A Human Package
I hail a cab. It is snowing and gloomy, Friday 23 December. People in Belgrade are already hysterical because of the New Year holidays.
Please hurry to the special court, ex military court. Do you know where it is? Of course Madame I know, it is a very famous place these days, it is round the corner, you don't need a cab really.
True, the military court is an old renovated building for new war crimes, a monument to the last wars, my friend Stasa says. It's much fancier than The Hague court room. In my street live some war criminals, so no wonder they made their court there.
We Women in Black are official NGO onlookers. We enter the building with Natasa Kandic, the woman most hated by nationalists in Serbia, Natasa Kandic the representative of the victims and a human rights lawyer, plus the family members themselves: 15 women, all in all.
This is the last day of the first round of the trial of the Scorpions, the paramilitary formation which executed 6 Muslim war prisoners in the days of Srebrenica. During this mass murder of the Muslims, the Scorpions unwisely filmed their own crime. Last July, this video document was screened in The Hague during the Milosevic trial, and then all over the Serbian and international media. Some family saw the faces of their missing for the first time.
Now we see the faces of the arrested executioners. One young woman, a victim's relative says; it is so relieving to see their faces, so soothing, to see who killed your loved one, to see if he is a human, and to hear him speak for himself. It is so important to start making a difference between those who did the crime and those who didn't.That is the whole point in this trial: of the entire accused, only one pleaded guilty: he pulled the trigger, claiming that he obeyed orders.
The incriminated men are relatives themselves, they all look the same, big, dressed in black, bald or short haired, with tattoos on their necks: the symbol of scorpions. When Natasa Kandic asked them about the tattoo, they refused to answer, claiming it was personal.Aleksandar Vukov, who is the last being interrogated, is pleading not guilty. He claims he knew nothing of the execution: he was there in that no man's land only to receive 'ThePackage' as they called in code the ammunition. The Package did not arrive, but instead some prisoners were brought by the same ammunition van, and then executed. Vukov is lying; the judge, a blonde intelligent woman, is politely vivisecting him.
The accused arrives on red crutches, he lacks one leg. He is young, intelligent and well educated: he says, I am a double victim, first of one regime which made me an invalid, and now of this new one which is sacrificing me as a goat. Other accused show sympathy towards this young man who moves me with mixed feelings all the time, I am angry with my emotions. Then I realize he looks and speaks exactly as a very close friend of mine, who instead of being a war criminal is a war deserter, who instead of knowing everything about war games and disciplines plays Internet games. Do we all have our doubles who made the opposite choices in our dark times of no
choices? Is there a Hyde Jasmina somewhere in this courtroom too? This guy is not guilty of crime, the lawyer of the victims tells me, but he is protecting his military superior.
I am sitting behind their family and fans: they all look aggressive and afraid at the same time. They laugh loudly and wave their hands at the accused, through the glass that is dividing us. The five lawyers of the accused are grim and aggressive. They behave as war heroes; no wonder Mladic and Karadzic, the responsable Bosnian leaders, are not yet arrested but respectfully quoted in Serbian books as historical figures.We had great discipline and wonderful moral qualities: nobody was questioning the orders. We were actually protecting the oil fields in the region, and were well paid for that responsible job by the oil company. I joined the group after the Arkan's organization was dissolved and this formation was part of the Vukovar army: Legija was in it, too.
For those who don't know: Vukovar is the place of major Serbian war crime in Croatia, Arkan is the war criminal and bank robber famous for killings and looting of non-Serbian population, Legija is the guy who killed our Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. And this episode is part of the Srebrenica genocide when 8000 Muslims were executed by Serbian army led by Ratko Mladic. I am facing the best of the worst. My women are sitting behind me very sober; one of them says, I am illiterate but I understand everything he is saying. He is lying.
The one-legged accused is boasting about the fancy uniforms they had and NATO caps... The code they used to say everything is fine was 'Whiskey 55'...the war games played 24 hours, for years on end, reveal energy and volunteerism which resembles our Women in Black peace activism. Only we have no hierarchy: they have a chain of responsibility and system of mafia omerta, as in jails. Even if they are telling different stories in front of the judge, they avoid incriminating each other as much as possible. I remember how the word 'mafia' in its original sense meant solidarity, friendship, support, and high ideals and morality. Now it represents this Horror.
The first accused in the chain of responsibility, who denies his guilt of any war crime, says: I take off my hat to this young man who was my deputy and a neighbor. I saw him grow as a kid. His orders were to take off the heads of the Muslim prisoners not their hats. Those Moslem kids too were his neighbors and kids he saw grow up, but the code word for them was The Package. A package of flesh and blood turned into movie extras.
Nazis too filmed their genocide endeavors as art or war victories. Now that they are sitting and breathing only a few meters away from me, I feel painfully the difference between virtual and real. The silence of the dead is overwhelming: we who support the victims and their families are suffocating in the back rows behind the glass screen. It's been 10 years now since the genocide was successfully committed, and nobody is yet convicted. How can you tell good from bad guys anymore, who is the Jekyll who is the Hyde: the war invalid and the war criminal cannot control his transformation anymore? He is the same person.
The President of Serbia, after the trial, shook hands with the family of the victims for their courage to come to Belgrade, to attend the trial. To make us see that difference, to make the virtual become real.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
My friend Jasmina Tesanovic is back in Belgrade after spending a year in LA. She sent me this powerful dispatch after attending a war crimes trial. She and other Women in Black were present to bear witness and provide support for the victims' families: