Balkans Struggling to Come to Terms with Legacy of War

Category: World Affairs Topics: Belgrade, Conflicts And War, Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic Views: 1447

A Macedonian army T-55 tank fires at the village of Vaksince during action against ethnic Albanian rebels 05 May 2001. The Macedonian army launched a fresh artillery attack on villages near the northern city of Kumanovo to flush out ethnic Albanian fighters, in renewed battles that have revived fears of another Balkans conflict.

BELGRADE, July 17 (AFP) - The guns may be silent in the Balkans but simmering nationalism and a war of words over who is to blame for the bitter conflicts that left 200,000 dead are rocking the region's fledgling democracies.

For many people, fed for years on nationalist hype and state-run propaganda, the enormity of what happened in a decade of destruction is only just becoming clear.

The scope of the problem is rapidly emerging in Serbia, where reformist authorities revealed the existence of mass graves left behind by the former regime of Slobodan Milosevic, who is awaiting trial at a UN war crimes court in The Hague.

And the issue of extraditing indictees often seen in their homelands as "heroes" has brought down the Yugoslav government, while Croatia's reformist coalition was set to face a key confidence vote Sunday over the transfer of war crimes suspects to the UN court.

"Ordinary people are shocked, at the moment they cannot accept the truth," said Natasha Kandic of the Humanitarian Law Centre in Belgrade.

"In Croatia and Serbia the world of darkness is still very strong," she said, pointing out that many supporters of the old regimes are still parliamentary deputies.

A heated debate broke out in the Serbian assembly Thursday after national RTS television -- once a key mouthpiece for Milosevic's regime -- broadcast a BBC documentary on the notorious 1995 massacre by Bosnian Serb forces of thousands of Muslims in Srebrenica.

The leader of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, Vojislav Seselj, called the film a "witch-hunt against the Serbian nation" and demanded a parliamentary inquiry into its screening on state television.

Sentiments of shock, disbelief and wounded national pride have come to a head since Serbia's reformists opened mass graves near Belgrade, exhuming the bodies of Kosovo Albanians thought to have been murdered in Milosevic's 1999 war in the breakaway province.

Kandic lauded the Serbian reformers' moves to expose the wrongdoing of the old regime, but said the public was ill-prepared for the scale of the crimes committed by their one-time leaders.

"Nobody said anything about war crimes and they were suddenly faced with mass graves," she said.

Meanwhile in Croatia, indictments by the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) have caused mass protests in recent months.

One of the main parties in the reformist coalition, the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS), withdrew from the government days ahead of the confidence vote sparked by the decision to hand over suspects to the UN court.

The HDZ, the party of late autocratic leader Franjo Tudjman, called on the government to reveal whether the ICTY indictments contain "unacceptable qualifications of the 1991-95 Serbo-Croatian war".

The nationalists, supported by war veterans, consider an affront the questions raised about the military operations led by the Croatian army during the "Homeland war" for the independence from the former Yugoslavia.

The HDZ said accusations against Croatia of genocide or aggression would "equalize the victims and the aggressor".

Many supporters of the ousted nationalist regimes believe the extraditions will lead to an attribution of collective guilt, while reformers argue that on the contrary will only punish individuals and clear the air for democratic development.

Many former hardline parties who now find themselves in opposition are in a "panic," Kandic said, desperate to portray themselves as defenders and victims rather than culprits.

And the lines between the old and new policies have often been blurred by reformers playing the nationalist card.

In Serbia, Seselj's call for an inquiry into the Srebrenica documentary was backed by the party of Milosevic's moderate nationalist successor, Vojislav Kostunica, who had opposed his predecessor's extradition to UN court, which he branded anti-Serb.

Milosevic's transfer prompted the resignation of Yugoslav Prime Minister Zoran Zizic, whose Montenegrin party once backed Milosevic before switching its support to the Serbian reformers who ousted him last October.

The governments in Zagreb and Belgrade have had to juggle international pressure to hand over suspects to the ICTY and popular discontent that their countries could be labelled as the aggressor.

Kandic said it will take a long time for people in the Balkans to come to terms with what was done in their names in wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo and now in Macedonia, where ethnic Albanians have led a six-month revolt against the Macedonian Slav-dominated authorities.

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Belgrade, Conflicts And War, Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic
Views: 1447

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