A rights group on Saturday sharply criticized the Serbian government after the defense ministry published and promoted books that include the war memories of two former generals convicted of war crimes by a U.N. court.
The Youth Initiative for Human Rights said in an open letter to Prime Minister Ana Brnabic that the move amounted to open state support for the war criminals sentenced by the Yugoslav tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.
The ministry rejected the criticism in a statement, insisting that the generals have the right to “state their view of the historic events that they had participated in.”
The court convicted ex-generals Nebojsa Pavkovic and Vladimir Lazarevic for atrocities committed by Serb troops in Kosovo during the 1998-99 violence that left over 10,000 people dead and forced nearly 1 million from their homes. The court said the two officers were involved in a terror campaign against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo that included murder, rape and forced deportations.
Pavkovic is serving a 22-year prison term while Lazarevic has returned to Serbia after 14 years in jail.
Serbia’s defense ministry is presenting the two ex-generals’ war testimonies at the Belgrade Book Fair this week. The books are part of a seven-book edition that focuses on the 78-day NATO bombing in 1999, which ended the war and forced Serbia to pull out of Kosovo.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, which Belgrade does not recognize. Serbia is seeking European Union membership and the two former foes have been engaged in EU-mediated talks aimed at normalizing ties.
In its statement, the defense ministry said the books were sold out in three days at the fair and additional ones have been printed.
“We see no reason to be ashamed of our people’s struggle and those who led that struggle,” the statement said.
Both Pavkovic and Lazarevic commanded troops in Kosovo during the war.
Pavkovic’s war diaries were promoted earlier this week while Lazarevic discussed the book about his wartime unit at the fair Saturday.
In its statement, the Youth Initiative for Human Rights demanded that the prime minister halt the government’s promotion of the books, saying that they humiliated victims all over again.
“The rehabilitation of war criminals brings into question both the European path of the (Serbian) government and the entire country and any dialogue about the Kosovo question,” the group said. “Serbia must play an active role in creating room for new memories and building of new relations in the Balkans, rather than systematically promote revisionist movements in favor of convicted war criminals.”