Serbia: Defense Minister Reaffirms Praise For Freed War Criminals


By Filip Rudic

Serbian Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin lashed out at the US ambassador to Belgrade after the diplomat criticised him for his recent public praise for two convicted war criminals.

Serbian Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin on Wednesday rebuffed criticism from the US ambassador to Belgrade, Kyle Scott, who said that Vulin’s expressions of support for convicted war criminals Vladimir Lazarevic and Nikola Sainovic might undermine efforts to improve Serbia’s image.

“I’m surprised that the ambassador does not see the possibility for undermining images and threats to [international] relations in the fact that [former Croatian general] Ante Gotovina is an advisor to the Croatian government, or in the release of [former Bosniak commander in Srebrenica Naser] Oric,” Vulin said.

Both Gotovina and Oric were acquitted of war crimes against Serbs.

The US ambassador’s criticism of Vulin came after the minister spoke at a gathering of former soldiers of the Third Battalion of the Yugoslav Army last Saturday.

The gathering was attended by convicted war criminals Vladimir Lazarevic, the former chief of staff of the Yugoslav Army’s Pristina Corps, and Nikola Sainovic, former deputy prime minister of Yugoslavia, who have returned to Serbia after serving their sentences.

Vulin said in his speech that Serbia will no longer be ashamed of those who “defended| it, and that time has come to be “quietly proud” instead.

An Associated Press report on the event that was republished by the influential US daily Washington Post said that Vulin’s remarks “illustrate Serbia’s increasing defiance of the West”.

Vulin’s party, the Socialists’ Movement, said in response that the Washington Post is “an American paper which promotes the criminal actions of NATO”.

US ambassador Scott retweeted the Washington Post article, commenting that months of work to improve Serbia’s image in the United States can be “undermined with a single statement”.

Responding to Scott, minister Vulin said that Serbia “did not cause the wars” in the former Yugoslavia and that former general Lazarevic is now a “free man”.

“Am I supposed to praise the [NATO] bombing [of Yugoslavia] and seek justification for Kosovo’s secession? I don’t know any army that would denounce general Lazarevic and be ashamed of him, and I certainly won’t be,” Vulin said.

This is not time that the current Serbian authorities have expressed admiration for war criminals.

Former Yugoslav People’s Army colonel Veselin Sljivancanin, who was convicted by the Hague Tribunal of responsibility for the 1991 Vukovar massacre, has been a speaker at events hosted by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s ruling Progressive Party.

Sljivancanin’s book, entitled ‘In Service to the Fatherland’, is also scheduled to be promoted at an event in Belgrade on Friday, which drew condemnation from the Youth Initiative for Human Rights campaign group.

“In the days when war criminals [Lazarevic and Sainovic] are being celebrated by the state leadership… Serbian and Belgrade city institutions are once again making room for a convicted war criminal,” the Youth Initiative for Human Rights said in a statement.

Vladimir Lazarevic meanwhile was given a hero’s welcome upon returning to Serbia after serving his sentence.

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (formerly the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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