- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 1, 2002

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia The trial of Slobodan Milosevic, beamed in daily from the Netherlands, is the best reality television in Belgrade these days.
Many Yugoslavs, however, have more confidence in a Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up to resemble the better known commission in South Africa to provide a fair accounting for the excesses of the Milosevic presidency.
"This is Nuremberg in the age of the Internet," commission member Sveta Stojanovic said of the broadcasts from The Hague, which go on the air at 10 a.m. each day, "but Yugoslavia is conducting its own self-interrogation."
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in March 2001 to study the crimes of the Milosevic era and provide for "historical self-introspection," she said.
She called the work of the 15-member panel "the beginning of the moral regeneration of my country. It is a kind of ethical psychoanalysis."
Critics, however, fear that the commission reflects the toned-down but very real nationalism of Mr. Kostunica and will serve simply to whitewash Serbian war crimes.
TRC Chairman Aleksander Lojpur and four colleagues defended their work in a recent interview at the commission's offices a few blocks from the Serbian parliament building, where the uprising against Mr. Milosevic erupted.
Mr. Lojpur said he sees the commission as having three main duties to encourage democracy by bringing all the historical evidence into the public arena; to address the moral responsibility and accountability of individuals; and to debate the issue of collective Serbian guilt.
The panel already has held two conferences to make public some of its findings and plans a major public forum on the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Serbian soldiers.
A defensive tone creeps into much of the conversation, however, when TRC spokesman Slobodan Reljic said that a Dutch study into the events at Srebrenica where Dutch soldiers failed to protect the victims has confirmed the work of the TRC.
"Although the Serbs did carry out the most extensive massacres, there were widespread and contributory Bosnian Muslim massacres of Serbs, as well," he said.
The commission members also feel frustrated that none of the former Yugoslav republics that seceded after the fall of communism is examining its crimes against Serbs in the same way as Yugoslavia. "Neither Bosnia, nor Croatia, nor Kosovo has established national commissions of inquiry," Mr. Reljic said.
Miss Stojanovic said the members of the panel believe the international tribunal at The Hague, headed by chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, seeks to unfairly "demonize" all Serbs.
"What we want is the just apportionment of culpability to all the parties who were involved," she said. "The application of guilt must be proportionate; otherwise, it is not justice."
To address this perceived imbalance, the Serbian government has established a Center for Crimes Against Serbs, whose job is to verify Croatian, Muslim and Kosovar crimes against the Serbs.
All this activity makes critics wonder whether the members of the commission appointed by Mr. Kostunica without consulting Yugoslav human rights groups truly will confront Serbian responsibility for a decade of wars across the Balkans.
"Kostunica is a nationalist, he does not support The Hague tribunal, and some fear he is seeking to whitewash the Milosevic crimes," said Alex Boraine, president of the New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice and a frequent critic of the panel.
"Two members of the TRC have already resigned," said Mr. Boraine, who was a consultant to the South African commission headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and travels frequently to Belgrade to consult with Mr. Kostunica.
Mr. Boraine also said the commission is badly underfunded and staffed by unpaid part-time workers, but even he believes that, in the end, the TRC has an essential role to play.
"In spite of these difficulties, the TRC must go forward," he said. "It is the only way Yugoslavia can purge itself."


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