Serbs in Crimea send 'false message,' experts and citizens say

24/03/2014

A group of extremists who have joined the Russian paramilitary forces in Crimea do not represent the state, experts tell SETimes.

By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 24/03/14

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A group of Serbs said they are supporting the Russian forces in Crimea. [AFP]

A small group of Serbian citizens who are in Crimea to support Russian paramilitary forces are damaging the Balkan state's international reputation, experts and citizens said.

Just days after Russian troops moved into the Crimea peninsula, members of the extremist Chetnik Movement from Krusevac, central Serbia, arrived in Simferopol.

"We went there because we were invited by our brothers, the Russian Cossacks, to help them in their fight for Crimea. New members are ready and can join our members there whenever it is needed," Njegos Popovic, a Chetnik Movement representative, told SETimes.

"Our aim is to support the Russian people in the name of the Serbian people," said Milutin Malisic, a Serbian volunteer. "We are representing the Chetnik movement, which is similar to the Russian Cossacks," he told Russian agency Itar Tass.

Malisic, who said his group is called "the Wolves," said the initiative is to repay the Russians for their support for Serbia in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Milan Jovanovic, director of the Belgrade-based Forum for Security and Democracy, said the main reason the group went to Crimea is to attempt to create obstacles on Serbia's path to the EU.

"These people that are promoting themselves as Chetniks in Crimea are harmful. They are harming the image of Serbia and threating its EU integration. They are damaging relations with NATO as well, which is a guarantor of stability for the whole of Europe," Jovanovic told SETimes.

He emphasised that the group is not a legitimate representation of Serbia.

"They are, first of all, representatives of ignorance and primitivism. They are not Chetniks, although they claim to be. Chetnik leader Draza Mihajlovic would be turning in his tomb if he knew that these people are promoting everything he was against and representing themselves as his successors," Jovanovic said.

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Some Serbian citizens are concerned that the group's participation in Crimea will negatively affect the country's EU bid. [AFP]

Darko Trifunovic, a member of the Southeast Europe Experts Team Fighting Terrorism and Organised Crime, agreed.

"Chetnik leader Draza Mihajlovic was posthumously honoured for saving 500 US pilots in World War II and he was fighting against communism. It is hard to believe that someone can represent him by fighting for Russia," Trifunovic told SETimes.

He said the Chetnik Movement is wrong about other facts as well.

"Russia has been using the Kosovo crisis for its own purposes in Georgia and now in Ukraine, and it is obvious that this was the reason for its 'neutrality' and support for Serbia. Only the demystification of the Russian brotherhood could discourage Serbians from fighting for Russia's interests," Trifunovic said.

Trifunovic said he is concerned about the negative consequences of this small group's actions as well.

"The departure of these people to Crimea and their media appearances look like a pose by the whole nation, which is wrong. This also shows that Serbia hasn't done anything to stop them from going there. Both these things seriously impair the reputation of Serbia as a future EU member," he told SETimes.

"Serbia has to improve its legislation and put these kinds of situations and people who participate in them in a legal framework. We shouldn't forget the fact that Serbian citizens are participating in the conflict in Syria, as well," he said.

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"Russia has been using the Kosovo crisis for its own purposes in Georgia, and now in Ukraine," one analyst said. [AFP]

Jovanovic also said the state cannot continue to turn its head to its citizens fighting in foreign conflicts.

"Maybe after the damage that these extremists in Crimea are making to Serbia, the government will do something to discourage and punish all these volunteers that are going around the world to fight," Jovanovic told SETimes.

In January, the Social Democratic Party of Serbia proposed a new law that would sanction recruiters of foreign fighters with prison sentences of up to 12 years, and those who depart to participate in foreign wars with prison sentences of up to five years.

The law, which is still pending in parliament, would prevent participation of Serbian citizens in armed conflicts worldwide, regardless of whether for religious, material or other reasons. Deputy Prime Minister Rasim Ljajic said that if Serbs go to Crimea, it will impact Serbia's diplomatic position and such behaviour should be sanctioned.

"The departure of our citizens for wars in other countries or to join foreign military forces should be sanctioned, and we should amend the criminal code to allow that," Ljajic told reporters earlier this month.

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Simka Djeldum, 87, a retired administrative worker, condemned the Serbs who are in Crimea.

"I cannot understand why they left. The state and the whole region are in a deep economic crisis and they have so many things to do here to help their own country. They must know that they can't be helpful to other countries if they do not help their own," Simka told SETimes.

The Serbian Ministry of Interior said it had no information on the issue, and Prime Minister Ivica Dacic did not respond to SETimes' request for comment.

What steps should governments take to reverse extremism? Share your opinion in the comments section.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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