Michael Dobbs

‘It helped to be a psychopath’

‘It helped to be a psychopath’

In a post last week about the execution of six Srebrenica Muslims near the village of Trnovo, I posed a question about the motivations of the murderers. The Trnovo massacre is unique in one sense alone: it was captured on video, available here, recorded by the killers themselves. Apart from that, it can serve as a microcosm of the atrocities committed in the larger war in Bosnia, which cost the lives of more than a hundred thousand people between 1992 and 1995.

The man you can see above on the balcony is Slobodan Medic, commander of a paramilitary unit known as the Scorpions, who was convicted by a Serbian court in April 2007 of ordering the murders, and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. The victims, known as “parcels” in the conspiratorial language of the killers, were captured by Bosnian Serb forces while attempting to flee the former United Nations “safe area” of Srebrenica in July 1995.

Although Medic considered himself a Serb “patriot,” his true motivations appear to have been much more mundane. Like many leaders of paramilitary gangs, he viewed the war as an opportunity to enrich himself. In the words of a former subordinate, Goran Stoparic, interviewed by the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade, Medic was “always a profiteer.”

He got the most out of the war, ending up filthy rich. He got rich on those oil wells. When giving testimony here in Belgrade, when the judge asked him about his assets, he said he had five hundred sheep, I don’t know how many horses, pigs and whatever, as well as 2.5 million German marks in cash, so and so many cars. He lied, he had much more in cash. Now he has a 500-square meter house in Novi Sad, a huge farm…He’s filthy rich and it all came from the war, from State Security turning a blind eye to his clandestine businesses.

Medic did not directly participate in the killing of the six Srebrenica Muslims, who included three minors under the age of eighteen. As the investigation later established, the murders were carried out by his personal bodyguards, led by his cousin, Branislav Medic, who are photographed below:

Some of these men have interesting histories and personal characteristics. It emerged from the trial that Aleksandar Medic was considered “a coward” by his comrades. He was selected for the execution team by his namesake Slobodan as part of a “hardening” process. He sought to prove his toughness to the others by taunting the captives, asking one of the minors whether he had “ever had a fuck.” According to one of the others, when the boy answered no, Aleksandar joked, “and now you never will.”

In the end, his bravado deserted him. When they returned to base, the killers complained to their commander that the baby-faced Aleksandar was “scared stiff and refused to shoot.” The video shows him guarding the prisoners, but not firing his weapon.

Pero Petrasevic emerges from the video as gratuitously cruel, kicking one of the prisoners in the head en route to the execution spot (clearly visible in the recording.) When they were finally arrested, however, Petrasevic was the only member of the killing squad to cooperate with the prosecutors and exhibit remorse for what he had done.

Of the men photographed, only Milorad Momic managed to escape arrest following the release of the video, which shocked Serbian public opinion. In a bizarre postscript to the case, Momic was arrested in January 2011 in a village near the French town of Grenoble. He had changed his name to Guy Monier, married a French woman, and become a French citizen. Known to his neighbors as “Micky,” he had a reputation for being “very soft and gentle.” He has since been extradited to Croatia for crimes committed at the beginning of the war.

As Goran Stoparic explained, it helped to be a little crazy during the war:

It turned out to be better if you were some kind of psychopath. You could say that being a criminal was good. It meant being braver, more courageous, that you would be a good fighter…It became like some kind of drug, and a man can’t get himself unhooked. Even when you decide not to go to a combat zone, a friend calls and you tell him you’re not going. Then he calls another five and, willy-nilly, you always go.”