While the scandalous court verdict filed by Emir Kusturica against independent journalists Zoran Janic and Miroslav Bojcic is mostly being hidden from the Serbian public, media abroad are greatly concerned with this topic, asking a clear question about the relationship between this director and the Serbian secret services. In an article published by Slovenian daily "Delo", Serbian court’s decision regarding the punishment of two journalists, is referred to as a direct attempt to intimidate all those who dare to dig into the dark political past. The article by Vili Einspiler is republished in full.
Serbia has still not faced the issue of accessing the secret service archives, which contain information on numerous crimes committed before, during and after the Yugoslav wars. Civil society, non-governmental organizations and opposition politicians have obviously given up on demanding for the archives to be opened. Occasionally, only the leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, Vuk Draskovic raises the question in public. Breaking the wall of silence in Serbia will not be easy since the courts keep condemning the increasing number of media. According to the opinion of journalists, this all "with the aim of introducing censorship".
Lately, the weekly NIN, owned by international media corporation Ringier Axel Springer, found itself among the convicted media. NIN wrote about the "drastic abuses of the police in the affair Savamala".
The weekly was sentenced for insulting the Minister of Interior Affairs Nebojsa Stefanovic. After the verdict of the Higher Court in Belgrade against NIN, numerous articles, analysis, statements of support, protests and public forums were published, as well as the opening of a bank account to help the “victims of persecution”.
The verdict for two independent journalists - convicted for insulting Emir Kusturica, although the main topic of their article was the relationship between the state and the liquidators in UDBA - was met with a wall of silence. Probably because the "affair Savamala" triggered a wave of protest: former paid assassins are of not much interest for the Serbian public, in spite of the fact that perpetrators of murders might still be the ones creating the political scene in the country.
After nearly six years of procedure, the Court of Appeal in Belgrade sentenced freelance journalists without a fixed income - Zoran Janic and Miroslav Bojcic, to a fine in the amount of 4,000 euros, because they “falsely” claimed that Emir Kusturica was a courier of the State Security Service (SDB) and the paid assassin Veselin Vukotic, thus violating his reputation and honor.
These claims were published in an article "New Year's fairy tale of killers", published in 2011 on portals Peščanik and E-novine. The Lawyer of the accused, Vladimir Popovic, appealed to the High Court, which upheld the first instance judgment and authors were imposed with even a higher fine. If they do not pay, Janic and Bojcic are threatened with imprisonment and confiscation of property. The journalists demanded a retrial in the Supreme Court and complained to the Constitutional Court. Only after the final judgment of the Constitutional Court, they will be able to make an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
In a separate procedure, portal E- novine was convicted as well
In the opinion of journalists, the Court has acted upon the orders of the executive government which wanted protect the secret police archives - the last in Europe that have not gone through lustration. Janic and Bojčić are convinced that it is a political judgment to investigative journalists, introducing censorship and a great violation of the European Convention on Human Rights - especially the binding law of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The High Court found the journalist guilty, because of the several proceedings already led against the portal E-novine who allegedly published incorrect information about Kusturica while carelessly making strong accusations, indirectly accusing him of assisting in the case of first-degree murder. In the parallel process on 11 December 2013, portal E-novine was sentenced again for not asking Kusturica to comment before republishing the article from the portal Pescanik. Journalists were not given the opportunity to prove the truth of their claims, because they supposedly did not show any legal interest!
Not one lawsuit was filed against the portal Peščanik while in a separate proceeding, portal E-novine was sentenced for the article they just republished. The court stated that the portal had to have checked with Kusturica whether he really assisted the murderer escape, before republishing the story. In the explanation of the verdict, the court said that the allegations against Kusturica were false, without even analyzing the facts. Portal Pescanik has not published anything on the trial for five years.
Following the decision of the Court of Appeal, the editorial board of Peščanik did not stand behind their authors, moreover, it did not allow Janic or Bojčić to comment the verdict.
Hanging out with criminals for inspiration
In early 2011, in an interview with Radio Free Europe and the weekly Vreme, when asked the question whether he associated with paid killer, Kusturica responded that it was personal and that- when he sought inspiration for his film characters – he hung out with the world's biggest criminals. “This does not mean that I worked for the SDB," denying that he was carrying the money to Vukotić and neither confirming nor denying that met with him. He added that he was quite interested in how anyone will prove that he carried the money to the murderer.
Some of the leading Serbian intellectuals reacted to the article, including the widow of Danilo Kis, a professor at the University Mirjana Miočinović, writer Filip David, drama professor at Stanford University Branislav Jakovljevic, director Janko Baljak and others, who - together with their relatives - are convinced that they are victims of state crimes – filed a petition to the President at the time. The petition sought for the reform of the secret service police and an investigation into the responsibility of political officials. Serbian media have not reported on the petition. State officials were silent, reporters did not ask questions, Kusturica sued the author for defamation. The law firm Tomanovic represented him.
From 2011 to 2015, Kusturica appeared only once in the trial against Janić and Bojčić in 2013. At the time, he said: "Even if you have a photograph of me with Vukotic, or even a video, you can not prove that I carried him money. How will you prove that?” He demanded the preliminary proceeding, where the journalists would publicly apologize since they can not prove their allegations.
At the hearing in 2015, Kusturica confirmed that he is an old friend for 20 years with French number, as well as Russian, but Kusturica did not answer. The prosecutor did not deny this, but the court nevertheless sentenced the journalists for the reason that they have not waited “long enough” to get a hold of Kusturica. Bojčić stressed that the theme of the article was a reproduction of the Serbian military and civilian secret services mechanisms of power, where Kusturica had a marginal role. The court rejected all the evidence offered by the authors - including their requirement to hear Vukotić on his encounters with Kusturica. In their opinion, the goal of the process was that the authors give out their own intelligence sources, or be convicted.the former head of the secret police, Jovica Stanisic. Janic testified that he tried to get a comment from Kusturica three times over the phone on his Serbian number and
Controversial official note
Journalists argued that the article was written based on information from intelligence sources and witness statements, an official note of the Security-Information Agency (BIA), however, received only during the trial because they did not want to betray or compromise their sources. In late January 2016, the authors have succeeded in getting a copy of the BIA official notes, describing the meeting between Vukotić and Kusturica in France. In order to protect his identity, the source changed the header of the note, which they gave to the court.
Lawyer Tomanovic declared the document a forgery and demanded from the director of BIA Aleksandar Djordjevic to confirm the authenticity of the official notes. Đorđević said that the header of the document is not authentic and that the BIA has no official note from September 2006 with the contents of the attached copy. Although it was not stated that the content was not true and that the document with another header did not exist, nor did he deny that BIA had the official records of meetings between Kusturica and Vukotić - Tomanovic argued just that. The court accepted his claim and rejected the request of the accused journalists to obtain the original official records of BIA.
Based on the Đorđević’s responses, Tomanovic concluded that there was no meeting between Kusturica and Vukotić and that the two of them did not know each other. Since the journalists’ defense requested from the court to acquire a copy of the BIA official notes of Vukotic’s movements in France in 2005 and his meeting with the accuser, his authorized representative Aleksandra Kovacevic claimed: "Even if they knew each other, you can not prove that the plaintiff carried the money to Vukotic. " The court rejected all the requirements of defense without explanation. On the question, whether BIA documents could be asked for by their lawyer Vladimir Popovic on the basis of the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance - journalists responded that it is theoretically possible, but that it is ridiculous, since the political processes without the sealed archives of SDB can not be possible.
The authors are convinced that the set sentence was intended to intimidate and humiliate, as they are forced to seek help in collecting money. Moreover, Janic and Bojčić assessed that the situation in the Serbian media is "worse than during Milosevic's regime."
The verdict to independent journalists was not met by only a media silence. This is concluded based on the behavior of the ex-president of the Association of Journalists of Serbia Ljiljana Smajlovic, who forwarded their plea for help to the plaintiff’s lawyer Tomanovic and his response further to the international organizations. Journalists have asked for help from the EU Delegation in Serbia and the OSCE, where they received only verbal support. Smajlovic explained that she tried to enable them to create an objective picture, journalists, however, are convinced that she has obstructed them.
According to Tomanović, the journalists’ appeal is filled with deceptions. Allegedly, authors did not attempt to verify the published inaccuracies, quoting the unnamed sources from the BIA, and exhibiting a forged BIA document. Since they did not provide any other evidence, as emphasized by the lawyer's office, the court judged that the plaintiff’s honor and reputation were damaged. In Tomanovic’s opinion, it is not about punishment, but rather the damages claim. Preparation of the lawsuit against the portal Pescanik is also in progress, and the law firm, in fact, filed a criminal complaint, asking the prosecution to determine who falsified the BIA document that falsely represented the agency and with which aim.
The list of victims killed on the orders of the late Serbian Supreme Leader?
On the New Year’s Eve in 2010 in Novi Sad, the alleged assassin of national security Veselin Vukotic was arrested. He was arrested on the basis of the Montenegrin warrant and the final verdict to 20 years in prison for the murder of Dusko Boskovic in the Bay of Kotor in 1997. When arrested by Serbian police, he was automatically removed Interpol wanted list. The Prosecutors Office, however, did not demand incarceration; therefore the Higher Court released him. Although Vukotic was extradited to Serbia two years earlier, no proceedings were initiated against him for the crimes he was charged for.
In 2006, he was arrested at the Madrid airport with a Croatian passport in the name of Ludvig Bulic. It was the story of the day since he allegedly testified before the Hague Tribunal against Slobodan Milosevic. According to the media, Vukotic was in possession of a list of victims who were killed on the orders of Serbian leader that died in The Hague. His extradition was sought by Belgium, Montenegro, and Serbia. Vukotic was in prison in Belgium for three years and this country extradited him to Serbia 2008. Due to health problems, in less than a year, he was set free.
Vukotic was supposed to be the main witness against the tobacco smugglers with the "father" of the Montenegrin people Milo Djukanovic at the forefront, and this was why his life was allegedly threatened in Montenegro. Apparently, he was also threatened by the cocaine cartel of Darko Saric. In 2010 Vukotic received Serbian citizenship by an urgent procedure only awarded to personalities with special merits to the state. The public never found out who gave a Serbian ID card to a fugitive and unconvicted criminal. The Minister of Interior was Ivica Dacic and the President was Boris Tadic.
Fugitive on the run opened a casino and a brothel
As can be seen from the documentation of the Hague Tribunal, in the early 90s Vukotic rented a room in the hotel Putnik in Novi Sad, where he opened a casino and an exclusive brothel. According to the testimonial of the ICTY protected witness C-48 in the trial against Milosevic, his regular guests were numerous politicians and government officials, among them the commander of the special unit of the State Security Franko Simatovic and leader of secret police, Jovica Stanisic, who are back in the Hague detention. Slobodan Milosevic was also one of the guests. According to the testimony of Witness C-48, the owner of casinos and brothels was the State Security Service. Vukotic organized secret meetings and entertainment for the political elite and criminals on the premises. While the Serbian police reportedly sought him for the murder of Andrija Lakonic in Belgrade, the suspect on the run had rented a casino and brothel in Novi Sad.
During this time a journalist Dada Vujasinović was killed. In her last article before the murder, she wrote that Vukotic was a double murderer, because in addition to Lakonic he also killed the former chairman of the Committee for Human Rights of Enver Hadri. With this, she basically accused the State Security Service for ordering these killings. In an interview with the first man of the Serbian police Radmilo Bogdanovic in the weekly Duga (October 1993), she provoked the interviewee stating that individuals like Vukotic are out of the police’s reach, to which he replied: Who is Vukotic? Her last article was a story just about Vukotic and Bogdanovic. Vukotic allegedly killed several Yugoslav citizens, ethnic Albanians who lived throughout Europe, on the orders of the Yugoslav secret police - as confirmed by witness C-48.
The lawyer Zdenko Tomanovic, who defended Milosevic and Simatovic in The Hague, but also represented Mira Markovic and Aleksandar Tijanic, represented Vukotic. When he received Serbian citizenship with the help of the Socialist Party of Serbia, and served a prison sentence in Novi Sad for less than a year because of heart problems, he was treated in the most expensive private clinic. The rescue scenario of Veselin Vukotic was, according to Janic and Bojcic, similar to the one of Sreten Jocic (Joca Amsterdam), who was later suspected to have murdered the Croatian journalist Ivo Pukanic, and who was released from prison as soon as Holland extradited him to Serbia in 2005.
Safe heaven for hit men of the secret service and criminals?
While Vukotic was on the run and hiding in Spain and France, his contact was – according to the journalists Janić and Bojcic – the film director Emir Kusturica. They call upon the sources of the State Security, who claim that he had a role of a messenger between SDB (Stanisic) and Vukotic – to whom he conveyed money and messages. In an article "New Year's fairy tale of killers," published in 2011 on the website pescanik.net, journalists conclude that rescue of Vukotić resembles a matrix of the assassination background in the case of Zoran Djindjic, the hiding of Ratko Mladic, the murder of journalist Slavko Curuvija and the murders of soldiers in Topčider barracks. In conclusion, they pose a question: Is Serbia a safe heaven for the assassins and their accomplices if it protects the hit men of secret services and criminals?
The questions that remain: who released a lawfully convicted killer, who secured the money, who gave him the football club Hajduk from Kula to lead and surrounded him with security and "starlets". This is something that daily “Blic” wrote about. Who is above the institutions and above the state and who is protecting Vukotic and his friends? Janic and Bojčić conclude that this is an informal structure of social power, associated with state officials, and operating against the constitution and the laws.