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

Regional Report: Seselj Heading for The Hague?

Former Serbian warlord says he will turn himself into the The Hague later this month.
By Milanka Saponja-Hadzic

The Hague may soon receive a man whose bravado equals that of Slobodan Milosevic – Vojislav Seselj.


Like Milosevic, Seselj, 48, has long denounced the war crimes court as anti-Serb, but Seselj is about to go one step further than the former Serbian leader.


The ex-paramilitary commander has promised to turn himself in to tribunal this month in order to defend his people.


“I am convinced that I will defeat The Hague tribunal,” he declared. “It is a challenge that I cannot resist. That alone was worth living for. I have been given the opportunity to defend the Serbian people and the Serbian state from its


enemies.”


And, putting his money where his mouth is, Seselj has booked a flight to Amsterdam on February 24.


The big question – both in the Balkans and in the West – is whether Dutch police will be there to meet him.


Because despite a wave of publicity linking Seselj to war crimes, much of it generated by evidence emerging in the Milosevic trial, Seselj has never been publicly charged with war crimes, unlike other notorious warlords, such as Zeljko “Arkan” Raznjatovic.


There is, however, speculation that The Hague may have issued a secret, or sealed, indictment against Sesejl, who will find out for sure if he sets foot on Dutch soil.


His decision has caught many by surprise because recently he had denounced Serbia’s new democratic government for not protecting him.


He has insisted that a group of commandos from the British elite military unit, the SAS, were in Serbia to arrest war crimes suspects. His outbursts led to crowds of up to 500 supporters ringing his home in Batajnica, near Belgrade.


Prior to becoming an extremist politician and warlord, Seselj was an accomplished academic, publishing many books.


In the Eighties, he was a lecturer at Sarajevo University, clashing with left-wingers and was jailed for ten years after accusing a communist writer of being a plagiarist.


This put him at the forefront of the ultra-radical wing of the emerging Serbian nationalist movement.


After jail, Seselj made contacts with members of the Karadjordjevic royal family - who once ruled Serbia - and also befriended members of the Serbian Chetnik movement who had fled, after World War Two, to America.


During the war, the Chetniks, loyal to the king, had fought as guerrillas against German forces and Tito’s Partizans. Some Chetniks even allied with the former against the latter.


The Partizans, who were backed by the West and the USSR, emerged victorious, executing thousands of Chetniks, who never forgave the communists.


When war broke out between Serbs and Croats in 1991, Seselj, by then head of the Serbian Radical Party, said, “We will slaughter Croats with rusty spoons.”


When war erupted in Bosnia in 1992, Seselj turned up with his paramilitary units to help with the ethnic cleansing, declaring, “One hundred Muslims should be killed for one dead Serb.”


Also operating in Bosnia at the time were Arkan’s Tiger units. They were known for being tightly disciplined, clean and fit, while Seselj’s men were untidy, bearded and frequently drunk. Both, however, shared a predilection for slaughter and plunder.


In Bosnia, the two men fought alongside the local Serbs. But they soon became bitter rivals.


In the 1993 elections, Milosevic supported Arkan as a candidate for Serbian president to draw off ultra-radical votes from Seselj, who was Milosevic’s main opponent.


One morning, Belgrade awoke to find that a highway across the main Bridge over the Danube was covered in placards bearing Seselj’s face. The following morning, each had been torn down and smashed – replaced by ones featuring Arkan.


Nevertheless, after the war it was Seselj who emerged the stronger. He came second to Milosevic in 1997 elections for the Yugoslav presidency.


Rumours that Seselj – now a father of four - was in the tribunal’s gun-sights has been around ever since the body was established.


But the trial of Milosevic sharpened the speculation when prosecution witnesses gave detailed evidence linking Seselj’s men to atrocities in Croatia.


Sources in Belgrade say prosecutors are focusing on whether to charge Seselj with responsibility for the murder of 20 Croat policemen killed in Borovo Selo on May 2, 1991, one of the triggers for the Croatian war.


Milanka Saponja-Hadzic is a regular IWPR contributor.


More IWPR's Global Voices