01. jun 2015.

There Will Be Many Trial Obstruction Attempts

matic 1For the occasion of start of trial to the accused of Slavko Ćuruvija’s murder, the President of the Journalists Murders Investigation Committee Veran Matić speaks of missed opportunities to solve this murder in the last 16 years, how the Committee brought to life the halted investigation, the good cooperation with the Security Information Agency (BIA) and the poor one with the Military Security Agency (VBA), Vučić’s support and why his proposal to establish a committee was not accepted at the time of Tadić

For Veran Matić, the President of the Journalists Murders Investigation Committee, the fact that the trial to the accused of murdering a journalist and the owner of “Dnevni telegraf” and “Evropljanin” papers Slavko Ćuruvija’s begins today, presents evidence that the competent prosecutor has prepared this case in a professional and thorough manner. He believes in the strength of collected evidence, but he is also certain that there will be “many, many attempts of obstruction”. He expects that controlling institutions will reveal them and that the public will follow this process with the utmost attention.

“It is important during the process itself that all those who have additional evidence or wish to additionally testify and contribute to unveiling this extremely important case step in”, emphasizes the Editor-in-Chief of the Informative Program on RTV B92.

My goal has been to shed light on cases of murders of our colleagues, instead of just criticizing authorities each year around the anniversaries of their deaths why they did nothing.

Matić initiated the idea for the Government of Serbia to form a separate committee to deal with investigation of murders of journalists Slavko Ćuruvija, Milan Pantić, Dada Vujasinović and people killed in the NATO bombing of Radio Television of Serbia’s building. When failed to realize this with Boris Tadić and Miki Rakić, he welcomed the support of Aleksandar Vučić. He has been presiding over the Committee since its establishment in February 2013.

The successful operation of the Committee led even the Prime Minister Vučić on past Friday to say that “Matić is excellent for murder investigations”, that “he showed great results and in the case of Slavko Ćuruvija’s murder he managed to actuate a relevant number of people to work together”.

Vučić asked Matić to become involved in the murder investigation of brothers Bitići, American citizens of Albanian origin killed in 1999 by the Serbian police.

Cenzolovka: How did the Journalists Murders Investigation Committee contributed to resolution of murder of Slavko Ćuruvija and bringing charges after 16 years of unsuccessful investigations?

Matić: The Committee has contributed to a better cooperation of bodies involved in the investigation and to a creation of the necessary synergy. We collected all documentation on previous investigations, as well as documents from different institutions.

New review of those materials opened up new analyses and new insights, or just a new perspective simply aided clear presentation of new options and strategies. Very dedicated members of the Ministry of Interior and the Security Information Agency have been engaged, very seriously and intensively supported by the journalistic part of the Committee.

Cenzolovka: What did that new investigation did what had not been done during 16 years of attempts and “attempts” to solve this crime?

Matić: We worked on this case intensively fully determined not to stop working until the case was brought to court. My impression is that previously there was no such dedication and that priorities have been changing in departments with respect to cases. Hence, this one was being uncared for from time to time.

Cenzolovka: After also having insight in investigations led before the Committee started working, do you now feel that all that might have been completed much before?

I reminded Boris Tadić that I had also explained to him at a media freedom conference why I considered it necessary to include journalists in the work on finding murderers and those who ordered the murders, to establish a committee… At that time he told me it was a good idea and directed me to Miki Rakić. I sent him the proposal, but never received a positive reply.

Matić: I am of the opinion that this case might have been solved sooner. However, the murder took place during bombing, “in the presence of authorities” that had not found it in their interest to solve the case. Many mistakes had been made in investigations. The same government had control over all institutions for the following year and a half, which was sufficient time to compromise evidence, witnesses and clues.

After changes on the 5th October we did not experience a process that would bring efficient solutions for many other cases as well. This was simply not set as a priority aggressively enough. We still have too many unresolved murders, which makes institutional reforms and building a decent society more difficult.

Cenzolovka: How do you comment the fact that neither Djindjić, nor Koštunica or Tadić, the most powerful politicians of their time, who emphasized the priority of solving this murder in their mandates, never completed this investigation?

Matić: We had no possibility to be assured through documents in this determination of government institutions, governments, prime ministers… One might have concluded from certain discussions that there was determination, but not sufficiently and not as intensively as needed.

Recently Boris Tadić asked me why this could be done now, but not during his mandate. I reminded him that I had also explained to him at a media freedom conference why I considered it necessary to include journalists in the work on finding murderers and those who ordered these murders, to establish a committee. He then told me it was a good idea and directed me to Miki Rakić, to whom I sent the proposal, but never received a positive reply.

We received much information from the discussions the Committee had with Mr. Rakić to be able to conclude that there was serious determination, but that was not enough. The impact of politics on institutions is too great, and depending on daily politics, priorities of institutions are shifted from one case to the next.

I made this conclusion even before and for this reason I thought that intermediaries between institutions and the government itself were needed to create absolute determination to solve cases in all participants, with the same intensity and equal level of joint knowledge and with intermediaries who can protect the investigation from the influence of daily politics and daily events that might interfere with the investigation.

Hence, when we look at participants separately, there were enough professionals, but lacking sufficiently strong linking, convergence of information, strategies, technical capabilities…

We worked on this case intensively, fully determined not to stop working until the case was brought to court. My impression is that previously there was no such dedication.

Cenzolovka: You have been occasionally criticized by recent like-minded persons from non-government sector or certain journalists who experienced the work of the Journalists Murders Investigation Committee as collaboration with the government of Vučić and Dačić, as a cleaning up of resumes of two politicians who were prominent participants in the government at the time of Ćuruvija’s murder.

Matić: I already said that I offered the same idea to establish the committee to Tadić, but it was not realized. This topic is neither linked to making a pact with anybody, nor it presents cleaning up of resumes. Nobody can annul what individual people did.

My goal has been to shed light on cases of murders of our colleagues, instead of just criticizing authorities each year around the anniversaries of their deaths why they did nothing. This doing nothing was a general point. Something else was needed to be done if we really deemed it that important. Hence, why not becoming involved then by ourselves.

We could have established an independent committee, but its work would be reduced on work of journalists associations since there would be no access to the most important documents, and there would also be no possibility to influence on the opening of a new investigation.

Cenzolovka: What guarantees did you have that the Committee would not merely be used by the authorities to pull the wool over the eyes of those in the country and abroad who asked for these crimes to be solved?

Matić: When I proposed the committee to be established, my condition was for me to lead it and to be given the possibility of influencing the selection of other members, members of working groups. Since Aleksandar Vučić was also the coordinator of security services operation, my communication was facilitated since I had only one address to go to, i.e. I had only him to address to, and he then made representatives of other services cooperate in the way that was important for the success of investigations.

Naturally, there were no guarantees, nor did I ask for any. However, I gave a clear warning, as did my other colleagues, that any interference in the work would be publicly revealed or the work within the Committee would be abandoned.

It was essential to create trust between all members of the Committee. In the first meeting I said that we were on a very important mission, equally important for our journalist profession that wants the truth about murders of its colleagues to be known and perpetrators punished, as for building credibility of the Ministry of Interior and the Security Information Agency, in order to have successful institutions being built this way.

There is often a misunderstanding of the method of our work. On numerous occasions it was heard that these were non-institutional solutions, that it was destroying institutions, which was simply not true. This is precisely why I insisted the Government to be the founder, to have the Ministry of Interior and the Security Information Agency institutionally participate through their representatives.

matic 2Cenzolovka: Has the fear of politicians from reforming that powerful Security Information Agency led to making it, the Security Information Agency (i.e. State Security Service and State Security Department during 1990s), capable all these years to prolong or stop investigations or trials in cases of murders of journalists, Ivan Stambolić, or in cases such as two assassination attempts on Vuk Drašković?

Matić: I already said that the absence of a quick, fair process for reevaluating all illegal activities of security related institutions, sanctioning all those who broke laws, participated in murders, repression, in other words lustration, led to sloppy reforms. This is how the possibility to quickly resolve cases such as this one was lost.

The Law on the Security Information Agency was passed in 2002, which is when the State Security Department ended its operation. Some key facts for solving this crime were determined in 2001 and 2005. We can only regret for not having solved this crime during police action “Sablja” (Sabre) like it happened with the murder of Ivan Stambolić.


Cenzolovka: At what stage are investigations on murders of Dada Vujasinović, Milan Pantić and those killed during bombing of the RTS? Is there any progress there that promises soon indictment?

Matić: The case of Milan Pantić is now also worked on by the team that previously worked on Ćuruvija case. Therefore, the team has been doubled and they work intensively. Here we have great problems with the chaos made in earlier investigations, that is with seven working groups that were being changed. Only the analysis of what was done and reviews and elimination of different directions, people, etc, requires a lot of time.

On the other hand, the investigation discovered new facts and new possibilities in investigations and it takes time to do all that needs to be done. I believe that this team, in this way, can bring this case to court as well.

In the case of Dada Vujasinović we received the offer from the National Forensic Institute from the Hague for forensic, ballistic and court medicine super expertise that costs about 35,000 Euros. There are no funds to this end in the budget of the prosecutor’s office, so they addressed to the Ministry of Finance, i.e. the Government, to allocate the funds. I believe that this will soon happen and that prerequisites for this super-expertise will be created.

Then we will start a more thorough work on cases of killed colleagues in the RTS bombing, with new prosecutor, but also a new strategy that we prepared.

Cenzolovka: What is your experience from cooperation with representatives of government institutions? Do they work professionally and with motivation on murder cases of journalists, or do you notice any resistance or stalling?

Matić: We cooperated well with the Ministry of Interior and the Security Information Agency. The Committee members from the Security Information Agency and working group members did their jobs with great dedication, with serious support of the top level of the Security Information Agency. There were no obstructions.

We only had poor cooperation with the Military Security Agency. We have a lot of work there, especially in the case of murdered media workers of the Radio Television of Serbia. In this case a new prosecutor will have to be appointed, since the previous failed to do his job properly, even putting this case to the archives before retiring.

Cenzolovka: If you really had the government support during these investigations, I am interested to hear your thoughts of the absurd fact that such support was coming from Aleksandar Vučić, who directly participated in the destruction of “Dnevni telegraf” and “Evropljanin” in 1998 and 1999, the arrests and prosecutions of journalists and satanization of the owner.

Matić: I relied on the fact that if there was a genuine wish to acknowledge past errors, then there was an essential change in the politics being led. Also, it was in Aleksandar Vučić’s interest to reveal who murderers of journalists and those who ordered the murders were, especially from the period when he was a part of the government. I think that it is quite important to document such personal facing with the past with specific moves, which in this case happened.

It is very important to specially process the topic related to the role of the Law on Information, Aleksandar Vučić as the minister, etc. He pointed out more than once his thoughts of that law and his actions at that time. Naturally, there is a lot of space to process that period to prevent it from happening again.

I relied on the fact that if there was a genuine wish to acknowledge past errors, then there was an essential change in the politics being led. Also, it was in Aleksandar Vučić’s interest to reveal who murderers of journalists and those who ordered these murders were, especially from the period when he was a part of the government.

Cenzolovka: During the course of these two and a half years you also gained insight into the operation work on murder investigations. What are your thoughts after all that – will Slobodan Milošević and Mira Marković ever be tied to the murders of 1990s, especially the murders of Stambolić and Ćuruvija?

Matić: I believe that Slobodan Milošević was charged of ordering the murder in the case of Ivan Stambolić. This indictment for the murder of Slavko Ćuruvija states that persons who gave the order come from the highest structures of government. It would be very important to determine who gave the orders.

Aside from this, the politics of Slobodan Milošević and Mirjana Marković, their actions and wrong doings, are a special topic. That has not nearly been cleared up sufficiently either historically or judicially. I have the impression that they are still taboo and that at some level the elements of their politics still soar over Serbia. This great weight would be eliminated with full resolution of everything they did. It is the only way to create a serious space for reconciliation in Serbia, for genuine democratization of the society, but also for reconciliation in the region, in order to create a stable region with other countries of the Balkans, as Germany and France once did for themselves.

Cenzolovka: Members of the State Security Department definitely could not kill one of the most famous journalist in the country without the knowledge of two people who had full authority in their hands. On 06th April 1999, five days before the murder, the papers under their control, “Politika ekspres”, published the texts with the headline “Ćuruvija dočekao bombe” (Ćuruvija Welcomed Bombs), where journalist Miroslav Marković called Ćuruvija a traitor who invoked bombing. In the last sentence he threateningly says: “And if they hoped their treason would be forgotten, they hoped in vain”. Did the Committee interrogate Miroslav Marković?

Murder is the cheapest of all the methods for stopping the work of journalists, since in at least 80 per cent of cases there has been no way to find the murderer.

Matić: Marković gave a statement before the Special Court and there was no need for the Committee to interrogate him.

Cenzolovka: Has Milorad Ulemek Legija signed up himself to be a witness in Ćuruvija case, or he was “encouraged” to do so?

Matić: Milorad Ulemek volunteered to testify in this case and I believe he said everything he knew about it. He gave the statement to the prosecutor and he had no direct communication with the Committee.

Cenzolovka: What needs to happen in this country for journalist to start doing their job freely and without threats? When will the danger end for you or Brankica Stanković who still have police protection? When will all those journalists who deal with investigation of organized crime and corruption tied to the top of government and criminal groups start feeling safer?

Matić: Judicial system needs to start functioning efficiently, to have efficient and quick investigations, since cases are solved within the first hours, and the later it gets the possibility to positively solve the case drastically reduces. Penalties must be drastic. It must be constantly demonstrated in any way possible that it is completely socially inacceptable to threaten and attack journalists.

Securing journalists by police protection over this long period is responsible, but also shows powerlessness.

I think that journalist should organize themselves in a more responsible fashion, to be stronger in presentation of professional interest, personal safety…This is currently not on a satisfactory level.


Cenzolovka: Have we journalists done enough to aid resolution of these crimes, or we forgot and repressed them since these are not the topics raising circulations and audience?

Matić: I feel that journalists and media have not done enough, and that depends on the very quality of journalism at certain media. As we may see, journalism is increasingly deteriorating, so the very solidarity and efficient actions are often predetermined to fail. In the case of the Committee’s work, we had the situation where NUNS (Serbian Independent Association of Journalist) withdrew their representative from the Committee, which definitely caused damage. We could definitely do more and better together.

Cenzolovka: Is it possible in our country to have one such investigation end independently, or was the pressure of foreign governments and international institutions such as the OSCE needed again to support the work of the Committee and remind the Government on unsolved cases of murdered journalists?

Matić: The project of the Committee is entirely domestic. There is no similar case in the world. When I conveyed this to Dunja Mijatović, she supported the Committee’s work from the start, with constant reminders that this work could not present a substitute for the role and responsibility of competent authorities. The fact that institutions, starting from the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the European Committee and international press associations, supported the work of the Committee presents additional incentive to raise, improve and make the level of cooperation between the Committee’s representatives and government institutions more efficient.

The constant attention of both domestic and international public is very important, not only as a form of pressure, but resolution of these murders is also important for setting new, more quality standards in the work of institutions.

The Committee and the OSCE made a large campaign against violence over journalist that was globally offered to all members of this organization. The campaign won the “Bronze Lion” award at the largest global advertizing festival.

Using our pattern, the committee was also formed in Montenegro, which we actively support. Also, the possibility of making an international committee for Ukraine is under review, where a lot of journalists were killed and this killing is still in progress.

Globally, we have a situation where the number of killed journalist is on the rise, and the number of solved cases is declining. This is why it is important to find ways and mechanisms to solve as many cases as possible. Today we have a situation where murder is the cheapest of all the methods for stopping the work of journalists, since in at least 80 per cent of cases there has been no way to find the murderer.

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