THU, 11 FEB 1999 00:25:03 GMT
The latest, so-called "Holmec scandal", provoked by the story of alleged murder of two members of the JNA by Slovenian police in 1991, is yielding the first, although not exactly expected, results: director of police Borut Likar is forced to submit his resignation, and the position of the minister of internal affairs Mirko Bandlj is seriously shaken, since he is expecting a vote of confidence in Slovenian parliament.
AIM Ljubljana, 4 February, 1999
It all began when Slovenske novice, tabloid with probably the biggest circulation in Ljubljana, shocked its readers by revealing that during the "ten-day war" waged in June 1991, members of Slovenian police committed a war crime against members of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) in the battle for Holmec border crossing. This was especially shocking because for the majority of Slovenian patriots the fact that this could be a crime for which some Slovenian policemen or members of the Territorial defence (TO) could end up in the Hague was equal to news that a man had bit a dog. This did not prevent the journalist of Slovenske novice from concluding that this was a blemish due to which Slovenian combatants could lose not only the honorary title of liberators but even acquire the label of war criminals.
What has actually happened in Holmec on 28 July 1991? If we put the article of Slovenske novice in a single sentence - members of Slovenian police liquidated on that day two soldiers of the JNA immediately after they had surrendered. Everything happened very quickly, although the battle in which allegedly more than a hundred thousand bullets were shot, had lasted a couple of days. Head of the local TO staff Ozbolt Fajmut recalls that soldiers of the JNA, recruits who were doing their regular service in the army (suddenly found themselves "on the side of the enemy") during the attempt of "conquering" (or "defending") the border crossing (depending on the point of view), manifested great dedication: "That is why we made a new plan during the night how to defend Holmec and neutralise the crew at the watchtower. Units of the TO in cooperation with the members of the police surrounded them; we believed that they would surrender, but they returned fire just after five o'clock in the morning! Combat ended around eleven, when the aggressors surrendered".
There were also victims on the Slovenian side: two members of the reserve forces of the Slovenian police were killed in the unsuccessful attack on that border crossing, which was probably the introduction into the tragical epilogue of the conflict which ended with the orgy of Slovenian police and combatants. "They surrendered with their hands up and waving a highly hoisted white sheet... One of the policemen went up to them and killed at least two of them. And killing prisoners of war is a war crime. There is no excuse", writes the journalist of Slovenske novice Bojan Budja. Passions are inflamed; hue and cry have been raised by most of the media against the newspaper the translation of whose name would be Slovenian news. The journalist and the newspaper are accused of all kinds of anti-patriotic crimes - from treason of fatherland and defamation of combatants and their struggle for Slovenia's independence all the way to lack of patriotism, absence of nationally constructive consciousness and destabilisation of political conditions in the country...
Then reconstruction of the event was hurriedly organised; an authentic former soldiers of JNA, a Slovene, was brought in front of cameras of Slovenian national TV and presented as one of the participants in the conflict of the "opposite party"; it is astonishing that the former soldier agreed to have his picture taken but not to reveal his identity, so only his initials appeared on the screen. The eye-witness justified expectations and proclaimed the story published in Slovenske novice - a lie! This was sufficient for the journalist-reporter and author of the TV contribution to conclude that writing on the topic was just another attempt to "draw Slovenia into the "Balkan cauldron". And similar. Other members of the fourth estate also got busy. Their effort soon started to yield fruit - it turned out that the story about war criminals among Slovenian combatants was much more than a canard. It was already hinted to the public that the event at Holmec had already been used by the Yugoslav foreign ministry to report against Ljubljana to the tribunal in the Hague for war crimes committed during the war conflicts in Slovenia.
The editor-in-chief of Slovenske novice claimed that the initial allegations were true in the editorial in which he reminded that Slovenian police had failed to give journalists access to documentation in connection with Holmec. The reason for denying information was that it was "just working material" collected fot the book titled "The Police in the War". It turned out that the "scandalous news about Holmec" leaked from the ranks of the police after a special police report had appeared signed by the advisor of the minister of the interior in December last year in which it was stated that during the battle for Holmec "members of Slovenian militia shot at unarmed soldiers of the JNA". In the same report, the minister's advoisor did not hesitate to write also that this act according to the provisions of international war law was classified as war crime. And then the document came to light and started downhill like a snowball threatening to pull in numerous politicians, which the advisor did not approve of.
Only a couple of days later, the story about the crime in Holmec took an unexpected turn. The insulted members of police in Koruska and associations of veterans were the first to react and they organised demonstrations at the border with Austria, embittered because of "false accusations that they were criminals". Almost simultaneously, Slovenian police offered the public an expertise on the conflict in Holmec, stressing that there had been shooting in the direction of soldiers of the JNA (who had surrendered waving the sheet), but that members of the territorial defence had in fact shot at the other side of the building, because they had been unable to see that the soldiers had surrendered. Finally video-taped shots were presented in which it is possible to see the act of surrender, to hear shots and then watch the panic-stricken soldiers throw themselves on the ground, and then the whole scene is covered by smoke. Cut. The last on the screen is smoke, so that it is impossible to see what has happened to the soldiers. For the sake of truthfulness, Slovenian experts for balistics hinted that the shots were coming from the opposite side. In other words, the JNA was shooting at itself.
Testimonies of sporadic participants in the conflict followed; the central position was taken by memories that Slovenian doctors had helped soldiers of the JNA first and only later members of the territorial defence... Insulted policemen from the Koruska part of Slovenia protested even to president of the state Milan Kucan, and minister of police expressed solidarity with the demonstrators by appearing at the protest in Holmec. In this way he wanted to show that he was not behind the dirty business despite the fact that the controversial document was put in circulation by his closest associate. Soon after, the embittered public swooped down on Slovenske novice and the journalists; the editors would now gladly eat the whole issue which mentioned Holmec, stoically repeating that the newspaper had followed the impulse to reveal the truth, especially because they had no reason for doubt because the disputed commentary was read to them by the director of the police himself. That is how the journalists violated the rule on protection of their sources, and the mentioned director of the police, at first denied the whole affair and then under pressure from all sides (especially by the minister whose post was shaken by the opposition because of it) confessed everything and submitted resignation.
It seemed that the case was solved. There was no crime, the honour of the patriotic police was saved, a scapegoat was found, the minister might survive interpellation at the post, Drnovsek's cabinet can go back to everyday jobs. However, the truth is slightly more complicated. Holmec had in fact suddenly become topical two months ago when someone from the police, maybe even the director himself, handed over to the press the report which said that during liberation of the Vic border crossing, Slovenian policemen had stollen supplies from the duty free shop. This "non-patriotic" tale was aimed at discrediting Marko Pogorevac, one of the candidates for new minister of defence. Wishing to get the start of the press, the heads of the police ordered internal investigation and a special study on possible dark sides of the 1991 ten-day war, in order to prepare arguments in case journalists dug something up again.
The author of the study, unexpectedly got out of hand; he wrote the document quite professionally, using "positivist" vocabulary. It is an expert description which - unfortunately - does not use the word "allegedly" but lists all the observations and documents as facts. The documents in the archives based on which the author of the study Bukovnik concluded that a crime had been committed - are still inaccessible to public. Perhaps even that would not have been a problem if somebody had not tried to ruin the mentioned candidate for minister, convinced that Pogorevc had participated in the operation at Holmec. This is where by now former director of police Borut Likar stepped on the scene, who allegedly in the attempt to prevent journalist Budju from writing the article on the non-existant crime read to him the controversial report. The journalist was not dissuaded, on the contrary, he tackled work. He demanded officially from the police to be enabled insight into original documentation. His demand was turned down. The article was approved. Nobody could have prevented the scandal any more.
By the way, the documenttaion on this matter was put away (from the eyes of the journalists) pursuant rules of procedure which have never been published. On this occasion the public found out that confidential documents (on the crime in Holmec, inclusive), contrary to regulations, were kept in Gotenica, underground bunkers of the once guarded area in Kocevje region conceived and constructed by Ivan Macek Matija, the once prominent member of the party. Opponents of the possibility that Slovenia might appear at the tribunal for war crimes in the Hague are not squeamish any more to use arguments coming from the opposite party; for that purpose they reached out for the argument that the "case of Holmec" was not mentioned even in the booklet titled 'The Truth about the Armed Conflict in Slovenia' published by Narodna Armija in 1991. In this booklet, violations of rules which refer to an internal conflict are precisely stated, along with violations of humanitarian law, transgression against arrested and wounded soldiers committed by members of Slovenian armed forces and two registered examples of similar violations committed by soldiers of JNA.
Revelation of crimes committed by Slovenian policemen against members of the JNA, the first self-critical reconsideration of one's own after 1991 ended ungloriously. State agencies and media turned Holmec into a new point for differentiation into "ours and theirs", accompanied by a criminalistic search for sources of information and an open call to lynch those who had made the story public. It seems that nobody really cares what the truth is; it did not even occur to anybody to find and interrogate all the eye-witnesses (on both sides) about what had really happened in Holmec. It was known that the Slovenian party had violated military and humanitarian law during the 1991 war, but these allegations have never been seriously investigated. And that is not all - it was an established fact from the very beginning that at one of the minor border crossings towards Italy three soldiers of the JNA were shot at (and killed) although they had surrendered. Documentation about this case was preserved and what is even more important - accessible, and recently one of the key witnesses travelled from Rijeka to the Hague in order to confirm allegations relevant to the event which the Hague tribunal for war crimes is competent for. Slovenian authorities are silent. Even when a high Slovenian officer had tried to inform the president of the state Milan Kucan about violations of the Geneva conventions, he did not have the time, although in this case he has found time to receive the delegation of insulted policemen.