Last week, the management board of the Bar association of Belgrade refused to register Vladimir Vukcevic, former war crimes prosecutor, into the attorneys’ registry. We could have anticipated this when his application was returned with additional questions in September last year. A member of the Bar’s board Vladimir Petrovic then said that Vukcevic performed his duties selectively, prosecuting exclusively Serbs, and that, therefore, it is the unanimous position of the Chamber that he is not worthy of the nomination. The public and Vukcevic were hoping that these were just personal misconceptions and erroneous interpretation of one of the Board members. But a lack of patriotism as a valid reason for the decision on Vukcevic’s unworthiness was recently confirmed by as many as 11 of the 12 Board members of the Bar Association of Belgrade.
It is clear that professional prosecutorial work and patriotic feelings are not the same thing (unless professionalism is understood as an act of patriotism, which we could do, but this was not the case with representatives of the Chamber). Still, it seems that the commonly known and accepted fact that professionalism should not be subordinate to patriotism needs to be proven, although the law doesn’t require attestation of common knowledge. First, we will clarify the meaning of the criterion of worthiness of candidates for the status of lawyer. The Law on advocacy defines the worthiness of candidates in two ways. First, a candidate can’t have been convicted of an offense which would make him untrustworthy to practice law. Second, the candidate’s life and work need to be in conformity with generally accepted moral standards and (attorney) code, from which it will then be possible to conclude that the candidate will conscientiously work in the legal profession and safeguard its reputation.
We know that Vukcević has never been convicted, and that he undoubtedly meets the first criterion of worthiness. The objection of the majority of the Bar association members that he prosecuted exclusively Serbs for war crimes could then only be a violation of moral standards and / or lawyers’ code. However, the lawyers’ code obliges lawyers to perform their duties professionally, be committed to the Constitution, laws, justice, as well as the principles of independence, competence, conscientiousness, honesty, responsibility and restraint. In other words, the lawyers’ code still doesn’t say anything about patriotic feelings and relation to the ethnicity of the participants in the proceedings. Vukcevic, as it turns out rather naively, has already commented on the incompatibility of objections and the actual demands of worthiness. He said that the guiding principle of his work was that “the nationality of the victims or the accused didn’t matter; what mattered was whether there was sufficient evidence“. This is the essence of the work of the public prosecutor, explained Vukcevic.
But the Board members weren’t interested in these trifles. Vukcevic was never convicted, nor did he present a reason for the belief that he will act in contravention of the Bar code (which does not recognize the category of patriotic feelings). So, only one option remains – that he has violated generally accepted moral norms. And here we come to the core beliefs of those who evaluated Vukcevic. Generally accepted moral standards in our society, as demonstrated by the lawyers from the Chamber, include justifying crimes committed by “ours” and “on our behalf”. This standard is based on the unfortunate and primitive premise that everything done by ethnic “Serbs” is right, and vice versa: that this does not apply to those who do not have enough “Serbian” blood cells in their veins. However, the lawyers seem to forget that the core of the moral norms should be based on a universal principle of goodness and humanity applicable to all. If viewed from this perspective, it immediately becomes clear that it is not former prosecutor Vukcevic who is guilty of a moral failure, but the very ones who evaluated his moral status.
The decision to deny Vukcevic admission to the Bar association is just as shameful as the procrastination with the choice of his successor at the head of the war crimes prosecution. It is particularly shameful because it was made by lawyers, and apparently based on the customary law of a community steeped in crime. Lawyers like to see themselves as an elite, independent, and influential part of society. However, it turns out that the independence of the Bar association’s leaders is limited by the desires of the executive government, and their awareness of worthiness – by tribal rules. Speaking of the executive government, we should stress that its “bloodhounds” have also addressed the “Vukcevic case”: Milovan Drecun, chairman of the parliamentary committee for Kosovo and Metohija, and MP Marjan Risticevic. Milovan Drecun went on television and said that Vukcevic was hiding evidence against Albanians, while Risticevic filed charges of espionage against several people from the Prosecutor’s office, including Vukcevic.
If we look at this from the party/tribal point of view, we clearly see what it takes to qualify for the Bar association and what is considered as supreme moral norms. Marjan Risticevic is known for vulgar outbursts – one of his most recent ended with him committing the criminal offense of disclosing medical information about an underage beneficiary of the health insurance fund. Milovan Drecun, on the other hand, was prosecuted for warmongering reporting. But, lo and behold, the prosecution dropped these charges after Vukcevic retired.
Vladimir Vukcevic respected the universal norm of moral equality of all people and thus, apparently, did something unforgivable to the “tribe”. He did not participate in the crimes of his “tribesmen” (and it’s clear that this participation is preferred), he didn’t incite to crime, nor did he politically support the crimes and helped cover them up. To make matters worse, Vukcevic was the one who prosecuted the perpetrators for the past 12 years. As political power today is on the side of the perpetrators, instigators, and political admirers of war crimes, a different decision of the supposedly independent Bar association would be a surprise. A different treatment of the prosecutor’s office would also be unexpected. However, we should at least call a spade a spade: unworthiness of the candidate is not the issue, but the (ethnic) justification of crimes by those who decide on the status of the candidates. And if they think that their position is not morally problematic, they should say it loud and clear – without hesitation.
Translated by Marijana Simic