Milan Mrla, the man who, before police reports, testified to Vesna Levar and me last time, spoke frequently with Milan Levar, and admitted to me that he had also talked to Tihomir Orešković after the murder, and that Tomislav Karamarko, as UNS chief, had protected him from has to give evidence to the police about the murder of Levar in 2000, these days he has turned to Mesić for help.
Published: 19 November 2011 Text by: Ernest Marinković
It has been eleven years in August since the Croatian Army officer Milan Levar, who testified before Hague Tribunal investigators about the killings of Serbs in Lika, was killed on his doorstep in Gospić. For his testimony he was given a summary judgment. Although the political, military and police forces élite made a promise at his funeral to find the perpetrators and deliver them to justice, and to provide his widow Vesna and his eleven-year-old son Leon with all necessary support, this has not been done to this day.
Soon after the assassination they arrested Ivica Rožić, who confessed to the murder but as his lawyer was not present the confession was rendered invalid. In their report of 13 October 2011 Amnesty International forwarded the information about the confession, which they received from the Government, to the European Commission. At the time of Levar’s murder the Head of Gospić police was Dubravko Novak, today Chief of the Cabinet for the Minister of the Interior Tomislav Karamarko, who was at that time the Head of the National Security Office (UNS).
The reporter who got most deeply involved in this case and has suffered because of it is certainly Željko Peratović.
– According to the information I have, the assassination was planned in Zagreb, and it was ordered by two highly-positioned officers, a military secret service Colonel Tihomir Orešković and a police general Mladen Markač, who ordered a retired Croatian Army major, also bearing the initials M. M. (Milan Mrla), to follow Levar and report on his movements to the former special police forces member Franjo Drljo, who transferred the assassination order to persons in charge in the Gospić special police unit. From there the green light was given to Ivan Jurković, also called Šareni and the mentioned Ivica Rožić Roka, called Beli Vuk: Levar himself warned against the former before he was killed, and the latter even announced the murder a day before it had happened. Ivica Rožić was later prosecuted for planting mines in front of the houses of the returning Serbs, but he was released due to insufficient evidence – says Peratović, who shared his information with the State Attorney Mladen Bajić back in 2005.
Vesna Levar also kept taking her case to the highest state officials, so Bajić reviewed the whole story: although he allegedly personally questioned the other Milan Mrla last year, the case was transferred to the State Attorney’s Office in Karlovac. Not much has been done there either. ‘In spite of numerous inquests done so far and the talks conducted with a number of people, the police have not so far collected information, evidence and facts which would enable the institution of criminal procedure against the perpetrators of Milan Levar’s murder’, wrote Gordana Križanić, the District Attorney from Karlovac County.
We received a similar reply from the police: ‘(…) the criminal investigation for the said case is still ongoing and the police officers of this Ministry make continual efforts and actions aimed at the resolution of the case (…)’
Lack of will and courage
– I don’t expect the new government will do anything, unless it acts under pressure from abroad. At the time of the murder the position of Chief of police was held by Ranko Ostojić; should he become the new Minister of the Interior, I don’t believe he will deliberately start solving the Levar case because that would imply a conflict with Karamarko, with whom he is on very good terms – concludes Željko Peratović.
Vesna and Leon Levar have been suffering insults, even threats, for 11 years now, from fellow-citizens who consider Milan to have been a criminal and a traitor.
– Since Milan’s death nothing has changed except that the state admitted not to have acted in accordance with the request of the Hague Tribunal and to have failed to protect my husband, so my son and I were paid 220.000 kunas each – says the widow, remembering how they were almost cast out from their environment during the first months after the murder. Today she has her circle of friends, but still consciously lives in a kind of semi-isolation.
– Whoever greets me, I greet them back. I don’t force anyone to communicate with me, I have an impression many are still reluctant to approach me because they fear reactions of others. Lika is a specific environment and the war is still present in the minds of many people. However, in the street, in the bank, at the doctor’s… everyone is nice, there are no more insults – says Vesna Levar, drawing only a bitter laugh at the question whether anyone from the state had ever offered any help.
– During the initial period after the murder everyone used to promise everything, but no one has done a thing, quite the opposite: I wrote the letters myself, I saw people, I asked for help… I only received 2.500 kunas for Leon’s education and that only by legal means, she says.
A widow struggling
Vesna and Leon live in a state-owned apartment, to which certain privileges apply. Since Milan’s death she has been trying to gain ownership of the apartment, but she only managed to transfer the apartment ownership from being the property of the Ministry of Defense to that of the State Property Management Agency. She was offered to buy it at its market price, which she could not do as she had invested more than 200.000 kunas of the compensation money into renovation. She has not been receiving a penny on account of her late husband being a Croatian Army officer, so she recons her Mićo was a veteran only on paper.
She has been turning to the highest state officials: she has visited Stjepan Mesić several times and has also met the current President Ivo Josipović.
– I wrote to Jadranka Kosor twice because President Josipović had told me my housing problem could only be solved by the Government. I received no response to my first letter. Upon sending another letter, and saying that I would alert the public, I was told the matter would be forwarded to competent authorities. However, the letter was – if you can imagine – sent to the Ministry of Defense, although I clearly stated that the apartment was no longer in their possession. That was all Kosor had done – says Vesna Levar.
She also describes her recent meeting with Mladen Bajić.
– By the intervention of President Josipović and Drago Pilsel I came to the office of Mladen Bajić. He briefly listened to what I said and told me the case had been transferred from Gospić. He did not say anything specific, apart from promising that he would personally monitor the case and notify me of any developments. However, I have been waiting to hear from him in vain since last spring – she says.
She suspects that the murder has been covered up all these years because the truth would lead to the big fish in the political, military and police circles. Beginning to lose hope, almost daily she passes by the man who confessed and then denied killing her husband. She looks him in the eye, she says.
– I haven’t noticed that he looks at me. These are the moments of mixed feelings: at first I feel like grabbing him by the throat and screaming, but then I calm down hoping the justice would eventually find him. Then I start feeling indifferent because I see nobody cares to solve this case – reflects the widow of a man killed for wanting to reveal some dark secrets from the recent Croatian history.