Hague Tribunal is puppet of US political bidding - Vojislav Seselj, Serbian Radical Party president

The echoes from the war that shook the Balkans after the fall of Yugoslavia can still be heard across Europe. The Hague tribunal is still prosecuting those involved in the events of more than a decade ago. Up until now, the debate over whether the whole process is politically influenced by the powers that be. Is the International Criminal Tribunal truly independent in its decisions? How are prisoners treated while the legal fight goes on? And why is the entire blame for the tragedy of that war put on Serbia? We ask the man who was just recently acquitted. President of the Serbian Radical Party Vojislav Seselj is on Sophie&Co today.

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Sophie Shevardnadze: Mr. Seselj, the chief prosecutor at the Yugoslavia crimes tribunal in The Hague said he would appeal your acquittal. Does this mean the trial’s not over?

Vojislav Seselj: It’s not, but there’s no legal ground for this appeal.  In any case, the prosecutor must first submit his appeal to the court in writing. All of the submitted documents must be made available to me in Serbian. The court’s ruling must also be translated into Serbian. Once this is done, I will have the right to respond to this appeal – which I will certainly do.

SS: The Hague Tribunal found you not guilty, but you were saying from the very beginning, even before you were acquitted, that you don’t really care about the verdict. Why?

VS: It was important to me to beat the Tribunal. What matters to me is that I defeated all those false witnesses and exposed all the falsified documents, and that my legal expertise prevailed in the tribunal over the prosecutors and the judge, and everybody saw I emerged the winner.

SS: From the very start, you claimed you were innocent. You voluntarily surrendered to the Tribunal in 2003.

VS: All the charges were false.

SS: So, you were prepared to spend 12 years in prison for the crimes you denied committing?  

VS: This trial was illegitimate. The court just did the bidding of the U.S. and Britain.

This trial was based on political interests, not on law, justice and truth. They could keep me behind bars for 100 years if they wanted. All this was a violation of the  European Convention on Human Rights, but I believe they have no respect for any of the principles of international law.

SS: But if this court is illegitimate, as you say, why were you willing to spend 12 years behind bars? Why did you surrender?

VS: I saw it as a challenge. I wanted to go there to defeat the Hague Tribunal and show everybody that they are trying to falsify the history of the Serbian people, blaming the people of Serbia for all the crimes that happened during the wars amid the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, placing the blame for these wars on Serbia.  So, it was my patriotic duty to defeat the Tribunal - I had to do this for the people of Serbia.

SS: First, you spent five years behind bars waiting for the trial. Then the trial itself went on for seven more years? Why did it take so long?

VS: That’s because they couldn’t prove me guilty on any of the accounts. And they didn’t want to let me go for political reasons. They kept me in the Hague to destroy the Serbian Radical Party – and to some extent, they succeeded in doing that.

They brought the current  Serbian leadership - Tomislav Nikolic and Aleksandar Vucic - to power, turning around Serbia’s official policies. And they almost destroyed our party.

SS: “They” being who?

VS: Americans, Brits, Western intelligence services, Serbian oligarchs – they all played a role in this conspiracy to destroy the Serbian Radical Party.

SS: So, now they acquitted you, and it turns out that you spent 12 years behind bars for nothing. I heard that you even plan to seek compensation from the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for the years you spent in prison. Do you think you may get this money?

VS: Of course they won’t pay me anything, because they’ve never paid any compensation, but according to international law I’m entitled to this money. That’s standard international law. In all civilized countries, if a defendant is acquitted, they are entitled to compensation for the time they spent in prison.

SS: But you just said you don’t expect them to pay you. So what is it that you want?

VS: If they don’t pay, I will go to the UN Security Council. I will ask a friendly country to raise this issue in the UN Security Council. But I will keep on fighting no matter what.

SS: Mr. Seselj, everybody wants to know about the conditions you were held in in prison. Did they keep you together with criminals? Or were the conditions bearable?

VS: At first, I was kept alongside criminals, but then they started arresting more important political leaders, military commanders, police officers. Prisoners would come and go as the court moved from case to case.

SS: How did they treat you?

VS: Sometimes it was good, sometimes it was bad. Prison guards treated me well most of the time. There were a few that tried to humiliate me, and I would have a conflict with them. The secretariat of the Tribunal and the prison administration did their best to break me, and they failed. At first the Tribunal refused me the right to defend myself, so I went on hunger strike for 28 days. And I won. They had to back down.

SS: Could you tell us about the trial? As you say, you defended yourself. Were you always given the right to speak, were your arguments taken into account in an objective manner?

VS: Not quite, and not always. But I have to say that the last panel of judges gave me much more freedom than any of the previous ones. I was given the opportunity to speak in court more freely. When Alphons Orie was the presiding judge I was barely given the opportunity to speak. I went on hunger strike to get those judges replaced. And I was able to get what I wanted.

SS: Why do you think the court didn’t want you to defend yourself?

VS: Because then their entire system would fall apart. They wanted me to have a lawyer that was appointed and paid for by the court. With a lawyer like that, I’d have no defence. This lawyer would be on the side of the prosecution.

SS: But reports from the trial indicate that you were quite defiant: you regularly interrupted witnesses and prosecutors, argued with them, insulted them. Why did you do that?

VS: Nothing I did violated the Anglo-Saxon legal system, I was fully entitled to do all that. I had the right to be rude with witnesses, insult them and contest their accounts. It is all allowed under the Anglo-Saxon law.

SS: I’m not saying you didn’t have the right to do that. I just want to know, why did you decide that this is the best thing to do? Why did you choose this line of behaviour?

VS: When dealing with false witnesses, I would first prove that they were lying, and then demonstrate that, on a personal level, they had no credibility.

SS: The judge presiding over your trial established that the prosecution pressured witnesses to say things the prosecution wanted them to say. Who do you think would go that far to get you convicted?

VS: I already told you. The Americans and the British.

SS: But on the other hand, the court acquitted you. Does this mean that the Hague Tribunal is not as politicized as you say? Does this mean it can be fair?

VS: I was fortunate, because I had a French judge, Jean-Claude Antonetti, presiding over my case. And there was also Judge Niang from Senegal. He was also good. But if I had the same judges as Radovan Karadzic, they would definitely sentence me to many years in prison. In The Hague, a lot depends on the judges you get.

SS: So you admit that in your case the Hague Tribunal was pretty fair, and its decision to acquit you wasn’t a political one?

VS: No, it wasn’t fair.

SS: But if it wasn’t fair, why did they acquit you?

VS: If it had been fair, they would have acquitted me 10 years ago.

SS: But they did acquit you eventually. Better late than never. They could’ve left you in prison.

VS: You have to remember, they kept me in prison for 12 years without a verdict.

Even if I was the worst criminal in history, this alone should be sufficient reason for my release.

SS: When you went to prison, your party was quite popular in Serbia. It got almost 30 percent of the vote in the 2008 parliamentary election. In the next election in 2012, it got less than 5 percent. New elections are coming up in Serbia - on April 24th. Do you expect people to vote for you after you were acquitted in The Hague, or will this trial prevent you from getting votes?

VS: We expect a good turnout, and we expect that many people will vote for us. We’ll have to wait and see. But the Serbian Radical Party is certainly once again a force to be reckoned with.

SS: But could you please explain to me, why do you expect that people will still vote for you? After all, the situation is very different today from what it used to be.

VS: Actually, it’s not that different. People understand who is the only political force in Serbia which is morally pure. People trust us because we defend our ideas selflessly. People trust us because we’ve never been involved in crime.

SS: You were very popular in Serbia in the 2000s, and some believe that perhaps Serbian politicians got rid of you, because they were afraid of the competition you posed. Do you think this may be true?

VS: Yes, the former chief prosecutor of the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal - Carla Del Ponte describes in her book how Serbia’s former Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic wanted me arrested and put on trial in The Hague. She wrote in her book that she was in Belgrade shortly before I went to the Hague, and Zoran Dindic told her, “Take Seselj away and never bring him back.” But now I’m back, and Zoran Dindic is gone.

SS: Since 2000, the Serbian leadership has been in favour of European integration. These policies are pursued by politicians elected by the Serbian people. In other words, the people of Serbia want closer ties with the EU. So, why do you want to go against the people?

VS: Most of the people in Serbia are against joining the EU. The current government deceives people with false promises.

Once people realise this, there will be a new government. The current government can’t stay in power for too long.

SS: Do you think it is possible for Serbia to be part of Europe, but not join the EU?

VS: Serbia is part of Europe because it is in Europe. But Serbia can’t join the EU. We want integration with Russia.

SS: Why can’t Serbia join the EU?

VS: Because that’s where all our enemies are, those who bombed us in 1999 and helped the Croats occupy Serbian Krajina. They occupied the Republika Srpska; they took Kosovo away, and now they want Vojvodina to declare independence. And they want to declare the Raska District a Muslim autonomy.

SS: Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic wants cooperation with Russia but at the same time he says that “abandoning the European path” would be a “disaster” for Serbia. You said once that, if you want to be friends with everybody, you will end up without any friends. So, does this mean that Vucic doesn’t really want any friends? Or is he only pretending to be friends with everybody?

VS: Vucic wants to have it both ways, but that’s impossible. That’s why he is going to lose on both fronts.

SS: OK, but officially Serbia has been an EU candidate since 2012, and one of the key requirements by the EU is to normalize relations with Kosovo. Do you think the current government is ready to do that? And is it even possible at this point?

VS: At this point, they are not ready, but at some point in the future they may do it, because they have made a lot of concessions on Kosovo and Metohija under the Brussels Agreement.

SS: You’re saying that Serbia doesn’t need the EU. But does the EU need Serbia? Why would the EU need Serbia? The EU has so many problems with new members from Eastern Europe. It’s expansion plans in the east resulted in a disaster - I’m talking about Ukraine now. Does the EU need Serbia - a country which is so sceptical about it?

VS: I don’t think the EU needs Serbia. I think the EU actually doesn’t want us to join. But Brussels is using a carrot-and-stick method to control the Serbian authorities until we completely give up Kosovo, until we completely give up Vojvodina and the Raska District, until Republika Srpska is drowned in a unitary Bosnia and Herzegovina. Then it will be all over, and there will no need to motivate Serbia by dangling EU membership in front of its nose.

SS: But if the EU doesn’t want Serbia to become a member, why go through all this application process? They could’ve simply rejected Serbia, and that would be it.

VS: Yes, they could’ve said no, but then what would all their bureaucrats do? So, they gave Serbia the candidate status, and now they have 35 subjects for negotiations. They opened talks on Kosovo, and now for the next five, six, seven or eight years they’ll keep talking about it, while Serbia sinks lower and lower, and they keep adding new conditions and demands, putting more and more pressure on us. That’s their goal – bring us eventually to a point where we’ll just hand over everything we have.

SS:In February, Serbia signed a treaty with NATO, granting NATO troops diplomatic immunity, freedom of movement and access to Serbian military installations. But many people in Serbia still remember NATO airstrikes in 1999. How far do you think this cooperation between Serbia and NATO may go?

VS: We’ll do our best to prevent such cooperation from happening. But the current regime gave their unconditional approval and thus turned Serbia into a NATO territory. Americans don’t care whether we join NATO officially or no. They just want to use our bases and at the same time have no obligations.

SS: But why does NATO need bases in Serbia?

VS: Because of Serbia’s strategic location. The Balkans have always been a strategic position. It’s important for Americans to get rid of Russian influence in Serbia. Also, it’s important for them to pacify our military, so they don’t dare to oppose the Americans if things get violent one day.

SS: Actually, many countries would love to join NATO. Why do you think that NATO can’t protect Serbia?

VS: Protect Serbia? Who, NATO? Their goal is to destroy Serbia. They want to take Vojvodina; they want to take the Raska District. Their goal is to reduce Serbia’s territory as much as possible. That’s what NATO wants. The West doesn’t trust Serbia and never will. To them, Serbia is a little Russia in the Balkans. That’s why they want to destroy us.

SS: At this point, Serbia has no intention to join NATO. It remains a neutral country. So, what are the Serbian authorities trying to achieve by seeking closer ties with NATO?

VS: You should ask the Serbian authorities about that. They serve Americans. They are afraid; they know that their time is running out, and soon Americans will start looking for a replacement for Vucic.

SS: As part of the treaty between Serbia and NATO, there will be a campaign to improve NATO’s image in Serbia. Currently, 60 percent of the people in Serbia are against joining NATO. Do you think it will be easy to change people’s mind?

VS: We’ll do our best to make it hard for them.

SS: But you’re not president or prime minister yet.

VS: Of course, NATO has strong positions in Serbia at the moment. The West controls our television, our press, and a huge number of nonprofits. Americans have their agents in the Serbian government. They have at least three agents, who openly serve them: Deputy Prime Ministers Zorana Mihajlovic and Kori Udovicki, and Finance Minister Dusan Vujovic.

SS: You’re saying that the Americans want to get rid of Prime Minister Vucic. What do you mean? If he helps them so much, why get rid of him?

VS: Because Vucic is not completely obedient. For example, he didn’t yield to their pressure and refused to impose sanctions on Russia. Officially, he is still against Kosovo’s membership in the UN. And there are some other issues on which he doesn’t listen to America enough.

SS: The Serbian army is equipped with Russian weapons, and Serbia and Russia have military and economic treaties binding them together. Do you think Serbia can maneuver between NATO and Russia? Or will it have to make a choice sooner or later?

VS: I strongly believe that Serbia will have to make a choice, and we would like it to choose Russia as soon as possible.

SS: It would make an excellent campaign slogan, but I repeat my question: is it actually possible to keep maneuvering between NATO and Russia?

VS: Like I said, it’s impossible. And this is not just a campaign slogan. This has been our official policy in the Serbian Radical Party for the past 25 years.

SS: You openly oppose Serbia’s current policies. You say you would turn things around. You burn the flags of the EU, NATO and America. So, you basically want a political revolution in Serbia, right? Do you think that’s what your country needs, a revolution? Do you think it can make things better?

VS: “Revolution”? Winning an election — is that a revolution? Getting a lot of votes — is that a revolution? We have no intention of staging a coup, a revolution. We’ll achieve our goals by winning the election.

SS: Why do you need to win this election?

VS: We want to move Serbia away from the EU and towards integration with Russia. We want Serbia to be a democratic state; we want to protect our domestic market and modernize our industry, relying only on ourselves. At this point, our industry has been pretty much destroyed. Serbia lives in poverty. It won’t last long. Serbia needs a competent government; the current government is not capable of doing anything.

SS: Do you think the West will allow you to do this? Look at the situation in Ukraine.

VS: We’re not going to ask the West for permission. We’re going to fight, but we don’t know how long we’ll have to fight, or what sacrifices we’ll have to make. I was willing to sacrifice 12 years of my life, and I did not submit to the West.

SS: Mr. Seselj, thank you very much.