Vojislav Šešelj, “Voja” to his friends, has been on trial charged with war crimes before the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague for over 11 years. That sets an international record beating the United States’ [the McMartin Preschool child abuse trial in 1987] by 8 years 7 months and the United Kingdom’s [the Angry Brigade trial in 1972] by 10 years 5 months giving a new meaning to the Queen of Heart’s command “Sentence first – Verdict later”.
Lewis Carroll took the familiar fairy tale to a new level with his portrayal of an illogical universe in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass fables. He amped up those farfetched tales with nonsense poems Jabberwocky and The Hunting of the Snark. His visions like fairy tales all end well; it’s what leads up to the happy ending that leaves you baffled and perplexed. Why does “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, and the Mome raths outgrabe” make you want to twist and shout “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” His imaginary universe just doesn’t make sense.
Now Šešelj ain’t no blushing virgin, an innocent lamb led to slaughter. On the contrary he is one mean, unpleasant son of a bitch, and an unprincipled political infighter known to switch alliances at the drop of a hat. Well educated with a doctorate in law, he possesses a malevolent intelligence calling himself the “greatest living legal Serb mind”. He is vulgar, opinionated and known to hurl colorful expletives at his foes. He has pretensions of grandeur reveling in the dubious title of Vojvoda [“duke”] and advocating the restoration of a valid monarchy [House of Karageorge] as well as one fronted by a charlatan [Prince Alexis Romanov Dolgorokov]. Go figure.
By now you realize that I do not hold Šešelj in high esteem or like him much. In fact I despise him. That being said his treatment by the ICTY is shameful and to be deplored. He is after all a member in good standing of the genus homo sapiens, a sentient human being, deserving the protection of due process. All charges lodged against him should be dismissed with prejudice on statute of limitations grounds alone.
After being indicted Šešelj surrendered on February 23, 2003 fully protected by the presumption of innocence pending trial. His voluntary surrender was proof positive that provisional release was warranted. Yet the Tribunal saw fit to keep him jailed for these 11+ years. If we consider the Tribunals own precedents a high ranking politician charged with a “joint criminal enterprise” war crime, a crime manufactured out of thin air, an appropriate sentence is 11 years, the sentence imposed on Biljana Plavšić, the former President of the Republika Srpska.
Notwithstanding the presumption of innocence Šešelj served hard jail time far in excess of the 6 years 7 months that Plavšić spent in a minimum security women’s prison in Sweden. Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts would be proud – sentence served even before sentence imposed or a guilty verdict rendered – a real “off with his head” moment.
“Curiouser and curiouser!” would be Alice’s comment upon reading the Šešelj indictment. He is accused of individually committing war crimes. But the word “committing” does not mean “doing” explains the Tribunal’s Case Information Sheet. “Committing” means participating in a nebulous joint criminal enterprise making “inflammatory speeches instigat[ing] Serb forces to commit crimes, encourage[ing] the creation of a homogenous „Greater Serbia“ by violence, and thereby participat[ing] in war propaganda and incitement of hatred towards non-Serb people”.
Another Alice in Wonderland quote is appropriate at this point – “Not the same thing a bit!” said the [Mad like in crazy] Hatter, “Why, you might as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see!’” It seems that in The Hague “commit” does not mean “commit”.
The Statute of the Tribunal guaranteed Šešelj a “fair and expeditious” trial “with full respect to the rights of the accused.” The “expeditious” has been proven a lie by a show trial lasting more than a decade. The “fair” has been likewise compromised time and again. After presiding for years in Šešelj’s trial one of the judges had to be removed by his co-judges for expressing bias and prejudice in a widely disseminated public statement. A replacement judge was appointed who had at that point missed 175 trial days, 81 witnesses, 1,380 exhibits and 18,000 pages of trial testimony. It doesn’t seem fair to have a defendant present while the judge is absent.
Then there is the issue of the suborning of perjury and intimidation of witnesses. After admitting on cross examination that they, the witnesses had been “blackmailed, pressured [30 to 50 telephone calls a day], or suborned to give false evidence against [Šešelj] under the direction of the prosecutor” the Judges ordered an investigation by an “amicus curiae”, a “friend of the court” not an independent prosecutor, of the alleged crimes and violations of Šešelj’s due process rights. The “friend of the court”, whose identity is a closely held secret, obliged by filing under seal a white-wash report never fully made public, finding the violations de minimus bringing to mind the comment “A secret, kept from all the rest, Between Yourself and me”.
Like Lewis Carroll’s Walrus Šešelj spoke at times “of many things, of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings, and why the Sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings” but it was just talk – sometimes stupid, mean, vicious and offensive but still just talk. To prosecute him for inciting violence and ethnic persecution for his political statements is to deprive him of his legally protected right to free speech.
So to Voja Šešelj, “my beamish boy” I say “O Frabjous Day! Callooh! Callay!” Tell those crimson robbed judges “Belay!” If you can’t judge me without delay you can’t force me back for not even one day. And Serbia do the right thing this time, remember Tammy Wynette’s plea to “just stand by your man” – don’t let him go down that Alice in Wonderland rabbit-hole in The Hague – just tell the Tribunal, as Šešelj has, to just “Fuck Off”.
Deyan Ranko Brashich, an attorney and Op Ed columnist writes from New York and is a contributing writer. He is the author of “Letters from America” and “Contrary Views”. His contact and blog “Contrary Views” is at www.deyanbrashich.com.