War Crimes: Eagles With Clipped Wings
22 November 1993
VREME: The ``White Eagles'' is the organization which Borislav Pekic (the late Serbian writer, member of the opposition) once described as police fabrication aimed at eradicating the Serbian democratic youth right after World War Two. The ``White Eagles'' are among Serbs the second time around. How come?
BOKAN: The ``White Eagles'' actually existed both before and during World War Two. They were close to Dimitrije Ljotic's ``Zbor'' (profascist military movement active during World War II) and represented the only orthodox anticommunist youth organization at the time. Many youths were killed because of allegedly having been members of the ``White Eagles,'' and Pekic was right about that. He was wrong to say that they were invented by police.
I returned from America at the end of 1990 and immediately took up ideological and political work: I was elected Secretary General and President of the youth branch of the Serbian National Revival Party (SNO). I wanted the young to be involved in the national issue, so I thought of renewing the ``Eagles.'' The name attracted the kids who were putting up posters all over the city so we drew a considerable membership. There were quite a few of them who had broken the law previously, but I tried to turn them into decent people and protect them from political manipulation. Many of them were pacifists. I was an ideologist, a kind of a political commissar. The war broke out in the middle of our engagement. I simply had to act. Anything else would have been only phrases. There was a number of boys whose families were killed by Ustashi during the last war. I am one of them. They arrived and we sent them.
* To Borovo Selo?
Initially to Borovo Selo (the village closest to Vukovared.) and later to other places as well. This was organized through the Association of Serbs from Croatia, which used to be a very powerful organization. They'd inform us how many people they needed and where. We'd send them to the front where territorial defense (TO) awaited them and subsequently provided them with arms. We had an agreement (with the Association and other volunteer organizations) that no one would wear special insignia and that all units would be placed under territorial defense control. Vuk Draskovic's guard was the only one to refuse. They demanded that a command center be in Belgrade, which was not accepted. In any case, we did not have direct control over our men from the moment they were taken over by territorial defense.
* But, you presented yourself as the commander of the ``White Eagles.'' You took pictures in uniform, with a revolver stuck in your belt...
Well, I couldn't have possibly presented myself as a secretary. How would it sound if I said, I'm the secretary of the ``White Eagles.'' I led my men in the cleansing campaign of Papuk, Western Slavonia, but I never commanded the action. I could only act as a middle man if there was a problem. I could ask them to send somebody with better military training or give them more equipment. Everything else was up to territorial defense.
Two options gathered around territorial defense: communist and orthodox. The Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) started recruiting young nationalists at the time. Their units often got annihilated so we kept our boys away from both military and police. Especially from police, as they took us to be their competition from the very beginning. They believed they were the only ones who had a right to control volunteers. The only thing that mattered to me is that I never took part either in transport or distribution of arms.
* Were there any attempts by the Serbian Ministry of the Interior to put you and your ``boys'' under their control?
No, they never offered, because they knew that I would never agree to it. However, we were summoned for informative talks and searched... It was always made to look accidental, they wanted to check my gun permit, for example, or something similar, and everything would turn into an ``unofficial'' interrogation of a type ``Do you know such and such person?'' and ``What did you do there and there?'' Each of my boys had to go through the same thing upon his return from the front. The message was that it must never occur to us to do what Paraga (Dobrosav, leader of the Croatian Party of Rights, also active with paramilitary units) had done in Croatia at the beginning of the war. In other words, we were not allowed to seize an area which would be kept exclusively under our control. They made offers to our people to be transferred to other units which were more to their liking, such as those of Captain Dragan or ``red berets.''
* Many things regarding ``red berets'' were dubious. Who are they?
``Red berets'' are the men of Frank SimatovicFrenki (top state security member), under command of Mihalj Kertes (exdeputy Interior Minister and currently Serbian Minister without portfolio, was in charge of arming the Serbs outside Serbia. For more details refer to the story ``The Chetniks' Watergate'' by Milos Vasic, Digest nb.112ed.). You can only imagine how an eighteenor nineteenyearold feels when he's promised a new jeep, a radiostation... simply speaking, everything they wouldn't give to us. Some crossed over, but returned to us, since we adhered to different principles, primarily to those of chivalry and solidarity. Moreover, we were never allowed to appear on state television, unlike Captain Dragan or Arkan, who had and still have access to lots of money. However, more serious problems began by the end of 1991. That's when Serb units and Serbian people were forced to leave the area; medical corps and senior officials were the first to leave. Then JNA burnt Serb villages and forced the local population to flee. In the end we left as well. It made no sense for us to stay and to pretend to be I don't know what. Nothing, but the existence of some scenario could account for this. I've never been afraid of war, but I have always been afraid of the scenario. If there's a scenario, there's no choiceone can only choose between being a pawn or a bishop, but it's always somebody else who's playing the game.
* You were arrested for the first time not too long after that...
You are right. It was around Easter last year. I was on my way home and they brought 25 policemen with automatic weapons and snipers. That's ridiculouswhy would they need snipers for one simple arrest? They kept me in jail for seven days and accused me of possession of one handgrenade and four bullets they found in my flat.
* What happened with the charge?
I received the verdict a little over a week ago after the trial which lasted one year and a half. I received a suspended sentence of six months' imprisonment. I was not allowed to leave the city all that time, but I did not obey which means that they could arrest me because of that any time. But, there have never ceased with searches and maltreatment...
* You broke off completely with Mirko Jovic and his Serbian National Revival Party after you got out of prison...
Mirko Jovic didn't want to do anything to help me while I was in prison. He only stated that I was not a member of his party. After that I tried to return to ideological war, but that's when the war in Bosnia broke out. And then I started my private war. I went to the front from personal motives. Meanwhile, many of my former war comrades from Croatia started to act as the ``White Eagles'' on their own initiative. That became a sort of password for everybody who wanted to renew the Chetnik movement and nationalism. The story spread and I went there to help them organize. I first left for Rajlovac, BH, where I tried to take over command of the local military barracks. During our attack on Misoca, we got into an enemy encirclement and the army refused to get me out. I survived by pure miracle. I realized I had to move more. I met Sonja Karadzic, the daughter of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, and that's how a friendship which still lasts began. I tried together with Malkolm Muharem, the former manager of the Sarajevo rock band ``Zabranjeno pusenje,'' and Velibor Ostojic, the then Information Minister of the Bosnian Serb Republic, to set up information and propaganda centers which would be engaged in intelligence work and spread information about Serbs. I got an OK to organize these units but I gave up after several very strange assassination attempts against me. I grew distrustful towards everybody wearing Serb insignia.
* What did these attempts look like?
The last one was in Ilidza, Serbcontrolled Sarajevo suburb, last autumn. They tried to form a kind of a ``Chetnik court'' which was supposed to sentence me to death and execute me. I was accused of cruelty.
* Towards whom?
Towards Serb fighters who committed war crimes.
* Were you really cruel?
Yes, I was. I was really cruel to some people. Most cruel. No one in my vicinity ever raped anybody, and if he did, he had to pay for it dearly. However, it turned out that the person trying me for cruelty was a friend of mine, so that everything ended well. After that and especially after my second arrest, on the eve of the St. Vitus's Day rally, it became clear to me that I could no longer be active. I had become a kind of a dinosaur.
* Do you expect to be arrested once again, this time for some other kind of cruelty?
The other day I gave a long interview to BBC television. They asked me whether I was ready for a hearing by an international commission for war crimes. I replied that I would first like to see the documents they are charging me with. But, I would definitely be a poor example for such a trial. I don't belong to the same bag with the people on the list of Helsinki Watch.
They most probably don't see you as being equal with them either. That's why many believe that the regime could stage a process against you here, rather than deliver you to the international tribunal. That way they'd prove it to the world that they also can be ``cruel.''
That is a real threat as far as I'm concerned. But, it would most probably lack a desired effect. Even the Croatian press wrote about me with a certain dose of respect. They also predict that I will be sacrificed, and even they draw a distinction between me and the others on the list. I believe that such a process would do me more good that harm, compared to Seselj.