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Witness Chided for Arguing Serbian “Cause”

Prosecution challenges Milosevic expert witness’s account of Kosovo history.
By Alison Freebairn

Slobodan Milosevic’s first expert witness has painted a picture of the Balkans as a place where the Serb population has had to guard against its Albanian neighbours for centuries.


Historian Slavenko Terzic of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, SANU, appeared in The Hague this week and presented a seemingly one-sided view of Kosovo’s history which appeared to find no fault in Serbia’s actions whatsoever.


Former Yugoslav president Milosevic is facing several charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide relating to Serbia’s actions in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999, which were ended by a NATO bombardment. There are more than 60 counts in three indictments covering the wars in Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia.


Under questioning from the defendant – who was reminded by presiding judge Patrick Robinson that only brief outlines were needed to provide the trial chamber with context for the charges in the indictment - Terzic spoke at length about the history of Kosovo and its people, testimony backed up by an extensive report submitted to the trial chamber.


He argued that the events of the past decade have shown that unspecified forces have conspired to encourage ethnic Albanians to strive for unification of the territories they inhabit, which he claimed would create “a centre for the trafficking of drugs and people” and encourage the spread of fundamentalist Islam in Europe.


As well as accusing elements of the Albanian population in the Balkans of being involved in the sale and trafficking of drugs and people, Terzic told the court that they had carried out systemic abuses of the neighbouring Serb population for centuries.


He used a series of maps and documents from his report to show that Serbia’s claim on Kosovo dates as far back as the Seventh Century, and that it has only recently become a majority Albanian population, a shift created by the ethnic cleansing of Serbs from the area and a vast influx of ethnic Albanians from elsewhere in the Balkans.


The “separatist” actions of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo eager to create a “Greater Albania” had caused misery for their Serb neighbours for decades, he told the court.


This prompted prosecutor Geoffrey Nice to ask the witness if his expert report contained “a single remark favourable to Albanians or Kosovo Albanians” and if, throughout the post Second World War history of the area, there had been any Albanian victims of Serb aggression or territorial ambition.


The witness said that he could not think of any, aside from those who had been killed when carrying out violent demonstrations or other acts of separatism against the Serb people.


The prosecutor then presented the witness with a February 2004 report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, ICG, titled “Pan-Albanianism – How Big a Threat to Balkan Stability?”


Terzic told the court that he did not agree with the report’s conclusion that there is very little political or social support for the creation of a Greater Albania - but later admitted that he had not read it.


Nice took Terzic to task for not having considered the report when preparing this expert report, and asked him to read it during the December 8 adjournment. However, when the trial recommenced a day later, the witness gave the impression that he had not done so.


The prosecutor read extracts from the executive summary of the ICG’s report, which said that “ethnic Albanian paramilitary groups in Kosovo and Macedonia only began to gather popular support after they moved away from their initial pan-Albanian nationalist goals and concentrated more on rights for their own people”, and that “violence in the cause of a Greater Albania, or of any shift of border, is neither politically popular or morally justified”.


Nice argued, “This is contrary to the extreme evidence you offered during the examination in chief.”


The witness disagreed, describing the use of the ICG report as “a provocation” and claiming that as the names of its authors were not attached to the work, it was a “phantom” with no merit.


He also rejected the report’s findings – that the desire for a Greater Albania was a minority, not majority opinion – saying, “It is a platform for a Greater Albania. ‘Pan-Albanianism’ is just another name for that.”


His responses did not impress the prosecutor, who told him bluntly, “You have come here to argue a cause, not to give evidence.”


To back up his insistence that the majority of Albanians were in favour of unifying their territories, Terzic quoted a memorandum from the Albanian National Union Front – an organisation which openly calls for the creation of a Greater Albania.


In an interview with IWPR, ICG’s European programme director Nicholas Whyte, one of the authors of the international think tank’s report, said, “It’s interesting that the witness described [it] as a blueprint for a Greater Albania and then placed into evidence a memorandum from the Albanian National Union Front, which criticised our report [for being the opposite].”


Whyte explained that the ICG report was “one of the most exhaustive I have been involved in”, taking more than a year of preparation and writing following extensive interviews and research across the region.


In response to the witness’s claim that the report was “a phantom”, Whyte said that all of ICG’s reports are released without a by-line as they are considered to be the property of the entire organisation up to and including its board.


“However, the press release that accompanies a report does acknowledge those people who were most involved in it so [authorship] is not difficult to work out,” he said, adding that in the case of the Pan-Albanian report, these were analysts Miranda Vickers, Alex Anderson and himself.


Judith Armatta of the Coalition for International Justice told IWPR that the witness appeared to be completely unwilling to look beyond his noticeably low opinion of the Albanian people.


“He was using only selected sources [in his expert report], and only those which confirmed his own world view,” she said. “It didn’t do Milosevic’s case any good in front of the court.”


And indeed, during the intense cross-examination by Nice and after a series of reprimands from the bench, Terzic received little support from Milosevic, who has recently adopted a much more respectful demeanour before the bench.


Armatta added, “I thought that Milosevic did a good job this week. He took a very professional approach to the court and did not argue with the judges about anything – all of which is very encouraging.”


The trial has adjourned until December 15, when Milosevic’s next witness – retired history professor and SANU member Cedomir Popov – is expected to complete his testimony.


Alison Freebairn is an IWPR editor in London.


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