Female activists gathered in Belgrade to pay tribute to victims of the Serbian military campaign in Kosovo in 1999 and demand that the authorities prosecute the guilty.
Carrying a banner with the words “We Are Remembering the Crimes”, members of Serbian campaign group Women in Black gathered on Wednesday in the central Republic Square in the capital, wearing black and standing in silence to mark 15 years since the war crimes Serb forces committed against Kosovo Albanians during the late 1990s war.
The female activists also carried placards with the names of places in Kosovo, such as Cuska, Trnje, Izbica, Bela Crkva, Meja, Suva Reka, Dubrava and Racak, where Yugoslav Army and police caused the mass explusion and killings of ethnic Albanian civilians.
According to verdicts handed down by the Hague Tribunal, 7,000 Albanians were killed during the Kosovo war and 800,000 more were expelled as a result of the Belgrade authorities’ military campaign.
Stasa Zajovic, the head of Women in Black, said that 15 years afterwards, Serbia had still not taken responsibility for the crimes in Kosovo.
“Serbian police, Yugoslav Army and paramilitary units committed countless crimes in Kosovo, which culminated during the NATO intervention [bombing campaign aimed at ending the war], and have never been prosecuted,” Zajovic said.
“The Brussels agreement [to normalise relations between Serbia and Kosovo] is useless if we don’t provide justice for the victims. It is our role, the role of civil society, to remember and remind the state of the terrible things that they did, and this is why we are here,” she added.
Some Belgraders who were passing by were curious to see what the protest action was about, but only a few of them knew about the scale of the crimes committed in Kosovo.
“Of course we don’t know. We didn’t know what [former leader Slobodan] Milosevic was doing, the media was playing his propaganda, we were blinded by nationalism and we still are,” Marija Petronijevic, a 45-year-old marketing expert, told BIRN.
Some of the passers-by however questioned why there was no commemoration of Serb victims of the Kosovo conflict.
“This is all fine, but we have to remember our victims too. Or ask why civil society in Pristina doesn’t do the same for Serbian victims. There is no reconciliation if all sides don’t take part,” said Bojan Dimitrijevic, a 35-year-old salesperson.
Serbian officials marked the 15th anniversary of the start of the NATO air strikes on Monday, saying they would never forget the victims. However, they only referred to the Serb victims of the NATO bombing and did not mention crimes against Kosovo Albanians in 1998 and 1999.
The Hague Tribunal has so far convicted six Serbian government, army and police officials of a systematic campaign of murder and persecution of Kosovo Albanians, sentencing them to prison terms ranging from 22 to 14 years.
Serbian courts are also staging several cases related to war crimes in Kosovo, focusing mainly on the direct perpetrators of the crimes and leaving high officials out of the courtrooms.