After 27 years, the Greek authorities ignore the evidence that its citizens were present in Srebrenica
Greek authorities insist they have “insufficient evidence” that its citizens committed crimes while fighting in Bosnia. At the same time, the so-called volunteers continue to brag about their presence in the war.
The Greek authorities insist that they do not have enough evidence, but information is not hard to come by.
A large number of Greeks still boast that they remained unpunished for their presence in Srebrenica and other scenes of war crimes.
The Balkan Research Network of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIRN BiH) did not see direct evidence in this bragging that the Greek volunteers actually committed any crimes, but experts claim that there is sufficient justification for a detailed investigation.
Hikmet Karčić, a genocide and holocaust researcher based in Sarajevo, says: “The Greeks certainly participated in the genocide in some way, perhaps during the separation of men from their families or during deportations.
“Not a single Greek volunteer has ever been found guilty of participating in war crimes in Bosnia. Greek volunteers today are free people and are protected by the Greek state.”
Activists handed over piles of documents and photographs related to possible crimes, but in vain.
After the outbreak of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, international volunteers of various nationalities who were motivated by financial, religious and political reasons joined the Serbian forces.
Behind the Russian contingent, Greek volunteers became one of the largest foreign groups that joined the Army of the Republika Srpska (VRS) and fought alongside their fellow Orthodox Christians.
Ingeborg Beugel, a Dutch journalist based in Greece who reported from the war in BiH, produced the documentary “The Greek Way” in 2002 about Greece’s support for the regime of Serbian war leader Slobodan Milošević and open admiration for war criminals from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The exact number of Greek paramilitary forces in Bosnia remains unknown. Estimates vary from 150 to 300 soldiers.
Some joined the Drina Corps, Arkan’s “Tigers” and the Tenth Sabotage Squad. Courts in The Hague and BiH convicted more than 20 members of the Drina Corps and the Tenth Sabotage Squad for the crimes in Srebrenica.
The first Greek members of the paramilitary forces were seen in VRS units during the siege of Sarajevo in 1993.
In the following months, their numbers grew, especially after the Greek media supported their cause along with the Greek Orthodox Church and far-right organizations. Greek members included volunteers, mercenaries and right-wing extremists associated with the self-proclaimed fascist political party Golden Dawn.
The Greek Volunteer Guard was formed in March 1995, a few months before the genocide in Srebrenica, by the order of Ratko Mladić, the former commander of the Main Staff of the VRS convicted of the genocide in Srebrenica and other war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The unit was led by the Greek Antonis Mitkos, and it was part of the Drina Corps, based in Vlasenica.
On July 11, 1995, Greeks were seen together with VRS units during the takeover of Srebrenica, which led to the genocide of more than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys over the following days.
According to the evidence collected by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), at that time Zvonko Bajagić, who was a close friend of Karadžić and Mladić, was often in the company of Greeks.
Bajagić was assisted by two members of the Greek paramilitary forces when passing by the soccer stadium in Nova Kasaba, which served as a center for mass executions.
“One of them got out of the car to take photos,” Bajagić admitted during his testimony in Karadzic’s defense in The Hague in 2013.
In July 1995, Mitkos, Bajagić and Mladić appeared together in the now infamous photo taken in Srebrenica. Mitkos did not respond to a request to comment on his duties in Srebrenica in July 1995. No prosecutor found evidence of his involvement in the crimes.
A Greek paramilitary from the war has been revealed to be in possession of gruesome images from the conflict.
In 2003, he was arrested for illegal trade in anabolic steroids, and around 80 photographs of the “massacre” of Muslim civilians in Bosnia and Herzegovina were discovered in his apartment, according to the newspaper Elefterotypia.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, it acquired the military name “zvornički vuk” after the town in the north of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was the scene of numerous war crimes.
He later told authorities that he had not personally witnessed any of the scenes in the photographs. No proceedings were initiated due to his participation in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Other members of paramilitary units from Greece are happy to brag about their alleged involvement in killings during the war.
“When we were killing Muslims, there were times when we would celebrate to get rid of the tension from the fighting,” one of them boasted in a 2004 interview with the right-wing Tachidromos newspaper. “In any case, it was very easy to execute them. They attacked us, and we killed 300 of them in 13 minutes.”
Others are still talking about the time they spent fighting in BiH on social networks.
The commander of the so-called Greek Volunteer Guard, Mitkos, actively promotes the time he spent in Srebrenica on social networks. His cover photo shows him in the company of Mladic, and it was taken near that city.
Another former Greek volunteer Kyriakos Katharios (known as Kiro) became an author, public speaker and genocide denier after returning from BiH.
He still proudly talks about his time in the Yugoslav war, giving speeches about the crimes in Srebrenica, denying the atrocities and calling them “propaganda”.
“For years, I could not accept the story spread by the mainstream media — that I was a volunteer in an army accused of genocide. I knew there was another truth somewhere, but we have to look for it,” said this former volunteer during a public address via YouTube .
Commenting on the number of victims, he states: “There is nothing to support those numbers.”
He insists on the claims that he was not in Srebrenica in 1995 nor that he was connected to any crimes.
Katharios declined to comment for this story.
Calls for justice are ignored
In the years after the war in Yugoslavia, some fought in vain for justice.
“The dominant opinion is still that Greece acted in its national interest by supporting the Serbs,” says Takis Michas, journalist and author of one of the most important testimonies of Greek participation in the Yugoslav war, the book “Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milošević’s Serbia.”
During 2005, Greek MP Andreas Andrianopoulos called for an investigation into the involvement of Greek soldiers in Srebrenica.
Andrianopoulos used to be a member of New Democracy and the social democratic movement PASOK, i.e. political parties that supported Milošević and the wartime political leader of the Serbs in BiH, Radovan Karadžić, who was convicted of genocide.
Andrianopoulos was, and still is, critical of Greece’s role during that war.
“Greece showed an unprecedented tolerant attitude that made the Greeks stand out from other nations of the civilized West in darker colors,” he wrote.
During 2005, 163 Greek academics, politicians, journalists and political activists issued a call to Greece to officially apologize to the victims of Srebrenica for any Greek presence in the area during the massacre.
During the only official preliminary investigation into the matter, which opened in 2005, Michas was called to testify by an Athenian prosecutor.
“I gave the names [of the suspects],” he recalled. “Now the prosecutor is asking for the addresses of those people. They had no intention of doing anything about it.”
“During this period, these people openly published their works and at no time were they arrested and brought in for questioning by the Greek authorities,” recalls Michas.
Michas told BIRN BiH that in 2009, the then ambassador of Greece in Sarajevo, Prokopios Mantzouranis, asked the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs to renew calls for an investigation into the activities of “volunteers”.
In 2011, the Athenian prosecutor proposed “not to charge” seven Greeks with the crime of “murder with intent”, explaining that it was not possible to determine the activities of each of the accused, as well as the identity and number of victims of their alleged criminal activity in the Srebrenica genocide.
Then in 2014, MP Maria Yiannakaki demanded answers from Justice Minister Charalambos Athanasiou about the failure to conduct a proper investigation.
The ministry’s response referred to the decision to dismiss the case made three years earlier by the first-instance court panel.
Yiannakaki states that the prosecutor could have opened a second preliminary investigation at this stage.
In 2017, she became secretary general of the Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights during the first progressive left-wing Greek government led by Alexis Tsipras, and has requested a second look at the documents.
“We are talking here about the biggest crime that happened in Europe after the Second World War,” she says. “We have names, but these people continue to go unpunished with the support of the justice system.”
The prosecutor with whom she spoke replied that the file was “archived until further notice”.
“[It’s] something that doesn’t exist [in Greek law],” she says, “since there are names, the prosecutor can open a case whenever he wants.”
Vassilis Tsarnas, a member of the human rights organization Helsinki Monitor, was also dismayed by the decision of the Greek judiciary.
Together with his colleagues, he tried for years to bring the Greek paramilitary forces to justice.
He explains that prosecutors were able to reopen the case after the research group XYZContagion released important documents in 2015 about the involvement of Greek paramilitary forces in the Yugoslav conflicts.
“With several hundred pages of new evidence, photographs and other materials, we are supported by associations — the Association ‘Movement of Mothers of the Srebrenica and Žepa Enclave’ and the Association of Genocide Victims and Witnesses — who were ready to support our claims,” said Tsarnas.
But that was not enough for the prosecutors, he added.
“Not only did we hand them more evidence, they also got more names. And yet, the prosecutor concluded: ‘The perpetrators are unknown,’” recalls Tsarnas.
Greece’s Helsinki Monitor contested that decision, demanding the dismissal of the prosecutor, but in June 2017 the case was shelved, apparently permanently.
“Honestly, we don’t know what else to do in Greece. We are left to fend for ourselves, and the justice system is not responding,” says Tsarnas. “I personally believe that there is no political will,” he explains. “Greece has no reason to reopen that file, because there is no pressure from outside.”
Yiannakaki agrees and claims that Bosnia and Herzegovina would the courts should now take over this matter. “They should reopen the file,” she says.
BIRN BiH asked the Greek Ministry of Justice if it intends to take any action. In their written response, they stated that it was beyond the competence of that ministry to undertake such actions.
“The Greek judicial authorities archived the case due to lack of sufficient evidence,” they explained.
Suhra Sinanović from the victims’ association from Bratunac, a town located just a few kilometers from the Srebrenica Memorial Center, says she is disappointed with the reaction of the Greek judiciary, and calls on prosecutors to investigate the role of volunteers from Greece.
“Exactly 27 years have passed and no one has been convicted,” she states, adding that the victims do not trust the Greek judiciary.
“But we can always hope”, adds Sinanović.
Originally published in Bosnian language: Nakon 27 godina, grčke vlasti ignorišu dokaze da su njeni državljani bili prisutni u Srebrenici — Detektor