Episode 47 – Balkan Spies with Iva Vukusic and Marija Ristic

Stephanie and Janet talking to Iva (bottom right) and Marija (bottom left)

On June 30th, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) – to be more precise, in the form of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (MICT) – handed out its last first instance verdict. The trial in question is that of former head of Serbian State Security Jovica Stanisic and his former deputy Franko Simatovic, who after quite a tortuous road (this was actually a retrial, they were first indicted in 2003 and found not guilty in 2015), were found guilty of providing practical assistance “which had a substantial effect on the commission of the crimes of murder, forcible displacement and persecution” committed in the Bosnian town of Bosanski Samac. They each got 12 years, but are likely to get out very soon, since they have been in custody for some time already.

But why get excited about this – when we just saw about a month ago former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic being convicted for genocide and imprisoned for life?

To answer this question, and many others, we turned to Iva Vukusic, historian and lecturer at the University of Utrecht who already gave us precious insight about paramilitaries and genocide denial in the past, and Marija Ristić, journalist and Regional Director of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), who has been closely following this trial and efforts for war crimes accountability in Serbia. We discussed the significance of the guilty verdict for Serbia, in light of widespread denial and distrust, as well as the bigger picture of war crimes prosecution post-ICTY.

This week’s recommendations harvest is bountiful! Iva is reading Drunk on Genocide, by Edward Westermann, and has also recently taken up a classic, Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others, which she is considering for one of her classes. On Netflix, she recommends The Vietnam War, a 12 part documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novice about (you guessed it) the war in Vietnam, and The Devil Next Door, a documentary series about the Demjanjuk case. Marija also is not venturing very far from her interests: she is currently reading The Fall of Yugoslavia by Misha Glenny, and Herkunft by Bosnian-German writer Saša Stanišić, soon to be published in English under the title Where You Come From.

The true Yugophiles will have noticed the title of this episode is a refence to the 1984 movie Balkanski Spijun (The Balkan Spy) by Bozidar Nikolic and Dusan Kovacevic. The film was a comedy of errors which also made a political statement about a man in socialist Yugoslavia who becomes convinced his new neighbour is a capitalist spy.