Israeli immigrant arrested in Bosnian massacre


An Israeli immigrant from the former Yugoslavia has been arrested for alleged involvement in Bosnian genocide.

Aleksander Cvetkovic, 42, who moved to Israel and obtained citizenship in 2006 with his Jewish wife and their children, is accused of involvement in the 1995 Srebrenicia massacre in which Bosnian Serb forces shot and killed 8,000 Muslim men and boys.

Following Cvetkovic’s arrest Tuesday, Israel’s State Prosecutor’s Office launched extradition proceedings to send him to Bosnia to face charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He will remain in prison until the Jerusalem District Court issues a ruling on the extradition request.

The government of Bosnia-Herzegovina requested his extradition last August.

Bosnia genocide unrolls in scroll of shame


Radovan Karadzic has been arrested. He faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity before the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague. It’s an occasion to recall the genocide in Bosnia and the shame of those who did not prevent it.

When Yugoslavia broke up into its constituent nations in the early 1990s, Yugoslav Communist Party leader Slobodan Milosevic reinvented himself as a Serbian nationalist. He called on all the Serbs in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia to form a single state. In Karadzic, he found a willing henchman.

Karadzic was the leader of the Bosnian Serbs. Until the war, Bosnia was an ethnically mixed state of Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims. Karadzic’s mission was to create an ethnically pure Serbian space in eastern Bosnia that could be assimilated into a “greater Serbia.” In the war that followed, the euphemism “ethnic cleansing” entered the unholy vocabulary of genocide.

The war raged from 1992 to 1995. It was an ethnic war; a religious war; a war against people, property and culture; a war of irredentism; a war of savagery and barbarism; a war of shame.

First in the scroll of shame are the Serbs themselves. While not alone in perpetrating war crimes in Bosnia, they excelled. They let themselves be swept up in the spirit of fascism.

In Bosnia, they murdered and destroyed like beasts. In Serbia, they cheered. The voices in opposition were too quiet, too few.

Even today, too many Serbs regard Karadzic, Milosevic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic, as heroes instead of war criminals. Many greeted the capture of Karadzic with dismay. He might be free still, were his dispatch to The Hague not a condition for Serbia’s accession to the European Union.

Shame on the United Nations. When the war began, it imposed an arms embargo on all sides to the Bosnian war. The Bosnian Serbs continued to receive arms from the Yugoslav army. The Bosnian Muslims had nothing. Thus, the United Nations did not merely equate the aggressors with the victims it favored the aggressors in the guise of evenhandedness.

The Bosnian genocide included the murder of some 7,000-8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica by Serb forces. Despite the fact that Srebrenica was a U.N.-designated “safe area,” Dutch peacekeepers stood aside and did nothing to protect the Bosnian Muslims from the Serbs.

Shame on America. President George H.W. Bush did nothing to intervene. During the 1992 campaign, candidate Bill Clinton criticized Bush for his inaction. Then Clinton was elected and did nothing. A stream of excuses poured out of Washington, while the agony of the Bosnian Muslims went on.

When Clinton was finally roused to action, two weeks of bombing brought Serb aggression to an end. This showed how heart-rendingly easy it would have been for earlier intervention to save scores of thousands of lives.

Shame on NATO. For over a decade, while it patrolled Bosnia after the war, it failed to arrest the indicted Karadzic. At various times, his location was known, but the political will to seize him was missing. It is even said that the NATO powers quietly agreed to let him be, fearful of the repercussions.

Shame on the Jews? It is possible that the Jews have the least reason to be ashamed. When there were rallies and protests to support the Bosnian Muslims, Jews were in the forefront. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was a leader in the Senate effort to end the U.S. arms embargo against Bosnia.

At the 1993 dedication of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel turned to President Clinton and said, “Mr. President, I cannot not tell you something. I have been in the former Yugoslavia last fall. I cannot sleep since for what I have seen. As a Jew, I am saying that we must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country. People fight each other, and children die. Why? Something, anything must be done.”

Putting war criminals on trial doesn’t bring anyone back to life, doesn’t return a single refugee to his home. Evil must be fought before the thousands or the millions die, not merely deplored or put on trial afterward. If we don’t really believe this, we should stop saying, “Never again.”

Paul Kujawsky is a member of the board of directors of Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles. He can be reached at kujawsky@pacbell.net.

Milosevic in The Hague


"A triumph for the civilized world." So characterized The New York Times about the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic that started this past week in The Hague.

Certainly there is cause in the international legal community for such triumphalist sentiment. When the United Nations Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in 1993, few could have possibly foreseen that Milosevic would ever stand trial.

As Richard Dicker, a lawyer for Human Rights Watch, put it: "When I was here in 1996, it was derided as the international tribunal for small fry. Tomorrow the biggest fish of them all goes on trial."

Yet in trying the "biggest fish," the tribunal also faces several risks. A first set of concerns involves the nature of the charges and the character of the defendant.

The political thinker Otto Kirchheimer argued that all trials, at least those that are fairly conducted, must be characterized by an "irreducible risk" — the chance that the prosecution will fail to shoulder its burden of proving guilt, and that the accused will consequently be acquitted. In the case of Milosevic’s trial, this risk is not entirely negligible.

Proof that might be persuasive to a historian or neutral observer might run afoul of the court’s rules of evidence. However else one might characterize Milosevic, none gainsay his cunning, and to create a legally compelling case against him will require both a solid prosecutorial strategy and acts of great courage on the part of witnesses called to testify against their former president.

But even if Milosevic should be convicted, the trial could founder in other respects. Spectacular trials of international crimes — such as the Nuremberg, Eichmann and, now, Milosevic trials — are inevitably asked to do more than simply render justice to the accused in a conventional legal sense.

These trials are asked to clarify the historical record and to demonstrate to the world community the sober and grand neutrality of the law. In his self-pitying, yet intelligently prepared, harangues before the tribunal, Milosevic threatens these aims.

The trial promises to be long — lasting for two years, by most estimates — and the court will have to work hard to make sure that Milosevic’s attacks on its jurisdiction and self-serving presentation of history do not end up hijacking the didactic aims of the trial.

A second set of concerns implicates the larger trend of judging international politics by the standards of criminal law. Until Nuremberg, the notion that a statesman could be treated as a criminal in international law was unthinkable.

The act of state doctrine and the principle of sovereign immunity — basic norms of international diplomacy and law — barred foreign courts from subjecting independent states and their representatives to criminal proceedings. This arrangement long left international criminal law something of an oxymoron. A nation found in violation of an international convention could be punished — but only collectively through the kind of reparations disastrously imposed upon Germany following its defeat in World War I.

Nuremberg changed much of this. The charter of the ground-breaking trial of Hermann Göring and other leading Nazi functionaries adopted the radical idea that statesmen could be held personally responsible for the criminal acts of their regime, even acts committed against their own domestic population.

For years, however, Nuremberg’s legacy remained more conceptual than practical. Decades of Cold War struggle cynically cast international law as a partisan tool of geopolitics, to be championed when advantageous and ignored when not. Only with the explosion of regional violence unleashed by the demise of the Cold War’s strategic equipoise has the world community rededicated itself to the enforcement of international criminal law.

The trial of Milosevic stands as the greatest achievement of this redoubled commitment. Unfortunately, some international legal activists have aggressively sought to push the Milosevic precedent in directions that are far from salutary.

In Belgium, a nation that has adopted a remarkably liberal approach to matters of jurisdiction, legal groups have prepared cases against everyone from Ariel Sharon to Yasser Arafat and Fidel Castro. And no less a writer than Christopher Hitchens has passionately argued in favor of trying Henry Kissinger as a war criminal.

These agitations, however well-meaning, are to be regretted. For better or worse, the law is not generally concerned with political complexity; it remains oblivious to the nuances of diplomacy and realpolitik and cares only that violators of its norms receive punishment.

Long after emerging as a suspect in international crimes, Milosevic apparently received personal calls from President Bill Clinton, the tenor of which was intimate, and, on the Serb’s part, avuncular. To the legal crusader, this no doubt stands as an odious example of Clinton’s spineless kowtowing to an international thug; to others, however, it signals a politically sensitive gesture to prod a bellicose foreign leader to respect a precarious peace (in this case, the Dayton Accords).

In this regard, of equal importance to the future of international law as the opening of the Milosevic trial was the recent decision (Feb. 14) handed down by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also housed in The Hague, though institutionally autonomous from the Milosevic tribunal. In a case involving an arrest warrant issued by a Belgium magistrate for Aboulay Yerodia Ndombasi, the Congolese foreign minister at the time of the warrant’s issuance, the ICJ concluded that serving statesmen were shielded from criminal prosecution in foreign national courts.

On first blush, this decision seems to contradict the spirit of the Milosevic trial: it appears to defend the very prerogatives of statesmen that have long permitted them to flaunt international law with impunity. But in fact, the decision simply places a necessary corrective on the agitations of overzealous international lawyers, a corrective that points international law in a direction both practical and wise.

The decision, which effectively ends any effort to put Sharon on trial in Belgium, guarantees that international law is not turned into the mouthpiece of global political grievance. By limiting the opportunities to turn the law into an all-purpose tool of political harassment, the ICJ has properly increased the likelihood that international trials will be reserved for the perpetrators of only the most extreme abuses and atrocities. In so doing, it has preserved and enhanced the ultimate efficacy of international justice.

The trial of Milosevic goes forward, but not that of Sharon. And so it should be. To treat Sharon as a Milosevic would not demonstrate that such law binds the strong as well as the weak, the triumphant as well as the conquered. It would simply demonstrate that a fervid breed of legal crusaders had placed diplomacy under the majestic tyranny of the law.

Jews Mend Kosovo’s Spirit


Having endured 10 years of oppression and the largest expulsion in Europe since the Holocaust, it is not uncommon to hear the Albanians of Kosovo draw parallels between themselves and Jews.

So it was little surprise to Greta Kacinari that Jews would be among those lending a hand in Kosovo, the war-torn southern province of Yugoslavia.

Despite the near absence of Jews in Kosovo, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has rebuilt many of its schools.

“I know a lot of Jews, and I know they have helped each other in times of need,” said Kacinari, principal of Elena Gjika Primary School. “But the really amazing thing to me is there’s also something in their blood for them to help people who are in a similar situation as Jews were in during their history.”

Kacinari’s is one of 14 primary schools in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. All of them here and in the countryside have suffered years of neglect and vandalism, and later, war. Meanwhile, as the Balkans have convulsed with one crisis after another this decade, Jewish groups have not only assisted the small Jewish communities in the region, but they have emerged as key supporters of the overall relief effort.

Leading the way is the JDC. It pitched in $1.25 million for the Albanian refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania earlier this year. Then, when it expressed an interest in Kosovo’s primary schools late this summer, UNICEF asked it to help rebuild the infrastructure of all 14 in Pristina. The JDC also selected a school in the southern city of Prizren, home to a tiny Jewish community of 40.

Since its arrival in Kosovo in August, a small, dedicated team of Israelis has spent $1.1 million of JDC funds to replace broken glass, doors and toilets, among other projects.

“When you say it 10 times — ‘We’re here to help the people because we care’ — it loses its strength,” says Israeli Nir Baron, JDC’s administrator in Kosovo. “But that is why I’m here, and to make sure everything gets to the right people.”

There are certainly plenty of needy recipients. Since 1989, Kosovo and its 90-percent ethnic Albanian population lived within an apartheid-like system ruled by the Serbian minority. Albanians were kicked out of universities, high schools and most primary schools. In response, the Albanian community created a parallel school system, operated mostly out of private homes.

In schools like Kacinari’s, the Albanians were allowed to remain. But anywhere from 750 to 900 schoolchildren were forced into half a wing. As there were only nine classrooms, teachers and students came to school in three shifts, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Meanwhile, the 350 Serb students had access to 25 rooms, the gymnasium and luxury items such as microscopes.

When the Serb teachers and students left school at 2 p.m., the heat was shut off. The Albanians continued into the night in the cold, Kacinari says.

“I don’t wish for anyone in the world to live through the conditions we lived through for 10 years,” says Kacinari in fluent English.

Repression against the province’s 1.8 million Albanians grew progressively worse, leading to NATO’s intervention this spring. Three months of U.S.-led airstrikes finally forced the Serbs to end the repression, but forced relocation — known by the euphemism “ethnic cleansing” — resulted in an estimated 1 million ethnic Albanian refugees, 5,000 to 10,000 killed and tens of thousands of homes, businesses and schools burned.

As Serb forces withdrew, much of the Serb community went with them. In their wake, they trashed the schools.

So the JDC’s top priority was glass, to keep out the cold. Some 20,000 feet worth was bought for the 14 schools in Pristina alone. Workers installed it in one week. Next came replacement of doors and locks, many of which were said to have been kicked in and intentionally destroyed by Serbs.

As Baron tells it, the Kosovars are growing wary of well-meaning relief workers who promise but don’t deliver.

“That’s why we only promise what we can deliver,” he says. Baron notes the challenge for humanitarian groups is to judge where the greatest needs are. By virtue of having larger populations, the cities tend to draw most of the attention.

Some needs, such as physical reconstruction, are obvious. Other ideas came to the JDC only after it further familiarized itself with the communities. The organization recently gave away 15,000 pairs of shoes in Kosovo — mostly to orphaned children — and 3,500 backpacks for students.

The JDC and ORT have also donated 45 computers: 15 in Pristina, 15 in Prizren, and 15 in Skopje, Macedonia. The JDC has also hit on an idea for back-to-work vocational training for Albanians, to train them how to make tables and chairs for the schools. Then there’s the shortage of dental technicians: The JDC may bring some in, says Baron.

Finally, the JDC has allocated some discretionary funds for school officials to determine their own needs. Kacinari, for example, used the cash to buy items such as chalk, pens, notebooks, a screwdriver and light bulbs.

“We Jews know about occupation and foreign authority,” says the 32-year-old. “If I’d been liberated, even if someone wanted to help me I’d still want to defend my pride. Like, ‘I’ll tell you my needs and you can help me if you want.’ Just because someone gives you money doesn’t mean that they should own your soul.”

The JDC did in fact make one condition for its aid: that Albanian school officials not discriminate against Serb and other minority children. Kacinari boasts that in her school, there are 200-plus ethnic Turkish children, learning in their mother tongue.

Says Baron, “We told them we will not collaborate. If a Serb or Gypsy child wants to come to school, to us they are all just children.”

But he added, “These people are hurt and the feeling of revenge in the streets is very strong. I don’t know if you can blame them. To put hate aside is very difficult, as anyone from Israel knows.”

But Baron himself has found there is something contagious about bringing relief in a crisis.

“This work here has immediate rewards,” he said. “If you give a kid shoes or a school bag, it’s good for the soul.”


Kosovo’s Jews Battle for Survival

“Ah, the ironies of life,” says Votim Demiri. His mother escaped from the train that carried her family to death at Bergen-Belsen. Later, she became renowned for fighting with the Yugoslav partisans against the Nazis.

Fast forward to this spring.

A Serb offensive in Kosovo forced Demiri, the president of Prizren’s Jews, and close to 1 million Albanian refugees to flee their homes. Demiri, his wife and three children returned and hid until three months of NATO airstrikes persuaded Serb forces to withdraw.

So, today in Prizren, whose troops are keeping the peace? The Germans.

“I wonder what my mother would say if she were here to see it,” says Demiri, 52. Her mother died in 1994.

The Prizren Jews are battling for survival. Kosovo, legally still a part of Yugoslavia, is wracked with violent crime, and saddled with 70 percent unemployment.

One Jewish family of four has already emigrated to Israel, aided by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and a second family is seriously considering it, Demiri says.

Prizren, a city of roughly 150,000, is a historic trade center in the Balkans. Jews are said to have lived here for centuries. There is no synagogue in town, though a Star of David adorns the minaret of one of the town’s old stone mosques. “I have no idea where it comes from,” concedes Demiri.

However, deep roots may not be enough to keep the Prizren Jews here. They also need jobs.

Today, the community is basically comprised of two large, extended families. Mixed marriages are common: Demiri’s father, for example, is Albanian, and his wife is “something between Albanian and Turkish.”

Yet Demiri’s Jewish identity is sufficiently strong enough that his 22-year-old son would like to visit Israel to learn Hebrew. And concern for the welfare of others during the crisis has bound the community even more tightly tog
ether.

Most Jews and their Albanian neighbors today eke out a living, accepting food staples like flour and cooking oil from humanitarian groups.

Actually, admits Demiri, his family is getting along fine: He’s been reinstated as the director of a local textile factory, a job he lost when Milosevic and his lieutenants purged all “Albanians” from leadership positions in 1989 and 90. What his people need, Demiri says, are not handouts, but machines to start up small businesses.

“We don’t want to live from humanitarian aid forever; people in Kosovo know how to work hard to make a living,” he says. “But I want to make it clear: We’ll need plenty of time.” –Michael J. Jordan, JTA

Passover Refugees


It was March 31, the first night of Passover, and his native Yugoslavia was again convulsed by war.

So it was fitting, perhaps, that young Ismael chose melodies from the repertoire of the old Sephardic rabbis of Bosnia and Kosovo while leading his first seder.

In Bosnia, during the Yugoslavian civil war earlier this decade, and now in Kosovo, the policy of ethnic cleansing had prompted the mass exodus of entire local populations. Yet any parallels with the Exodus recorded in the Haggadah were lost on Ismael’s audience — Yugoslav Jews who are now into their second week as refugees in Budapest.

They were preoccupied with thoughts of family and friends back home, where NATO’s intensifying air assault is aimed at ending Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s repression of 2 million Albanians in the southern province of Kosovo.

All of which made for a pretty gloomy seder. Despite the glittery Christmas decorations hung by their well-meaning Hungarian hosts, the 150 Yugoslav Jews were crammed shoulder to shoulder in a dimly lit hall and eating with plastic cutlery and off paper plates. Fortunately, someone had the foresight to bring three Serbian-language Haggadahs with them from Yugoslavia.

Since he is studying to be a cantor, Ismael was pressed into service.

“It’s the first one I’ve led, but I’m not really in the mood for it,” said the amiable 22-year-old, who asked to be identified by his Hebrew name rather than his Serbian one. “We’re all tired, and everyone’s nervous.”

Indeed, the seder underscored the pain of people separated from their families. Olga, her parents and two older sisters traditionally celebrate Passover with the local Jewish community in Yugoslavia. But when NATO began shelling on March 24, her father didn’t take any chances. He sent away his wife and youngest daughter.

The Nazis had killed his father in 1941, when they invaded Serbia.

“After his experience with World War II, this frightens him,” said Olga, a 23-year-old sculptor. “People are confused and panicked, and the sirens are on most of the time. So tonight, he’s not celebrating Passover. He’s in a bomb shelter.”

As the war heats up, it’s unclear how many more Jews will head north to Hungary. Some 250 to 300 of Yugoslavia’s 3,000 Jews are now waiting out the conflict in quiet Budapest. Most are teen-agers and twentysomethings. But the Yugoslav government has now ordered all men 16 to 60 years old to stay put — in case they are needed for combat if NATO sends in ground troops. Women and children are freer to go.

Nothing epitomizes the disruption of the lives of Yugoslav Jews more than the story of Branka and Stephane. Branka, a single mother from Yugoslavia, was slated to marry Stephane, a Frenchman, on April 8 in her hometown of Novi Sad, Yugoslavia. When missiles began raining down, Stephane insisted that Branka take her 5-year-old, Brian, by train to Budapest; he flew from Paris to meet her.

This week, however, they failed to get the requisite permission from Hungarian and Yugoslav authorities to marry in Budapest. The only bit of luck was that they didn’t plan a lavish wedding. Few people even knew about it.

“I was so superstitious, I only told a few friends,” said Branka, a university Hebrew teacher. “And I guess I was right.”

Like the others here in Budapest, they are in limbo. But at least the Yugoslav Jews are welcomed with open arms, unlike the Kosovo Albanians, who are pouring into the neighboring countries of Macedonia and Albania each day with nowhere to go.

“What we are doing is nothing more than Jewish solidarity,” said Gusztav Zoltai, executive director of the Hungarian Federation of Jewish Communities.

The Yugoslav Jews are indeed grateful, but they are anxious to get home. Some are concerned for the security of cars and apartments they left behind. Most of them, though, are anxious to resume their lives.

“We have so many problems with our lives, with our futures,” said Olga. “What the Hungarians have done for us is great, but we want to go home. This is not a solution.”

Others are actually looking for a fresh start. Even before the NATO campaign, Yugoslavia’s economy was already in ruins, and Milosevic had cracked down on most forms of freedom. One Jew already found her way to England, another to Italy. Seven have made aliyah to Israel, including a family from Kosovo.

Ismael, also a theater student and talented pianist, is looking toward Israel as well. He may accept a one-year offer to continue his cantorial studies there.

“Even if the bombing is over in a few days,” he said, “Yugoslavia was a rough place before. Now it’ll be even rougher.”


Kindness for Kosovo

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles made a special $10,000 donation to the Kosovo Refugee Relief Fund of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. “As the largest representative body of the Los Angeles Jewish community, the Jewish Federation wishes to show its deep concern for the men, women and children who are suffering as a result of this conflict,” said Federation Executive Vice President John Fishel.

Donations can be made to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee at:

Kosovo Mailbox, 711 Third Ave., 10th Floor, New York, N.Y., 100017;

or to UJA Federations of North America,

111 Eighth Ave., Suite 11E,

New York, N.Y., 10011.