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Vojislav Šešelj, JD (Serbian Cyrillic: Војислав Шешељ, ) (b. 11 October 1954, Sarajevomarker, Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker, then Yugoslavia) is a Serbian politician. He is the founder and president of the Serbian Radical Party and has been a member of the Serbian parliament.

Šešelj is currently on trial for alleged war crimes and possible crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslaviamarker (ICTYmarker). He surrendered voluntarily in February 2003. His trial began in November 2007. His trial has been suspended since February 2009 after 71 witnesses testified because of alleged witness intimidation. This occurred seven hours away from the legal limit of time allowed for the prosecution to make present their case. Šešelj issued a statement that he would not have defense witnesses on his behalf as he believed the judge would find him not guilty on all charges. On 24 July 2009, he was sentenced to a further 15 months in custody without trial.

Early life

Vojislav Šešelj was born in Sarajevomarker, PR Bosnia-Herzegovina, FPR Yugoslaviamarker to an ethnic Serb family that hails from Popovo Valley in eastern Herzegovina region. He lived near the old Sarajevo train station before the family moved to Hrasnomarker neighbourhood. His father Nikola Šešelj, who worked on the railways, died during Vojislav's early youth meaning that he and his sister Dragica were raised by their mother alone.

Vojislav attended First Sarajevo Gymnasium with excellent grades. While there, at the age of 17, he took an offer to join the Communist League (SKJ), which was extended to him as a result of the exceptional effort he showed at one of the workers' actions in Banja Lukamarker that were organized in the years following the devastating 1969 earthquake that hit the city. He was also involved with various student bodies in school as the president of the gymnasium's student union and later as the president of its youth committee. Even during his gymnasium days, Šešelj demonstrated his argumentative side, getting into rows with school principal Blanka Popović and municipal youth committee president Boban Jakovljević over what he saw to be discrepancies between proclaimed theory and the practical implementation of various initiatives. During these disagreements, Šešelj still stayed within the parameters of communist ideology.

He then enrolled at the University of Sarajevo's Faculty of Law from which he graduated in record time - it took him only two years and eight months to complete his undergraduate studies. Though short, his time at Sarajevo University wasn't uneventful as he openly criticized dean candidate Fuad Muhić, publicly proclaiming him unfit to perform that position.

Right away after graduation in mid 1976, Šešelj continued with graduate studies by enrolling at the University of Belgrade Faculty of Law where he earned a masters degree in June 1978. On November 26, 1979 he obtained a doctorate at the same university after successfully defending his dissertation (doctoral thesis) titled The Political Essence of Militarism and Fascism, which made him the youngest PhD holder in Yugoslavia at only 25 years of age.

While still pursuing his PhD, Šešelj unsuccessfully tried to get a position as assistant lecturer at the University of Sarajevo's Faculty of Law, but instead got hired by the Faculty of Political Sciences at the same university. In December 1979 he went to serve the mandatory military service in the Yugoslav People's Army and got stationed in Belgrade. He got out in November 1980, however in the meantime he lost his position at the university.

Academic career

During early 1980s, Šešelj began to associate more with individuals from dissident intellectual circles in Belgrade, some of whom had Serbian nationalist political leanings. Getting back home to Sarajevo after completing the army service, Šešelj's career was stagnating as he experienced hard time getting hired at the university despite impressive academic credentials. He held Muslim professors at the Faculty of Political Sciences Atif Purivatra, Hasan Sušić, and Omer Ibrahimagić responsible for this, openly criticizing and describing them as Pan-Islamists and nationalists.

University of Sarajevo

In September 1981, Šešelj finally rejoined the Faculty of Political Sciences where he was asked to teach courses on international relations. By definition, the Faculty of Political Sciences, as a breeding ground for future politicians, was closely controlled and overseen by the Communist Party and it didn't take long for outspoken Šešelj to draw attention of the higher ups. He gave open support to another prominent intellectual of the younger generation at the time Nenad Kecmanović who was himself embroiled in the controversy that had him under a barrage of criticism from some sections of the communist nomenclature in Bosnia due to his writings in NIN magazine. Furthermore, in the literary journal Književna reč, Šešelj continued criticizing Muslim university professors (Atif Purivatra, Hasan Sušić, and Muhamed Filipović) for having harmed his professional career. He further reproached them for taking part in an international conference in Madridmarker that focused on Muammar al-Gaddafi's Green Book. Šešelj considered the views that these intellectuals expressed in their contributions to the said conference as "pan-Islamist".

Expulsion from the Communist League

Still, the biggest controversy was raised when Šešelj came up against faculty colleague Brano Miljuš. Protege of Hamdija Pozderac and Branko Mikulić (SR Bosnia-Herzegovina's highest and most powerful political figures at the time), Miljuš was well positioned within the communist apparatus as the secretary of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Communist League's Sarajevo branch. Šešelj dissected Miljuš's masters degree thesis and accused him of plagiarizing more than 40 pages in it from the published works of Karl Marx and Edvard Kardelj. Šešelj's criticism didn't end there, as he went after even the highest political echelons in the republic, particularly Pozderac who was the reviewer of Miljuš's masters degree thesis. As a result, a bitter and protracted power struggle spilled outside the faculty and into the political institutions and corridors of power. Other faculty members and intellectuals to offer their support to Šešelj were Boro Gojković, Džemal Sokolović, Hidajet Repovac, Momir Zeković, Ina Ovadija-Musafija, etc. Still, the Pozderac side was much stronger and the whole thing ended with Šešelj being expelled from the Communist League on December 4, 1981.

Demotion to the Social Research Institute

By spring 1982, barely 6 months after getting re-hired, his position at the Faculty of Political Sciences was also in question. He ended up getting moved (essentially demoted) to the Institute for Social Research (Institut za društvena istraživanja), an institution affiliated with the Faculty. A number of Belgrade intellectuals, mostly writers and researchers in the social sciences, came to his defense by writing letters of protest to the government of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to the Faculty of Political Science in Sarajevo.

Around this time Šešelj became very critical of the way that the national question was dealt with in Yugoslavia: he spoke out in favour of the use of force against Kosovo Albanians and denounced the passivity of the Serbian political leadership in handling the Kosovo crisis. In his view, the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina were not a nation but a religious group. He expressed his fear of seeing Bosnia and Herzegovina turn into a republic dominated by Muslims.

Šešelj also began to be followed and spied on by UDBA (Yugoslav state security) agents. His first arrest took place on February 8, 1984, the second day of the Sarajevo Olympics. He was on a train from Sarajevo heading to Belgrade when the secret police burst on board around Podlugovi station and seized some of his writings that he had in the suitcase. Among the agents handling his arrest that day was Dragan Kijac (later Republika Srpska state security chief). In Dobojmarker, Šešelj was taken off the train, transferred into a police Mercedes, and transported to Belgrade where he was questioned for 27 hours straight before being let go and informed that he'll be contacted again. After getting back to Sarajevo, UDBA took him in twice more for questionings, which were handled by Rašid Musić and Milan Krnjajić. According to Šešelj, they had the transcripts of the various conversations he had with some of his closest friends in which they openly criticized everything from specific political figures to communist regime in general:

It wasn't long before Šešelj tasted jail for the first time. On April 20, 1984, the Good Friday before Orthodox Easter, he got arrested at a private apartment in Belgrade among the group of 28 individuals during the lecture given by Milovan Đilas as part of Free University, a semi-clandestine organization that gathered intellectuals critical of the communist regime. In total Šešelj spent 4 days behind bars on that occasion before being let go.


However, Šešelj was a free man for barely three weeks. In mid May 1984, Stane Dolanc gave an interview to TV Belgrade, explicitly going after Šešelj for his unpublished manuscript Odgovori na anketu-intervju: Šta da se radi? in which he calls for "reorganization of the Yugoslav federalism, SFR Yugoslavia with only four constituent republics (Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia, and Slovenia), abolishing of the single-party system, and the abolishing of artificial nationalities". Couple of days later on May 15, 1984, Šešelj was arrested again in Sarajevo. This time, as soon as he got to jail, he began a hunger strike that lasted 48 days, which got the foreign press interested in his case:

Eventually on July 9, 1984, he got sentenced to eight years in prison. The verdict delivered by presiding judge Milorad Potparić concluded that Šešelj "acted from the anarcho-liberal and nationalist platform thereby committing the criminal act of counterrevolutionary endangerment of the social order". The single most incriminating piece of evidence cited by the court was the unpublished manuscript that the secret police found in Šešelj's home. On appeal, the Supreme Court of SFR Yugoslavia reduced the sentence to 6 years, then to 4, and finally to 2 years. Up until his sentencing, Šešelj taught political science at the University of Michiganmarker in Ann Arbormarker, and later in Sarajevo.

Šešelj served the first eight months of his sentence in Sarajevo and the last fourteen in Zenica prison before getting released in 1986 - two months early due to continuous pressure, protests and petitions by intellectuals throughout Yugoslavia (many of whom were later his bitter political opponents). In total, Šešelj spent 22 months in jail, 6 of which were spent in solitary confinement.

Upon release, he permanently moved to Belgrade where he made a living by writing and publishing books by himself (samizdat).

In a 1983 interview for Omladinske novine when he was asked what was his nationality, he replied that he was a Yugoslav.

Political career

In 1989 Šešelj returned to the United Statesmarker where Momčilo Đujić, a Chetnik leader from World War II living there in exile, bestowed on Šešelj the title Vojvoda of the Chetniks. Together with Vuk Drašković and Mirko Jović, Šešelj founded the anti-communist Serbian National Renewal (SNO) party in 1989. Šešelj later split off his faction to form the Serbian Radical Party (SRS).

Šešelj boasted in June 1991, shortly before Serbia went to war against Slovenia and Croatia with the aim of suppressing their secession from Yugoslavia, that his paramilitary forces would not kill Croats with knives, but would gouge out their eyes with rusty spoons so that they would die of tetanus. He made this remark in a broadcast, available for viewing on YouTube. When journalists ask him about this remark, he regularly replies that it was sarcasm.

In the elections of December 1992, the SRS won 27 percent of the vote versus the 40 percent won by the Socialist Party of President Slobodan Milošević. His relationship with Milošević was amicable during the first years of the Yugoslav Wars. In September 1993, the two leaders came into conflict over Milošević's withdrawal of support for Republika Srpska in the Bosnian War, and Milošević described Šešelj as "the personification of violence and primitivism". Šešelj landed in jail again in 1994 and 1995 for his opposition to Milošević. In 1998 as violence in the Serbian province of Kosovomarker increased, Šešelj joined Milošević’s national unity government, siding briefly with the pro-Milošević government.

Šešelj objected to foreign media and human rights organizations acting in Yugoslavia, saying:

He became vice-president of the Serbian government between 1998 and 2000. During the Kosovo War and the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, he and his political party were willing to support Milošević, but after three months of bombardment they were the only party to vote against the withdrawal of Serbian security forces from Kosovo.

ICTY custody

In late February 2003 Šešelj surrendered to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on the indictment of "eight counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of violations of the laws or customs of war for his alleged participation in a joint criminal enterprise". In 2005 Šešelj made headlines when he was asked to read a letter which he earlier sent to the ICTY that stated his contempt for the court. The letter was read in front of cameras by Šešelj and contained copious amounts of insults and expletives aimed at the top Tribunal officials and judges. In his letter, Šešelj said that the presiding judge can only perform oral sex on him, and he referred to Carla Del Ponte as "the prostitute". Recordings of this statement have been aired many times in Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

While in custody, he wrote „Kriminalac i ratni zločinac Havijer Solana” (“Felon and War Criminal Javier Solana”), a criticism of the NATO Secretary General (and the current High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Secretary-General of both the Council of the European Union and the Western European Union) who led the 1999 war in Kosovo.

On 2 December 2006, about 40,000 people marched in the Serbian capital, Belgrademarker, in support of Šešelj during his 28-day hunger strike in The Hague - after the ICTY denied him the right to choose his own defence counsel. Speaking at the rally, Radical Party secretary Aleksandar Vučić said "He's not fighting just for his life. But he's fighting for all of us who are gathered here. Vojislav Šešelj is fighting for Serbia!" Šešelj ended the hunger strike on 8 December after being allowed to present his own defence.

Although in custody in The Hague, Šešelj led his party's list of contenders for the January 2007 general election.

Under the ICTY indictment, Vojislav Seselj is charged with 15 counts of crimes against of humanity and violations of the laws or customs or war. The first of these charges is for persecution of Croat, Muslim and other non-Serbs in Vukovarmarker, Samacmarker, Zvornikmarker and the Vojvodinamarker. The other charges include murder, forced deportation, illegal imprisonment, torture and property destruction during the Yugoslav wars.

On February 11, 2009, after 71 witnesses had already been heard and with the expected conclusion of the prosecution's case just seven hours away, the presiding judges suspended Šešelj’s trial indefinitely at the prosecutors’ request. The prosecutors alleged that witnesses were being intimidated. Šešelj claimed that the true motive of the prosecutors was that they were losing their case. He claimed the court had presented numerous false witnesses to avoid having to acquit him and said it should pay him damages for "all the suffering and six years spent in detention". One of the three judges voted against the suspension of the trial stating that it was “unfair to interrupt the trial of someone who has spent almost six years in detention”. A contempt of court case against Šešelj was opened the previous 21 January for having revealed, in a book he had written, the identities of three witnesses whose names had been ordered suppressed by the tribunal, and for
which he was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment by the The International Criminal Court.

On November 25, 2009, it was announced that Šešelj`s trial will continue on January 12, 2010.

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