Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Milosevic's Medals Spurned

While Belgrade continues to dole out awards and medals, several bereaved parents have spurned the baubles presented to their dead sons by Milosevic.
By Vlado Mares

On February 4 the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav Ministry of Defence and the Nis military district headquarters are due to appear in court to answer charges brought by the parents of one dead Yugoslav soldier.

Aleksandar Vukovic, 20, was killed during the NATO bombing campaign while serving with the Yugoslav Army in Kosovo. His parents, Dusan and Snezana Vukovic, are seeking compensation from the authorities for their dead son.

The court case will provide a fitting epilogue to a drama that has gripped the Serbian public since mid-December.

On December 15 Dusan Vukovic refused to accept a military decoration, posthumously awarded to his son by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, at a presentation ceremony at the army headquarters in Kraljevo, the town where he lives with his family.

Milosevic had attached a citation to the medal explaining that Aleksandar had been awarded the decoration "for sacrifice to the fatherland".

"This decoration is posthumously awarded to me for my son who laid down his life for the fatherland. He did not give his life for the fatherland, but for Slobodan Milosevic and his family," Vukovic said at the ceremony.

Vukovic explained he had refused the decoration from the Yugoslav president because he believed Milosevic had led his son and many other citizens from Kraljevo to wars from which they never returned.

"I ask that this decoration be returned to Milosevic and be presented to his family, which is complete at lunch, at breakfast and at supper, while we eat lunch, breakfast and supper on our son's grave," Vukovic said.

Vukovic announced that the parents of 41 dead soldiers from Kraljevo would gather at the local cemetery on April 13 to pay their respects to their sons on the first anniversary of their deaths. Vukovic said he had invited Milosevic.

The Vukovic case has not, however, halted or even slowed the "award-mania" displayed by the Milosevic regime in recent months.

Hardly a day goes by without the state media, particularly Radio-Television Serbia, reporting that Milosevic has awarded medals and decorations to a group of soldiers, or officers, or policemen or workers reconstructing buildings damaged by NATO bombs.

During the autumn and winter of 1999 around 4,500 decorations were awarded to people deemed to have contributed to the "successful defence against NATO" and the "rapid reconstruction of the country after the destruction".

State officials--so-called "special envoys of the Yugoslav president"--usually hand out the medals. Milosevic himself only appears to award decorations to the highest military and police officers and state officials.

The goal of the campaign is to persuade the public that: "The heroic people together with their brave leaders have achieved a glorious victory over the aggressors, headed by the United States."

This campaign began to come unstuck when the regime began presenting posthumous decorations to soldiers and policemen killed in the conflict.

A week after Dusan Vukovic declined the award for his son, Miodrag Stojanovic from Leskovac also refused to accept a decoration presented posthumously to his 20-year-old son, Miroslav who was killed in Kosovo on April 9 1999.

At the award ceremony, Stojanovic demanded a court investigation into the death of his son, accusing his son's commanding officer, Captain Dusko Sljivancanin, of being responsible for Miroslav's death.

According to official reports, Miroslav Stojanovic was killed on the Djakovica-Kosare road, as he rode in a jeep with Sjivancanin. The army statement said a unit of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) ambushed the two men. Miroslav was killed, but Sljivancanin managed to escape.

But other witness accounts, forensic reports and earlier statements made by Miroslav led his parents to doubt the official version. His parents have now initiated proceedings before the military court in Nis to establish the truth about their son's death.

In a statement to the court, Stojanovic said his son was "liquidated by Sljivancanin", who had been intolerant towards his son because Miroslav presented an obstacle to Sljivancanin's plans to plunder a store of hard currency and gold.

"Miroslav called us for the last time on April 3 from Djakovica and told us not to worry and that he was well. He told us that he was staying in a house near a school that was well guarded because it was full of gold and hard currency. When asked by his mother not to touch anything, he replied that the officers were on the ground floor and had the valuables, while the soldiers were upstairs. We did not hear from him again," a sobbing Stojanovic told journalists.

He said that he would return the decoration even if the circumstances under which his son was killed were clarified.

"I do not need this decoration in any case", Stojanovic said before adding, "Return that decoration to Milosevic's son and grandson to play with and return my son to me."

Likewise, police captain Slobodan Pajic refused to accept a decoration--a protest which cost him his job.

Pajic refused to accept the Decoration of the Knight's Sword, Third Order two months ago at a ceremony marking Republic Day. Reports of his action only appeared in the independent media on January 5.

Pajic said he had refused the award because he was disappointed with the performance of the Belgrade police brigade during the Kosovo crisis. Pajic complained, "Some [officers] were killed or wounded and others literally 'went nuts', unprepared for the efforts that war requires."

Pajic also protested about the use of police to physically crack down on supporters of opposition political parties.

But hopes that the rejection of Milosevic's decorations would bring an end to the regime's unprecedented display of self-gratification proved futile.

Milosevic's government have instead begun prohibiting independent journalists from attending the award ceremonies. Appeals to the government to cease manipulating the grief of families with members killed in the war have been ignored.

Vlado Mares is a regular IWPR contributor from Belgrade.