They Would Never Hurt A Fly: War Criminals on Trial in The Hague

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9780349117751: They Would Never Hurt A Fly: War Criminals on Trial in The Hague

Slavenka Drakulic attended the Serbian war crimes trial in the Hague. This important book is about how ordinary people commit terrible crimes in wartime. With extraordinary story-telling skill Drakulic draws us in to this difficult subject. We cannot turn away from her subject matter because her writing is so engaging, lively and compelling. From the monstrous Slobodan Milosevich and his evil Lady Macbeth of a wife to humble Serb soldiers who claim they were 'just obeying orders', Drakulic brilliantly enters the minds of the killers. There are also great stories of bravery and survival, both from those who helped Bosnians escape from the Serbs and from those who risked their lives to help them.

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About the Author:

Slavenka Drakulic, born in Croatia in 1949, is a writer and journalist whose works have been translated into many languages. She contributes to THE NEW REPUBLIC, LA STAMPA, DAGENS NYHETER, FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU and the OBSERVER and her writing has appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world. She writes in both Croatian and English.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction: Not a Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, in a faraway part of Europe, behind seven mountains and seven rivers, there was a beautiful country called Yugoslavia. Its people belonged to six different nations, and they were of three different religions and spoke three different languages. They were Croats, Serbs, Slovenes, Macedonians, Montenegrins, and Muslims yet they all worked together, went to school together, married each other, and lived in relative harmony for forty-five years.

But because it is not a fairy tale, the story of this beautiful country has no happy ending. Yugoslavia fell apart in a terrible and bloody war, a war that claimed some two hundred thousand lives?mostly in Bosnia?displaced two million people, and produced several new states: Slovenia, Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, and Macedonia. Albanians and Montenegrins are still struggling for their independence.

This all happened in the middle of Europe not so long ago, between 1991 and 1995. The whole world was surprised by this war. We, the citizens of Yugoslavia, were even more surprised. When I think about it, I am still angry with myself. Is it possible that the war crept into our lives slowly, stealthily, like a thief? Why didn?t we see it coming? Why didn?t we do something to prevent it? Why were we so arrogant that we thought it could not happen to us? Were we really prisoners of a fairy tale?

My generation in Europe grew up believing that after World War II, war of that kind could not happen again. Nuclear war between two superpowers was a possibility, not a local one fought with conventional arms. Another argument against the likelihood of a new war was that in World War II in Yugoslavia, hundreds of thousands of people perished on all sides. The witnesses were still alive, the wounds were still open. And finally, we knew that Yugoslavia had no enemies. We lived peacefully with our neighbors: with Italians, Austrians, Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians, and Albanians.

But one day we discovered that it is not necessary to have an outside enemy to start a war. The enemy could be inside?and indeed it was. It was bad enough digging up the past?the past that we tend to forget, that during the war Yugoslavia was occupied or controlled by Nazi Germany?but there was also a civil war between Serbs and Croats going on. In other words, there was a recorded history of bloodshed in our country, and it was easy to manipulate it in order to antagonize one another: Serbs became the enemies of Croats, Bosnian Muslims, and Albanians, and the Croats at one point were also at war not only with Serbs but with Muslims as well, while the Macedonians? enemies were Albanians.

Even if it appeared that way to us, the war did not descend upon us overnight. In the late eighties communism collapsed everywhere in Eastern Europe and in what was then still the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia was unprepared for the political changes that followed that collapse. We did not develop any democratic alternatives as Poland and Czechoslovakia had done, and the political vacuum was suddenly filled with nationalist parties. They all had the same program: independence and nation-states of their own.

Simmering nationalism was soon spreading like a fire. The nationalist parties were voted into power in Croatia and Bosnia. In Serbia something strange happened: the Communist Party turned nationalist, led by Slobodan Milos?evic', who believed this was the way to keep his grip on power. Soon there were referendums all over, and people were voting for their independence from Yugoslavia. Slovenia took the first step, and by June 1991 it was out of the federation. The breakup had begun. The JNA (Yugoslav National Army) tried to stop Slovenia from leaving, but because Slovenia had no minorities to speak of, the army let it go.

At this point, war did not look like a possibility. The names of the few soldiers and policemen killed in that spring of 1991 in Slovenia and Croatia were still noticed: their deaths were still exceptional, and their photos and names were printed on the front pages of newspapers.

But Croatia had a large Serbian minority, thus Slobodan Milos?evic', as president of Serbia, had the perfect excuse to send his army to ?protect? the Serbs there. That meant real war. In the autumn of 1991, the Croatian town of Vukovar was almost erased from the face of the earth, and some ten thousand people lost their lives. In the years that followed, death became an ordinary thing, and nobody bothered anymore to list the victims? names. It was too late for that.

In Bosnia, where Serbs, Croats, and Muslims lived together, the war started in April 1992. Because of the mixed population, it also took on the characteristics of a civil war. The Serbian minority there, ?protected? by Milos?evic', proclaimed the independent state of Republika Srpska. Not being able to prevent either Croatia or Bosnia from leaving Yugoslavia, Milos?evic'?together with Serbs from Republika Srpska?now embarked on a war for a ?Great Serbia.? The two-year siege of Sarajevo followed, and a couple of years later, the UN-protected Muslim enclave of Srebrenica fell to the army of Republika Srpska. Some seven thousand unarmed Muslim men were executed?the biggest massacre in Europe since 1945.

As these newly created states at war?Bosnia, Croatia, Republika Srpska, Serbia?were led by hard-core nationalist leaders, it was soon clear that they were fighting not only for independence but also for ?ethnically cleansed? nation-states. Entire regions in Croatia and Bosnia?and, later on, in Kosovo as well?were ethnically cleansed (a euphemism that in practice often meant genocide) in order to achieve a homogeneous population, not unlike Hitler?s Germany of ?Ein Reich, ein Volk, ein Fuhrer.? Both Serbs and Croats wanted to carve up Bosnia between themselves, leaving only small enclaves to the Muslims.

The war in Bosnia ended with the Dayton Agreement of November 1995, but it was not yet finished in Kosovo, a southern province of Serbia populated mainly by Albanians. They too wanted independence and began to fight for it. Milos?evic'?s retaliation was such that at one point hundreds of thousands of Albanians left their homes in panic in order not to be killed and tried to cross the border into Albania or Macedonia. With at least seven hundred thousand refugees leaving Kosovo, it was a humanitarian disaster. At that point, in the spring of 1999, NATO decided to bomb Milos?evic' into submission.

This was the beginning of the end of Slobodan Milos?evic'. In October 2000 the unimaginable happened: Milos?evic' lost the elections?and his power. He was soon arrested and delivered to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. This tribunal had been formed in 1993 in the Netherlands, after the international community realized that the new states that had come out of the war were unable or unwilling to prosecute their war criminals themselves. As was stated at the tribunal, all sides committed war crimes, but Serbia committed most of them. Arresting and extraditing war criminals became the biggest political issue in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia, where persons now listed in The Hague as war criminals were hailed as national heroes at home.

Today there are some eighty people being prosecuted at the tribunal, from all of the sides in the war. My choice of characters in this book is a personal, not a representative, one. My interest is centered not only on the most important alleged war criminals, like Slobodan Milos?evic', but also on those whose cases or personalities I found relevant to the purpose of this book, regardless of nationality. That there are no Muslim war criminals described at any length in this book is therefore just a coincidence; it certainly doesn?t mean that they did not commit crimes of that type; you can see their names on the ICTY list of wanted men. I also describe two persons who have not been on trial at the tribunal but who are nevertheless important for understanding the issues at hand. One is a witness, Milan Levar; the other is Slobodan Milos?evic'?s wife, Mirjana Mira Markovic'.

My interest in writing this book was a simple one: as it cannot be denied that war crimes were committed, I wanted to find out about the people who committed them. Who were they? Ordinary people like you or me?or monsters?

And to answer the question I originally raised: why didn?t we see the war coming? Certainly we could see the writing on the wall. There were many signs of the coming disaster, yet we were not capable of reading them properly until it was too late. But it is easy to be wise in hindsight. Could the war have been prevented? Perhaps. But too few people tried to do so.

chapter 1
Why The Hague


For some time after the war in Croatia was over?although it was still in progress in Bosnia?a young man who was a friend of my daughter stayed in our house in Zagreb. I noticed that he didn?t switch off the light in his room at night. When I asked him why, he told me, briefly. He might wake up during the night not knowing where he was. He might have bad dreams?dreams about his friends, soldiers who had disappeared in action in Bosnia and were very probably killed. But he would say no more than this.

Now he has a family and a baby girl, and I am sure he will never tell her about his friends. But if she does grow up hearing his stories about the war in Bosnia, she will be confused. In school she will probably learn that, officially, Croatia was never at war with Bosnia, was never an aggressor. Officially, her father was not fighting against Muslims in Bosnia, and his friends were not killed there either. If the history textbooks of today are any indication, the girl may be taught that the war for the homeland?as it is called?was a defensive war and nothing more. Moreover, because it was a defensive war, Croatian soldiers could not have committed war crimes. At least this has been the official doctrine in Croatia for the past ten years, and it did not change with the death of the first Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman, in 1999.

A girl in Serbia will probably also grow up amid denial about the war. If she should ask her father about the war in Croatia or in Bosnia, he might reply: War? What war? The only wars Serbs recognize are the NATO war against them and their own war against ?terrorism? in Kosovo. The wars in Croatia and Bosnia do not count for them. This is how I imagine my father must have felt after the war in 1945: exactly like my daughter?s friend. I don?t know if he kept the light in his room on, but my father was twenty-three years old and wanted to forget all the terrible experiences he had had during the five years of war. The bad times were behind him. Soon he met my mother, and they started a family. I was born in 1949. The future looked bright.

My father never spoke about the four years he fought as a Partisan under the command of Josip Broz Tito in World War II. He wanted to forget it, and for a long time I saw this as a sign of sanity and self-preservation. ?A human being survives by his ability to forget,? Varlam Shalamov writes in Kolyma Tales. But I knew that even though he did not speak about it, my father must have remembered the war. It was the single most important period in his life, and he must have been marked by it much more than I have been marked by the recent war in the former Yugoslavia. He fought; I did not. And the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the combination of his silence and the official version of the historical events of 1939?45 made this latest war possible.

Although my father did not talk about what he saw or experienced, there are three images that I, as a child, used to connect with that war?with his war. The first comes from my grandmother. She also spent the war with the Partisan army, cooking and washing for them, and she often recounted an episode from that time that was fixed in her memory. The Partisans had recaptured a Croatian village that had been held earlier by Serbian Chetniks. The village was empty now, the people had fled. As my grandmother entered a deserted house she planned to stay in overnight, she noticed a strange smell. It was the smell of burned meat. The Chetniks had left in haste, and she was convinced that there was some food burning on the stove. But there was no food there. She opened the oven. Inside it she found a newborn child roasted like a piglet.

When I was small, I used to imagine my grandma entering that house. I could sense that strange smell, even though I had never smelled it. In my mind I could see a black iron stove fed by logs in front of me and her hand opening it. I could imagine her horror, too. With time, her horror became mine.

The second image stuck in my mind is one I saw in a movie entitled Kozara, but to me it was real. I was thirteen. I remember well the fear I felt while I watched it, my perspiration, sweaty palms, tears. It was one of those obligatory movies about Tito?s Partisan battles with the German army that our history teacher took us to see. There is a scene in which the hero?a Partisan, of course?is hiding in a hole in the ground. German soldiers are looking for him. They are coming closer and closer. He can hear them shouting. In his arms he holds a small child; as the enemy soldiers approach, the child starts crying. The hero closes the baby?s mouth with one hand. With the other hand he holds up the makeshift roof of the hole. In the most breathtaking moment of the film, a German soldier stabs at the earth with his bayonet, trying to find the hero?s hiding place, and cuts through the palm of the hero?s hand.

My third image of the war comes from a book that my father tried to keep away from us children, but I managed to get hold of it anyway. It would have been better if I had not, because I could not ask father about what I saw in it, and it took me a long time to understand what the frightening images in the book were about. I remember the book quite distinctly. It was a slim volume of yellowish paper with a green cloth cover. Inside there were a few black-and-white photos. They were of poor quality, not very clear. But they were clear enough that I could see emaciated people sitting or lying on bunk beds, naked skeletons, and heaps of corpses on the ground. The title of the book was Jasenovac. Years later, when I visited the museum of the concentration camp near Jasenovac, I saw the same pictures. I also saw a collection of knives and hammers that the Ustashe, Croatian fascists, used to kill some seventy thousand people. Twenty thousand of them were Jews; the others were Serbs, Gypsies, and Croatian Communists.

We grew up with many such images, gathered from movies, literature, and family stories. On the one hand we had memory, but on the other hand we had our history textbooks, which shaped history to suit the Communist Party ideology. It was not that we were sheltered from the past; on the contrary, we may have had too much of it. But our history books were filled not with facts but with legends: with Tito?s army offensives, his great battles, and his even greater victories. Decades later, when I learned about the big massacre that had taken place in the spring of 1945 near Bleiburg in Austria, where tens of thou...

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