It's been less than been a month since a United Nations court in The Hague found former Serbian warlord Vojislav Seselj guilty of crimes against humanity. The judgment centered on a speech Seselj gave in the village of Hrtkovci in May 1992 that prosecutors said incited violence against Serbia's Croatian minority.
Then, on Sunday — the 26th anniversary of his inflammatory speech — Seselj attempted to return to Hrtkovci to hold an ultranationalist rally. He and his supporters were greeted by dozens of police officers, who blocked his entrance to the village out of fear that it would spark clashes with counterprotesters. Some opponents stood by the roadblock holding a sign that called him a war criminal.
“We wanted to have a peaceful rally, and the regime banned it without any reason,” Seselj told reporters.
The 63-year-old, who holds a seat in parliament and leads the Serbian Radical Party, revels in the spotlight, and his attempted return to Hrtkovci is the latest stunt in a career often defined by spectacle. In 2003, he drew a pistol on a political opponent on the floor of Serbia's parliament. In 2006, after he was placed in pretrial detention in The Hague, he went on a hunger strike to demand that he be allowed to represent himself. And in 2007, he expressed regret that the death penalty was not a possible outcome for him “so that proudly, with dignity, my head upright like my friend Saddam Hussein, I could die and put the final seal on my ideology,” he said. “It would become immortal. I have lived long enough.”
Prosecutors accused Seselj of forcibly deporting Croats during the wars of the 1990s, which killed more than 100,000 people and eventually broke apart the country of Yugoslavia. Seselj, they said, incited the torture and murder of Croats and persecuted them based on their religion and race.
Seselj had been acquitted on all charges in 2016, but prosecutors appealed the verdict, which was then partially overturned last month. He was found guilty of “instigating persecution, forcible displacement, deportation, and other inhumane acts” and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but he avoided jail time because he had already spent more than 11 years in pretrial detention.
His opponents welcomed the result of the appeal in April, although the Croatian Foreign Ministry said that Seselj's sentence was ultimately “too lenient in relation to the committed crimes.”
Those opponents have pointed to the conviction as evidence that Seselj should give up his seat in parliament. Under Serbian law, a lawmaker's term is forfeited if they are sentenced to six or more months in jail. Seselj claims that provision does not apply to him because of his earlier time served.
As for Seselj, he has always been unrepentant. After he was found guilty of crimes against humanity in April, he said that he is “proud of all the war crimes and crimes against humanity that were attributed to me, and I am ready to repeat them in the future.”
“We will never give up the idea of a Greater Serbia,” he said after his 2016 acquittal. “I do not feel guilty of anything.”