Jorge Marcano | The Lithuania Tribune
Given the relevance of whistle-blower website Wikileaks and the notoriety that in its day, the Wars of Independence in the Former Yugoslavia generated, the Lithuania Tribune presents the content of a conference given by Slovenian journalist, Blaz Zgaga, who visited Vilnius this week to speak at the local Transparency International chapter.
The Balkan journalist informed the new generation of journalists about his latest work, books and findings from the recently declassified documents in his country. These newly-declassified documents were obtained through Freedom of Information requests and they reveal how many countries who voted for the arms embargo in that region back in the 90s, were nonetheless actively participating in violating it.
During the terrible wars that shook the newly-formed nation states of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Serbia, many secrets and war profits were not revealed given the constant massacres, atrocities, ethnic-cleansing and refugee crisis that flooded our television screens during the early 90s. Nonetheless, a three-year investigation concluded last year shows us how a brave network of Croatian, Bosnian, Slovenian, Swiss, Ukrainian and Polish journalists collaborated by requesting grants from an independent non-profit organization “European Fund for Investigative Journalism” (who co-financed the investigation), obtained numerous documents related to the war profits accumulated by the Slovenian political elite during the ethnic conflicts in the Former Yugoslavia.
The conference aptly titled “How to access information, analyze it and make ti reliable. Investigating arms smuggling in Ex-Yugoslavia” delved into the origins, process and finally publication of their non-fiction trilogy, written by Matej Zurc and the presenter, Blaz Zgaga. Mr. Zgaga, who worked as a freelancer since 2008, had the unenviable task of analyzing, indexing and actually co-relating huge volumes of data that dated back from 1990.
Through their work in their arms smuggling investigation, the Balkan journalists revealed what would be known as the “mother of all scandals” in their native land of Slovenia. Due to their investigative books, many court cases have been opened in their country. In the conference, Mr. Zgaga contextualized his book by providing us with the historical background of his research. He spoke about how the wars in the Former Yugoslav Republics caused more than 130,000 deaths in the early 90s.
According to Mr. Zgaga’s, the elites that came to power during that period are still ruling in the newly-formed nations. His prognosis is quite negative since he refers to a current panorama of rampant corruption where organized crime has taken a solid foothold and where almost no economic progress has occurred for the last 2 decades, leading to what he called a “lost generation”. Of course, these assertions, especially in the Slovenian and Croatian case could be a little hard to accept, especially due to the fact that Slovenia became an EU Member State when Lithuania entered the block and Croatia has become the 28th EU Member State, where it will begin to deploy its full economic potential starting in 2013. Not to mention the cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) that Croatia has provided in recent years.
As the conference progressed, the audience learned that investigative journalism is mainly done in teams and that their historical investigation involves officers and VIPs who are still ruling the countries mentioned. A recurrent case was that of current Slovenia Prime Minister, Janez Jansa, who according to the declassified documents, profiteered in great amounts for the arms smuggling scheme when he served as Minister of Defence. After years of the original petition filed for the declassification of documents, in 2009, more than 6,000 documents came to the public light. These documents ranged from diplomatic cables to police intelligence service memos and port authority paperwork.
It must be said that during this process, the authors analyzed various public sources (books, news articles), reached additional sources, found partners in the Former Yugoslavia and proceeded to create databases in order to produce the volumes to be released publicly. The journalistic team created 4 Excel databases: one devoted to those documents dealing with the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA), another one for the road transports/border police, a third one dealt with road transports/logistic companies and a final one focused on sea transport/port authorities.
After a protracted period of research, compilation, analysis and interpretation, the authors finally completed their long-awaited trilogy entitled, “In the name of the State”, consisted of the following books came to be published in Slovenia:
- “Sell” – dealing with the selling of the YPA assets from Slovenia to Croatia and Bosnia
- “Resell” – dealing with the purchase of ammunition overseas and the profits accumulated from the sales to Yugoslav battlegrounds
- The final book named “Cover-up” explains the concealment of illegal activities in Mr. Zgaga’s nation during the last 2 decades
During the lengthy conference, Mr. Zgaga’s main takeaway for the audience was that throughout different episodes Slovenia actually allowed use of its territory to train Croatian and Bosnian paramilitary forces. One of the most explosives revelations dealt with the fact that on July 1991, Neo-Ustasa forces (an extreme right-wing paramilitary group from Croatia) were trained and equipped in Slovenian soil with the blessing and permission of the domestic authorities at the time. Another important fact dealt with the reality that the war profit was accumulated at a Swiss account of a front company named Cranex.
The author also discussed how Italian and Albanian mafia helped in arms smuggling proceedings whilst also exposing how Germany through a Munich proxy company named Unimercat provided 46.6 million Deustche Marks to Slovenia for arms purchases back then. According to Mr. Zgaga, many arms smuggling schemes were managed by military intelligence.
Dedicating his work to all of the war victims in the Former Yugoslavia, the speaker opened the floor for questions and answers. The Lithuania Tribune asked about possible indictments to the current Slovenian Prime Minister, about the EU’s reaction to all of these documents and if the local chapter of Transparency International in Slovenia had reassessed the country in its current corruption perception index where it is placed on number 35 out of 182 countries measured.
Mr. Zgaga responded that in the current Slovenian political climate, it was quite difficult to prosecute criminal cases from the past and that the Slovenian leadership used heavy political pressure to quiet down their court appearances and influence the trials, always scheduling trips abroad for official duties in order to avoid notoriety. He also commented that he did not received any EU replies about the investigation nor from the local Slovene chapter of Transparency International. Nonetheless, he did received notification from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) about their interests on the revelations posed by the trilogy. In fact, the author commented that Finland actually attempted to block Slovenia’s accession into that organisation due to some degree by certain revelations presented in the books. However, Slovenia ended up joining the OECD in July 2010.
Other questions raised up issues like what kind of proofreading was done, English language availability of the books and how well they are doing in commercial terms. The authors hoped that in the future an English translation would be available but in the moment, one can only find it in Slovenian and there are discussions about its translation into Croatian. Furthermore, he admitted that despite the fact the books were rigorously checked by the publishers, no experts from Slovenian Ministry of Defence or in fact intelligence officers had actually proofread it. On the commercial front, he is very satisfied since books have become best-sellers in Slovenia, so they definitely had an impact on public awareness.
He did say that despite the verbal attacks by political actors, no one had actually sued him or his partner for libelous charges. In that way, the author assures that the facts exposed in the books, speak for themselves and indicate the worrisome levels of “state capture” (a grand corruption status in which oligarchs as a result of illicit activities manipulate policy formation, laws, regulations and new rules to their own substantial advantage) that exist in Slovenia nowadays.