Witness Radovan Popovic, former journalist of the Vojska magazine, claimed in his evidence that on 16 July 1995 – amid the executions of Srebrenica men and boys – Ratko Mladic was in Belgrade as the best man at the wedding of Biljana and Zarko Stojkovic. What did the Vojska journalist knew about executions at Branjevo?

Radovan Popovic, defence witness at Rako Mladic trialRadovan Popovic, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial

In a bid to prove the alibi of the former VRS Main Staff commander Ratko Mladic for 16 July 1995 the defense called Radovan Popovic, who was a journalist for the Vojska magazine.

Defense counsel Miodrag Stojanovic read out the summary of Popovic’s written statement. The witness worked with Biljana Stojkovic who asked him to make a video of her wedding on 16 July 1995. That day, from the morning hours to 5pm Popovic filmed the wedding celebration: the ceremony in the church, the photo call with the newlyweds, tossing of the bouquet and the arrival of the best man Ratko Mladic and his wife Bosiljka to the party in the Belgrade restaurant Two Fishermen. When he recorded the full 180 minutes on a video cassette, at about 5pm, Popovic went to the Zeleni Venac town market to buy another tape. When Popovic returned to the restaurant, the best men and his wife had already left.

Prosecutor McCloskey put it to the witness in the cross-examination that he was not able to remember for sure after 20 years when exactly he had used up the video tape and left the restaurant to get a new one. Popovic replied that it was ‘exactly at 5pm’ and he remembered it because he has ‘photographic memory’.

Popovic claimed that he had kept an eye on Mladic all the time. The accused didn’t leave the restaurant or indeed the room where the meal was served, not even to go to the toilet. Because of his experience as a professional cameraman Popovic 'kept looking around the wedding hall' in search of the newlyweds and the best man, while his camera was set to automatically record other events, such as the wedding guests dancing. He did it because he did not want to ‘miss some important detail or some wedding custom’, Popovic noted.

The prosecutor also decided to make use of the witness’s photographic memory to establish if he remembered seeing Mladic smoke and drink. Also, the prosecutor asked the witness if Mladic talked to someone from the Main Staff over the phone at 4:15pm on 16 July 1995. Popovic replied that he didn’t see it.

Since the witness worked as a journalist for the Vojska magazine, the prosecutor asked him if he had heard of the ‘slaughter’ at the Branjevo military farm on 16 July 1995. The execution was underway while the witness was at the wedding. Popovic replied that he was ‘aware of what was going on in those days around Srebrenica and that many people were killed’. Popovic didn’t ‘investigate the details’ because the ‘editor-in-chief never asked’ him to do it. As the witness put it, that was a ‘taboo topic’ and he learned about the ‘terrible things’ only much later.

The prosecution doesn’t contest that Mladic was at the wedding in Belgrade. According to the prosecution, Mladic left the restaurant early, at about 3 or 4pm and returned to Crna Rijeka in the evening of 16 July 1995. The defense claims that Mladic spent that night in Belgrade and came back to the Main Staff only the day after. As alleged by the defense, Mladic didn’t have the means to communicate with his subordinated units in the field which took part in the executions. The prosecution contends that Mladic was kept abreast at all times about the events in Srebrenica.