Scorpions on trial in Belgrade
FIVE men have gone in trial in Belgrade, charged with the murder of six Bosnians, including a teenage boy, taken prisoner at Srebrenica. The trial comes after campaigning both by Srebrenica survivors and Serbs who want a reckoning with the criminals in their midst.
It results particularly from the showing on television in June of a 1995 video showing six people from Srebrenica being lined up and machine gunned on a hillside. Slobodan Meidic, the commander of the Serb Scorpions unit, alleged to have carried out this killing, told the Belgrade court on Tuesday (December 20) that he would have killed the Serb soldier who filmed it "like a rabbit" if he had known the footage would become public.
Medic denies ordering the killing of civilians, claiming his men were out of control when they decided to avenge killings by Muslim soldiers. So who were the Scorpions?
In 1991, a Serb soldier serving with the Yugoslav People's Army(JNA) discovered that apart from himself and the unit commander, an ethnic German, the rest of his unit had removed the Yugoslav Red Star from their caps, replacing it with the white eagle badge of Serbian nationalism.
The unit was about to go into action at Vukovar, an industrial city in Croatia with a mixed population.
Having besieged and battered this city, Milosevic's army, no longer the army of the Yugoslav people or "brotherhood and unity" (the old communist partisans' slogan) went in with hosts of irregular Serb nationalist gangs behind them, killing and pillaging. More than 400 patients and staff from the Vukovar hospital were taken away and killed.
I heard about the Vukovar siege from Radi, a Serbian Trotskyist comrade, whose brother was that lone soldier with the red star, who managed to stop the fellows in his unit joining in the orgy of barbarities after the siege.
"If you want to save the unity of Yugoslavia", he told a London left-wing audience, replying to someone who raised that as an aim, "you don't do it by destroying a city like Vukovar, and you don't bombard the national library of Sarajevo with incendiary shells." Later, my friend Radi was denied a visa to come and speak again in Britain, while the Tory government invited Radovan Karadzic, and MPs like John Reid (now Labour's Defence Secretary) took subsidised trips to meet with Serb nationalists.
Otherwise Radi could have answered another myth (popular both with Tories and Stalinists), that the war in ex-Yugoslavia was all the Germans' fault again, because Germany "encouraged" the break-up by recognising Croatia, and Britain just followed for reasons to do with the European Union. For the truth is the shells were raining on Vukovar before the German government recognition, and Bosnia-Hercegovina only decided to secede after the JPA used its positions there to bombard the UN Heritage city of Dubrovnik.
Perhaps the Croats and Bosnians were supposed to take all this in friendly spirit, if only they hadn't been encouraged to resist by beastly Germans. Or perhaps non-recognition would have made it easier for H.M. government et al to say the war was an internal Yugoslav matter, just like Russia's problems in Chechnya.
Among those who went into Slavonia after Vukovar fell were Arkan's Serb Volunteer Guard (which shared its name with the Second World War Nazi formation led by Ljotic) and another group run by a high-ranking Serb police officer called Radovan Stojcic. Becoming part of the official forces of the "Republika Srpska Krajina", they became known as the Scorpions, favouring a Czech handgun of that name which comes with a silencer, not a battlefield weapon perhaps but handy for armed robberies and executions. Their badge was a yellow scorpion on black background.
Soon the Scorpions had special tasks, like guarding an oilfield, and various profitable sidelines,
from smuggling oil and cigarettes to supplying Slavonian oak timber for Milosevic's summer dacha. They were sent on wider ranging missions, taking part with others such as Arkan's men in the massacre at Srebrenica, and enlisting as reserves for the Serb police's Special Anti-Terrorist 9sic) unit, in Kosova. They were sent to a place called Podujevo:
"As soon as they arrived, they went into the first Albanian hose that looked promising. The outcome: fourteen dead civilians including women and children, a gold cigarette lighter, a handgun and a few DM. Several Scorpions took part in the massacre..."
(from a report in Vreme, Belgrade, 9 June 2005)