The Syrian war has overshadowed the drama developing in the Balkans. But the events that took place in Serbia and Montenegro on Feb 20-21 have shown that despite being occupied by the West, the Balkans is still boiling and may still decide what to claim from the West and Russia in the next months.
The videos of the events show that there were tens of thousands of protesters. Their key slogans were “No to NATO!”, “NATO Kills Our Children!”, “No to Occupation!” and they were carrying Serbian, Yugoslavian and even Russian flags. So, we see that the Serbs are not broken down and realize that the key source of resistance to NATO occupation is Russia. The Feb 12 Havana meeting of the Patriarch of All Russia Kirill and the Pope Francis might have been one of the factors that caused the protests in Belgrade.
By saying “No to Occupation!” the protesters certainly meant Kosovo, where ethnic Serbs are having really hard times. On Feb 9, the Serbs learned that Zdravko Tolimir, former Assistant Commander and Chief for Intelligence and Security of the Main Staff of the Bosnian Serb Army, died in a jail in The Hague. That man was found “guilty” of saving some Kosovo Serbs from annihilation by Muslim Albanians. On Feb 12, Serbian Prime Minister Alexandar Vucic sent a note of protest to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICRY). The letter said: “Gentlemen, Mr. Orie and all in The Hague Tribunal, you should learn to respect the Republic Serbia and after that we will continue discussion in accordance with the laws of Serbia.”
He said that nobody has the right to humiliate Serbia. On Feb 10, it was already known that Serbia was going to send the note as the Serbs were displeased with the attitude ICRY judges displayed towards Sasa Obradovic during a hearing of the tribunal’s urge to deliver three members of the Serbian Radical Party Verica Radeta, Petar Jojic and Jova Ostojic, who are suspected of “exerting pressure” on the witnesses in Vojislav Šešelj’s case. As you may know, Šešelj has been set free as the tribunal has failed to prove his complicity to “the genocide in Bosnia.”
“The Tribunal acted arrogantly towards legal representative and that is another huge shame for the Hague Tribunal. In that way, Serbia’s mouth was sealed,” Serbian Justice Minister Nikola Selakovic said, adding that will continue cooperation with the Hague court but in accordance with its national interests. According to Selakovic, the Serbs asked the ICTY to release Tolimir on health grounds in Oct 2016. “Serbia’s voice was not heard and the man died. The government of Serbia insists that its voice is heard,” the minister said.
“Mr. Zdravko Tolimir’s life is far more important than the demands of the Hague Tribunal and someone has to provide an answer as to why he died in holding,” Vucic said on Feb 11.
The death of one more Serb in a Hague jail has caused a storm of anger among the Serbs. It may seem strange but only Serbs have died in The Hague Tribunal’s jail since former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic. Though released, Seselj has cancer tough when he was first taken to The Hague he was healthy. So, you can imagine what is going on in Serbia now. And even in Montenegro you can hear pro-Serbian and anti-NATO slogans.
Why is this all happening now? Here we have lots of factors and the first one is the Hague Tribunal. Russia and some other countries insist on dissolving this punitive US-controlled authority. The first time Russia expressed its displeasure with the tribunal was 2008, when Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin claimed a detailed report on measures to expose facts concerning former ICTY Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte.
But it seems that the tribunal ignores things like trafficking in human organs. Almost all leaders of Kosovo are suspected of taking organs from Serbs and smuggling transplants. Once del Ponte said that she might solve that problem, she was sent away from The Hague. On Deb 6 2012, Churkin criticized the tribunal for some acquittals discrediting the very idea of justice. Churkin said that the tribunal was neither fair nor efficient. “The question who is guilty for hundreds of deaths and for over 250,000 deported Serbs is still open. So, we are going to insists on closing the tribunal,” Churkin said. He urged the tribunal to report on each of its cases by the next year – something the tribunal has not yet done due to pressure by the United States and the United Kingdom.
One more reason for criticism is that the ICTY has been established by a UN Security Council resolution rather than an international treaty. Some lawyers say that the Security Council has no right to prosecute individuals and create courts for this. As many as 60% of the people convicted by the tribunal are Serbs or Montenegrins. Croats account for just 18% of all convicts. All Bosnian Muslim suspects have been acquitted, with no single Albanian prosecuted – even though, according to del Ponte, in 1999-2000 the tribunal was informed of killings of Serbs in Kosovo. But this notwithstanding, it convicted only Serbs.
By de facto and de jure justifying the crimes committed by Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Albanians, the ICTY has hurt the Serbs’ self-consciousness. In Jan 2015, the UN Security Council prolonged the powers of the ICTY judges till Dec 31. Russia objected. Now the SC has to decide whether to prolong the tribunal’s powers again or to dissolve it. Even though Tolimir is dead, the tribunal still has the leader of the Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadzic and the commander of the Bosnian Serb army Ratko Mladic. Both are national heroes in Serbia. So, nobody there believes that the tribunal is fair. But nor do they hope that the two will be ever acquitted.
In July 2015, a group of Russian doctors convinced the tribunal to examine General Mladic and to consult his Dutch doctors. Russian mass media reported that Mladic might be sent to a hospital in Moscow. It is not known what the sides have agreed on. But it is known that Tolimir was arrested with the only purpose to allege that his commander was guilty of mass killings of Muslims in Srebrenica. It is also known that shortly before the tragedy people saw Dutch peacekeepers and British paramilitary policemen hanging around near the enclave, while Mladic promised Muslim women and children life even though Muslims had killed all Orthodox Serbs in Srebrenica. So, many people in Serbia believe that Tolimir was killed because he had refused to bear false witness against Mladic or because his release might have exposed the mechanisms used against Serb convicts.
It was then that NATO forced Serbia to sign an individual partnership action plan, allowing NATO troops to freely move in the country’s territory. This enraged Serb patriots and radicals, particularly, Vojislav Seselj. On Feb 18, Spokesperson of Russia’s Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova condemned NATO for attempting to embrace as many countries as possible. In this light, she said that Vucic-led Serbia is persistent in being neutral.
On Feb 21, when Serbia learned that two Serb diplomats were killed as a result of a US air attack on Libya, it said that NATO’s attempt to make it its member is like the “Stockholm syndrome” – when a victim of violence is forced to love the violator. They in Belgrade condemned the death of Stankovic and Stepic. Vucic is sure that the kidnapped diplomats could have been saved had there been no bombing. He said that they had informed the Americans about the hostages. So, we can see what caused the protests in Belgrade: expiring term of the ICTY, the death of Tolimir-Serbia’s note-imposed IPAP.
NATO has long sought to embrace Serbia and Montenegro and is gradually increasing its influence there. The corrupt Montenegrin leaders and their Western sponsors ignore that fact that over 70% of Montenegrins are against NATO membership. In Serbia things are just starting and may be even more dramatic. It is here that we can see the link between the meeting of the Russian Patriarch and the Pope and the protests in Serbia. Over the last seven years the West and its agents have been spreading rumors that the Americans are gradually turning Kosovo Albanians into Catholics.
Instead many Albanians are turning into Islamic fundamentalists. There was a Kosovo Albanian trace in the terrorist attacks in Paris. But the fact is that Kosovo is not just Orthodox, it is “Serbian Jerusalem” and one of the Orthodox cradles of the Balkans. We don’t claim that the Russian Patriarch and the Pope have come to any agreement on Kosovo or its orthodox values, but we cannot but wonder if Serbia and Montenegro will be drawn into NATO and if there will be war or peace.
EADaily’s European Bureau