Belgrade (AFP) – Vojislav Seselj has no remorse over his role in the wars in the former Yugoslavia. Now 63, the ultra-nationalist Serb is again an MP in the parliament in Belgrade and has no regrets.
“We will never give up the idea of a Greater Serbia,” he insists.
A close ally of the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, Seselj was found not guilty in 2016 of war crimes and crimes against humanity over the 1990s Balkans wars that claimed around 140,000 lives.
The radical Serbian leader had been accused of being behind the murders of scores of Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs and Seselj’s acquittal in 2016 after an eight year trial at the Hague came as a major surprise. Croatia’s prime minister condemned the verdict as “shameful”.
Two years on and UN war crimes judges will rule on Wednesday on an appeal brought by prosecutors.
They allege that Seselj incited hatred through his fiery speeches on nationalism “seeking to unite all ‘Serb territories’ in a homogeneous state that he called ‘Greater Serbia’”.
But in an interview with AFP, Seselj — who has always denied the charges — said he will not go to the Hague for the hearing at the former International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), whose function has been taken over by the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT).
– ‘They are Serbs’ –
The political objective of his extreme-right Serbian Radical Party (SRS) remains “to unite within the same state all the territories where Serb people live,” he says, adding that Serbs have been divided “due to the will of big powers, Serbia’s traditional enemies”.
Of course, he admits, Croats and Bosnian Muslims “are currently against” that programme.
“But we should continue convincing them that they are Serbs.”
He states that “out of the Serbian nation’s body new nations have been formed artificially: two-thirds of today’s Croats are ancient Serbs of the Catholic faith, Croats today speak Serbian.”
And Bosnian Muslims are also of Serb origin, he claims. “They converted to Islam during the occupation of the Ottoman Empire.”
In his eyes, the unification of Bosnia’s Serb-run entity Republika Srpska with Serbia is just a matter of time, because “that is the wish of the Serb people who live there”.
As for Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence in 2008, he said the former Serbian province with an ethnic Albanian majority “completely belongs to us”.
“No one in power (among Serbs) can recognise Kosovo because he would pay for it with his head,” he said.
Seselj rejects the genocide label for the Srebrenica massacre, Europe’s worst atrocity since World War II when in July 1995 Bosnian Serb forces executed some 8,000 Muslim men and boys.
“There was a crime, but not genocide,” he says.
The “crime”, he insists, was not committed by Serb authorities but by one man, the “Colonel Ljubisa Beara”, a former senior officer in the Bosnian Serb army, who died in detention in 2017.
The Bosnian Serb wartime military chief Ratko Mladic, who was jailed for life at the Hague last year for genocide and other atrocities in the Balkan wars, including at Srebrenica, is “a hero” for Serbs, he says.
– ‘Sarajevo will be Serbian’ –
Seselj denies giving two speeches that prosecutors noted in his indictment.
In one he allegedly encouraged Serbs “not to spare a person” during the 1991 siege of Vukovar in Croatia. In another a year later he described Muslims as “excrement” in the Serbian town of Mali Zvornik, according to prosecutors.
“Lies,” says Seselj, who was released from ICTY detention and returned to Belgrade in 2014 to be treated for colon cancer, which he says he has beaten.
After a serious setback for his party at last month’s local elections in Belgrade, his political clout may be fading — though he says he finds solace in Napoleon.
“Recall Napoleon and his exile on the island of Elba,” Seselj muses.
“When he returned he was without an army, but the closer he got to Paris, the more his army grew. It is important to have a good general.”
Born in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, Seselj cannot visit his childhood home as he is considered a war criminal by many people there.
But he says you never know. “Sarajevo will again become a Serbian city.”