their killers. One woman is burying the bones of her son for the third time, since his body was never found whole. Among those being re-buried today are four victims killed on video by the Scorpion paramilitaries.
Our friends from the Srebrenica Mothers Association will be there to meet us: Munira, Nura… As we pass through over the Serbian border through the Republica Srpska, towards a beautiful natural site which is also the horrorshrine, the words of a Serbian nationalist come to my mind: The dead have taken the best land for graves, while we Serbs should take it back for the sheep.
Only 12 years ago the valley of Srebrenica had a prosperous factory, turned into a UN base during the war and finally turned into a prison slaughterhouse during the fall of Srebrenica.
Today that former UN enclave, occupied mostly by women survivors and the graves of their men, demands autonomy for Srebrenica within the Republika Srpska. The victims cannot live together with the killers, especially since the killers have not been brought to justice 12 years after the killings took place. The survivors are also suing the Dutch military who failed to protect them as UN troops — the international troops who recently got service medals for bravely staying alive.
As my friend Nevzeta says: as soon as this war started in Bosnia, we all knew: the Serbs and Croats will make some deal with international community, while the final victims will be the Bosnians. In world diplomacy, if you don’t already know who the chosen victim is, then that victim is you.
They didn’t know such things in Srebrenica, for they are poor rural people who sometimes believed in Allah, but mostly in Yugoslavia.
Now Nevzeta is crying her head off now in front of the monument of Srebrenica. We set our wreath of flowers there: from Women-in-Black Serbia, “forgive us.” We are the only bus to come from Serbia. Nobody has come from Republika Srpska, the Serbian enclave in Bosnia. The ambassador from Serbia to Bosnia is present, along with ambassadors from the world and one of the Bosnian presidents. Carla del Ponte (the president of the Hague tribunal) is there too.
But we Women in Black stand right next to the monument because the people have opened their way for us to be there. Mothers have come to kiss us. My vision is blurred with tears as the mists descend from the hills above us, as the voice of a girl is singing in the silence of thousands of mourners. Yes, nature rebels in the places of crime: the crime scene becomes sacred ground.
A young girl has a fit of tears, she is a Bosnian teen in jeans, with her head daintily covered with a shawl. She is carried out of the crowd, shortly before the 400 corpses wrapped in green fabric are carried by their relatives to their graves. Their names are spelled out over loudspeakers, as well as their date of birth.
Young people mostly, all men, all Moslems. The mud of the grave is turning yellow. This is a fertile land. Relatives of the dead are waiting for the bodies to be deposed in that mud.
This vicinity to pain really makes one stronger and a better person. One bereaved mother comes up to me and hugs me, saying: If people will not praise you for what you are doing, God will, I am sure, even if you don’t believe in one.
I’m not a believer, but I believe in her and her words. If she can manage to live without her sons, husband, brothers, and alongside their killers, and without a penny, while fighting the Hague war tribunal for truth and justice, then I can do my work too.
A fatwa is spelled by the preacher: may mothers’ tears turn into hope, he says, and may the killers get the blessing of a punishment… A Moslem prayer is allowed for Moslem women too, as a conspicuous exception to the norm, and for all other religions as a double exception. Crime has no religion or nationality. These were my own people speaking my own language, yet killed by people speaking the language of crime, in my name.
I go to see the big memorial museum, which opened two days ago, this ex-factory where the dead of Srebrenica were crammed in to be delivered to the slaughter. This uncanny place features huge broken pipes and ducts and long-dead machines from the communist regime. In one corner there are some fifty photos of the dead, and also objects found to help identify them: a pipe, a wallet, a watch… I remember the piles of empty shoes at Auschwitz, that factory of death that cremated even the bones. Why do the bones matter so much, I wonder?
A weepy rain falls on the just and the unjust alike, turning every one of us into clay figurines, nameless and without a nation.
When the ceremony ends, we hustle through the surging, anonymous crowds, back to our unremarkable tour bus. A cathartic feeling creeps onto our bewildered minds. We literally carry the mud of the grave on our shoes.