International Justice/ICTY: Mar ‘09

Belgrade journalism students discuss war crimes issues with London editors during OSCE-organised visit.

International Justice/ICTY: Mar ‘09

Belgrade journalism students discuss war crimes issues with London editors during OSCE-organised visit.

Tuesday, 28 April, 2009
Three Serbian journalism students from Belgrade University spoke about their compatriots’ attitudes to war crimes trials at a meeting with the London-based editorial team in March.

The students – Jasna Jankovic, Marija Stanojcic, and Sofija Zaklan Predojevic – visited the IWPR offices and other media in the capital as part of a programme organised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE.

Although the students were very young at the time of the Nineties conflicts which erupted following the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, and had only faint memories of them, they had much to say on the subject of war crimes justice.

Jankovic kicked off the discussion, noting that there was a widespread view held in Serbia that the Hague tribunal has been far from even-handed when prosecuting war crimes suspects.

“There is an impression that the tribunal is stricter towards Serbians,” she said, even though “[during the wars,] crimes were committed on [all] sides, every side committed crimes”.

Another key issue, according to Jankovic, is that many people in Serbia haven’t accepted their country’s role in crimes committed.

People still have a high regard for those suspected of the worst atrocities – including ex-Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic, ex-Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic – which is an impediment to reconciliation, she said.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people still see Mladic, Karadzic, Milosevic and many [similar figures] as heroes… and it’s a really sad thing for me to see that,” said Jankovic.

The students then told us that there was a worrying nationalist current running through Serbia, which was proving particularly appealing to the young – and which was impeding efforts to get people to come to terms with the past.

Predojevic said she believed uncertainty about the future was driving young people to embrace nationalist ideas.

At one point in the discussion, we asked the students if they thought it was necessary to have a truth commission in order to establish what went on during the wars – something that regional NGOs have been calling for.

Predojevic said she thought it would be good for people to have an opportunity to come together and discuss what happened during the wars without judgement.

But she pointed out that while NGOs were doing a great deal of work to promote this kind of discussion, the government was not supporting it.

Stanojcic told us that people in Serbia were tired of hearing about the war and wanted to move on. “They have everyday issues which are more important to them… they just want to get on with their lives,” she said.

During the debate, we also discussed Serbia’s relations with the international community.

The country’s progress towards joining the European Union has been slowed because it has failed to cooperate with the Hague tribunal in handing over a key war crimes suspect and important war-time documents.

While many suspects have now been sent to The Hague, including Karadzic, some EU countries insist that Belgrade also deliver Mladic before it can progress towards joining the bloc.

“The problem is that we know that [in isolation] we cannot develop [enough] – we need help from other countries, western countries, the EU… We know that if we want help from them, we need to have a strong government and we are not able to [achieve that],” said Predojevic.

The debate prompted Jankovic to write a comment piece for the project’s Tribunal Update: Reporting Your Compatriots’ Sins.

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