Some of our most important stories are untold — buried in public documents stuffed away in government file cabinets around the world. Investigative reporter Djordje Padejski describes The Global FOIA Machine he is creating to liberate those documents. — at Stanford University.
An Evening With the Knights
CDDRL Seminar Series
DATE AND TIME
February 16, 2012
4:30 PM – 6:00 PM
Stanford’s Knight fellowship program offers a unique opportunity for experienced journalists a space to rethink journalism by providing the space and time to innovate. Four teams of Knight fellows will share their ideas on using technology to push the boundaries of journalism. They will discuss ideas to empower non-professional journalists to create compelling news stories for the new media, using technology to share government information across boundaries, circumventing censorship and other ideas.
Sloan Mathematics Center
450 Serra Mall, Bldg. 380
Stanford, CA 94305
March 20, 2012, Los Altos – Djordje Padejski, John S. Knight Journalism Fellow, Stanford University
From Eastern Europe to the United States: Why Investigative Journalism Matters in the Digital Age
Story behind the Pulitzer-winning stories: a conversation with Jeff Gottlieb, Ruben Vives and Paloma Esquivel of the Los Angeles Times. Gottlieb and Vives led a team that won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for exposing corruption in the small California city of Bell, where officials paid themselves exorbitant salaries funded by questionable fees and taxes on city residents. Their work combined old-fashioned shoe leather reporting with innovative digital storytelling. Genesis and progression of their reporting and how the series led the Los Angeles Times to launch online tools to help citizens use public records laws to get information from their local governments.
Two journalism fellows at nearby Stanford University are conducting a research-based survey to find out just how often the public exercises its rights to information the government keeps, under the Freedom of Information Act.
Two journalism fellows from Stanford University are currently doing a study on that very issue, and want to ask Milpitians – how often do you exercise your rights under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA)?
The two fellows say they hope to use results of the study and survey to help discover new ways to increase the effectiveness and usage of the FoIA worldwide.
“Please help us improve transparency, accountability and all things journalism,” ask the two fellows, T. Christian Miller of ProPublica and Djordje Padejski, founder of the Center for Investigative Reporting in Belgrade, Serbia. “Whether or not you’ve used the FoIA process to gain access to information that your government keeps, we want to hear from you. It will definitely help us learn. It will probably show us some projects to tackle. And it might even make the world a more transparent place!”
Click here to access Miller’s and Padejski’s survey, which they say takes only about two minutes to complete online.
“FoIA requests allow citizens of a country to ask their government for public records and information,” said Robin Evans, who works with John S. Knight Journalism Fellows like Miller and Padejski. “Padejski and Miller are trying to find out how and why people use this right to improve access to public information.”
Evans said the survey is confidential and for research purposes only.
by Jennifer van der Kleut
Serbia: a special case
The only non-EU country that South Stream will transit onshore is Serbia. However, this is not the only thing that makes Serbia different from the remaining chain of transit countries. For all the onshore stretches Gazprom has established separate joint project companies with each corresponding national partner, based on a 50% share each. In Serbia, however, Gazprom holds a 51% share in the Serbian joint project company. Another conspicuous observation is that Serbia is paying the highest price for Russian gas in Europe. Altogether it seems that Gazprom enjoys a special status in Serbia. On its turn Serbia seems to play a central role in the onshore part of South Stream, amongst other hosting a strategic UGS at Banatski Dvor, in Northern Serbia.
Djordje Padejski, a freelance journalist from Serbia, who published an extensive article on Gazprom’s dealings with Serbia, told EEO about the background of these relations. Padejski notes, “what is characterising for the deals between Serbia and Gazprom, is that they are being concluded at some political level and that they lack transparency. Although there is no proof of it, there are signs that the outcome of the deals between Serbia and Gazprom were rather the result of personal interest of Serbian politicians involved in it.” Also when it comes to diversifying energy sources Serbia seems to be different, “in contrast to all its neighbouring countries, Serbia is not pursuing a policy of diversifying its gas supplies and remains solely dependent on Russian gas. Other countries are investing in alternative sources of energy, but this is not the case in Serbia”, Padejski says.
Negotiations on the Serbian part of South Stream seemed to have played a central role in relations between Serbia and Gazprom in recent years. Padejski clarifies, “Gazprom used typical ‘carrot’ tactics by promising South Stream to run through Serbia as a mean to obtain a majority control over important parts of Serbia’s energy sector. Initially, Serbia was promised South Stream in return for giving Gazprom a majority share in Jugorosgas, the mediating company responsible for the sale of Russian gas to Serbia’s national gas company, Srbijagas.” “However, a new demand then followed shortly”, Padejski continues, “the message was that if Serbia still wanted to join South Stream, it should allow the sale of 51% of Serbia’s National Oil Company (NIS) to Gazprom Neft, which it did in January 2008. In the same fashion Gazprom subsequently demanded a majority share in the Undergroud Gas Storage (UGS) Banatski Dvor, which it also received.”
Was the take over of Serbian National Oil Company (NIS) by Gazprom Neft part of the South Stream deal with Serbia?
An independent consultant, close to negotiations between Serbia and Gazprom on South Stream, that wished to stay anonymous, told EEO that Serbia still has not received any guarantees in return for the concessions it made. It has been promised South Stream, but neither transit tariffs nor future gas prices have been agreed upon so far. Nevertheless, officially Serbian authorities seem to be content with the situation. Former Serbian Energy Minister, Petar Shkundrich, who is now the Prime Minister’s advisor on energy, uses every opportunity to stress the financial advantages South Stream would bring about for Serbia, such as creating new jobs and generating transit revenues into the state budget. For now cooperation between the two seems stable, but it remains to be seen whether cooperation will continue along the same lines. At a meeting, on 20 April, between the heads of Gazprom and Srbijagas, Alexey Miller and Dushan Bajatovich respectively, discussed the prolongation of the existing gas contract. In a joint statement it was stressed that the further development of Russian-Serbian gas cooperation should be mutually beneficial and take into account the long term strategic interests of both sides. Perhaps Serbia is realising that previous cooperation has not been that “mutually beneficial” in the end as it might have wished for.
SERBIAN CRIMINAL GROUPS MOVED TO COCAINE BUSINESS
For the most law enforcements officers Serbian organized crime groups have became one of the most powerful global cocaine smugglers, but their “old” heroin routes throughout the wild Balkan are still being dominantly used to transfer the Afghan heroin to Europe, although that business is still controlled by the Albanian families from Kosovo
When Borislav Plavšić (49) a.k.a Zabac (Frog) and Zoran Petković (48) a.k.a Suri (Cruel) were caught in October 2010 near Pancevo with 120 kilos of pure Afghan heroin, it was clear to police officers they are just local fish. Medium narco chain which unites more powerful groups. Mercedes-Benz truck registered in Slovenia of Petkovic company “Suri”, was supposed to transfer wooden pallets loaded with lemons, where 383 packets of heroin were hidden inside the wooden structure. Seized heroin was not “lemonade”, it was “goods” of highest purity that Serbian police officers ever saw in the last couple of years and its street value was estimated at 10 million Euros. Vehicle was supposed to travel from Istanbul to Prague through EU countries Bulgaria and Romania, but something “went wrong” and lemon truck had to pass through the Serbo-Bulgarian border and to end parked at gas station near Pancevo, 15 kilometers away from Serbian capital Belgrade. Petkovic was waiting for his valuable cargo in Prague, but as soon as he realized shipment is not coming, he drove back his car to Serbia and police arrested him near Novi Sad. Plavsic, who is now suspected as the organizer of the group, ended also behind bars soon after.
Police action “South fruits” was based on insider who was driving the truck and had an argue with Petkovic. Petkovic was known as “small” local businessman involved in transport and restaurant business in village Jabuka, near Pancevo. He did not have criminal record, but his transport companies were spread over the Europe and now it seems was cover up for heroin smuggling. Serbian police still did not release information which can be obtained in Czech Republic about Petković business there. He was founder of two Prague based companies for trade and transport: company named Zoran Petkovič and Surikompani which was managed by his wife Mira Petković. In Serbia he had registered pizzeria “SUR Suri” and his wife Mira had trading company “Suri company” . According to police sources his trucks were usually driven from Turkey to Czech Republic.
“They were organizers of the heroin transport who had found the driver and had legal TIR company with Schengen licenses, but they did not own the goods, nor financed the business”, claims Dragan Rakic, a Belgrade police chief for drugs, who was running the operation. He confirmed Plavsic was known to police as middle level criminal and indeed his name can be found in The White Book of organized crime. This criminal was named as the leader of a small group from Kikinda in the northern province Vojvodina. His crew was known to solid relationships with all kinds of smugglers from Hungary, Romania, Bosnia and the territory of Kosovo. But Plavšić for years kept his “privacy” by not registering the formal business, he was just buying real estates and was active in sponsoring the football clubs in Serbia, like FC Sloboda from Novi Kozarci.
“Both Plavsic and Petković were seen as the successful local wealthy businessman, even though nobody could claim from what business they got rich”, says Rakic adding that investigation is still underway and police is working to identify whole criminal pyramid.
However, close sources to the police told us Plavsic and Petkovic were working for the “incorporation” between Kosovar Kelmendi family and well known clan of Darko Saric, Balkan cocaine drug lord. Albanian group was giving the financial support to the business, but Serbian group gave the network, says the police source. Police already has enough information to prove cooperation between Albanian and Serbian groups. Even though official confirmation is still expected, these groups with third one from Rozaje on the northeast of Montenegro, are controlling the three-country point between Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo which is throne of the most porous territory on Balkans. These administrative crossings between Serbia and Kosovo are badly maintained and without difficulty bypassed through “substitute” mountain roads.
Heroin is mostly smuggled from Turkey overland by cars, trucks and buses, through so called Balkan route of heroin, over Bulgaria, Romania, and Kosovo into Serbia, and onward to other European markets, according to the Serbian Information Security Agency (BIA). This route is the most important direction for supplying the Central and Western Europe, and Mediterranean. The UNODC estimates that 65 tons of heroin traveled along the Balkan route in 2009, which is over 80 percent of all European consumption. The largest amount of drugs is moving to Germany and Holland, according to Svetozar Đurović, head chief of Service for Combating Organized Crime of Serbia (SBPOK) and his report on drug trafficking. Heroin travels through two lines: Bulgaria-Serbia-Hungary-Austria and the second line, which goes from Bulgaria to Romania – Hungary – Slovakia – Austria. Drugs smuggled into Germany and Netherlands are smuggled from there to France, Belgium, Britain and Spain. The other two important markets are Italy and Switzerland, and heroin is smuggled through Bulgaria, Greece, Albania and Macedonia, and the other arm, which takes over from Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia to the north. Trends show shifts in the main route, because traffickers avoid Serbia from the Balkan route and use an easier line through Romania. That happen mostly because Romania joined EU and when EU border is once crossed it is easier for smugglers not to cross it again, Đurović claims.
Top heroin bosses incorporated
“Naser Kelmendi is today the most serious heroin smuggler in the region and not only to our knowledge but that know all the police in the region. Unfortunately, he is not the only smuggler, but for sure is one of the most powerful”, says inspectors of SBPOK responsible of drugs trafficking. Kelmendi family is the main financier and organizer of the traffic of heroin, which is coming from Istanbul and Albania by cars, buses and trucks, according to the unofficial information of Serbian police. Heroin is then delivered through Peć on Kosovo and Rožaje in Montenegro to Novi Pazar in Serbia and Bosnia, and from there further to Western Europe. This clan consists of Naser Kelmendi and his three sons, Besnik, Liridon and Elvis, as well as the half-brother Becir and cousin Redžep Kelmendi. Naser Kelmendi has gas stations in Peć that serve him as a front for dealing with drug trafficking, and the last five years his headquarters is hotel “Casa grande” in Sarajevo. Several investigations triggered against Kelmendi and his sons, media reported regularly about their illegal activities, but nothing resulted with an indictment. Many observers believe that Kelmendi was never prosecuted because he has excellent connections within the governments in the region.
Belgrade police sources said there are more people who are capable and have good connections to organize direct heroin smuggling, like Safet Sajo Kalić from Rožaje who is also the first buyer of the heroin from Turkey. This Rožaje group seemed to be the main partner of Kelmendi family, according to previous police reports. His cousin Suvad Music from Rožaje was arrested in 2008 in Novi Pazar and sentenced to 11 years of prison in 2010, because he was found guilty for organizing criminal group smuggling the heroin bought on Kosovo and Macedonia for the Belgrade market. Part of Kalić’s group led with main dealer Semir Dedejić was also found guilty in 2009 for smuggling 3 kilos of heroin to the Serbian capital, but Kalić was never arrested nor sentenced. Serbian police named Kalić in 2003 as the top heroin supplier of well known Zemun clan. Former member of Zemun gang Dejan Milenković Bugsy, now protected witness, confirmed in testimony to the Belgrade Special Court for Organized Crime Kalić sold 600 kilos of pure heroin in 2002 to his late boss Dušan Spasojević aka Šiptar. However, Kalić filed libel lawsuits against media in the region and got them on the Montenegrin court and because of that some reports are saying he has special treatment with Montenegro officials, too. For sure, big scandal was when video from his wedding party came up on Youtube and some of the high ranked Montenegrin officials were seen there. Kalić is constantly reported as one of the richest Montenegrins with the high number of real estates in Rožaje, Budva and Podgorica. His legitimate business in Rožaje are transport company “Daut&Daut”, restaurant “Tajson” and security agency “Eye security”, but on his close relatives he has hotel business of “Turjak” and gas station “M-petrol”.
Heroin as past, cocaine as present
Moreover, this lemon case gave more lights on last two years of cocaine business, when police around the world seized at least five tons of cocaine which belonged to Serbian criminal groups. Darko Šarić was a leader of a powerful group of criminals who organized trafficking of huge cocaine shipments from South America to Western Europe through Balkan, Slovenia and Italy, according to the court documents. DEA seized his 2.7 tons of cocaine in Uruguay and that opened investigation against him. Darko and his brother Duško were previously unknown, but after while it was found their group was dealing with heroin before became the main cocaine smuggler. Arsa Saric, their close relative, got five years in prison because police found him 20 kilos of heroin in 2007 at car garage, which was owned by Darko Šarić. He is still hiding from the police, and investigation against his group is still ongoing. Until now it was found his cartel brought together more than 100 people from 16 countries worldwide, including Serbia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Greece, Slovenia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and had members from Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. In second case at Belgrade Special Court for Organized Crime, Saric is on trial for money laundering of 20 millions of Euros, which he allegedly invested in real estates in Serbia, buying the hotels and old communist companies.
Goran Nešić Ciga, who is arrested this May in Brasil as the top cocaine supplier of Balkan groups, was also once a heroin smuggler. For his try to smuggle 24.5 kilos of heroin from Turkey to Serbia, he got eight years of prison in 2002, but he managed to escape in Latin America. After few years, he started to supply the Balkan drug smuggling chain and because of that got nick ‘the minister’. The whole pleiad of wanted Serbian criminals is now hiding in South America and is mostly in cocaine business. Serbian police believe many fugitives are hiding there like the leader of New Belgrade clan Dejan Stojanović Keka, leader of new Zemun clan Luka Bojović, or criminal boss Željko Maksimović Maka.
Heroin on the local market
Serbian police and customs had less success in intercepting heroin shipments to previous years, which is again explained that large shipments avoid Serbia because of change in route. Police have seized total 242.85 kilos of heroin in 2010, 169.2 kilos in 2009, 208 kilos in 2008, while just in 2006 it was seized almost 700 kilos of dope. Forty six percent is coming from Kosovo, 10 percent each from Bulgaria and Montenegro and seven percent from Turkey, while for 25 percent it is unknown from where heroin came to Serbia, according to the origin of all significant seizures in 2010 and 2011. More than half of all arrested groups for drugs in 2010, 18 groups were engaged in selling heroin. However, street price of drug in Serbia suggests heroin is still easy available.
“Regular quarter price is between seven to 10 Euros, but as quantity increases the price is falling, and then it is more likely to buy a gram between 15 to 20 Euros. We have found that gross price per kilo of heroin is not more than 12,000 Euros, but again, it can vary depending on the quality”, says police chief Rakić. But few big fishes had cheaper hands of heroin. Special Court for Organized Crime undoubtedly found the that Suvad Music from Rožaje purchased heroin on Kosovo at the price of 8,000 to 9,000 Euros and sold it at a price of 10,000 to 11,000 Euros.
Main cities in Serbia like Belgrade, Novi Sad and Niš are heroin hot spots because most of heroin addicts are living there. Serbia has at least 24 thousands of heroin addicts, according to latest information of Ministry of Health. Nevertheless, there are some places, which always have significantly higher seizures and heroin arrests like Novi Pazar, Pirot, Bujanovac, Sremska Mitrovica and Jagodina. This is mostly because these places are on local and transnational heroin roads.
“Novi Pazar is famous to the all transports from Turkey to Europe with the highest number of trucks in the country, and they turned to heroin when denim business started to break apart. There are several powerful people organizers of smuggling shipments through transport companies like Faruk Kadric”, says police chief Rakić. Police seized at least 50 kilos of heroin to him in 2008. Many truck drivers were caught in Novi Pazar like Binak Kalača, who was found in the truck with 125 kilos shipment in 2006, confirms inspectors of SBPOK.
Pirot is first town after main Serbo – Bulgarian border at Gradina, on the main heroin route from Turkey through Bulgaria. Regularly, customs officials catch Turks and Bulgarians and Serbs with not than less of five kilos of heroin there. Bujanovac is southeast wing of smuggling route from Kosovo to Serbia, while Sremska Mitrovica is on the road from Belgrade to Croatia and more to Slovenia. Jagodina, town in central Serbia at main highway through Serbia, is well-known to its powerful heroin dealers, linked to corrupted local authorities in that place.
“In Belgrade we have at least 20 small groups, which are mostly street dealers. Former Zemun clan members, previously called “crowbar brigade”, was arrested in 2010 for dealing heroin, but there is no powerful group anymore like Zemun clan was”, claims Rakić.
New Profile of Serbian criminal
“Serbia is today narco-society in which huge amounts of cash from drugs are circulating in the economy, in which the discovery of Šarić, Nesic, and several other groups, are just the tip of the iceberg. This shows the extent of drug trafficking as “seminal” and “parent” form of organized crime in Serbia”, says Aleksandar Fatic, professor and director of the Belgrade Center for Security Studies. Professor Fatić explains that these new groups such as Šarić, which were capable of large transports with the Russian and Bulgarian mafia, organized ships sinking in the Balkans hundreds of tons of Latin American cocaine, which became the “fancy” drug for the riches, while the heroin remained “slum” drugs. The real drug business in Serbia today is cocaine, not heroin, said Fatić, adding the only worse from that is dirty money that increased control the institutions and the legitimate economy, said Fatić.
“It is obvious Serb criminal groups turned to cocaine because of higher profits than from heroin”, says the high official source from BIA, which is covering transnational activities of Serbian mafia, explaining how profile of Serbian criminal changed seriously in last the 20 years. Once powerful paramilitary thugs in Yugoslavian wars during the ’90 s were led by criminals who worked for the Serbian State Security like “famous” Zeljko Ražnatović Arkan was. Most of them were showbiz criminals, usually wanted to show their false patriotism in public, but were living from robbing jewelleries and banks across the Europe. Then, prevailed rough and silent killers and racketeers of Zemun clan, who for few years after 2000 became one of the main heroin suppliers of Serbia and some European countries, by selling the goods obtained from Rozaje group and from Kosovo. Together with forces within the Special Operations Unit of State Security Agency which was responsible for the political assassinations in Serbia during the Slobodan Milošević regime, they assassinated first democratic prime minister in Serbia Zoran Djindjic in 2003. Djindjic began a systematic fight against organized crime after the democratic revolution in 2000. Belgrade police chief Rakić adds that nobody was surprised when 600 kilos of pure heroin were found in the safe deposit box of Commercial bank in Belgrade on behalf of State Security short after the revolution.
“Now we are talking about “yuppie” criminals in business suits who are using laptops and all the online communication tools like Skype or social networks to oversee drugs shipments, while they are sitting thousands of miles away from drugs”, says the BIA source. Using the role of businessman and offshore accounts they have been laundering the money through the privatization of old communist companies, which was supposed to transform Serbian economy and attract foreign investors. Criminals used these companies to pump out the “invested” money by firing the workers, selling the resources and leading them to bankruptcy. Serbian law enforcement system failed to react to this on time. Even Sreten Jocić aka Joca Amsterdam, publicly well-known criminal, showed up himself as one of the legal buyer at Privatization Agency auctions, before he was jailed for killing the Croatian publisher Ivo Pukanić. However, law enforcement improved lately their fight against criminals, by implementing the new law for seizing the property of criminals, bank accounts, villas, vehicles, companies. SBPOK implemented new techniques to catch the criminals like simulated operations, undercover investigator and other modern tools. Judicial system of Serbia still has more to do to prosecute heroin smugglers, because except good practice of seizing property – just few cases are closed with high sentences. Darko Erceg got 12 years in prison on Special court for organized crime, Suvad Musić 11 years, but more sentences are still expected.
Today, there is no proof that any government or law enforcement official distributed heroin, like it was common during the criminal Milosevic regime. Recent case of three police inspectors from Uzice suspected for selling the previously seized heroin shows it is the individual thing now. However, corruption in Serbia remains the biggest concern because of many reasons, and that opens the gate to serious flow of dirty money into the legitimate economy.
Quand Borislav Plavsic, dit « La grenouille », et Zoran Petkovic, dit « Le cruel », ont été attrapés en octobre 2010 près de Pancevo avec 120 kg d’héroïne afghane ultrapure, il était clair aux yeux des policiers qu’il ne s’agissait que de petits poissons : des éléments moyens de la chaîne des stups, qui unit des groupes criminels plus puissants. Le camion appartenait à Petkovic, il était supposé transporter vers Prague des palettes de citrons, mais 383 paquets d’héroïne étaient dissimulés dans les palettes.
Jusque-là, Petkovic n’était connu que comme un petit homme d’affaires local, impliqué dans les transports ainsi que dans la restauration. Il n’avait pas de casier judiciaire, mais ses sociétés de transport s’étendaient sur toute l’Europe. « Il était l’organisateur du transport d’héroïne, avait trouvé le chauffeur et disposait d’une compagnie de transport routier autorisée à circuler dans l’espace Schengen. Mais il ne possédait pas la cargaison clandestine, et il n’était pas le financier de l’opération », analyse Dragan Rakic, chef de la section stups de Belgrade qui a mené l’interception.
Par contre, son complice Plavsic était connu de la police comme criminel de niveau moyen, chef d’un petit groupe originaire de Kikinda, en Vojvodine. Son équipe était réputée pour ses liens solides avec toutes sortes de trafiquants de Hongrie, Roumanie, Bosnie et Kosovo, même si pendant des années, Plavsic n’avait officialisé aucune de ses activités commerciales : son nom n’était apparu que lors de l’achat de biens immobiliers ainsi que dans le sponsoring de clubs de foot comme le FC Sloboda de Novi Kozarci. « Tant Plavsic que Petkovic étaient perçus comme des hommes d’affaires locaux auréolés de succès, bien que personne ne puisse identifier le type de commerce qui les avait rendus prospères », explique Rakic.
La clé probable, la voici : des sources de police nous ont affirmé que Plavsic et Petkovic travaillaient en fait pour un cartel constitué de la famille kosovare Kelmendi et du clan bien connu de Darko Saric (lire par ailleurs), roi serbe de la cocaïne dans les Balkans. Le groupe kosovar apporte le soutien financier, cependant que le groupe serbe fournit le réseau.
D’un point de vue policier, la coopération entre les groupes kosovar et serbe est établie. Mais ce n’est pas tout : avec l’aide d’un troisième groupe originaire de Rozaje (au nord-est du Monténégro), ces groupes contrôlent la zone des « trois frontières » du Monténégro, de la Serbie et du Kosovo, l’un des endroits les plus poreux de tous les Balkans : les passages de frontière entre Serbie et Kosovo sont mal tenus, et peuvent être aisément contournés via des routes de montagnes.
En pratique, par voie de terre (en voitures, camions ou bus), l’héroïne est principalement trafiquée de Turquie via la Bulgarie, la Roumanie, le Kosovo puis la Serbie, ensuite vers les marchés d’Europe de l’Ouest, estime le service de sécurité serbe BIA. L’ONUDC affirme que 65 tonnes d’héroïne (80 % de toute la consommation européenne !) ont emprunté cette route en 2009. L’essentiel gagne l’Allemagne puis les Pays-Bas, selon Svetozar Durovic, chef du service serbe de lutte contre le crime organisé (SBPOK).
La filière Kelmendi
Qui sont les Kosovars concernés ? « Naser Kelmendi est aujourd’hui le plus important trafiquant d’héroïne de la région, et nous ne sommes pas les seuls à le dire, toutes les polices de la région le savent. Il n’est pas le seul trafiquant, mais il est certainement le plus puissant », nous disent des inspecteurs du SBPOK. La famille Kelmendi est la principale organisatrice et principale source de financement du trafic d’héroïne qui vient d’Istanbul et d’Albanie, estime la police serbe. Leur héroïne est livrée via Pec pour le Kosovo ainsi que via Rozaje au Monténégro, vers Novi Pazar en Serbie, puis vers la Bosnie et l’Europe de l’Ouest. Naser Kelmendi possède des stations-services à Pec qui lui serviraient de couverture pour le trafic de stupéfiants. Plusieurs enquêtes, régulièrement répercutées dans les médias, ont été ouvertes à l’encontre de Kelmendi et de ses fils, mais aucune n’a jamais débouché sur une inculpation.
Nos sources policières à Belgrade affirment qu’il existe bien d’autres personnes disposant des relations nécessaires pour organiser l’importation directe d’héroïne, comme Safet Sajo Kalic, de Rozaje, lequel serait par ailleurs l’acheteur initial, en Turquie, de l’héroïne qui débarque ensuite en Serbie. Mais il serait aussi le principal partenaire de la famille Kelmendi…
Sur notre blog, le détail des enquêtes, personnages secondaires, sociétés écrans : http://bit.ly/lL31tO.
Au côté du journaliste serbe Djordje « George » Padejski,
suivez sur notre carte interactive les itinéraires favoris des
trafiquants serbes d’héroïne :
LA PART DES SERBO-KOSOVARS : 3 à 6 %
Sur un segment très pointu – marchés grec, albanais, italien, avec parfois des percées en Belgique –, les Albano-Kosovars gardent un contrôle absolu, du gros jusqu’au détail, avec une marge totale qui peut dépasser les 70 %. Mais sur la route qui nous intéresse, celle des Balkans à destination d’Europe de l’Ouest, les déclarations d’un trafiquant comme Suvad Music montrent – pour le seul transit – une marge de 3.000 € par kg d’héroïne « pure » pour les Serbes et Kosovars. Cette marge (+/- 3 %) est probablement très sous-estimée en regard de la marge disponible entre Istanbul et Rotterdam (26,5 %).
Les rois de l’héroïne convertis à la coke
Revenons à nos palettes de citrons. Ce dossier « héroïne » éclaire d’un jour neuf les deux dernières années de trafic serbe de… cocaïne. Car, oui : les polices du monde entier ont saisi ces derniers mois pas moins de cinq tonnes de coke qui appartenaient à des groupes criminels serbes. Or ces nouveaux rois de la coke sont en fait d’anciens champions de l’héroïne.
Ainsi Darko Šaric, chef d’un puissant groupe criminel qui organisait le trafic de grandes quantités de cocaïne d’Amérique du Sud vers l’Europe de l’Ouest, via un détour par la route des Balkans, la Slovénie puis l’Italie. La saisie en Uruguay de 2,7 tonnes de coke qui lui appartenaient a mobilisé la planète. Si à première vue Darko était un parfait inconnu, il est bientôt apparu qu’il était trafiquant d’héroïne avant de se lancer dans la cocaïne. Arsa Saric, l’un de ses proches parents, avait écopé de cinq ans de prison pour avoir été trouvé en 2007 en possession de 20 kg d’héroïne… dans un box pour auto appartenant à Darko. Ce n’est qu’ensuite que Darko établira un cartel rassemblant plus de cent personnes dans 16 pays différents, dont la Serbie, le Monténégro, les Pays-Bas, l’Allemagne, la Grèce, l’Italie, la Slovénie, la Croatie, la République tchèque, l’Uruguay, l’Argentine, etc. Darko est aussi poursuivi pour blanchiment de 20 millions d’euros qu’il aurait investis dans de l’immobilier serbe.
Autre figure : Goran Nešic Ciga, principal fournisseur en cocaïne des groupes des Balkans, et qui a été arrêté en ce mois de mai 2011 au Brésil. Lui aussi a débuté comme trafiquant d’héroïne : pour sa tentative d’importer 24,5 kg d’héroïne de Turquie en Serbie, il a été condamné à huit ans de prison en 2002, mais est parvenu à s’enfuir en Amérique latine. Après quelques années, il a commencé à approvisionner les filières de Balkans en cocaïne, ce qui lui a valu un surnom croquignolet : le « Ministre ».
Notre article sur le marché local de l’héroïne en Serbie : http://bit.ly/mc2g93.
Après « Arkan », le profil des mafieux serbes s’est transformé
La Serbie est aujourd’hui une narco-société dans laquelle circulent d’énormes montants d’argent liquide venant des stupéfiants. (…) Ces trafics ont représenté la forme “séminale”, la “matrice” du crime organisé en Serbie », affirme Aleksandar Fatic, directeur du Belgrade Center for Security Studies.
Mais comment cette dissémination s’est-elle opérée ? Spécifiquement chargé d’enquêter sur les activités internationales de la mafia serbe, une source haut placée au cœur du nouveau service de sécurité, le BIA, nous explique comment a évolué le profil des criminels serbes : en substance, ce n’était au départ que de puissants voyous paramilitaires, actifs dans les guerres de Yougoslavie des années nonante, et qui, sous la direction de criminels comme le « fameux » Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan, travaillaient pour la Sécurité d’Etat serbe. La plupart d’entre eux étaient des tueurs de pacotille, ne voulaient que montrer publiquement un faux patriotisme, mais ils vivaient du vol de bijouteries et de banques à travers l’Europe.
Puis sont arrivés les tueurs-racketteurs brutaux et silencieux du clan Zemun qui, durant quelques années au début de la décennie, sont devenus les principaux pourvoyeurs d’héroïne de Serbie – et de quelques autres pays d’Europe – en vendant les cargaisons qui leur venaient de groupes de Rozaje (Monténégro) et du Kosovo. Ensemble, main dans la main avec l’unité des opérations spéciales de l’ex-Sécurité – responsable des assassinats politiques commis en Serbie durant le régime de Slobodan Miloševic- ils vont assassiner en 2003 le Premier ministre démocratique du pays, Zoran Djindjic. Djindjic avait entamé une lutte systématique contre le crime organisé.
600 kg d’héroïne à la banque
C’était une époque étonnante, confirme le chef de la section stups de Belgrade, Rakic : pour lui, personne n’a réellement été surpris lorsque, peu après la révolution démocratique, 600 kg d’héroïne pure ont été retrouvés en dépôt à la Commercial Bank de Belgrade, dans un coffre appartenant à la Sécurité d’Etat.
« Désormais, nous parlons de criminels yuppies, en costume d’affaires, qui utilisent leurs laptops et le réseau Skype – ou les réseaux sociaux en ligne – pour superviser leurs transports de stups, cependant qu’ils sont eux-mêmes installés à des milliers de kilomètres de ces stupéfiants », explique notre source au BIA.
En se glissant dans ces costumes d’homme d’affaires et en utilisant des comptes offshore, ils ont lavé leur argent lors de la privatisation des anciennes sociétés communistes, alors que cette privatisation était supposée transformer l’économie serbe et attirer les investisseurs étrangers. L’appareil répressif serbe n’a pas su réagir à temps : même des criminels bien connus comme Sreten Jocic, alias « Joca d’Amsterdam » (qui allait ensuite être arrêté pour le meurtre du journaliste-rédacteur en chef croate Ivo Pukanic), se sont présentés au titre d’acheteurs officiels lors de ventes aux enchères de l’agence de privatisation.
Mais la répression s’est améliorée durant les dernières années, avec l’adoption d’une nouvelle loi permettant la saisie du patrimoine des criminels, leurs comptes en banque, villas, véhicules, sociétés commerciales. L’antigang (SBPOK) a de son côté développé des agents infiltrés, de fausses ventes, etc.
Online Le Soir – http://archives.lesoir.be/l-europe-orientale-entre-en-guerre-contre-ses_t-20110707-01GNGX.html?query=padejski&firstHit=0&by=10&sort=datedesc&when=-1&queryor=padejski&pos=0&all=1&nav=1
A submarine energy cable between Montenegro and Italy through two Adriatic coasts and the construction of four new hydro plants on Moraca river (Montenegro) will provide considerable benefits to Italian investors and will take over the power sector of Montenegro. The energy projects are likely to cause damage to the beautiful natural parks and coastal areas of the Balkan country as well. Italian power companies, A2A and Terna, have already put Montenegrin public power companies under significant control, acquired the rights for constructing the underwater cable, and are likely to get concessions to build more hydro plants.
This all came about after a series of secret political deal between the former Montenegrin government head Milo Djukanovic and current Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berslusconi. Opposition parties, NGOs and independent media saw their acts as an abuse of power and Montenegrin parties have already filed criminal charge in the State Prosecution Office of Montenegro accusing them of enabling Italian companies A2A and Terna to make a profit at the expense of Montenegro’s power sector.
However, the current Montenegrin government has no doubts: the joint energy project will be an excellent deal for the country. Representatives of Government defended themselves stating that everything was handled transparently and was foreseen in 2007 by the Energy Development Strategy which contemplated the submarine cable, and that the whole thing was done in accordwith all laws, procedures, and public opinion.
The prosecution has still not proceeded but chances are that a joint Parliamentary investigation between Italy and Montenegro will be conducted.
Privatization of EPCG
A2A, the second Italian electricity operator based in Brescia, started business in Montenegro in 2009 when it took over 43.71 percent of Montenegro’s electric power company EPCG, by taking over the 18.3 percent of shares owned by the state of Montenegro and stocks of small shareholders. Montenegrin government opened EPCG up for partial privatization in February 2009, when only two bids qualified: A2A and a Greek consortium consisting of Public Power Corporation, the biggest governmentally-controlled electric power company in Greece, and One Golden Energy Holdings, a private company which was part of a Greece-based shipping company Restis Group of Victor Restis.
In July 2009, Tender Commission accepted the Italians’ offer and rejected the Greeks’, although the latter offered € 11.1 per stock which was 30 percent higher than A2A’s offer which was € 8.4. The commission formally stated that Greek consortium’s offer was conditional and that they had failed to give extra explanation on time. The Greeks appealed to the commission, but their request was also refused – although they never filed a lawsuit against Montenegrin officials. Moreover, Restis Group has become the lead investor in Montenegro’s tourism industry with governmental guarantees, concerning places like the island of Sveti Stefan, where Hollywood celebrities are regular visitors.
«EPCG tender process and the recapitalization of the company contained many illegal acts in favor of A2A, through the extension, modification and changing conditions in the course of the procedure», said Nebojsa Medojevic, leader of the Movement For Change party, who filed criminal charges. While the sale was still being made Djukanovic extracted the power transmiting portiong of EPCG,from which he founded a new company called Electric Transmission System of Montenegro – CGES in March 2009. He also arranged for a package of EPCG’s minority sharesto be sold to A2A in May 2009, before the sale was completed. This provided them with a competitive edge, explains Medojevic. Another example of such favoritism can be seen in the June 2009 Memorandum for energy cooperation between the two coutries, which places specific emphasis on power collaboration.
State like private company
Giuliano Zuccoli, A2A President of Management Committee, claimed that the take over of EPCG was conducted in transparent way and was merely the result of a normal business transaction. He added that A2A is a public company in Italy as well and that it conducts all its operations in a clean and transparent manner. But not all Montengrins agree.
«All the financial transactions of A2A and EPCG were done through Prva banka of which the main shareholder is Aco Djukanovic, brother of former prime minister Milo Djukanovic, who is also a major shareholder in the bank», says Ines Mrdovic, MANS coordinator for sustainable development, one of Montenegro’s most active NGOs in fighting corruption. The same bank was saved from bankruptcy through a huge government bailout in 2008. Faced with these facts, Zuccoli also claimed that Prva banka is well respected bank in Montenegro.
Mrdovic also pointed out that the public has still not been given all details concerning the A2A and EPCG contract, even though MANS has obtained a copy, some additions are still being kept secret. Therefore, it is not known whether Italians will get the opportunity to become majority owners of EPCG, or the reason why Enrico Malerba, A2A representative, is now CEO of EPCG, even though A2A does not yet have the majority share.
Vasilije Milickovic, representative of minority shareholders in EPCG, says that private shareholders were only allowed to sell stocks to A2A for the same price as the State of Montenegro, and that they lost 43 milions euro as a result. He points out another aspect of privatization: all stocks had to be sold through the broker company Monte Adria, which is controlled by Prva banka and people close to Djukanovic. According to Zoran Radulovic, business analyst of Monitor, a magazine from Montenegro, Monte Adria made about one million euros (or 1 percent) from transactions linked with EPCG.
Transmission grid and plants
Another Italian Rome-based transmission company, Terna, in January 2011 took over 22.09 percent of the Montenengrin Elektroprenosni sistem CGES, a public company dealing with electricity distribution. This process caused some controversy but unlike EPCG, it was done as a direct sale without any public offer and bidding, says Medojevic.
The transaction arose from two other agreements between Montenegro and Italy: in February 2010 for the building of a submarine cable and another in November 2010 for CGES’s recapitalization. Terna will build 390 km long underwater power cable, at a cost of about 760 million euro, which will feed power to Italy by harnessing unused hydro potential from Montenegro and the Balkans coming from such hydro plants as those likely to be built by the Italian A2A. This “electricity bridge” is still in the preliminary project planning phase, according to the Government.
Finally, after more than a year of qualifying bids on the offer for construction of four hydropower plants on the Moraca river, in April 2011, only the consortium of A2A, EPCG and Italian Enel remained.
The Montenegrin government again extended the deadline for submission of bids to the fall of 2011 at the request of the Italian companies. For the network of NGOs in Montenegro Green Home (Forum 2010 and MANS) this is not just a potential corruption case, but also a significant threat to untouched natural resources. The group urged current Montenegrin Prime Minister, Igor Luksic, to cancel the conciliatory offer since they say the Government has not yet managed to prove to the public what benefits will the job bring to Montenegrin citizens.
Impact to the environment
«The whole energy project will have a huge impact on the environment where government took a few steps of wrong moves. First they signed a contract, instead they had to develop regional spatial plan with public involvement and then to choose best solutions», says Mrdovic and adds that MANS suspects that the job was arranged in advance and that its planners will only draw predefined solutions, and will not take into account public opinion.
Mrdovic said Montenegro’s planners have predicted that the transmission lines will pass through the national parks of Lovcen and Durmitor, and new dumps will endanger species of Moraca river and Skadarsko lake. The submarine cable will endanger Lastva Grbaljska on Montinegro’s coast. However, no environmental impact assessment has been done to date and the company who is planning on working on such projects, Republic Institute, is also owned by Aco Djukanovic. On the other hand Enrico Malerba, CEO of EPCG, has stated that EPCG and A2A will follow environmental standards in developing the plants.
«Regarding the construction of submarine cable and plants, it is obvious that the whole business is implemented as non-transparent. Our government has not managed to convince us what is the economic benefit to the state of Montenegro from that deal, also we do not know how much it will cost us financially, because the key agreement is still secret», says Mrdovic.
Who is the boss?
Montenegrin Deputy PM Vujica Lazovic, former Montenegrin ministers Branko Vujovic and Branimir Gvozdenovic and five other people are also named as suspects in the criminal charges. They were all part of the Djukanovic government who resigned in 2010, after twenty years in power, although according to many he still maintains power behind the scenes. On the other side of the deal is Berlusconi. According to last year’s reports in UK newspapers, “The Independent” and “Daily Express”, Berlusconi is the fifth richest head of state on the planet, and his Montenegrin counterpart, Djukanovic, the richest in the Balkans. Previously, Djukanovic was named by an Italian prosecutor in Bari as a part of network for tobacco smuggling, but he was never prosecuted.
BELGRADE — A massive excavation of secret graves and long-shrouded historic military files is under way in Serbia. In a potentially transformative convergence of political will and cutting-edge digital tools, this fledgling democracy may finally get the knowledge it needs to confront and freely debate its hidden and often horrific past.
Analysis by Joan McQueeney Mitric and Djordje Padejski
- A special commission on secret graves set up in 2010 to find and document those killed by Josip Broz Tito’s reviled secret military police has unearthed 190 mass graves at 23 sites across Serbia to date. In January it reported that at least 22,000 people were executed, most without trials in the brutal post World War II years.
- Special prosecutors for 1990s war crimes have opened 35 criminal cases since July 2003, all stemming from the bloody, fratricidal wars of secession that ripped the former Yugoslavia asunder between 1991 and 1999. To date, 61 people stand convicted. Many more await trial.
- Balkan scholars and Serbian historians are beginning to revise academic works and textbooks based on recently opened and publicized archival materials.
- Ordinary Serbs are seeking the truth behind stories their grandfathers once dared whisper only in the night.
This movement toward truth and reconciliation is spurred partly by Serbia’s aspirations to join the European Union, and more concretely by the new, searchable, state-of-the- art Serbian Military Archive at the Zarkovo base 40 minutes from Belgrade. Eventually, this archive will preserve some 40 million pages of previously guarded military records that until 2006 lay moldering in basements and scattered in complete disarray across a city still rebuilding from NATO’s 1999 bombing.
The brainchild of the Jefferson Institute — which takes its mission statement from Thomas Jefferson’s challenge “to pursue truth, wherever it may lead” — the quest to develop an archive and digital-search tool began in 2006 with an early seed grant of $50,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Early document preservation and data retrieval done with Knight’s grant was so promising that the government of Norway pledged $900,000 over three years; Canada and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund followed suit, donating $7,000 and $130,000 respectively.
Some four years on, Serbia’s special prosecutors of 1990s war crimes, as well as those investigating Tito-era extra-judicial killings, are using the archive to speed their research. Perhaps most exciting of all, a new open-source archive using many of the database and digital search tools created for Serbia’s military archive — will be replicated in Sarajevo, Bosnia. But with crucial differences: the Bosnian archive will be a civilian-controlled resource library and the software design will be such that it can be replicated and used for free by archives around the globe.
The Bosnian archive project represents a “180-degree turn” from 1993 when Serbian paramilitary forces were shelling Sarajevo’s National Library, destroying Bosnia’s mosques and effectively “trying to wipe out its history. Now Serbia is helping to restore it,” said Aaron Presnall, president of the Jefferson Institute.
So what exactly can Serbia’s military archive do that puts it ahead of the curve compared to many archives around the globe?
For starters, the archive took Serbia’s 40 million military documents, none of which had been digitized, and began to systematically organize and scan them. Starting with the oldest from 1716, and proceeding systematically until today, when almost four million military cables, memos, field maps, letters, discharge papers, battle plans and other records are now in an accessible, searchable form. This historical collection is simultaneously linked to a larger metadata schematic that can be annotated by researchers as they work, Presnall said.
This means instead of spending days weeding through fragile, oversized paper tomes, researchers can now flip through as many as 6,000 digital documents a day, and access a trove of archival military records dating from the Kingdom of Serbia in the 18th century, through both World Wars, the rise and rule of Yugoslavia’s Socialist dictator Josip Broz Tito (1944-1980) and on into the tyrannical, often bloody reign of President Slobodan Milosevic (1989-2000).
All this with a few clicks on the user-friendly interface while sitting at a computer in the archive library at the Zarkovo military base. Most remarkably, many documents are searchable in a way similar to a Google search, using keywords that search the full text of documents.
“We shrunk the time it takes to search and retrieve a document from six months to six seconds,” said Jefferson Institute’s Presnall, who is convinced that the creation of a digitized trove of documents — transparent to all users and easier to contextualize — will prove much more valuable in the long term than a WikiLeaks-style dump.
There’s one big caveat: documents are classified for 50 years. So users who want to see records after 1961 must get special permission from Serbia’s Ministry of Defense (MOD). Many historians, and international and local prosecutors have done just that. Others have found such access tough sledding.
For Sonja Licht, a leading Serbian human rights activist who heads the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence, “The archive is a marvelous technological tool in the fight for greater transparency.”
“With this new archive, our military history is no longer hidden behind thick walls where we can only guess what’s in the record,” said Licht, a founding member of the Jefferson Institute and whose husband spent two years in jail in the 1980s for his support of student dissidents.
Edward C. Papenfuse, chief archivist for the state of Maryland who has visited the Serbian archive twice, is bullish on the potential global reach of Serbia’s new archive tool. “Really, it has no peer in the holistic archival sense,” he said, noting that this archive outstrips many in the United States, where city and state records remain largely indexed paper collections.
Pleased as he is with the archive’s search and security architecture, Papenfuse, like other open-records advocates and media observers, has lingering concerns about its accessibility to ordinary users, given that it is now housed within a military base and controlled by the staff there. “Ultimately, what is put into the system is going to be controlled, or scrubbed or censored, by the entity doing the scanning. In this case, the military.”
Echoing his concern, Marko Milosevic, a researcher with the Belgrade Center for Security Policy, an NGO committed to greater civilian and military cooperation, said “it is impossible to know what is missing. Today, there is no real oversight about what is, or is not, in the archive.”
Jefferson’s Presnall acknowledges no one knows exactly what records may have been destroyed by political decree, military commanders or merely eroded by time, but he believes “remnants” of original documents remain. The archival collection is simply “too big” to scrub entirely, he said.
For Ph.D. candidate Ljubinka Skodric, the speed and organization of the archive is definitely helping her research into the closeted history of Yugoslavia’s Fascist movement in the late 1930s. But, Skodric says, the archive’s location 90 minutes by bus from Belgrade’s center city is an automatic “chilling factor” to would-be users. Requests to the Ministry of Defense to use the archives can take several days to a month, Skodric said.
Dusan Vasovic, above, with a pre-WWII photo of his father. Below his photo are copies of documents Vasovic found in Serbia’s military archive revealing his father’s role in a 1941 coup against Yugoslav officials who signed a secret pact with Hitler’s Germany.
Acknowledging these concerns, Papenfuse hopes “soon enough, there will be pressure on the Ministry of Defense to open the archives, “perhaps by linking them to places outside the Zarkovo facility. But for now, we have to live with the political realities of the country we’re dealing with,” he said.
A thawing in the MOD mind-set may already be afoot. In a recent interview Tanja Miscevic, state secretary of Serbia’s Ministry of Defense said, “MOD is seriously considering making more military records available on its official website or over the Internet.”
She noted that the archive has attracted numerous military investigators and historians from Germany, Hungary, Bosnia and Norway who are using the archive to gain clarity about their own roles in 20th century Balkan history, and to bring people guilty of war crimes to justice. Hungarian, Sandor Kepiro, 96, was arrested in December 2010. He is charged with crimes allegedly committed during a 1942 raid by Hungarian Nazi sympathizers on the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad that left more than 1,200 civilians dead.
Secrets from the Grave
Some of the most riveting findings starting to trickle out from the archive’s files are the personal stories of ordinary users who are finally learning the secrets their parents and grandparents took to the grave.
When Dusan Vasovic, 75, visited the archives in 2010, he had no idea what he’d find out about his father. When his father died in 1973, his past was buried with him. “I was shocked when I saw my father’s name as one of the main figures in a coup” that changed the course of WWII history, Vasovic said.
In Zarkovo’s files he learned his father, an army major in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia’s forces, was one of the senior officers who refused to go along with a secret pact signed with Hitler’s Germany in March 1941. He and his band of like-minded soldiers took over the offices of the army and navy in Belgrade and supported the coup that brought Serbia firmly into the Allied camp.
“Better graves than slaves,” demonstrators shouted as Vasovic’s father led a group of soldiers from a park to the ministry on Kneza Miloša street. The crowd sang patriotic songs and shouted slogans against Hitler and Mussolini. Vasovic learned for the first time that his father was arrested, jailed for four months and then placed under “house arrest” by German occupation forces, where he lived in fear of being sent off to a labor camp. Vasovic located this information in a secret report (sent to German envoy Victor von Herren in Belgrade) among the Nazi records now part of Serbia’s archive.
Immediately after the war, anyone who wasn’t a card-carrying Communist was hunted down, locked up or killed by Tito’s forces as he consolidated power. Based on what he learned about his father’s past — Vasovic is convinced his father decided that the only way to protect his family was to renounce any prewar beliefs, stop going to church “and to live out his life as a good Communist.”
Dobrivoje Tomic, top, examines a cross marking the mass grave site in eastern Serbia where his father may be buried. The pre-WWII portrait above shows Tomic with his father Dusan. In 1944, Dusan Tomic was “disappeared” by Tito’s reviled secret police. His son, now 80, is looking for his grave with the help of Serbia’s Secret Graves Commission.
There were no dramatic bedside revelations when Vasovic’s father died in 1973. Not only did his stories about his role in the opening days of WWII go with him to the grave, but his sons and grandson never knew that the family patriarch they were burying was a fluent French speaker, who had studied at an elite explosives school in Paris from 1928 to 1930.
Hopes for Justice and Comfort
To revisit post-WWII Yugoslavia is to find a place where oxcarts piled high with bodies of anti-Communist sympathizers rolled through village streets and bludgeoned corpses floated in the Danube. People were executed and buried in still-undiscovered mass graves and families had loved ones ripped from home at night never to be seen again. Many living in Serbia today still have no idea what happened to their relatives: where or how they were killed, by whom and where they might be buried.
Today, two different entities are charged with trying to unravel these mysteries: The State Commission for Mass Graves of Those Killed Since September 1944 and the Special Prosecutor for 1990s War Crimes. These investigations into two distinctly horrific and politically repressive eras are giving the archives a meaningful historical role – and hopefully will provide some measure of justice and comfort to descendants of the dead.
Dobrivoje Tomic, 80, a retired dentist, was 13, when the secret police dragged his father from their house one dark night in 1944. Tomic said his father, Dusan, was “neither a soldier nor a politician.” His apparent crime? He was a successful businessman who owned oil and tin factories and a printing press in eastern Serbia.
Tomic said that after 59 days in jail, his father “disappeared.” The Communists confiscated the home he shared with his mother, Radmila, and she was sentenced to death. Somehow, mother and son escaped to Belgrade and then to Austria and Germany, where Tomic studied and worked until he finally felt safe to return home and to search for his father’s grave. In 2010, Dobrivoje Tomic told his story to the Secret Graves Commission.
His account, along with records in the military archive, will be used to try to learn his father’s fate. Tragically, investigators last year unearthed dozens of skeletons in a mass grave near the Tomic family home. When the ground thaws this spring, exhumations will begin again, and Tomic hopes to find his father’s remains among them, if only to finally close a sad chapter.
Workers cover a suspected mass grave in Boljevac, eastern Serbia with a large stone as Dobrivoje Tomic, watches. Tomic is trying to locate the remains of his father, who disappeared in 1944. Bone fragments, in the second photo above, were found at the site by investigators of Serbia’s Secret Graves Commission.
Srdjan Cvetkovic, the historian who heads the Secret Graves Commission, said much of the hidden story behind a “massive and well-organized campaign of terror by Communists” lies in the military archives. The commission wants to locate, mark and, where possible, exhume the long-missing remains. Only then will the country’s dirty linen from 65 years ago, get the airing it needs for Serbia to move closer to a true democracy, he said.
Perhaps most cathartic for citizens of the former Yugoslavia, are investigations under way by the Special Prosecutor for 1990s War Crimes. Prosecutors would not comment for this report because of pending criminal cases, but their indictments directly cite records from the military archives. They make for grisly reading.
- On Nov. 28, 2007, 14 Serbian paramilitary thugs and soldiers in the Yugoslav National Army were charged with the October 1991 deaths of 70 unarmed noncombatants living in the Croatian village of Lovas. According to the indictment, soldiers killed 21 civilians as they captured the village in a random and sadistic firefight. During the siege, another 27 civilians were physically abused, tortured and killed in an improvised jail. Twenty more civilians were killed while being marched across a minefield.
- Bosnian Croat commander Ilija Jurisic is appealing his recent conviction for killing 50 unarmed soldiers and civilian truck drivers and wounding 44 more. According to the indictment based on records from the military archives, Jurisic ordered a mortar and rocket-propelled grenade attack on an unarmed Yugoslav National Army column as it withdrew from the city of Tuzla.
Toward an Open Society
So, why is it important that cases like these are vetted in the press or tried in open courts? And what does it have to do with the Knight Foundation’s grant to the Jefferson Institute? For, one thing, the entire Balkan region has lived under despotic leaders whose goal for nearly 70 years was to keep history under wraps.
Following in Tito’s repressive footsteps, Slobodan Milosevic used many of the same tactics when he took power in 1989. He jailed journalists who criticized the regime and ordered the assassination of a prominent editor, whose murder remains unsolved. When hundreds of thousands protested his war strategies in Belgrade in 1991, they were gassed, jailed or labeled as “outside agitators,” perverts, drug addicts or enemies of the state.
Similarly, when Milosevic tried to steal the 2000 presidential election, he branded protestors as unpatriotic and ordered the sacking of newsrooms and anti-regime radio stations, and wiretapped and threatened members of a youth resistance movement.
With records of one of Yugoslavia’s darkest periods now accessible at the archive, there is hope that citizens of Serbia and the region may finally get the historical reckoning so long denied and continue their slow march toward a truly transparent, open society, Presnall said.
These potentially transformative events in Serbia dovetail nicely with the Knight Foundation’s global push for open-records laws, technology tools and a media trained to speak truth to power.
Knight had also hoped the archives would encourage in-depth and investigative reporting on Serbia’s military, but here results are mixed.
The reasons are myriad and complicated. Journalists do report the findings of both the Secret Graves and War Crimes commissions and do cite the military documents used to corroborate findings. But ownership of media is not transparent, newsrooms are strapped for resources and most reporters — paid below subsistence wages — frequently work more than one job to keep afloat economically. For these reasons and others, a strong tradition of watchdog journalism has yet to evolve.
And in practice, most journalists are unlikely to make the 40-minute car trip to Zarkovo, “unless they know there’s a big payoff,” said Ivana Micevic, a reporter for the Belgrade daily Novosti who is one of a handful of journalists to visit the archives. The fact that 50 years “of our history remains classified is a also problem,” Micevic said, echoing a concern raised by others in the media.
With unemployment in December 2010 hovering at 26 percent and the pace of reforms sluggish at best, “it’s fair to say reporters are more likely to want to train their rage and limited energy toward the current political elite,” rather than on understanding the past, said Marko Milosevic of the Center for Security Policy.
Legislation to open classified documents after 30 years – currently stalled in Serbia’s Parliament – is critical to changing the press’ attitude, as is a new law to formally wrest the archives from military control, said Cvetkovic, the historian who heads the Secret Graves Commission.
“Archives are independent, public institutions in all democratic countries. Serbia needs to get on board,” he said.
Commenting on the overall impact of the Zarkovo archives on regional relations and the practice of everyday journalism, media consultant Dragan Kremer said, “Certainly, there’s a strong potential for a searchable archive to help the warming of relations between Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia… At a minimum, the archive could put some facts right on all sides,” referring to the bloody wars of the 1990s.
However Kremer, a former journalist who for years directed media training programs in the region for the International Research and Exchange Board (IREX), said the profession of journalism “has yet to rise to the standard where journalists would use the military archive, even if they knew about it. Which they don’t.”
For whatever reason, publicizing and marketing this resource has not been a top priority of the Ministry of Defense to date. Similarly, journalists who do get MOD’s permission to visit the archive are trained only in technical aspects of the system: how to search the database, scroll and flag documents, and how to print or save documents to a disc.
Missing is any organized effort to train journalists in how to verify, cross reference and contextualize information they find in the military archive. Put simply, trainings have yet to materialize that teach reporters — too young to remember Tito or even Milosevic’s early days — how to interpret historic military records and events in the context of reporting on complicated defense issues in present-day Serbia.
Even if such trainings were available, Kremer is not sure reporters would use what they learn. IREX and other international media groups recently ran several in-depth reporting workshops in Serbia and then tracked the impact on actual daily journalism.
“Our research showed most Serbian journalists had no motivation, were not professional enough, and/or forgot about [investigative] tools much sooner than anyone expected,” Kremer said.
For his part, Jefferson Institute’s Presnall never envisioned that the MOD project would “develop journalists or journalism,” but rather would provide “good tools” for journalists to use as the profession evolves.
“You can argue that there are not enough good journalists [in Serbia]. But, as they emerge this fantastic tool will be ready for them,” he said.