TRANSITIONS ONLINE: Slovenia: The Unwelcome General: Uniform on Trial
20 July 1996
On 11. July, at half past eight in the evening, a crowd of people gathered on platform 27 of Belgrade's main coach station. Two TV cameras, one belonging to Slovenia's independent POP TV channel, the other to the local BK TV focused on a bony man stepping out of a coach due to continue for Ljubljana. Reporters from "Mladina" shouted out their questions. The man's family was also on the platform together with a few curious passers by who soon realised that the man was "retired general Milan Aksentijevic, whom the Slovenians will greet with an arrest warrant." That is why in the past couple of days Milan Aksentijevic became the common denominator for making headlines in the two former Yugoslav states. Only three days earlier, his family managed to get him of the coach at a road-toll ramp near Novi Sad. After obtaining a Slovenian visa at the Slovenian Consulate in Budapest, Mr. Aksentijevic informed his family (his wife, sun and daughter live in Slovenia) that finally, after a whole year, he is coming to see them. At first the possibility of an arrest on arrival was a family joke ("At least you will be close, we will come and visit you every day"), but as soon as a friend working for the police hinted that the arrest is inevitable, panic struck. Last year, Aksentijevic's stay in Slovenia was cut short after the state TV and some newspapers practiced the so called "media lynch" (years ago Aksentijevic was a deputy in the Slovenian Parliament representing the JNA and strongly opposed Slovenian independence). He left in order to spare his family considerable inconvenience.
In the meantime the family had its share of trouble: it was evicted from its flat and moved to their unfinished country home in Golnik, several miles outside Ljubljana... A year later Aksentijevic wished to see his grandchildren. He did not realise that the visa he had been granted was a trap by Slovenian authorities. Three days after abandoning his journey near Novi Sad he decided to set out once again. "I want to clear this, once and for all. I have been separated from my family for five years, Slovenian state took away my citizenship, I haven't seen my eldest granddaughter for four years. Is that too severe a punishment? I have done nothing, I was just a member of the Yugoslav Armed forces. My conscience is clear" Aksentijevic told the reporters before mounting the coach.
To cut a long story short- Slovenian police did wait for the retired general at the border crossing at Hodos. Although media in Serbia reported in word and picture that the general was on his way to Ljubljana, Slovenian police pretended to be surprised (as if they were not expecting it, they thought he would not dare) and took him away for a four hour interview. Afterwards they returned him to his son (waiting at Hodos) who took him home.
In essence this case is similar to that of general Konrad Kolsek- Aksentijevic has been accused of "participation in a hostile army" (according to section 370 of Slovenian Penile code, referring to Slovenian nationals, passed in 1995). Aksentijevic is now pending further interrogation, this time by the examining magistrate, since police decided to press charges.
What do people say? There is a good and a bad side to the whole affair. Good thing is that general Aksentijevic, the days of uncertainty will soon be over, which is not the case with many other illegally exiled officers of the JNA, most notably Sefket Suljevic. Instead of long exile and prevention of contact with the family Slovenian interior ministry finally decided to clarify the whole thing before the next election. It passed the buck over to the judiciary and in doing that shut the mouth of right wingers and their media crusaders who used every similar case for personal gains and hostility towards all that is coming from FR Yugoslavia. Now everyone is happy- the ministry has done its duty, bloodthirsty public opinion has been appeased, and Aksentijevic is back at home. The dark side of the story is that, like Kolsek, Aksentijevic faces a long and tiring court battle. A ray of hope comes from the fact that Slovenian courts are sufficiently independent to judge according to the word of law and not public opinion. That is why, to everyone's horror, the court in Celje released Kolsek after concluding, somewhat heretically that "in the time of conflict between the JNA and the Slovenian territorial army, as well as later, the JNA was neither an illegal nor a hostile army". The controversy revolves around the exact date of the breakup of SFRJ. If that date is 26. June as right wing politicians argue, than Aksentijevic did wear the uniform of the enemy. If Yugoslavia broke up when the JNA withdrew (18. October, 1991) as international lawyers argue, than formally JNA was never a hostile army.
That is why this case is not only important for the peace of mind and moral satisfaction of Aksentijevic and his family, but also because it might indicate what reasoning might prevail in future possibly less attractive cases.
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