Minister’s Lunch With a stranger

They sat at a window-side table in a restaurant called “Gušti mora”. They chatted, ate and smoked cigars. At the time, at least, they believed to be the only people in the restaurant. And it is most likely that it was so. With one piece of the puzzle missing. A hidden camera was placed on a serving table which, in this carefully chosen quality fish restaurant in Belgrade where these guests talked, usually stands on the right-hand side of the guests’ table. The entire lunch of the then Serbian Minister of Internal Affairs Ivica Dačić and Rodoljub Radulović on the last day of January 2009 was recorded precisely, in an almost filigree fashion.

The filmed video was published a few days ago and caused, at least among Serbian public, expected disturbances.

Today, Dačić is a Minister of Foreign Affairs and Radulović is a convict on the run who is convicted to twenty years in prison for cooperation with international network of drug dealers in the Balkans. The Minister was not the only person he talked to. He apparently gladly met with Minister’s most trusted co-workers and all these meetings were recorded as well. Neither the Minister of Internal Affairs nor his staff knew that they were followed.

The collected material was stored to wait for the decision on its grand public premiere. Waiting for an adequate political moment.

Dačić is right when he asks for explanation why the recordings of his meetings with Miša Banana, Radulović’s nickname, are published only now, five or six years later?

The answer, of course, is not a secret. It usually happens as an announcement of new elections or reconstruction of government or as an invitation to government’s partner to put a leash on its staff’s appetite. It rarely happens that such publications are the result of requests made by foreign partners. And almost never are they the result of accidental discovery made by individual media investigator.
Of course, complete coincidences are possible.

When I called the Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Dimitri Rupel and his guest, German Minister of Foreign Affairs Joska Fischer, on that tragic day in March 2003 and informed them of the assassination of the Serbian Prime Minister Dr Zoran Đinđić, German intelligence had not yet known the news. Completely unexpectedly, the news was received by my colleague, respectable
Lojze Skok, when he attempted to pay a visit to his connoisseur in the neighbourhood where the then President Dr Vojislav Koštunica lived. While explaining that the person he was looking for was not at home, one of his friend’s neighbours informed him that he was listening to a conversation of Koštunica’s security details over his hand-made device. He said that the chaos had just broken loose.
Đinđić was killed.

After Milošević lost power, democratic forces immediately wanted to remove the then head of the State Security Rade Marković. For formal reasons, President Koštunica did not accept his resignation notice. He was removed from his office in late January 2001 only to be arrested a month later. And this is where we come to the issue of loyalty. Namely, Marković claimed not to understand the meaning of the charges and above all, that he sees no mistakes in his work.
He claimed that he had done nothing illegal when he alienated personal files of the new Prime Minister of the Serbian Government Dr Zoran Đinđić and the new Minister of Internal Affairs Dušan Mihajlović and submitted them to the President’s Office. To say the truth, it was not clear whether he forwarded the files or not since the recipients denied that later, but this may be one of the explanations how the documents leaked into the public.
Almost simultaneously, on 11th January 2001, Croatian Government, led by Ivica Račan passed the Regulation on the Transfer of Archival Records and Documents from the President’s Office to the State Archives and Appendix thereto containing the prohibition on the use of the records until 2031.
Of course, the records in question were video recordings and documents from various meetings or conversations only of the late President Franjo Tuđman. According to his personal decree, almost every word spoken in the Presidential chambers was recorded and archived because of their historical significance. His successor, Stipe Mesić, had a somewhat different view of the archival records. He saw them as documents which must be made available to the public and police and head prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Karla del Ponte. That’s why he gave the significant portion of these records, most likely chosen according to certain criteria, to individual news agencies and, most of it, to the Hague Tribunal.

The first problem concerned the claims that the transcripts of conversations submitted to journalists were carefully selected with intention to prove that the late president not only ran the country but also directed both individual and organised criminal affairs.
The second problem crossed the internal political borders. The Hague Tribunal and del Ponte requested from Račan’s administration formal confirmation of authenticity of the submitted documents. This, naturally, did not refer to the technique alone. Verifying authenticity of these documents opened up a series of questions about strategic decisions of the Croatia’s President, his deals with Slobodan Milošević on division of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Minister for Culture in Račan’s administration Dr Antun Vujić spoke of the great abuse of Tuđman’s documentation. His thesis was not directed against Karla del Ponte, as they later tried to interpret it, but against individuals being in charge of decisions regarding the method of use of such documents and records. Against decisions made without any criteria. Only in accordance with daily political needs.

The footage of Dačić and Radulović having lunch in a Belgrade restaurant, published a few days ago, is another example of utilisation of these records with the aim of ascertaining the extent of power which lies inside the government’s palaces. What will happen remains to be seen in the coming days. Aleksandar Vučić is due to return to Belgrade today from this visit to UAE. The decision about the consequences of socialising between the former Minister of Internal Affairs i.e. current Minister of Foreign Affairs and a drug dealer, is in his hands. The rest is up to the prosecution.