Our Friends, the Peacekeepers

Merry Christmas, EUFOR-Style

In the Serbian Orthodox Church, which observes the Julian calendar, Christmas falls on Jan. 7. In occupied Kosovo, the Serb community of Mitrovica marked the holiday with a service in the ruins of a church sacked and destroyed by Albanians while under KFOR "protection." In Pristina, the remaining two dozen Serbs who survived the March 2004 pogrom were forced to endure a saccharine photo-op visit by "Prime Minister of Kosova" Bairam Kosumi, member of the same KLA responsible for their ordeal.

Two days before, in semi-occupied Bosnia, soldiers of the EU military mission raided the family home of Dragomir Abazovic, killing his wife and critically injuring his 11-year-old son.

Death in the Morning

As with most news coming out of the Balkans, it is impossible to tell what exactly took place in a village near Rogatica, eastern Bosnia, on Thursday morning. There is no doubt that Dragomir Abazovic was charged with war crimes in 2001, though not by the Hague Inquisition (ICTY) but by a Bosnian Muslim prosecutor. It is also clear that a detachment of Italian EUFOR troops raided Abazovic’s home, and that all three members of the Abazovic family were injured (with Rada Abazovic, 47, dying from her wounds the next day). What actually happened beyond that – and more to the point, why? – remains shrouded in mystery.

According to the protests by Bosnian Serb and Serbian authorities, the raid was an improper and excessive use of force by EUFOR, with Abazovic’s son and wife the innocent victims shot by trigger-happy Italians. EUFOR, on the other hand, claims its soldiers acted in self-defense (!), as the Abazovics "fired first and fired repeatedly."

Both Rada (called simply "the woman") and the 11-year-old Dragoljub ("the boy") allegedly fired several clips from automatic weapons (AK-47s) at EUFOR troops, who miraculously suffered no injuries, and dispatched them both with single shots:

"She was immobilized [sic] by a EUFOR soldier with one shot. The boy who had also been firing at EUFOR was also shot and immobilized [sic]."

Apparently, "immobilize" is the newest Empire-speak for "kill," though technically getting shot in the head does tend to, in fact, immobilize someone. In the case of Rada Abazovic, rather permanently – she succumbed to her injuries the same day.

"Courage and Courage"

EUFOR released their statement only after the protests from Banja Luka and Belgrade, outraged – outraged! – that someone dared imply their troops were anything but angelic:

"At all times, EUFOR soldiers acted with courage, restraint and in-self defense [sic] and with courage in the face of great personal danger."

Apparently, mentioning courage just once was not deemed to be enough.

The Imperial press gobbled up the statement without question. "War Crimes Wife Stood by Her Man in Bosnian Shootout," Reuters headlined their story, which essentially accepted EUFOR’s statement without question. Nicholas Wood of the New York Times reported it as factual truth. The tone was quickly picked up by other media.

Perhaps the Abazovics really were armed. Many people in Bosnia still keep weapons, mistrustful of the imposed peace and of their neighbors of different ethnicity. But EUFOR’s official story smells like week-old roadkill; "the woman" and "the boy" could have been "immobilized" by single shots only if they had poor cover; but if that was the case, how could they have possibly had time to fire several clips of AK-47 ammunition at the assailants, and not hit anything in the process, either?

For the EUFOR story to be true, the Abazovics had to have been both stupid and bad shots, in which case taking them down took little or no "courage."

Cracks in the "Truth"

Ironically, it took a report by the NATO-funded ISN to note that Abazovic was not wanted by the ICTY, but by a local court in the Muslim-Croat Federation, and that EUFOR did not notify local authorities until after the shootout. This directly contradicted EUFOR’s claim that they had contacted local police just before coming under fire.

Other questions remain open. Why were EU stormtroopers used in the first place? So far, occupation troops were engaged only in seizing individuals pursued by the Hague Inquisition. Wasn’t Abazovic a matter for local police?

Many reports note that Abazovic’s indictment dated back to 2001, insinuating that the local police refused to arrest him. It is quite possible that RS authorities could have ignored a warrant issued by their Federal counterparts (especially on such a politically-charged issue as "war crimes"), but this would be a jurisdiction dispute, to be resolved through the newly centralized police structures – not something requiring a morning raid by EU troops.

Last, but not least, why now? Why on the morning before the Orthodox Christmas Eve?

Pattern of Brutality

The mainstream media asked none of these questions. To them, the Abazovics were clearly guilty – EUFOR said so! Dragomir wasn’t "accused of war crimes," he was "an indicted war criminal," and his "war crimes wife" got what was coming to her. The son is mentioned only in passing, though the EUFOR made a point of claiming that he, too, had shot at them. Perhaps the public would have a hard time imagining an 11-year-old as a ruthless killer… but then again, he was a Serb; there was plenty of residual propaganda imagery to work with.

This is not to say that Dragomir, Rada, or Dragoljub were pure as driven snow; few – if any – human beings ever are, and in any case, there is no way to know. But no one deserves to be assaulted in their home, whether on a holiday or not, and "immobilized" at the whim of some occupation officer, then smeared and slandered in the world press as a criminal while defenseless and comatose – or dead.

In April 2004, another detachment of "peacekeepers" burst into the house of Fr. Jeremija Starovlah, clubbing the priest, his wife Vitorka, and their son Aleksandar while "looking for war criminals." Confronted with protests from the Serbian Orthodox Church over such brutal treatment of their clergy, SFOR offered an "explanation" for the injuries: they were caused by a concussion grenade used to forcibly enter their home! The press accepted this obviously bogus excuse, dutifully dismissed the Church protests, and buried the incident completely. To the present day, the Starovlahs have not received so much as an apology, let alone compensation.

On several other occasions, Bosnian Serb war crimes suspects (not "indicted war criminals"!) and their relatives have been killed by Imperial stormtroopers – always in "self-defense" or "while attempting to escape," of course. Bosnia’s "guardians of peace" have even crashed a funeral wake, hoping to use the death of his mother to catch Ratko Mladic, the wartime military leader of Bosnian Serbs. By presenting the victims of "peacekeeper" force as criminals who had it coming – their guilt presumed, though they’ve never stood trial – the Imperial press has whitewashed these abuses repeatedly.

Tragedies such as the one in Rogatica, and their media "coverage," will likely happen again, for as long as forces under NATO, EU, or anyone else’s command continue spread "democracy" and "rule of law" in Bosnia and elsewhere with methods they would never get away with in their own countries.

Or would they?


Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.