A Murder That Was Not Random

This midweek, on Wednesday the seventh of December 2016, Croatian national television has reminded us of one of the most upsetting events of the war in Croatia, Zagreb family Zec. An opinion that the murder of the father, mother and daughter Zec was a tragedy, which should also be seen as an exaggerated media reporting whose purpose was to conceal information about the four hundred dead children, victims of Serbian aggression, was added to the short TV news.

To understand the objective of this television announcement that wants to justify the right to murder because the others are killing too, we have to go twenty five years back, to a period which exactly this kind of reporting of Croatian television reawakens and justifies.

On December 7, 1991, a little after eleven o’clock in the evening, several armed men, in uniforms similar to military, broke into the family home, in the 22 Poljanička Street in Zagreb. They asked for Mihajlo Zec, a prominent butcher from Zagreb, wholesaler, who had shops on the large market Dolac and was supplying the city’s best restaurants with meat. It is hard to believe that armed burglars were interested only in possible connections of Croatian citizen of Serbian nationality, Zec, with Serbian rebels in Knin and that the objective of their night arrival was not wealth that the butcher and the financier of the then ruling Croatian party HDZ allegedly had hidden somewhere. Mihajlo Zec ran away into the night, but he did not get very far. He was killed by a precise shot in the head. Two children managed to hide in the house. The mother, Marija, and younger daughter, Aleksandra Zec, a student of elementary school “August Šenoa”, were kidnapped by armed men and driven to the mountain hut Adolfovac on Sljeme in a vehicle adapted for the needs of theft and hijacking. There, they killed them and hid their bodies in a garbage dump.

A day or two after that, members of the Zagreb police arrested the killers. Finding them was not very hard. In fact, they had left their signature. They were members of a paramilitary group, aimed not at fighting at the war front, but at intimidation and disciplining of individuals in wartime ambience. Tomislav Merčep was the leader of this unit, and he was also an official of the ruling party of the president Dr. Franjo Tuđman and adviser at the ministry of interior. Police interrogated them all, obtained confessions and evidence and prepared a proposal of the indictment. However, the public prosecutor and the judiciary immediately released them from detention due to alleged procedural error. Allegedly, their confession of the murders was obtained without the presence of defence lawyers. The decision on release was made neither in the prosecutor’s nor in the judge’s office. It was political.

Siniša Rimac, who killed Mihajlo Zec and later tried to prevent the murder of his daughter on Sljeme, became personal security guard of the defence minister Gojko Sušak and then, on the last day of May 1995, he was awarded the award of high recognition by the president of the country.

Of course, political liquidations can never be hidden by any government despite the political command of silence and oblivion. Some days before Christmas 1993, the then president of the Croatian parliament and later president, Stjepan Mesić, showed the written confession of the liquidators of Zec family to the reporter of the Zagreb weekly Globus, Davor Butković. They were all carefully registered by the police and subsequently labelled “state secret”. In its Christmas edition, Globus published a summary of the testimony and the description of the killings, the text of the Tomislav Merčep’s death squads.

It was not a regular journalistic text. It was more of a report on state violence as an integral part of the political paradigm, a violence which must be predominantly consistent and, therefore, the possible innocence of the victims, the individual from whom the biggest human right, the right to life, will be taken away, cannot and should not be questioned. On violence, which must only execute party guidelines, which are not only represented, but they have literally become an objective law. The law of laws that also confers the right of liquidation of individuals in the name of the state.

This is why nothing happened after the announcement. Both prosecutors and judges remained silent.

Yet, as a confirmation of the fact that political assassinations cannot be hidden, something, however, happened. The testimony of a prominent Zagreb journalist, Denis Kuljiš, remains as an evidence.

In December 1995, he received a letter with an invitation to lunch. It was followed by a note that it was wiser to accept the invitation than to be accidentally blown up while in the car, under which someone, accidentally, had put several of kilos of explosive. Together with the late editor of the weekly Nacional, Ivo Pukanić, – he was assassinated thirteen years later, in 2008, with explosive planted in the car – he went to one of the restaurants in the suburbs of the Croatian capital. The host, Tomislav Merčep, immediately began to threaten and turned the lunch into a connected process of torture. They used repetitive, less than half an hour long periods of threats, accompanied by silent glances of the liquidators. The period between the individual time blocks was filled with Merčep’s monologues on the value and historic significance of his mission. And with some kind of messages to Kuljiš that “he had not ordered the murder of Zec family, although there is a lot of rabbits (surname “Zec” literally means “rabbit” in English) in Croatia, and you are going to end like Zec, you and your children, you are all rabbits that my soldiers would have killed a long time ago, if I had only ordered them, but I will not, because I, Merčep, will kill you myself when I decide to….” Kuljiš says that after several hours of torture, during which the waiters were constantly bringing to the table soup, lamb and various baked meat, he went to the toilet. He was accompanied by one of the liquidators. He accused him that they had caused him a lot of damage with their journalistic texts that said that he was one of the murderers of the Zec family. Then he pulled some pass out of his pocket and showed it to him. “You see, this is a special police pass, I can do what I want. And look at this, this is the pass of the account holder in a Swiss bank that can be obtained only by the owners with the highest invested amount. What could anyone possibly do to me, what can they do to me, ME? You think you can do something, paperboy? I can kill you right now, can’t I?”

After several hours, the lunch ended. The guests returned to the city. However, they remained silent, out of fear. It was clear that Merčep and his subordinates had state protection.

In May 2016, Tomislav Merčep was sentenced to five years and six months in prison because he did not prevent his subordinates from torturing and executing of civilians. It was evident from the judicial records that his unit had kidnapped and tortured fifty-two people and killed forty-three of them.

I cannot see the news published on Wednesday (07/12/2016) by Croatian state television on media exaggeration during reporting on the liquidation of the Zec family out of the context of events and times of the Yugoslav wars. Therefore, I see it as an attempt of rehabilitation of the right to state violence, to justifying of the establishment of the law above the law, to justifying of state liquidations for the consistency and conviction that everything is allowed in order to achieve the ultimate goal.

An indictment against General Mladić raised yesterday before the international court for war crimes in The Hague and the request for his life sentence is precisely a condemnation of the same understanding of right to murder due to which hundreds of children died or were killed, which the Croatian television news also mentions, just because they spoke different language, had different customs or believed in different god.

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