Within a few days two men were arrested: Naser Orić and Ramush Haradinaj, two well-known figures of the Balkan wars, two mass murderers, whose names are as known to Serbs as the names of Basaev and Chikatilo are to Russians. Both were on trial in the Hague, accused of genocide, and both were acquitted. New trial could blow up the region and put European elites into a very uncomfortable position.
The biographies of Naser Orić and Ramush Haradinaj are thrilling, like a good movie, but don’t have much in common. One is a Bosnian, the other Kosovar. Their personalities and biographies are different, but they were arrested under similar circumstances: while they were going through passport control in Bern and Ljubljana, the officers got “red signal” from Interpol: “detain immediately”.
This is an amazing and impressive event. Orić and Haradinaj became symbols of the Hague tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), because their trials were converted into farce, mockery of justice (if it exists at the Hague) and an affront to Serbia. Today, in the context of general situation in the world and on the Balkans, one can think that this is a step towards Serbia, which is meant to show “positive feelings” of the West.
In the Bosnian Serb Republic (or the “Republika Srpska”) the arrest of Orić was seen as a provocation, because lately Republika Srpska was subject to enormous pressure due to firm pro-Russian position of President Milorad Dodik. Liquidation of Republika Srpska by elimination of its autonomy and merging it into Bosnia and Herzegovina is a clear plan in the context of complicated, often pretty clumsy games that the US and Europe are playing with Belgrade.
Orić is a legend even by exacting standards of former Yugoslavia. Suffice it to say that before he became a head of territorial defense of Srebrenica, this one of the best-known Muslim field commanders served as a personal guard to Slobodan Milosevic. What’s more, he served honestly and even heroically: he was in the special forces unit in 1990 in Kosovo and participated in the arrest of Vuc Drashkovic in 1991 in Belgrade during street riots. Some think that his transfer to his “little homeland” – to Srebrenica and Ilija – could have been an attempt by Milosevic to create in Bosnia a Muslim pro-Belgrade force, as a counterbalance for the Islamist government of Alija Izetbegovic, which was gaining strength, as well as for supporting it nationalists headed by general Sefer Halilovic. However, upon his return to his motherland, Naser Orić was transformed. From a provincial police officer he became one of the most important players in the Bosnian army, right behind Halilovic and Rasim Delic. Only Allah knows what happened in his head after that.
In the course of war, Orić gradually takes control of all military forces in the area and on January 1, 1994, officially becomes the commander of the 8th brigade of the operative group “Srebrenica” with the rank of brigadier general (one-star general), or the factual dictator of Eastern Bosnia. Srebrenica, Vlasenica, Zvornik, Bratunac, and numerous villages around are burned to the ground. Serbs of every gender and age are murdered in thousands. Mad ethnic cleansing achieves greater magnitude than anywhere else in Bosnia. Orić brigade liked to attack Serbian villages during Orthodox and specifically Serbian holidays (e.g., Petrovdan, Djurdjevdan), apparently seeing it as something particularly attractive. As the result, Serbian villages around emptied, the area became virtually mono-ethnic. Some believe that the attack of Serbian army on Srebrenica and murder of many Muslims on July 6, 1995, was retaliation for the horrors perpetrated by Orić brigade for three years. However, international community recognized as genocide only the event of five days in the summer of 1995 and paid no attention to the preceding events.
Orić was deported to Hague in 2003, the trial lasted until 2006 and ended with Orić acquittal on most counts, except the least important – commander’s responsibility. The court decided that general Orić is indirectly guilty of murder and torture of several prisoners of war, because he had an obligation, as a commander, to stop that. Second hearing after the appeal resulted in final acquittal of Orić, despite more than 3,500 murdered Serbs just in the Srebrenica area.
After that Orić lived in Sarajevo, acted as “national hero”. The rumor has it that he drunk a lot and finally was found guilty by local Bosnian authorities of illegal arms possession. He fired a random shot from his own house, having made by that time everybody thoroughly sick and tired of him.
By the way, in Switzerland he was part of the Srebrenica delegation at official commemoration of 20thanniversary of the “genocide of Muslims”. Bosnians quickly managed to create a generalized myth out of the events of the summer of 1995. Srebrenica became a propaganda brand, easily used to get political dividends. Theoretically the extradition of Orić to Belgrade could destroy this brand, which would cause the crash of the whole Balkan political system built on war-time myths. The very existence of this monstrosity, Bosnia and Herzegovina, would become questionable, as soon as Naser Orić testifies in Belgrade trial. BTW, there is a tribunal and an investigative committee on war crimes in Belgrade, which has a lot of questions to Orić and other military commanders of Bosniaks.
Unlike Orić, Ramush Haradinaj is not a tragic figure, but rather classical. If he didn’t exist, he should have been invented as a typical example, each turn of whose biography illustrates political life in Kosovo and this type of “liberation movements” in general.
Having graduated from a village school in a mountainous region of Kosovo with some difficulties, 20-year old Ramush moved to Switzerland: Yugoslavia government encouraged emigration of young people from economically depressed areas. As early as in Tito’s time, foreign passport was handed to graduates along with school diploma, and it indicated the path to follow. In Switzerland, Haradinaj tried to join Foreign Legion, but did not succeed (well, he still cannot speak any European language), so he had to follow his vocation – work as a bouncer in nightclubs. Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA/UÇK) became interested in him while he was there; he gets jailed in Prishtina, escapes, and gets training in subversion techniques in Tropoie, Albania.
After crossing the border, Haradinaj with his father and brothers becomes UÇK leader in mountainous Metohija. Personal reputation, which made him a commander of the “Black eagles” unit and the commandant of Metohija, he earned by brutality. During US bombing campaign Haradinaj was one of few UÇK commanders who received satellite phones for direct communication with NATO troops and coordination with them. These phones also served to direct NATO bombers to Serbian targets in Kosovo. As the result, the commandant of Metohija becomes head of UÇK general Staff, takes over drug traffic and smuggling of arms, cigarettes, and cars. After Kosovo independence, this creature becomes Prime Minister, and European politicians shake hands with him. Curtain.
He voluntarily went to surrender to International Criminal Tribunat for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), in the presence of crowds. Sendoff of Haradinaj to Hague was organized as a state event: red carpet; as a backdrop served a bigger-then-life photograph of a martyr. The first row was filled with the Prishtina elite and invited guests from international organizations. There was an orchestra and fireworks. The greatest local star singer Adelina Ismaili (due to official occasion in along dress, rather than usual bikini) performed the song “Skanderberg”, clearly comparing Ramush with medieval hero who single-handedly destroyed Turks for Venetian money. At the end of the song she kneeled and kissed the flags of Kosovo and “big” Albania (by the way, she is a widow of Kosovo field commander killed due to falling out with other criminals, not by Serbs). Current Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim “Snake” Thaçi (nom de guerre “Gjarpëri” – The Snake) almost became tearful. Everyone knew that even if Ramush gets jailed, that will not be for long. And he will have good times in the jail.
They turned out to be right.
Prosecutors were unable to present 10 (!) witnesses, because nine of them were killed before trial, and the last one was wounded and prudently refused to testify. Out of those witnesses, three (Djeidin Musta, Sadric Murici, and Vesel Murici) were so called special witnesses, who should have had bodyguards and protection, but all were shot during classical contractual assassinations. Another Murici brother, Ramir, who was wounded, but survived, prudently decided to remain silent. Kuitin Berisha was hit by a Jeep in Montenegro, where he moved to avoid just that. Iliri Selmaj was knifed in a coffee house brawl, and all witnesses of that brawl claim that he, being unarmed, attacked six armed thugs. Bekim Mustafa and Auni Elezaj were shot in Prishtina. Members of Kosovo police, former UÇK fighters, who agreed to testify against Haradianj, Sabaheta Tava and Isuk Haklaj, were brutally murdered and their bodies were burned in the patrol car. Earlier, in 2003, Tahir Zemal, a prominent field commander in Haradinaj’s native area Ducadjini (it’s on the Albanian border, arguably the most backward area in Europe, where even the mountain range is called “Prokletje” (Damnation)), was murdered along with his sons. He was Haradinaj’s military competitor and a supporter of more moderate forces in the Kosovar zoo, and therefore planned to testify against Haradinaj.
So the prosecution was left only with the testimony of two “numbered” witnesses, which came to Hague under assumed names and did not reveal their identities publicly. A man and a woman. The woman told about mass rapes, in which Haradinaj personally participated, and about brutal torture and murders of Serbian policemen. The man told that Haradoinaj personally knifed his 5-year old son for “collaboration with Serbs”.
The defense simply shrugged. Originally, Haradinaj was accused of 200 murders, for which he bears responsibility as a commander, and 60 cases of personal participation in executions with remarkable brutality. Only the Serbian Special Tribunal sent to the Hague 200,000 pages of documents. Everything fell apart, and Haradinaj was acquitted. The whole length of this farce of a trial he spent in a famous prison, but had unthinkable privileges. Haradinaj claimed that he, unlike most Kosovars, is not a Muslim, but a Catholic, and the tribunal regularly let him return to Kosovo for Christmas, Easter, and All Saints Day. He also attended the funerals of his nephew (in fights between Albanian clans his father, two brothers, and their sons, were murdered) at the time when Vojislav Šešelj was not allowed to attend the funeral of his mother. Haradinaj gave interviews in Serbian, according to him, to “show respect” for the Serbian people. The whole thing was a farce.
There are honest people even at ICTY, and the judge Serge Brammerz in 2008 appealed against Haradinaj’s acquittal. At the second hearing (that Haradinaj did not attend) he was acquitted again. In addition, the tribunal acquitted his co-defendants Idriz Balaj and Lahi Brahimaj. That was the end in every sense of the word.
If Orić or Haradinaj (or even one of them) is deported to Belgrade, and a real (not the Hague-style) investigation and trial ensue, the whole political status quo in the Balkans will be destroyed. Nothing is as tragic for the peoples of former Yugoslavia as the events of the last 20 years. Such things could come to light that half of European politicians of the first order – former and acting – would find themselves in throuble. That is exactly why it is hard to believe that one or both of these murderers will ever be extradited to Belgrade.