Vojislav Šešelj (Serbian Cyrillic: Војислав Шешељ, pronounced [ʋǒjislaʋ ʃěʃeʎ]; born 11 October 1954) is a Serbian politician, writer and lawyer. He is the founder and president of the Serbian Radical Party. He was a member of the Serbian Parliament.
He is on trial for alleged war crimes and is suspected of being involved in crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). He surrendered voluntarily in February 2003 but his trial did not begin until November 2007. In February 2009, the prosecution presented 71 witnesses against Šešelj. With seven hours left in the prosecution, his trial was suspended due to claims of alleged witness intimidation. The trial resumed on 12 January 2009, and Šešelj stated that there was no need to call any witnesses in his defense since the prosecution had not presented a single worthy witness. On 24 July 2009, he was sentenced to a further 15 months in custody for disrespecting the court.
As of January 2013 A verdict will be delivered in October 2013.
, the trial is still under way and Šešelj is still in custody. This is partly due to a hunger strike, his decision to not appear for his opening statement (he was self represented), and the aforementioned witness intimidation.
Vojislav Šešelj was born in Sarajevo, PR Bosnia-Herzegovina, FPR Yugoslavia, to Nikola and Danica (née Misita) Šešelj, ethnic Serbs from the Popovo Valley region of eastern Herzegovina. His parents wed in 1953 before moving to Sarajevo, where they lived on modest means in adapted housing at the old Sarajevo train station as Šešelj’s father found employment in the state-run ŽTP railway company. His mother stayed home and took care of her two children, Vojislav and his younger sister, Dragica. His grandfather on his mother’s side was Chetnik commander Lt. Col. Veselin Misita.
Šešelj began his elementary education in September 1961 in Vladimir Nazor primary school before getting assigned to the newly-built primary school at Bratstvo i Jedinstvo. An excellent student until the fourth grade, he increasingly grew uninterested with the curriculum, realizing the minimal effort he needed to produce in order to achieve adequate grades. An avid reader, having already read most of Branko Ćopić‘s opus, he choose to devote more and more time to reading literature he would find on his own such as works by Karl May, Tone Seliškar, Momčilo Nastasijević, Honoré de Balzac, Émile Zola, and Stendhal, rather than studying all his subjects diligently, causing his grades to suffer somewhat. History was his favourite subject and he generally preferred social sciences to natural ones.
He then attended First Sarajevo Gymnasium, receiving excellent grades. In the summer of 1971, at age 16, he accepted an offer to join the Communist League (SKJ), which got extended to him and two other youth workers as a result of the exceptional effort shown at the youth work action in Banja Luka, organized in the wake of the devastating 1969 earthquake. He was also involved with various student organizations in school as the president of the gymnasium’s student union and later as the president of its youth committee. Even during his gymnasium days, Šešelj demonstrated his argumentative side, engaging in frequent altercations with school principal Blanka Popović and municipal youth committee president Boban Jakovljević over what he saw to be discrepancies between proclaimed theory and the practical implementation of various initiatives. During these disagreements, Šešelj acted from the platform of communist ideology, as his worldview at the time was very much shaped by works by Marx, Engels, and Lenin, which theorized on social justice and communist ethics. He also read works by Trotsky and even Mao for a time. An exemplary and devoted communist during gymnasium days, Šešelj continued going to youth work actions for summer holidays. In 1972 and 1973, he worked as laborer around the Morava River, building embankments.
After gymnasium, Šešelj enrolled at the University of Sarajevo‘s Faculty of Law in fall 1973. Much like in gymnasium, he additionally took part in various student bodies becoming a student prodekan, a vice-dean counterpart in the student organization, the role he performed for fifteen months. Controversy followed him again as he openly criticized dean candidate Fuad Muhić, publicly proclaiming him unfit to perform the duties of that position. Muhić still got elected to the post. After student prodekan, Šešelj became a course demonstrator, holding two sets of tutorials per week, helping professors with student oral exams as well as with conference papers. In 1975, as part of a university delegation, the 21-year-old Šešelj visited the University of Mannheim in West Germany for two weeks, which was his first trip abroad. He completed his 4-year undergraduate studies in two years and eight months.
Immediately after graduating in 1976, Šešelj had his eye on a job as assistant lecturer at the University of Sarajevo’s Faculty of Law, however, not a single assistant position got posted at the faculty for the following school year leaving him with nothing to apply for. Šešelj saw the unusual situation as dean Muhić’s personal revenge for Šešelj’s public criticism. Realizing his minimal chances of getting hired at the Faculty of Law in Sarajevo, Šešelj turned his attention to other faculties. While preparing his application for the Faculty of Law in Mostar (at the time organizationally transforming from a remote unit of Sarajevo’s law faculty into a separate independent educational entity) where they needed assistants for courses on constitutional law, Šešelj learned about an assistant job posting at Sarajevo University’s Faculty of Political Sciences for a course called ‘Political Parties and Organizations’ and decided instead to apply there. He furthermore had close friends Zdravko Grebo, Rodoljub Marjanović, and Milan Tomić who already worked at the faculty as assistants while Grebo’s mother was the faculty’s dean. However, after finding out that the ‘Political Parties and Organizations’ course is being taught by professor Atif Purivatra, a close friend and political companion of Muhić, Šešelj withdrew his application fearing a rejection that would reflect badly on future vocational efforts. Through Grebo’s mother, Šešelj learned that the faculty was about to establish the Department for People’s Defense where plenty of assistants would be needed. A month later, in September 1976, he was hired and began assisting lecturers on „War Theory“. He held tutorials relying on classical Marxist literature such as The Civil War in France, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, Anti-Dühring, etc., as well as such works by Lenin as The State and Revolution. Šešelj delved deeper into Trotsky’s works, as well as reading Isaac Deutscher‘s books on Trotsky and Stalin.
In parallel, Šešelj began postgraduate studies by enrolling in November 1976 at the University of Belgrade‘s Faculty of Law. Due to employment obligations in Sarajevo, he didn’t move to Belgrade, but instead went there two to three times a month to attend lectures and obtain literature. He earned a masters degree in June 1978 with a masters thesis titled The Marxist Concept of an Armed People.
In 1978, he spent two and a half months at the Grand Valley State Colleges in an exchange program with the University of Sarajevo. Šešelj taught political science at the University of Michigan.
Also in 1978, after returning from the U.S., Šešelj began pursuing a doctorate at the Belgrade University’s Faculty of Law. After submitting his dissertation in early fall 1979, he went for specialization at the University of Greifswald in East Germany. He then obtained his doctorate on 26 November 1979 after successfully defending his dissertation (doctoral thesis) titled The Political Essence of Militarism and Fascism, which made him the youngest Ph.D holder in Yugoslavia at 25 years of age.
In December 1979 he joined the Yugoslav People’s Army to serve the mandatory military service and was stationed in Belgrade. He left the army in November 1980, but in the meantime he had lost his position at the University of Sarajevo’s Faculty of Political Sciences.
In the early 1980s, Šešelj began to associate more with individuals from dissident intellectual circles in Belgrade, some of whom had Serbian nationalist political leanings. After arriving home in Sarajevo after completing his army service, Šešelj’s career stagnated due to difficulties in finding a job at the university despite his academic credentials. He held Muslim professors at the Faculty of Political Sciences Atif Purivatra, Hasan Sušić and Omer Ibrahimagić responsible for his situation, openly criticizing and describing them as Pan-Islamists and nationalists.
In September 1981, Šešelj finally rejoined the Faculty of Political Sciences where he was asked to teach courses on international relations. The Faculty of Political Sciences, as a breeding ground for future politicians, was closely controlled and overseen by the Communist Party, and outspoken Šešelj quickly drew the attention of party officials. He openly supported another prominent young intellectual, Nenad Kecmanović, who was himself embroiled in a controversy that drew criticism from some sections of the communist nomenklatura in Bosnia due to his writings in NIN magazine. Furthermore, in the literary journal Književna reč, Šešelj continued to criticize Muslim university professors (Atif Purivatra, Hasan Sušić and Muhamed Filipović) for having harmed his professional career. He further reproached them for taking part in an international conference in Madrid that focused on Muammar al-Gaddafi‘s Green Book. Šešelj considered the views that these intellectuals expressed in their contributions to the said conference as „pan-Islamist“.
Still, the biggest controversy was raised when Šešelj came up against faculty colleague Brano Miljuš. Protege of Hamdija Pozderac and Branko Mikulić (SR Bosnia-Herzegovina‘s highest and most powerful political figures at the time), Miljuš was well positioned within the communist apparatus as the secretary of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Communist League‘s Sarajevo branch. Šešelj dissected Miljuš’s masters degree thesis and accused him of plagiarizing more than 40 pages in it from the published works by Marx and Edvard Kardelj. Šešelj’s criticism didn’t end there, as he went after even the highest political echelons in the republic, particularly Pozderac who was the reviewer of Miljuš’s masters degree thesis. As a result, a bitter and protracted power struggle spilled outside the faculty and into the political institutions and corridors of power. Other faculty members and intellectuals to offer their support to Šešelj included Boro Gojković, Džemal Sokolović, Hidajet Repovac, Momir Zeković and Ina Ovadija-Musafija. The Pozderac side was stronger; Šešelj was expelled from the Communist League on 4 December 1981.
By spring 1982, barely six months after being re-hired, his position at the Faculty of Political Sciences was in jeopardy. He ended up being demoted to the Institute for Social Research (Institut za društvena istraživanja), an institution affiliated with the Faculty. A number of Belgrade intellectuals, mostly writers and researchers in the social sciences, came to his defense by writing letters of protest to the government of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to the Faculty of Political Science in Sarajevo. He became critical of the way in which the national question was dealt with in Yugoslavia: he spoke out in favour of the use of force against Kosovo Albanians and denounced the passivity of the Serbian political leadership in handling the Kosovo crisis. Furthermore, in his view the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina were not a nation but a religious group. He expressed his concern of seeing Bosnia and Herzegovina turn into a republic dominated by Muslims. He began to be spied on by UDBA agents. Šešelj’s first arrest took place on 8 February 1984, the second day of the Sarajevo Olympics. He was on a train from Sarajevo heading to Belgrade when the secret police burst on board around Podlugovi station and seized some of his writings that he had in the suitcase. Among the agents handling his arrest that day was Dragan Kijac (later Republika Srpska state security chief).
In Doboj, Šešelj was taken off the train, transferred into a police Mercedes, and transported to Belgrade where he was questioned for 27 hours straight before being let go and informed that he would be contacted again. After getting back to Sarajevo, UDBA took him in twice more for questionings, which were handled by Rašid Musić and Milan Krnjajić. According to Šešelj, they had the transcripts of the various conversations he had with some of his closest friends in which he and his friends openly criticized everything from specific political figures to communist regime in general, and were trying to get him to implicate them as a basis for „a group trial for ethnic balance purposes, […] a Serbian group to persecute since they just convicted Izetbegović‘s Muslim one.“ On 20 April 1984, he was arrested at a private apartment in Belgrade among the group of 28 individuals during the lecture given by Milovan Đilas as part of Free University, a semi-clandestine organization that gathered intellectuals critical of the communist regime. Šešelj spent four days in prison before being released.
However, Šešelj was a free man for barely three weeks. In mid-May 1984, Stane Dolanc, the Slovene representative in Yugoslav Presidency and the all-powerful longtime state security chief, gave an interview to TV Belgrade, explicitly going after Šešelj for his unpublished manuscript Odgovori na anketu-intervju: Šta da se radi? in which Šešelj calls for „reorganization of the Yugoslav federalism, SFR Yugoslavia with only four constituent republics (Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia), abolishing of the single-party system, and the abolishing of artificial nationalities“. Two days later, on 15 May 1984, Šešelj was arrested again in Sarajevo. Several days after being jailed at Sarajevo’s Central Prison, he began a hunger strike, which attracted the attention of the foreign press. In jail, he passed the time by reading without devoting much effort to preparing his defense at the impending trial. A few weeks later, his then wife Vesna Mudreša gave birth to their first child — a boy named Nikola, after Šešelj’s father — however, Šešelj refused to end the hunger strike even after being told the happy news. Weak, frail, and with rapidly deteriorating overall health, the 29-year-old eventually relented on the last day of the trial, ending the strike after 48 days.
Several days later, on 9 July 1984, he was given an eight-year sentence. The verdict delivered by presiding judge Milorad Potparić concluded that Šešelj „acted from the anarcho–liberal and nationalist platform thereby committing the criminal act of counterrevolutionary endangerment of the social order“. The single most incriminating piece of evidence cited by the court was the unpublished manuscript that the secret police found in Šešelj’s home. On appeal, the Supreme Court of SFR Yugoslavia reduced the sentence to six years, then to four, and finally two.
Šešelj served the first eight months of his sentence in Sarajevo before getting transferred to Zenica prison in January 1985. Once there he got placed in the so-called quarantine where in line with Yugoslav prison procedures he was isolated from other inmates for three weeks while medical checks and general psychological observation were conducted in order to come up with a rehabilitation plan and program during his prison stay. From the start his attitude was uncooperative as he informed the prison officials of his refusal to do any labour, reasoning that „since jailed communists didn’t have to do prison labour in the pre-World War II capitalist Yugoslavia, I too, as someone espousing anti-communist ideology, refuse to do labour in a communist prison“.
Such a stubborn attitude got him multiple stays in solitary confinement that initially lasted two weeks on end, but later got extended to a whole month. During his first solitary confinement stay he went on another hunger strike. A week into his strike, he was beaten up by the guards in an effort to force him to stop, but he wouldn’t budge, lasting 16 days without food. In total, out of his fourteen months in Zenica, six and a half were spent in solitary confinement. He was released in March 1986 – two months early due to continuous pressure, protests and petitions by intellectuals throughout Yugoslavia and abroad, many of whom would later become his political opponents.
Upon release from prison, Šešelj permanently moved to Belgrade.
According to John Mueller, Šešelj „later seems to have become mentally unbalanced as the result of the torture and beatings he endured while in prison“.
In 1989 Šešelj returned to the United States where Momčilo Đujić, a Chetnik leader from World War II living there in exile, bestowed on Šešelj the title Vojvoda (duke) of the Chetniks, to make a „unitary Serbian state where all Serbs would live, occupying all the Serb lands„. Together with Vuk Drašković and Mirko Jović, Šešelj founded the anti-communist Serbian National Renewal (SNO) party in 1989. He later split off the SNO party to form the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), thus forming the Chetniks under his command.
In late 1991, during the Battle of Vukovar, Šešelj went to Borovo Selo to meet with a Serbian Orthodox Church bishop and publicly described Croats as a genocidal and perverted people. The paramilitary group White Eagles active at the time in the Yugoslav Wars was reportedly associated with him, being referred to as Šešeljevci („Šešelj’s men“).
In May and July 1992, Šešelj visited the Vojvodina village of Hrtkovci and publicly started the campaign of persecution of local ethnic Croats.
In the elections of December 1992, the SRS won 27 percent of the vote versus the 40 percent won by the Socialist Party of President Slobodan Milošević. His relationship with Milošević was amicable during the first years of the Yugoslav Wars. Šešelj and his party were in effect Milošević’s close allies who helped them orchestrate the mass layoffs of journalists in 1992, and Šešelj publicly proclaimed their backing of Milošević as late as August 1993. In September 1993, however, Šešelj and Milošević came into conflict over Milošević’s withdrawal of support for Republika Srpska in the Bosnian War, and Milošević described Šešelj as „the personification of violence and primitivism“. Šešelj landed in jail again in 1994 and 1995 for his opposition to Milošević.
In July 1997, Šešelj made a guest appearance on BKTV‘s Tête-à-tête talk duel programme with lawyer Nikola Barović as the other duelist. The duel quickly denegerated into an emotional exchange of verbal antagonism and ad hominem attacks that culminated in Barović pouring water on Šešelj. Sometime later Barović was physically assaulted by Šešelj’s security detail. Šešelj stated that Barović slipped on a banana peel and tumbled down the flight of stairs.
In 1998, as violence in the Serbian province of Kosovo increased, Šešelj joined Milošević’s national unity government, siding briefly with the pro-Milošević government. Šešelj was appointed deputy president of the Serbian government in 1998. In September 1998, he objected to foreign media and human rights organizations acting in Yugoslavia, saying:
The Human Rights Watch condemned the statement.
During the 1999 Kosovo War and the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, he and his political party were willing to support Milošević, but after three months of bombardment they were the only party to vote against the withdrawal of FR Yugoslav security forces from Kosovo.
Србија чека Шешеља! (Serbia waits for Šešelj!) graffiti supporting Šešelj
In late February 2003, Šešelj surrendered to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on the indictment of „eight counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of violations of the laws or customs of war for his alleged participation in a joint criminal enterprise„. In 2005, Šešelj made headlines when he was asked to read a letter which he earlier sent to the ICTY that stated his contempt for the court. The letter was read in front of cameras by Šešelj and contained copious amounts of insults and expletives aimed at the top Tribunal officials and judges. In his letter, Šešelj said that the presiding judge has only „the right“ (mocking the Hague’s judges) to perform oral sex on him, and he referred to Carla Del Ponte as „the prostitute“. Recordings of this statement have been aired many times in Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. While in custody, he wrote „Kriminalac i ratni zločinac Havijer Solana“ („Felon and War Criminal Javier Solana„), a criticism of the NATO Secretary General (and the current High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Secretary-General of both the Council of the European Union and the Western European Union) who led the 1999 war in Kosovo.
On 2 December 2006, about 40,000 people marched in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, in support of Šešelj during his 28-day hunger strike in The Hague – after the ICTY denied him the right to choose his own defence counsel. Speaking at the rally, Radical Party secretary Aleksandar Vučić said „He’s not fighting just for his life. But he’s fighting for all of us who are gathered here. Vojislav Šešelj is fighting for Serbia!“ Šešelj ended the hunger strike on 8 December after being allowed to present his own defence. Although in custody in The Hague, Šešelj led his party’s list of contenders for the January 2007 general election.
Under the ICTY indictment, Šešelj has been charged with 15 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs or war. The first of these charges is for persecution of Croatian, Muslim and other non-Serbs in Vukovar, Šamac, Zvornik and Vojvodina. The other charges include murder, forced deportation, illegal imprisonment, torture and property destruction during the Yugoslav wars.
On 11 February 2009, after 71 witnesses had already been heard and with the expected conclusion of the prosecution’s case just seven hours away, the presiding judges suspended Šešelj’s trial indefinitely at the prosecutors’ request. The prosecutors alleged that witnesses were being intimidated. Šešelj claimed that the true motive of the prosecutors was that they were losing their case. He claimed the court had presented numerous false witnesses to avoid having to acquit him and said it should pay him damages for „all the suffering and six years spent in detention“. One of the three judges voted against the suspension of the trial stating that it was „unfair to interrupt the trial of someone who has spent almost six years in detention“. A contempt of court case against Šešelj was opened for having revealed, in a book he had written, the identities of three witnesses whose names had been ordered suppressed by the tribunal, and for this he was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment by the ICTY.
On 25 November 2009, it was announced that Šešelj’s trial would resume on 12 January 2010. The trial resumed on schedule and continued until 17 March 2010. On 10 March 2010, the weekly ICTY press briefing announced that Šešelj was scheduled to appear in court on 20 April 2010 for contempt of court for allegedly disclosing court restricted information on 11 protected witnesses. This is his second time he has been charged with contempt. In July 2009 he was found guilty of contempt on similar charges involving two protected witnesses and was sentenced to fifteen months in jail. On 17 March 2010, the weekly ICTY press briefing announced that „The trial of Vojislav Šešelj has been adjourned until further notice, pending checks on the health status of the remaining four Chamber witnesses“. In the weekly ICTY briefing on 24 March stated „The trial of Vojislav Šešelj is expected to continue on Tuesday at 14:15 in Courtroom I with the testimony of one of the four remaining Trial Chamber witnesses“. On 14 April 2010, the weekly ICTY press briefing announced that with only one witness still to be heard, on the 30 March 2010 Šešelj trial was adjourned until further notice but was likely to resume in May 2010, after Šešelj’s second contempt proceeding initiated against him by the Tribunal have ended.
Prosecutors have demanded a 28-year sentence against Seselj for allegedly recruiting paramilitary groups and inciting them to commit atrocities during the Balkan wars of the early 1990s. In closing remarks at his war crimes trial on 14 March 2012, Seselj said the Yugoslav tribunal empowered by the U.N. Security Council is actually a creation of Western intelligence agencies and it doesn’t have jurisdiction in his case. He reportedly vowed „to make a mockery of his trial“.
In September 2011, the ICTY rejected Šešelj’s bid to have his long-running trial discontinued. In his submission to the court, Šešelj stated that his right to be tried in a reasonable amount of time has been violated, and called the situation „incomprehensible, scandalous and inappropriate“. However, the bench ruled that „there is no predetermined threshold with regard to the time period beyond which a trial may be considered unfair on account of undue delay“ and also argued that Šešelj „failed to provide concrete proof of abuse of process“.
Of all ICTY indictees, Šešelj has spent the longest time without a verdict being delivered.
Views on the Roman Catholic Church[edit source | edit]
Šešelj has written several books explicitly accusing the Roman Catholic Church of engaging in genocide against Serbs, including: