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Witness Claims Seselj Whipped Up “Xenophobic Nationalism”

Sociology professor says Serbian hardliner glorified Serb nation and exploited victimhood to “morally justify collective violence”.
A witness at the war crimes trial of a Serbian ultra-nationalist leader described this week how Vojislav Seselj deliberately whipped up Serbs’ fears to create “xenophobic nationalism”.

Seselj made hundreds of speeches, broadcasts and appearances during the early 1990s, and witness Anthony Oberschall analysed more than 400 transcripts to build up a picture of his approach.

“The solutions he proposes admit of no compromise,” said Oberschall, a professor of sociology at the University of Carolina.

Seselj is charged by the Hague tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity including persecution, extermination, murder and torture carried out in Croatia, Bosnia and northern Serbia between 1991 and 1993.

He is charged with conspiring with late Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic to effect the “permanent forcible removal…of a majority of the Croat, Muslim and other non-Serb populations” and with participating in a war of hatred against non-Serb people.

In proceedings punctuated by incessant objections from the accused, who is the president of the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, and is representing himself, Oberschall explained how Seselj used political discourse to spread nationalist propaganda without regard for truth or accuracy.

The witness said Seselj exploited victimhood and glorified the Serb nation to “morally justify collective violence”. According to Oberschall, Seselj depicted Serbs as victims of crimes committed in the past by national minorities which again posed a threat that needed to be eliminated.

As revealed in video clips of the SRS leader played by the prosecution, Seselj said the then-Croatian president Franjo Tudman posed a threat against the Serb population and suggested there could be a repeat of mass murders of Serbs which took place during the Second World War.

“The most important stimulus is a threat stimulus. This will raise the fear of the audience. People will then back action to remove the threat,” said Oberschall.

To demonstrate the impact of Seselj’s political rhetoric the prosecution played a video tape of an SRS volunteer boarding a bus in Belgrade to go to the frontline.

“When I watch TV and see what’s going on I want to help and it’s worth sacrificing my life,” said the volunteer.

During cross examination, Seselj sought to undermine Oberschall’s credentials as an expert witness. He first tried to show that his knowledge of

physics, which he studied before turning to sociology, was limited, by asking him factual questions about the subject.

He then claimed the witness’s report was incomplete because he had not read some of Seselj’s books, which he said proved that the “popes of Rome are the main criminals and culprits for the war in former Yugoslavia”.

Oberschall said he did not read such “science fiction” and that the texts were not relevant to his expert analysis. Seselj responded, in one of several speeches rather than by conventional questioning, that the witness was “burdened with stereotypes” and that they were “worlds apart”.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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