Greek volunteers in Bosnia with war criminal karadzic.

Greek volunteers in Bosnia with war criminal karadzic.

(Originally published on Sunday 5 January 2003 00.29 GM)

It is what Hellenes have long feared: the shattering of a conspiracy of silence that has surrounded the role of Greek volunteers who proudly flew their flag at Srebrenica, after participating in Europe’s worst massacre since the Second World War, when 7,000 men, women and children died.

Next week, as Greece settles into the presidency of the European Union, Milan Milutinovic, Serbia’s recently retired president, will be brought before the war crimes tribunal at The Hague. Greek involvement in the atrocity, as well as other secrets Athens would prefer buried, could be revealed when the 60-year-old testifies.

No one, it is said, played such a pivotal role in the alliance between Athens and Belgrade during the Nineties Balkan conflicts. As Yugoslavia’s ambassador to Greece, Milutinovic was Slobodan Milosevic‘s most trusted lieutenant. His links with Greece’s political, religious and business elites were allegedly crucial to Serbia’s secret economic infrastructure. They allowed the country to evade United Nations sanctions and, according to the International Criminal Tribunal, contributed considerably towards Milosevic’s war machine.

When the diplomat was promoted to Foreign Minister in 1994, he retained his Athens post for several months when, EU diplomats say, he stashed away funds to buy villas and other prime properties in Athens and Crete at the behest of his boss.

With Greece’s admiring public, pro-Serbian church, tolerant media and governments that supported Milosevic, Athens was seen as a bolt-hole by the now disgraced president. As Bosnian Serb ethnic cleansers torched villages, it was here Milosevic would escape to enjoy the hospitality of Greek politicians. Marko Milosevic, his lascivious smuggler son, declared Greece ‘my first home’.

‘This is our best-kept secret, the subject no politician of any persuasion has ever wanted to broach,’ said Takis Michas, author of Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic’s Serbia. ‘In an era where everyone is saying sorry, in Greece at least no one has shown remorse for the crimes in Bosnia when undoubtedly a significant proportion of the political establishment bear some responsibility.’

The US-published book, yet to be printed in Greek, records in shocking detail the relationship between the two Orthodox nations, including the leaking of Nato military intelligence under socialist leader Andreas Papandreou.

Around 100 soldiers are believed to have joined the Greek Volunteer Guard, formed at Mladic’s request. The unit, which fought alongside Russians and Ukrainians, was led by Serb officers and had its own insignia – the double-headed eagle of Byzantium. At least four of its members were awarded the White Eagle medal of honour by Karadzic.

Although their ‘heroic’ exploits were widely reported in the Greek press, the volunteers have gone to ground since the creation of the war crimes tribunal. No government or party has ever sought an inquiry into their activities.

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