Punishment for spreading hatred

UN court sentences Serbian radical Vojislav Seselj to 10 years

On April 11, the Appeals Chamber of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) announced its ruling in the proceedings against Vojislav Seselj after the Hague Tribunal. The leader of the Serbian Radical Party received 10 years. The MICT’s previous acquittal (March 31, 2016) was thus overturned.

Vojislav Seselj, then deputy prime minister under President Slobodan Milosevic, was indicted on three counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of hate speeches supporting war crimes, specifically ethnic purges. The Appeals Chamber found the incriminating evidence – that Seselj had made those hate speeches and that they had resulted in outbursts of violence and war crimes – sufficient. In particular, he was found guilty of involvement in the prosecution, deportation and inhumane actions against the Croats in the village of Hrtkovci in the Serbian province of Vojvodina.

On May 6, 1992, lists of Hrtkovci residents, mostly Croats, subject to expulsion were read out in Seselj’s presence. The village has since served as a symbol of expulsion of the Croatian ethnic minority from that Serbian province.

Croatia’s Foreign Ministry greeted the court ruling that meted out punishment for crimes against the Croats in Vojvodina and expressed regret that the radical Serbian politician was not brought to account for implementing his Great Serbia ideology, inciting hatred during the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina, also in Croatia with his barbarian rhetoric aimed at hunting down and murdering Croats and Bosnians.

Tomislav Zigmanov, president of the Democratic Alliance of Croats in Vojvodina (DSHV), says the UN court ruling is the first official recognition, on a high international level, of crimes against the Croats in that region: “This UN court ruling confirms what the representatives of the Croatian ethnic minority have been saying for years – that crimes against the Croats of Vojvodina were actually committed.” Mr. Zigmanov expects this court ruling to enhance the policy of historical memory in former Yugoslavia; no one must forget that 25 persons were killed and some 35,000 forced to leave their homes.

Few know that the Serbian radicals, supported by the authorities, also persecuted ethnic Ukrainians and Ruthenians in Vojvodina. Boris Varga, a Ukrainian-Serbian journalist, wrote about this persecution and intimidation, particularly in the municipality of Sid, but the law-enforcement agencies paid no attention.

Vojislav Seselj will not go to jail despite the UN court ruling overturning the previous acquittal, considering that he has actually spent 11.5 years in pretrial detention in The Hague. He voluntarily surrendered to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in 2003 and remained in custody until 2014. He was released after being diagnosed for intestinal and liver cancer in the terminal phase.

The Hague Tribunal allowed him to undergo a course of treatment in Serbia provided he abstain from political activities, avoid contact with the victims and witnesses in his case, make no attempt to pressure them, and return to the tribunal as soon as summoned.

As it was, after returning to Serbia from The Hague, Seselj took a very active part in its political life. He ran for president and his Serbian Radical Party won 23 seats in parliament. Today, 63-year-old Vojislav Seselj is a member of the Serbian parliament.

Last December, he told reporters that he was completely cured of cancer after quitting sugar containing foods and eating a lot of fresh vegetables and herbs, including carrots, parsley, and celery.

Seselj didn’t attend the hearing in The Hague on April 11 and later said he’d been sleeping (sic) at the time. Commenting on the Appeals Chamber’s ruling, he said it was illegal. He twitted, “I was tried by five justices who had never seen me. Under Anglo-Saxon law, they couldn’t turn acquittal into conviction… I remain proud of all the war crimes and crimes against humanity that were attributed to me, and I am ready to repeat them in the future.”

There is some consolation in the fact that the leader of the Serbian Radical Party doesn’t cut a spectacular political figure. A mere 4.4 percent of Serbian nationals cast their ballots for him in last year’s presidential election.