Emma Neuber, Estella Müller & Miriam Schirmer
In der zweiteiligen Dokumentarfilmreihe „Krieg vor Gericht“ gibt Regisseur Lucio Mollica einen detaillierten Einblick in die juristische Aufarbeitung der während der Jugoslawienkriege von 1991 bis 2001 verübten Massenverbrechen. Dabei werden einerseits historische Ereignisse rund um das Jugoslawientribunal detailgenau rekonstruiert. Andererseits geben Berichte von Zeitzeug:innen einen persönlichen Einblick in die geschehenen Massenverbrechen und den Strafprozess.
Dieses englischsprachige Interview ist Teil einer Interviewreihe und Filmbesprechung von Genocide Alert e.V. anlässlich der Veröffentlichung. Die zweiteilige Dokumentarreihe „Krieg vor Gericht“ ist noch bis zum 08.08.2021 in der ARD-Mediathek online zu sehen.
This interview with the Italian director Lucio Mollica was conducted in connection with the documentary series “Krieg vor Gericht – Die Jugoslawien-Prozesse“.
GA: The first question is a rather personal one: We are interested in your motivation to produce this movie – why did you decide to engage yourself with the topic of the ICTY?
LM: It’s a long story. Part of it is because of the first film I made. Just after school, I went with a group of friends to Bosnia to make a film ten years after the end of the war, and we remained so attached to this country. We were supposed to stay there only a few weeks, but we ended up staying longer and we were really heartbroken when we finally left. Somehow, I remained connected to this country, to its people and I continued following essentially what the ICTY was doing as a matter of personal interest. The last film I did was a series about Afghanistan and its history of the past 40 years. And one of the things I found most striking about the history of Afghanistan – and probably one of the causes of this never-ending cycle of violence in that country – is the absolute lack of justice and of truth at the same time, of a recognized truth and a feeling of those guilty having been somehow put on trial and sentenced. And that’s why it was important to look at the spirits of the ICTY, which is now somehow a bit distant from us.
GA: You said that you already shot a movie on the Bosnian War and the former Yugoslavia and that you stayed connected somehow. What made you stay connected specifically?
LM: I think first of all because of the people that I’ve met and the stories they shared with us. They were so shocking and at the same time so true, so strong. And you know, I’m an Italian; Italy is a border nation of the former Yugoslavia. When I grew up as a kid, the war was taking place, so it was very close to us. We used to go there and they also travelled to Italy, there were many similarities in a number of regards. I think the experience of how quickly a nation can descend into war, into violence, is something I did not forget and that’s one of the aspects of this film. I didn’t want to focus too much on the particularities on how the situation in Yugoslavia evolved. Instead, I almost wanted to work by subtraction and see how in the end the pattern could happen and how it could start tomorrow in any other country. History repeats itself and we learn so little from it, so a documentary may help sometimes.
GA: Of course, you already knew a little bit about the background and the history, but how was research conducted in general for the film?
LM: We had a good team, that was the most important aspect. We had journalists who were familiar with the region or were from the region. Additionally, historians and a lot of other people with different expertise advised us on different levels. The most extensive research we did was the research in the tribunal’s archive and in the archive of the war. Especially the research on the tribunal was very extensive because we were dealing with thousands, maybe millions of hours of material. It took us at least a month to decide how we were starting, how we were looking at it. I think that was the most challenging part in this film or one of the challenges.
GA: You said that the research was the most challenging part. Was it also challenging to find protagonists and survivors, or the other participants in the tribunal?
LM: No, I would say that was quite straightforward. It was challenging to decide who was going to make it into the film. In twenty years of history and trial of the tribunal, there was no shortage of judges, prosecutors, survivors, and witnesses. It was a bit more difficult with perpetrators, that was definitively the most challenging operation for us in terms of who to feature in the documentary. But in general, also thanks to the historians we worked with and who in their previous work had been in contact with some of the protagonists, it was relatively easy to get in touch with people. If you come back to them humanely, there is a good chance that the interview is going to be good as well.
GA: You already mentioned that it was important for you to have different perspectives. Also, were there aspects of the film where it was more important for you to include different perspectives?
LM: One of the most interesting books I’ve read on the subject a long time ago was the book of Slavenka Drakulić, a Croation writer and one of the characters in the film. She wrote a book about some perpetrators in the tribunal, which is named “They Would Never Hurt a Fly“. I would have made a film just on that for how interesting it is to understand how perfectly ordinary people in the wrong circumstances became capable of atrocities and mass murders. Again, assuming that this could happen elsewhere, I think it is important to understand this. So that we don’t say, it’s them, it’s these bad people, it’s this culture, this country that produced these atrocities. But it’s normal people, who in other circumstances could have been artists, gardeners, or doctors. In the end, for me, it was important to give a testimony. Of course, it implies questions, because I’m sure not everybody is happy when you give a stage to somebody with that kind of background. But I think it’s worth doing. The choice of the perpetrators that we had was more interesting, because it required some sensibility. We didn’t want to have any perpetrators. We were quite sure in particular that we didn’t want to offer anybody a platform just to rerun the trial. We were interested in the human journey inside the institution of the ICTY. And so, we chose two people who were very different. One was Serb, one was Bosnian. One was a big political actor, the other one was an ordinary foot soldier. But both of them expressed their culpability, each in a different way. And it was interesting for us to see how different reasons brought on the admission of guilt.
GA: Did you, when you shot the movie and when you interviewed the different people, have them on set simultaneously? Were there any tensions?
LM: No, never. Everyone was filmed separately because we like to give people our undivided attention in the time they spend with us. We interviewed them for a day, sometimes more than one day. The time we spent together served to create trust and intimacy; everybody needed to feel unique in that moment. They are recounting their own individual personal stories and that can be very traumatic, sometimes very difficult, so we didn’t want to mix those emotional processes with something else.
GA: Did you tell the survivors in advance that you were also conducting interviews with perpetrators? And what did they say about that?
LM: I remember with one of them there was a conversation about how it’s not important if you feature the survivors, the perpetrators, but how much space you give them. Because there is a fair amount of denialism, for instance, regarding Srebrenica. And I made it very clear that that’s not what we were interested to have in the film. We didn’t want a debate on whether Srebrenica happened or not, or who was right and who was wrong in the war. It was a film about justice. And in justice, the defendants – including the guilty ones – have the right to speak. This is why I think it was right to include their perspectives as well.
GA: And how was it for you personally to work with or interview the survivors? Did you have any psychologists on set as well?
LM: No, we didn’t have a psychologist on set. It’s not like a medical first aid kit. Because often, the psychological impact such an interview can have is a process. And this process takes time. The characters that opened up to me were fine on set, but I’m sure that reliving the story is painful and opens some wounds every single time. So probably after the interview, I can imagine for some of them, they didn’t feel great.
GA: I think that’s a very interesting point that you mentioned. Of course, you can break open existing wounds and you always have a risk of re-traumatization, but on the other hand, you’re curious; you want to tell the public more about the fate of the individuals. How do you manage this tension between the risk of re-traumatization on the one hand and the public interest on the other hand?
LM: I think it’s a bit arrogant from my perspective as a filmmaker to judge. I think it’s very much in the responsibility of my interview partner. I like to do some preparatory work with them to explore the different aspects of the interview and the process. I want to give them the possibility to think about it in the cold light of the day and to be prepared for it. In most cases, they know exactly what they are going to face. Mostly, they have done interviews before, so they have been there already. Every time it’s painful and difficult, but they know it. I think it would be difficult if we were dealing with other characters, with children, with people who are less informed about how the media and this process works. But in this case, I think they were in the position to make their own choices. Of course, you try to go step by step with them, not to force them and to leave them space, in which they feel free to stop when they want to stop or to interrupt. But every time it’s a learning experience for me as well.
GA: What was the most memorable moment talking to survivors for you personally?
LM: There were many. I remember, for instance, Esad Landžo [one of the convicted perpetrators interviewed in the series], when he was watching the images of the trial that he probably hadn’t watched since the trial. It was a very intense moment. Or when we walked with Nedžad Avdić [survivor of the massacre of Srebrenica interviewed in the series] in the woods of Srebrenica where he had lost his father and started his journey. And he had also never come back before. It really does something you. But my interest was also in the staff of the tribunal. For instance, Jean-René Ruez, the policeman. In his office he has all the documents he collected for those years, lots of memorabilia, notes. It makes you feel how strong of an impact the tribunal left but also how passionate people can really move mountains. In the end, if it wasn’t for individuals who took their job very seriously, the ICTY could have never happened the way it did. I am talking about Ruez as an example, but it’s true for a number of people who worked for the ICTY on different levels. In highly unlikely circumstances they accomplished something that was unexpected. This shows that people can make a difference and that was a big lesson of the documentary.
GA: You mentioned earlier that it’s a documentary series about justice: How do you think your series can help foster the discussion about justice after mass atrocities or after genocide in the future?
LM: It’s simple: Documentaries can start a discussion simply by being watched and commented. Online there are a lot of comments and discussions about the film and people of different, sometimes opposing ideas debate over it. Maybe the people watching develop some thoughts or discover something they didn’t know. It’s easy to dismiss or to forget what this trial has been about. So just to keep that memory alive was important to us. And then, trying to learn something from it, would be the second step.
GA: Just for you personally, as a conclusion, what’s the most important aspect for you about the film? Or what is closest to your heart about this movie?
LM: Again, we come back to the beginning: Such atrocities can happen again, and they can happen elsewhere. The second part is that we need some kind of justice, because it’s going to happen again. The lack of justice actually perpetrates the risk of escalating violence. We need to find a way as a civilization to deal with these crimes in a just manner. It’s not just about punishing the guilty, but it’s about bringing justice. No matter the criticism that was put against the ICTY – which I’m not going to challenge – every one of these 161 people indicted in the tribunal had the possibility to defend themselves, to call witnesses, to have a lawyer, sometimes a team of lawyers, to challenge every single piece of evidence or every single witness of the prosecution. Some were acquitted. I think this might not be received well by all sides, but I think in the long run it pays off.
 The convicted perpetrators interviewed in the documentary were Esad Landžo, the Bosnian foot soldier mentioned, and Biljana Plavšić, former president of the Republic of Srbska.
Privataufnahme, bereitgestellt durch Lucio Mollica.
Krieg vor Gericht – Die Jugoslawien-Prozesse
Das Grauen des Balkankrieges: belagerte Städte, vertriebene Familien, über 130.000 Tote. Der Internationalen Strafgerichtshof für das ehemalige Jugoslawien sollte die Kriegsverbrechen ahnden. Nie zuvor hat ein internationales Gericht Kriegsverbrecher aller Seiten verfolgt – darunter Mladić, Karadžić und Milošević. Der Film erzählt von Opfern, Tätern und Anklägern. – Der französische Ermittler Jean-René Ruez entdeckte mit seinem Team die Massengräber, in denen fast 8.000 muslimische Männer aus Srebrenica verscharrt wurden.
© rbb/Jean-René Ruez, honorarfrei – Verwendung gemäß der AGB im engen inhaltlichen, redaktionellen Zusammenhang mit genannter rbb-Sendung bei Nennung „Bild: rbb/Jean-René Ruez“ (S2+). rbb Presse & Information, Masurenallee 8-14, 14057 Berlin, Tel: 030/97 99 3-12118, firstname.lastname@example.org