Witness Denies "Greater Serbia" Seselj Discussion

He appears to contradict remarks he’s said to have made to prosecutors about conversation with accused.

Witness Denies "Greater Serbia" Seselj Discussion

He appears to contradict remarks he’s said to have made to prosecutors about conversation with accused.

Saturday, 13 March, 2010

A witness in the Hague tribunal trial of Serbian nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj this week denied that the accused had ever mentioned the idea of a “Greater Serbia” to him.

According to the indictment, Seselj made inflammatory speeches in the media and encouraged the creation of state uniting Serb-populated areas of former Yugoslavia by violence, thereby participating in war propaganda and the incitement of hatred towards non-Serb people.

Trial chamber witness VS1058, whose voice and face were distorted during the proceedings to protect his identity, joined the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, in 1991, but told the judges he did not condone the idea of a Serb-dominated state, only the preservation of his native Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, FRY.

Although he met Seselj, the SRS leader, in 1992, the witness told the judges, the accused had never spoken of a Greater Serbia to him in person.

Seselj, who is representing himself at the Hague tribunal, is accused of responsibility for crimes committed against Croat, Muslim and other non-Serb populations in regions throughout Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia between 1991 and 1993.

According to the indictment, Seselj was part of a joint criminal enterprise that planned, ordered, committed or aided in the planning of persecutions of non-Serb civilian populations in order to create a Serb-dominated state.

Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti questioned the witness about statements he made to the Office of the Prosecutor, OTP, in 2004 and 2006 about his time as a member of the SRS.

“You learned a little about the idea of a Greater Serbia, understood that this objective would be achieved by force and the power of weapons. You said you agreed in those principles,” Judge Antonetti said of the witness’s statement. “What was the idea of Greater Serbia? Why would you think it would be legitimate to achieve it by force?”

“I never said I condone the idea of a Greater Serbia,” the witness told the judges. “I wanted the old Yugoslavia to remain as it was. I became a member of the Serbian Radical Party in order to go to Slovenia because there were problems there.”

“If you were in favour of preservation of the FRY as it was, you would be, I assume, in opposition to various provinces [separating] from FRY – Slovenia, Croatia,” Judge Antonetti responded.

“How would it be possible to work for a Greater Serbia without … getting into conflict with those provinces that wished to break away? If you want to take parts of the territory perceived to belong to other provinces in order to create Greater Serbia, conflict would be inevitable, wouldn’t it?”

The witness told the judges that he had taken a solemn oath during his Yugoslav military service in the late 1970s.

“I would fight to protect the integrity [of the country] against internal and external enemies,” the witness said. “I personally had nothing against the old state as it was. I lived a nice life there.”

The witness added that he listened to Seselj among other politicians speak on TV, but claimed he was never a nationalist. “I had friends that were Croats and Muslims and I still have those friends,” he said.

Judge Flavia Lattanzi asked the witness about traveling to Belgrade in May 1991 to be trained by the SRS.

“On what basis were you recruited?” she asked. “What ideas were thrust forward?”

“It was not on the basis of any ideals,” the witness said. “I loved the old country, the old Yugoslavia. Seselj might disagree with me. I’m not all that into Greater Serbia. I was into the old Yugoslavia because people lived well at the time in that country.”

The witness told the judges that 60 to 70 per cent of Seselj’s volunteers in Belgrade were from the SRS, but there were also volunteers from the Serbian ministry of internal affairs, MUP, unit as well as locals.

Judge Lattanzi asked whether the volunteers being recruited had their criminal records checked.

“No, usually you just had to show your military record booklet,” the witness said.

Judge Lattanzi asked if the witness had been fighting for Yugoslavia or Serbia.

“I am still a Yugoslav, I am a half-Serb,” the witness said. “Among these groups of paramilitaries and [Yugoslav army] soldiers, there were some who were fighting for Greater Serbia, not Yugoslavia.

“I fought against the enemy of my state, of the state of Yugoslavia. That enemy [was] not only member of other ethnic groups, but people who belonged to my own ethnic group that I considered my enemy.”

The prosecution asked whether the witness had met Seselj during his time stationed in Bosnia.

“Yes, I saw him,” the witness said. “We were playing cards, sipping coffee [at an apartment]. I don’t know what he did – he came, he looked at us. I was more interested in the card game.”

The witness said that Seselj had not given any speeches during his visit.

Prosecution lawyer Ulrich Mussemyer read from the witness’s statement to the prosecution, in which he said that he had stayed in the apartment with other men for three days, during which Seselj had visited several times with a bodyguard and had given a “political speech”.

“I’m sure I didn’t say that,” the witness said. “I wouldn’t use those words. He didn’t deliver a speech in the apartment.”

Mussemyer read from the statement, “Seselj told us that the volunteer units were being formed in order to fight for the Serbian people and create a Greater Serbia. It was the same thing I had heard him say on television previously.”

“I didn’t say that,” the witness said. “In the apartment, I never heard him say a word. Maybe I did but it wasn’t a speech. I didn’t speak to him… It might be down to the translation. Maybe somebody misinterpreted the word ‘speech.’

“I never ever mentioned Greater Serbia in any of my statements, in the context of me talking about it but also the greater context of people mentioning it to me. [It’s been] purported that he spoke to me directly about Greater Serbia and that’s just not true.”

The witness added that he was not denying Seselj had mentioned Greater Serbia but that he had never heard it from him directly. He also denied that he had ever said he considered Seselj as his leader.

The trial continues next week.

Julia Hawes is an IWPR contributor. 

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