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June 13, 1998
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 349
Cover Story

Resigning As a Way of Staying Alive

by Milos Vasic

Judging by all accounts, a certain number of policemen (a three digit number, to be precise) from the MUP of Serbia have refused to follow in one way or another the order to go to Kosovo and to take part in the conflict with the Liberation Army of Kosovo (UCK).  The news published in Dnevni telegraf, which stated that in Belgrade alone several hundred members of MUP are concerned, has not been publicly denied yet.  And then last week, Police Colonel Dragan Bozovic, Chief of the Secretariat in Kragujevac, publicly stated that thirteen of his policemen have refused to go to Kosovo--two have requested negotiated termination of employment, while the rest have been suspended with disciplinary measures pending.  Chief Bozovic was visibly dissatisfied. He stated that police schools also prepare cadets for fighting with armed terrorist groups and clearly indicated that such fighting falls under the job description of members of MUP.  The result of disciplinary measures can be predicted with certain probability, but that does not change anything. Legal, political, and moral dilemmas still remain.

Namely, the job of the police is defined and limited by traditional obligations: protecting public peace and order, the lives and property of citizens, and the constitutional system.  The defense against aggression and protection of territorial integrity of the state is the job of the army.  At least that is how it should be.  However, things happened otherwise. Beginning with the year 1990, the line separating the functions of the army and the police began to fade in Serbia.  First professional policemen from the MUP of Serbia infiltrated Croatia and Bosnia in order to subvert local government and to organize armed revolts by the local Serbs. Then on March 9, 1991, the Yugoslav National Army was compromised by Bora Jovic’s machination when it was forced to bring out tanks into the streets of Belgrade because the police was intentionally misused to create the impression that the situation in the capital city is beyond its control.  Later, it turned out that what happened on March 9 was an attempt to orchestrate a state coup and that in this game members of the MUP of Serbia had the most active role. The police was thus exploited by one party for selfish political reasons.  In the meantime, police officials had already been engaged for sometime in forming, arming, supplying, and controlling paramilitary units that infiltrated Croatia.

INTERPENETRATING: The rules of democratic society and police integrity as a politically neutral state agency crumbled quickly during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.  At first, in the spring of 1992, Milosevic brought a certain number of Martic’s Militia of Krajina to Belgrade as a threat against the opposition and citizens.  All through that it remained unclear whether those militiamen were citizens of FRY and authorized members of MUP or foreign nationals who possessed firearms without authorization and who falsely declared themselves as officers of the state.  Luckily, this charade ended without consequences.  However, the mutual interpenetrating of police forces from FR Yugoslavia and the “Western Serb countries” continued and resulted in very undesirable consequences.  Had there not been this interpenetrating and cooperation, the tragedies in Sandzak, Strpci, Sjeverin, etc., could have been avoided along with the delivery of Bosnian refugees from Montenegro into the hands of Bosnian Serbs, the illegal mobilization of refugees in Serbia, and their transport back to Bosnia and Croatia.  All these are serious crimes which were committed under orders from the highest police officers in Serbia and Montenegro.

The more the Serb side kept losing wars in Croatia and Bosnia, the greater the number of policemen from the MUP of Serbia who were transferred to plug holes and to help out became.  At first they left discretely, under false identities, with complete operating security and promises of significant rewards.  Toward the end, in the summer of 1995, they left in bigger groups and without much concern, as if they were going to Kosovo.  In June of 1995, from only one police station in Belgrade, 13 policemen were transferred across the River Drina: they had no choice, because they were born outside of Serbia. Citizenship was the catch, a typical Milosevic scheme — you can be a policeman if you like, but if you refuse to fight on the territory of another state, then you are no longer considered a citizen and you get fired, if not worse (threats of deportation as well as threats to the fate of the remaining refugees were made).  Thus the Serbian policemen went to war, willingly or otherwise, to Bihac, to Trnovo, to Glina, to Srebrenica, and to other war zones in our former homeland, shoulder to shoulder with various paramilitary armies made up of criminals whom they used to arrest.  In those war zones and in cooperation with its brotherly police forces, the Serbian police lost all the remaining vestiges of its political innocence.

While all that happened abroad, Kosovo was an oasis of peace for the police.  Since the spring of 1981, when the famous Unified Militia Formation was organized after the final series of mass protests by Albanians, there were only two or three times when there was real work to be done in 1989 and 1990.  Apart from those exceptions, the life of the militia in Kosovo was monotonous: they patrolled the area, waiting for someone to throw a stone or a pamphlet at them; they did not speak Albanian; and their daily wages were good, while allowances for living away from home and other income was also not bad.  “Whenever I needed money I volunteered for service in Kosovo,” tells one Belgrade policeman.  “Food and board were free, while wages were such that you couldn’t spend it all even if you try.  I would come back loaded after only three months, and continued that way for years.  Last March, I barely scraped by.  There is so much shooting, the money is not nearly as good as it used to be, and it’s simply not good.  I know that some of my colleagues do not want to go there anymore, and I do not approve of that.  I do not want to make political comments, but I don’t think it is supportive.  While there was peace and money, they did not refuse to work in Kosovo, and now they want to take off their uniforms.”

UNAVOIDABLE CASUALTIES:  Policemen are unwilling to speak to civilians about the phenomenon of leaving the service because of the war in Kosovo, but, according to hearsay, there is discussion about it among colleagues, which is only normal.  Concern is visible. Questions can be heard about what is really happening in Kosovo, war or terrorism, and, depending upon the answer, who is responsible for which job.  Policemen are by the nature of their job realistic people who know things which citizens (perhaps for their own good) do not know.  On ground and in the midst of action, the gist of the matter can be understood most clearly and in the quickest way.  We should remember last week’s statement by the Kosovo policemen to a Vreme reporter, “Either we kill them all, or we get out of here.”  His colleague, a criminal inspector in Belgrade, has a developed theory about this, “If they send me to Kosovo, I’ll hand in my badge the very same moment. I’ll hand in my uniform and give notice.  Milosevic wants to sharpen things there to such a degree that another Dayton will have to happen, and there will be unavoidable casualties.  Well, I don’t want to be an unavoidable casualty.  I have a law degree and have passed the bar exam, and I’ll go off and become a lawyer.  Kosovo is simply a lost cause.”

During these eight months of guerrilla war in Kosovo, it has become clear that this regime is using the police as a specialized military formation.  Giving all the credit to the system for training policemen which Colonel Bozovic from Kragujevac spoke about, it does not appear that the Serbian police is quite in a position to do this job.  First of all, the majority of uniformed police officers have only attended courses, not secondary schools or institutes for internal affairs.  A good number among them has combat experience from previous wars, but it is a big question whether that is of any use to them in this situation.  Namely, in Kosovo they operate in their uniforms as agents of the Serbian state--it is not “the glory of war” of Krajina and Bosnia where things were done in a way we already know all about: under someone else’s flag and name.  The tactic employed in Kosovo is showing considerable similarity to the tactic of the previous wars—for instance, the method of depopulating villages as well as the treatment of civilians.  Rules of the Service are not followed in actions, there is no investigative procedure or regulation for scenes of crime, and authorizations are interpreted extremely flexibly, as the saying goes.  In one word, the police are being used as an army that is trying to hold and control enemy territory.  Someone will notice that there is a war going on there, that armed insurgents are firing at police who are trying to protect itself and behave as best it can, and of what use are formalities in such a situation.  And truly there is a war going on there, the former are shooting, while the latter are defending themselves, but the police continue to be the police, and should behave according to the laws and internal regulations of the service even when it is dealing with criminal acts of armed insurgence.  If it does not behave that way, it is no longer the police, but a civil war army in a war in which there are no rules, but only the law of the strongest.  If it is like that there, then that policemen who takes things to the extreme (“we should kill them all or get out of here”) is really correct.

HARDY PEOPLE: According to the constitution and normal logic, circumstances in Kosovo have reached a state which requires the proclamation of a direct threat of war and demands the use of the army in such a situation.  That is why the regime in Serbia and President Milutinovic are not behaving according to constitutional authorization — it is simply not clear why, unless it is because of the increasing dissatisfaction of Montenegrins, of people in Vojvodina, and other parents of recruits who are being transferred to Kosovo, which is all very reminiscent of the mobilization crisis from 1991.  However, it is clear to everyone that there is a definite political game being played in and regarding Kosovo.  It is clear to policemen that they will be misused and sacrificed for the umpteenth time in this game in order for the illusion to be created by “the wise political factor of peace and stability in the Balkans”, as the expression goes.  When it all ends, we will have a police that is traumatized, used to excessive force, bitter, frustrated, and a shortage of awareness of the rule of law and regulations.  Those who should be aware of this, should remember one classic description of the consequences of the Vietnam War on American society, “The problem with certain kids of warfare lies in that such warfare destroys all moral sense in people who are susceptible to it.  Such a war will throw out the destroyed, surviving soldiers back into the innocent civilian population which can not even imagine what such a veteran is capable of doing,” (Frank Herbert).
However, policemen are hardy people who are capable of putting up with a lot.  According to their education, vocation, way of thinking and experience, they naturally tend toward order, rather than chaos, toward the respect of law rather than lawlessness, toward peace rather than war.  Just as the purpose of firearms is for them never to be used,  an ideal society is one in which the police only has to deal with traffic regulations.  The greatest majority of policemen is aware of this, and it is normal that on a dark night in Kosovo, sweating in their bullet-proof vests and helmets, they ask themselves, “What are we doing here?”  Of course, it is understood: they are professionals who are paid to carry out orders.  However, that does not mean that they are required to suffer abuse at the hands of irresponsible and cynical politicians.  Ultimately, a policeman is a paid government official who has the right to resign and go his own way if he does not like his job any longer.  If he has a law degree and has passed the bar exam, he’ll become a lawyer,  If he has completed high school, he can become a security guard at the flea market or wherever he can get a job.

Even if the information that so far around three hundred policemen refused to go to Kosovo is correct (and it cannot be confirmed), that is still an insignificant percentage of the total makeup of MUP.  Still, this is an indicator which should not be taken lightly. Policemen are the last group expected to begin reconsidering the regime’s policies.  The regime believes that it has corrupted them and made them so dependent that after all is said and done, they will still be ready for anything.  This situation goes against nature and cannot last for long--it cannot be expected that the police will carry out a war that does not have political objectives and on which there is no national consensus.  Not even the Myth of Vidovdan will help in this, and not even the curse of Serbian Emperor Lazar, “cursed be if you come not to fight in the battle of Kosovo.”

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