Greek journalist sued for writings on Bosnia

Via Marko Hoare’s blog, here’s an unhappy story about Greek journalist Takis Michas. A few years back, Michas wrote a book about the links between Greece and the Bosnian war — Greek support for Milosevic and Karadzic, Greek volunteers going to fight for the Serb side in Bosnia, and so forth.

Well, now he’s being sued by a Greek veteran of the Bosnian war. The lawsuit seems pretty dubious; the volunteer is claiming that he’s been libelled because Michas described the Greek volunteers as “paramilitaries” who took part in the Srebrenica massacre when (the volunteer says) they were in fact members in good standing of the Serb Bosnian army who just happened to be in Srebrenica around that time. The suit is being funded by something called the “Panhellenic Macedonian Front”, which is an umbrella group for a variety of extreme nationalists. A short interview with Michas, discussing the lawsuit, can be found here: Continue reading

New Balkan visa rules: Serbia in, Albania still out

And the Montenegrins and Macedonians. EU Commissioner Olli Rehn just announced his recommendation that these three countries be granted visa-free travel to the EU starting January 1, 2010.

While many European readers will blink and shrug, this is a huge, huge deal for the region. For the last 20 years, it’s kinda sucked to be a Serb. Back in Yugoslav times, you had one of the world’s best passports. East, west, developing world… the Yugoslav passport was welcomed for easy travel in almost every country on earth. But after 1991, suddenly your passport was a piece of junk: nobody welcomed Serbs, you were often viewed with suspicion, and you had to fill out elaborate forms (and wait for months) to get a visa to enter the EU. Even after the wars ended, Serbia was still kept firmly at arm’s length.

A whole generation of young Serbs have grown up grumpy about this: they didn’t do anything, so why are they being punished, while young Croats and Bulgarians can freely travel to London and Paris?

No more. Assuming the recommendations is approved — and it’s almost a rubber stamp — then six months from now, Serbs (and Montenegrins and Macedonians) will be able to jump on a plane and just fly to anywhere in the EU, no visa required.

Mind you, they won’t be able to get work permits. It’s just travel. But still: it’s going to make a huge difference.

This being the Balkans, there are of course some complications.
Continue reading

A soda with Karadzic

Just wanted to link to this post about meeting Radovan Karadzic in prison. The writer comes across as a bit naive — gosh, the ICTY cell block is dingy! Karadzic, a former politician turned New Age guru, comes across as charming and at ease with himself! — but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Key point for me: his claim that Karadzic won’t try to turn his trial into a circus as Seselj and Milosevic did. Color me skeptical on that one. We’ll see soon enough.

Karadzic arrested!?

Breaking news in the last hour is that Radovan Karadzic has been arrested in Belgrade. Karadzic, you may recall, was the President of the Bosnian Serb Republic. He’s under indictment for about twenty different war crimes, and has been on the run since 1996.

Few details are available yet. The arrest was made in Belgrade earlier today. It’s not clear by whom. (The Serbian Ministry of the Interior, which controls the police, issued a brief statement saying it was not involved.) The Serbian government formally notified the Hague Tribunal this afternoon.

As always in these matters, there’s some mystery and confusion. Just last week, officials in both Serbia and the Republika Srpska had announced that they didn’t believe Karadzic was in their countries. This was actually plausible! The new Serbian government had just arrested another war criminal in Belgrade a few weeks ago. So you’d think Karadzic would have stayed well clear.

Was he simply stupid? Or was he lured back to Belgrade somehow? Or was he there all along? If the latter, then former Prime Minister Kostunica surely knew about it… and was lying his ass off to the Hague and the world for five years straight. I’m no fan of Kostunica, but I’d hate to think that.

On a personal note: for years my wife has said that Karadzic was living “down the street” from us back in the early 2000s. At that time, we were living in the street Golsfortieva (that’s Serbian for “Galsworthy”) in the neighborhood of Vracar in central Belgrade. She picked this up from talking with the neighbors, and for five years it’s been a running joke in our house. “Right down the street from us!” “Right, sure, yes, dear. Whatever, okay.”

Well, at least one source is claiming that the arrest was made in… the neighborhood of Vracar, in central Belgrade. Headline: Blogger’s Wife ‘Very Satisfied’ By Arrest.

Anyway. A day or two may pass without much news, as under Serbian law the accused has the right to challenge certain aspects of his arrest — most notably, whether or not he’s really the person in question.

Still: great news, if true.

And then there were three

Unexpected good news from Serbia: police have picked up Stojan Zupljanin, one of the four remaining war crimes suspects still at large.

Zupljanin is a pretty good catch. He was a medium-big fish: a police administrator in Yugoslav times, he became head of all police in the Serb part of Bosnia. He was deeply involved in the ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Croats, and then a bit later he had administrative authority over the detention camps where hundreds died and thousands more were beaten, starved and tortured. (A copy of the ICTY indictment against him can be found here.) You could maybe call him the Ernst Kaltenbrunner of wartime Bosnia.

There was a € 250,000 Euro award for his arrest; it’s not clear who, if anyone, is collecting this. In fact, the circumstances of his arrest are still murky. He was picked up in Pancevo, a suburb of Belgrade — it’s just across the Danube to the north. Continue reading

Economic Interdependence Knits Europe Together (Perhaps)

Well, sort of. I somehow doubt Jean Monnet would have been thinking of this when he came up with the idea of a Europe so closely bound together by trade war would be forever impossible. Rogue Planet reports that the biggest buyer of Bosnian armaments is…Serbia. Bosnia is also the biggest supplier to Serbia. Yes, that’s right; the people who were the targets of the JNA’s artillery in 1993 are selling its current owners the shells to go with it, and the people whose kinsmen were driven out of eastern Slavonia in 1995 by the Bosnian and Croat armies are relying on them for their ammunition.

I’m not sure whether this is a heartening sign of increasing inter-dependence in the Balkans, a merely pragmatic way of bringing in some foreign exchange and taking advantage of the fact both parties have the same knockoff Soviet equipment, or insanity.

As they say, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Given that one of Bosnia’s few assets is a collection of Yugoslav arsenals and a big pile of left-over ammunition, you can hardly blame them for trying to turn them into cash. But Serbia? Right now on the eve of Kosovar independence? Isn’t that a tad risky?

In fact, the weapons may well be safer in Serbia than any of the alternatives. An under-reported story of the times has been the export of large amounts of weaponry from Bosnia-Herzegovina to a wide range of wars around the world. Not only is the Bosnian government keen to sell, it’s also spectacularly corrupt, and its officials are known to have connived at smuggling arms past the EU checkpoints at the ports and airports. One of the biggest arms-smuggling networks, that around Jet Line International and Tomislav Damjanovic, actually got started in the Bosnian war, and they were involved in the notorious incident of the 99 tonnes of armaments bought by US agents in Bosnia for use by the Iraqi army, and flown out by the even more notorious smuggler Viktor Bout, that never arrived in Iraq and remain untraced to this day.

Given that there is not currently a war in the Balkans, and that Serbia is more like a functioning state than, say, Iraq or Somalia – both places that have imported (and possibly re-exported) guns from Bosnia – it’s quite possibly better that the weapons go to Serbia than anywhere they are more likely to be used or to vanish into the black market. This, of course, assumes that the Serbs are not planning to re-sell them, which is quite a large assumption.

Bosnia’s government collapses

Well, sort of. Bosnia’s government is still run according to the Dayton Plan, which settled the war back in 1995. So it’s really complicated.

Short version: the representative of the Serb entity, the Republika Serbska (RS), has resigned from the Council of Ministers. The Presidency (which is really a council composed of three Presidents, one from each ethnicity) accepted his resignation today. Officially this means the government has fallen, and elections can ensue, but since this is Bosnia they’re going to slip first into a long period of “consultation” in an attempt to make this un-happen.

Why did the Serb reprsentative resign? Well, because the RS leadership isn’t happy with Europe’s new colonial governor — sorry, High Representative — and his ideas for moving forward beyond the Dayton Agreement. There’s some connection here to the ongoing Kosovo wrangle, because the Bosnian Serbs are getting enthused by Russian support for Serbia; some of the wilder commenters are talking about the RS being swapped to Serbia “in exchange for” Kosovo. This is not going to happen, but there’s definitely something in the air.

Since this is Bosnia, the complications are fractal. Here’s the short version: the Bosnians have 30 days to form a new government, which might happen but probably won’t. If they don’t, then at some point they’ll have to hold elections. Which, since this is Bosnia, will probably not change much.

No, I don’t know what the answer is either.

Balkan War Criminals: First the good news…

The good news is, last week Serbia handed over a fellow named Zdravko Tolimir. Tolimir, a Bosnian Serb, was a top aide to wanted war criminal Ratko Mladic.

This is good news not only because Tolimir is a wrong’un — he’s under indictment on counts of genocide, extermination, murder, persecution, forcible transfer and deportation, and was the third most wanted suspect after the two headliners, Karadzic and Mladic — but also because both Serbia and the Bosnian Serb Republic cooperated in getting him and handing him over. For Serbia, that’s the first evidence of real cooperation with the Hague since 2005. For Bosnia… well, it’s the first time the Serb Republic’s police have helped catch a war criminal, ever.

It may be because Serbia has a new government; or because they’re hoping to re-start talks with the EU (stalled for over a year now, because of that same lack of cooperation); or because they’re hoping to score points as the Kosovo issue comes up in the UN this month. Whatever he reason, it’s very welcome.

If only that were all the war criminal news this week. Unfortunately not. Just a day before Tolimir was picked up, convicted war criminal Radovan Stankovic escaped from prison.

This is bad in a variety of ways. Continue reading

Meanwhile, in Montenegro

Montenegro initialed a Stabilization and Association Pact with the EU on March 15. That’s a step on the road to EU candidacy.

Nobody outside the Balkans noticed. Even inside the Balkans, nobody got too excited. Montenegro is a small and rather poor country, and EU membership is still years away. Hell, all they did was “initial” the S&A pact. They won’t actually sign it until (1) Montenegro adopts a new, EU-appropriate Constitution, and (2) all the current 27 members approve.

Still, it’s no small achievement. It shows that the Montenegrins, like the Croats, may be able to launder their recent history. Montenegro isn’t being held up for not cooperating with the Hague Tribunal, nor is their enthusiastic participation in the breakup of Yugoslavia being held against them. They are now formally, officially on the road to EU membership.

This is as good an occasion as any to review the league table in the Western Balkans. Continue reading