Slavenka Drakulic: We all have to choose between good and evil

Slavenka Drakulic: We all have to choose between good and evil

  • There  is a verdict by the Ukrainian court on Russian soldier
    who has killed a civilian in Sumy.   What is such practice of immediate
    justice like in the world? Is it widespread? Would such approach be
    useful so criminals could not hide from justice?

     – I am not an expert in law practice in the time of war, but from what I read
    this does not happen often. Very probably because the circumstances in the
    country at war make trials difficult. However, the aim of such trials is above
    all a symbolic one. The message is very clear: your crime will be punished
    now! It is meant to frighten the enemy but it is hard to say how effective it is.
    For me, that trial of Vadim Shishimarin was very interesting from another
    point of view. It demonstrates the role that circumstances play in becoming a
    war criminal. He was running away with his companions in the stolen car.
    They saw an elderly man on the bicycle, phoning. They panicked and
    Vadim got an order to shoot him. At first he refused but the superior
    commander insisted. Nervous and afraid of his superior, he shot the man. At
    the trial he admitted his crime and expressed regret to the man’s wife.
    – In your book «They Would Never Hurt A Fly: War Criminals on
    Trial in The Hague» you describe the events that took place in the era
    when the Internet was not so popular yet. To what extent does access
    to information affect the actions of the military? Can videos of war
    prevent the desire to take part in it, or on the contrary, do they inflame
    hatred even more? We often see the Russian soldiers openly humiliate
    Ukrainians in social networks, without even hiding that their goal is the
    genocide of Ukrainians.
  • Internet, like any technology, is not positive or negative per se. It depends
    who is using it and how. Social networks are for sure playing a big role
    today, they are themselves a space for war, especially because of
    anonymity of the participants. But I think that something else influenced the
    war: war propaganda. Russia needed to prepare their country and the
    soldiers for the occupation of Ukraine. They were told that the soldiers, in a
    brief, limited military action, would save Russian speaking people in Ukraine
    from the Nazi government there. Not only soldiers, but the entire Russian
    people were told that. Apparently, majority believed , at least at the
    beginning. To evoke Nazis is a very strong and dangerous symbolism and
    –  Recently, there was a scandal in Ukraine related to the
    publication emphasizing that the Ukrainian ombudswoman  make up
    some  sexual crimes commited  by Russians. How do you perceive
     this information? Is these information timely?
    How might such article

affect the ajudication of sexual assault cases with the international

 – We have to monitor every information through the looking glass of
propaganda and ask ourselves: who benefits from this information?
Inventing crimes is nothing new on either side, victim side is inventing cases
to make her country even bigger victim. Lies and disinformation are often
part of war propaganda, but at the end they are harmful because they
diminish the credibility of the source and of the side placing those lies.
– What are the main differences between the Russian-Ukrainian
war and a conflict in Yugoslavia, apart from the absence of a religious
component in the case of Ukraine? How did the international political
community resolve the conflict? How did they do it then and now?

  • There are some similarities. For example, Putin is using the same
    justification for the aggression as Slobodan Milošević: “saving” Russian, that
    is Serbian people in the other state. They are using similar vocabulary as
    well, almost Orwellian: lie is truth, defeat is victory etc. But the differences
    between wars (1991.-1995.) in former Yugoslavia are bigger. No one in the
    EU was afraid of what they saw as small wars in their backyard, they were
    not dangerous for Europe. Besides, there was no unity in supporting
    countries fighting the Serbian aggression, like now for Ukraine. No wonder.
    Ukraine is a big country and Russia the enemy with nuclear armament
    directly threatening the EU.
  • -Did the annexation of Crimea free Putin’s hands? How should the
    world have acted?

     – The fact that there was no strong reaction, apart from verbal ones, surely
    helped him.
    – What are the signs that Putin is an international war criminal?
    How do you asses his behavior in public? What motivates him –
     a desire to be a tyrant or a desire to bring back Ukraine to the hands
    of the USSR? Will Putin survive the trial in The Hague? How soon will
    this happen? How do you envisage it?

     – It is not up to me or to any individual person, except qualified judges of a
    legal court of law, to pass such a judgment. on any perosn There is a
    procedure and an institution has to start investigation into war crimes – it is
    usually long and not easy to prepare ta case for prosecution because it
    includes witnesses, documents, proofs of involvement ,etc… At the moment
    there is no international court willing to accuse Putin. In other words, it is
    useless to speculate what would happen if Putin would end on trial.
    To answer your other question, I am not in favor of the type of a political
    analysis that focuses on a personality of one man, Putin, his psychological
    profile, health etc. I don’t think it tells us much about the war and where is it
    – Is peace between Ukrainians and Russians possible? How many

years (generations) are  needed for this? What does Balkan’s
experience say about this?


  • Of course it is possible, if it was possible between Germany and France or
    the Great Britain after the World War II. These two countries, Russia and
    Ukraine, will remain to exist next to each other, they are not going away. We
    don’t know if majority of Russians, although not actively expressing their
    protest against the war, are supporting it. I suppose that people there are
    afraid, media can not even use word “war” in their news… Peace is a slow
    process, for sure it will take time and effort. It is never easy to begin
    reconciliation – but judging from my experience, people on both sides will
    start to communicate and visit each other much before their governments
    formally do the same. The war destroys connections between people, but
    not all of them, not all old friendships and familly relations are gone.
     – Do you see the disintegration of Russia into several
    independent national states? Under what circumstances and when
    could this happen?

  • I could only guess, I would need to have much better insight than I have in
    order to predict that. But for any political change to happen, a critical mass
    of citizens is needed. It is not clear if such mass exists when it comes to
    dissent of various nation-states there.
    –    Do you support the opinion that the war is the common guilt of
    Russians? What mistakes did they make? How will the topping of the
    president of Russia affect the imperial ambitions of this country?
  • If Russia would be a fully-fledged democracy, than its’ citizens would be
    responsible. Democracy gives citizens power to decide, to support or not a
    leader who wants a war. I am afraid that Russia is not such a country, many
    political patterns are inherited from the previous regime. It means that its
    citizens are used to fear that makes them collaborate with the autocratic
    regime there. Therefore, the question is how much could citizen really
    decide and influence politics? How free are they to express their political
    – What crimes committed during the Ukrainian-Russian
    war have stuck you the most with their brutality?
  • Killing civilians, like in Bucha. Or raping women. Civilians are victims of
    terrible brutalities in all wars. From that point of view, wars are the same. A
    crying mother with a child in her arms is an iconic photo that you will see
    regardless if it is Ukraine, Bosnia, Afganistan, Somalia or any other country
    at war.
    – In your book, you mention that one of the Balkan soldiers did not
    want to participate in the executions, but did not stop after the first
    shot. During the Bucha and Irpen massacres, Russian soldiers

received commands to exterminate the civilians from their
commanders. How is the transformation of a person into a
killer viewed from the point of psychology? Can a person return to
normal life after that without showing aggression?

  • Well, I had to write a whole book in order to show how that happens. In a
    few sentences, I do not think that there is an inborn predisposition, that
    certain people are destined to become murderers and criminals and others
    not. We all have in us a possibility to choose, we know difference between
    good and evil. There are two factors that determine what your choice will be:
    one is war propaganda, the other is a set of circumstances. When war
    propaganda tells a soldier that the enemy should be killed, he has to believe
    that he is facing the enemy and he is not going to be persecuted for killing
    him. As I mentioned before, the force of circumstances and coincidences in
    becoming a war criminal is well demonstrated in the case of the first
    sentenced Russian soldier, Vadim Shishimarin.

Text: Olena Solodovnikova

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