A former war criminal is set to teach at a Serbian academy, only two years after his release from jail.
In 2009, Serbian general Vladimir Lazarevic was condemned by a UN court of war crimes over the forced deportation of more than 700,000 ethnic Albanians during the 1989-99 Kosovo war.
Lazarevic was one of the chief executors of a systematic effort to empty the then-Serbian province of ethnic Albanian civilians and raze their homes in the last bloody chapter in the collapse of Yugoslavia.
According to Reuters, this week, the 68-year-old who was released from jail in 2015 found a new job – lecturer to the next generation of Serbian soldiers at the country’s Military Academy.
“The role models for the cadets should be Serbian generals, in particular those who have proven themselves in the toughest of times,” Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin told the Vecernje Novosti newspaper on Wednesday.
Yet, Lazarevic is not the only case; he is one of a trio of convicted Serbian war criminals who have risen to political prominence since serving out their sentences.
Civil society activists and Western diplomats are warning of the damage to Serbia’s image abroad and to the slow process of reconciliation in the region – a key condition of integration with the European Union. Accession talks with the EU opened at the end of 2015 and are not expected to end before 2022.
“The message is very dangerous; it’s playing with fire,” said Natasha Kandic, a prominent human rights lawyer in Serbia who has spent years documenting war crimes in Kosovo and elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia.
“This is not even historical revisionism, it’s the introduction of crime as a recommended act,” Kandic told sources. “It’s the end of any vision of European integration, good neighborly relations, regional cooperation – none of that makes any sense after this.”
On a similar note, convicted war criminal Nikola Sainovic, a close ally of late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic during the Kosovo war, was appointed to the governing board of Serbia’s co-ruling Socialist Party within a week of being released in 2015.
Also, former army officer Veselin Sljivancanin, convicted in The Hague over the killing of more than 200 Croat prisoners of war at a pig farm in the Croatian town of Vukovar in 1991, is now a regular feature at events of the ruling Progressive Party of conservative President Aleksandar Vucic.
Kosovo, which declared independence with Western backing in 2008 but is not recognized by Serbia, said the appointment demonstrated that “Serbia has never changed.”
“We are deeply disturbed by the systematic glorification of war criminals in Serbia, and their rehabilitation in senior political, security, and education institutions,” Kosovo’s deputy prime minister, Enver Hoxhaj, told Reuters.