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

Rights Campaigner Faces Opposition Wrath

A Serbian human rights activist is condemned by the opposition after accusing it of having close links to the Serbian leadership.
By Vlado Mares

A leading Serbian human rights activist who has been a thorn in the side of Slobodan Milosevic for years is now facing a barrage of criticism from opposition leaders and the media.


The president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, Sonja Biserko, has enraged opposition politicians with a recent article in which she suggested that many of them are linked to the Yugoslavia regime of President Milosevic.


The article in the German newspaper, Die Welt, argued that such ties have ensured that there was no real political alternative in Serbia to Milosevic. [See ]


Biserko was particularly critical of the leader of the Democratic Party, Zoran Djindjic, and the leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, Vuk Draskovic, accusing them of having been on good terms with the assassinated Belgrade warlord Zeljko ("Arkan") Raznatovic.


"It can be maintained with all certainty that all those personalities were associated either through criminal transactions or the State Security service," she wrote.


Biserko claimed that Arkan once said that Draskovic, a successful novelist, had given him a gift of his collected works with the inscription "To my best friend," and signed, "Vuk Draskovic". She wrote that, according to some reports, Djindjic communicated with associates of Arkan when he travelled in Europe, adding that following Arkan's death, Djindjic said he had business ties with him.


"Such tangled ties . . . indicate that the opposition from its inception was closely associated with the centres of power," she concluded.


Biserko's criticisms are not unprecedented. Opposition leaders have often been accused in the past of flirting with the underworld, undemocratic practices and Serbian nationalism.


But her broadside against the opposition comes as it seeks, under pressure from the international community, to end its bitter feuding and form a united front to dislodge Milosevic.


Ognjen Pribicevic, Draskovic's adviser, said Biserko "criticises the opposition whenever it makes a step towards unified action in the country and a more cooperative relationship with the West."


"A number of serious people are wondering about the connections of the president of the Helsinki Committee with the regime in Serbia, since her statements directly benefit Slobodan Milosevic."


A Democratic Party statement said people like Biserko use "the crisis in Serbia to go round foreign embassies bad-mouthing the Serbian people as genocidal, openly request the bombing of Belgrade and de-Nazification of the entire nation."


Now, the most influential and oldest Serbian weekly, NIN, has joined the anti-Biserko campaign, accusing her of damaging the "Serbian cause". The magazine said her remarks make the opposition's attempts to persuade the West to ease sanctions against Serbia more difficult.


Biserko has been swamped by threatening telephone calls and letters following her outspoken remarks. "A lynch mob atmosphere has been created," she said. A similar atmosphere forced her to leave Belgrade when the NATO bombing began.


Biserko's views are shared by many educated people in Serbia, but the majority would never express them publicly for fear of being denounced.


"Serbia is in agony," said Biserko, "It must face up to the consequences of Milosevic's wars as a condition for any kind of freedom."


Vlado Mares is a regular IWPR contributor from Belgrade.