An Impossible Choice

Miroslav Filipovic has been jailed for seven years for choosing to stick by his professional principals.

An Impossible Choice

Miroslav Filipovic has been jailed for seven years for choosing to stick by his professional principals.

Wednesday, 16 August, 2000

The Nis Military Court sentenced Miroslav Filipovic for one reason - he touched on a topic forbidden in Serbia. It's the one we Serbians know a lot about, but which most choose to pass over in silence. It's that most dangerous of subjects: the crimes committed by Serbian forces in Kosovo.

Miroslav, as a journalist, faced a choice: to join the silent majority or to publish testimonies from the participants in those crimes. He believed he could not ignore the subject. Rather he felt obliged to write, to explain the events in the context of political, moral and criminal responsibility.

Miroslav was convicted of espionage and spreading false information on the basis of an article he wrote quoting testimony from Yugoslav Army officers stationed in Kosovo during the NATO intervention against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The officers quoted spoke of the persecution of the Albanian population, of the lootings, burnings and the murders carried out by the police and special units, which followed in the wake of the Yugoslav military.

But Miroslav Filipovic also wrote about the crimes against Serbs living in Kosovo after the arrival of the international forces. In Serbia all of us write about this every day. And so we should. The murder of Dragoslav Basic, a Serb and a university professor, murdered in Pristina in December last year in front of several hundred Albanians should be written about a thousand times more. The onlookers, through their silence and failure to intervene sanctioned Basic's death.

Every crime should be written about in this way.

Many in Serbia have said to Miroslav, "Congratulations, you told the truth as it should be told." But rare indeed are those who publicly speak or write about the crimes against Albanians.

The Serbian opposition, for example, dodges the issue. When it calls for the ouster of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, it is not because he is responsible for war crimes or because he is the only head of state in the world accused of war crimes.

Miroslav Filipovic has been condemned to seven years in prison to protect those responsible for war crimes committed in Kosovo and across the territories of the former Yugoslavia in previous wars.

The espionage charges brought against Miroslav allowed the court to conduct the trial under a cloak of secrecy. The pretext that the journalist passed on data significant to Serbian national security to a foreign organisation enabled the Military Court in Nis to defend those war crimes and those responsible for committing them.

Miroslav's fate on deciding to publish his articles raises the spectre of another tragedy prompted by an impossible choice. On September 20 1991 the then Yugoslav Peoples Army was mobilising the citizens of Serbia ahead of the first in the series of wars about to rip through the former Yugoslavia - the war in Croatia.

On that day Miroslav Milenkovic, a father of two and a reservist from Gornji Milanovac, found himself between two groups of mobilised reservists at the cattle market in the Vojvodinian town of Sid. Milenkovic was faced with a choice - to join the group which had laid down their guns and refused to go to the front, or to join the group preparing to set off for the first battle in that war at Tovarnik, Croatia.

Miroslav Milenkovic would not choose. He killed himself.

Natasha Kandic is director of the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre.

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