By Ivana Jovanovic
Prosecutors in Belgrade have filed charges against 12 people for their alleged roles in a 2008 riot that set the US Embassy ablaze as furious demonstrators protested Kosovo’s declaration of independence.
The men were charged with committing acts against general security and “causing general danger” said Vlado Djordjevic, a senior official with the prosecutor’s office. The suspects, who were identified by video of the incident, face 12 years in prison if convicted, according to The Associated Press.
“This serious act of vandalism threatened the international credibility of our country in relation with one of the most important countries with which we feel inclined to good international relations,” Igor Isailovic, a Belgrade attorney, told SETimes.
Extremists stormed the embassy on February 21, 2008, angry about the US support of Kosovo’s independence. Attackers threw stones and flares, breaking windows and setting part of the building afire. One person died in the rioting.
Some in Serbia still believe the violence was at least partially justified by the NATO bombing campaign of Serbia in 1999 that ended the Kosovo conflict.
“I do not have justification for the attack on embassy but it was just ‘collateral damage’ in the same way as the bombed train with civilians, during NATO aggression on Serbia; ‘collateral damage’ for American guys who bombed it,” Zoran Vukasinovic, 52, of Belgrade, told SETimes.
Blagica Trajkovic, a retired administrative worker from Vranje, said the anger of people around embassies that night was understandable.
“If you live with someone in your home and view him as a close one and, then, that one take someone else to your home and then, they, together, steal your personal things and expel you from your home, you would have a right to be angry with both of them,” Trajkovic told SETimes.
Yet others in Serbia are ashamed of the attack and fire, as well as the fact that prosecutions took more than four years.
“I can’t believe that they couldn’t do this earlier since all of us know that there were and still are cameras on embassies, as well as that during that night TV cameras were also there,” Marija Pavlovic, 41, of Belgrade, said “I remember that we were shocked while we were watching it on TV.”
The fact that the prosecutors needed four years to bring charges indicates the political importance of the case, Milan Antonijevic, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, told SETimes.
“This is the first part of this problem which shows that the prosecution is very controlled, even in such cases where politics has to be very responsible,” he said. “The second part is the fact that we lost four years and damaged our reputation, although Serbia is a country that has to deal with all criminal offenses, even with those [involving people] who were, at that moment, close to the government. This is the chance to find out who is behind it and to establish responsibility, even for those from the state.”