Who Is Afraid Of The Truth – Croatia Vs Serbia Genocide ICJ Case

Sonja Biserko Photo: Milovan Milenkovic

Sonja Biserko
Photo: Milovan Milenkovic

Ever since the publication of an interview of Sonja Biserko, chairwoman of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, regarding her impending appearance as witness for Croatia in its lawsuit against Serbia for genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), there has been a distressing harangue against the woman in Serbia.
“The right-wing’s vulgar and dangerous assaults at Chairwoman of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia Sonja Biserko on the one hand, and governmental institutions and political structures’ failure to adequately react against them on the other testify of the Serbian society’s deep moral crisis,” states a petition to Serbian authorities.

The petition further claims: “These, patriots’ fear the truth about the developments in 1990s and try to hide it by assaulting Sonja Biserko. They, as well as those who silently support them, ignore that Sonja Biserko is someone who has been promoting human rights and democracy in Serbia with dedication for over twenty years, a person rewarded and renown internationally for her work. And instead of her work being appreciated in Serbia as well, she is subject to a harangue typical of Europe’s evil days”.
A reaction by Serbian Zarko Korac (retired university professor of psychology in Belgrade, politician, an opponent of 1990’s Slobodan Milosevic’s regime)   in Pescanik.net to the harangue in Serbia against Sonia Biserko includes the following:

“…We live in a country where a large number of people still consider that Slobodan Milosevic, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic are patriots who ‘only defended their country’, regardless of the fact that the UN Security Council formed a special court (without a single opposing vote) for crimes committed on the territory of former Yugoslavia, which has indicted these three ‘patriots’ with the most serious of possible crimes. Such a country must be massively out of step with the greater part of the world and with the customary moral norms. The man who had during the war written in Politika about the ‘human transfer of population’, which stands as euphemism for ethnic cleansing, is now the most respectable writer in Serbia. Furthermore, the attempts to rehabilitate convicted war criminals from World War II have become quite common here.

During World War II, there were a larger number of collaborative governments in occupied Europe, France and Norway are the best known ones. Pierre Laval, the pre-war Prime Minister of France, agreed to lead a Vichy government under the German occupation. After liberation, De Gaulle’s France had, after a court trial, convicted him to death and executed him in February of 1945.  Similar thing happened to Vidkun Quisling, who was the Prime Minister of Norway under German occupation and who was also executed in October 1945 after a court trial.  His name had become a symbol of collaboration with the enemy even during the war.  There’s no doubt that most French and Norwegian people see these persons as traitors.

Individuals in Serbia are constantly attempting to rehabilitate our quisling, General Milan Nedic. This would not be unusual for a complex society such as the Serbian one were people in high government and social positions not participating in it.  And so, Dejan Medakovic, the president of the Serbian academy and arts, had in 1993 included Nedic among the Hundred most eminent Serbs in his monograph.  And Vojislav Kostunica, as president of Serbia’s government, had sought that portraits of all government presidents of Serbia in history be mounted on the walls of government’s premises. On that occasion the portrait of Milan Nedic was also mounted on the wall. This ‘legalist’ had made conscious efforts that Milan Nedic was not elected at any elections and that he existed without any legality.  He was a quisling president of the government, placed there by Serbia’s occupiers. He was a man whose government, beside other matters had as early as Summer of 1941 brought in the Nazi racist laws on the basis of which citizens’ rights were taken away from the Jews to only be murdered – by Germans but with the full-hearty help from Nedic’s knaves.

This picture of the transformation of collaborationists into ‘patriots’ is sickening. Of course, the justice-loving daily newspaper editors who condemn the ‘betrayal’ of Sonja Biserko, have never mentioned that.  Neither have their supporters, distinguished lawyers. They were not touched by the transformation of Milan Nedic into a ‘most eminent Serb’.”

The interview of Sonja Biserko, chairwoman of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia

How and why have I been invited to testify?
Interview by: Tamara Nikcevic

These days Belgrade tabloids have once again issued warrants for Chairman of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia Sonja Biserko. This time, claim reliable sources from “official circles,” because she could bear witness for Croatia before the International Court of Justice following Croatia’s charges against Serbia for genocide. How come the media got information as such? Who gave it to them? After all, will Sonja Biserko really take the stand in The Hague?
“True, Croatia has invited me to take the stand in a possible genocide trial of Serbia. I don’t see why this should be problematic,” says Sonja Biserko. “What is really problematic in my view is the state’s attitude towards citizens who have been invited over past years to testify in the trials to Serb officials before an international court. Just remember what witnesses against Slobodan Milosevic or Vojislav Seselj had gone through; or Milan Babic’s family that has been under constant pressure. Unfortunately, we all know how this ended.”

VREME: The same as we know how witnesses against some other persons such as, say, Ramush Haradinaj, ended up.
SONJA BISERKO: Yes, that’s true… Such treatment of witnesses is not characteristic just of the Balkans or ex-Yugoslavia; there are similar cases all over the world, especially in the trials of the Mafia or war criminals. This is why – as a measure of precaution – identities of witnesses are kept secret until a trial opens.

How would you say the information about you leaked?
Given that both parties to the dispute – Serbia and Croatia – submitted lists of their witnesses to the court, I would say the highest officials were those who leaked the information. Namely, having seen my name on the witness list someone from Serbia’s team of lawyers passed the information to the top leadership and they revealed it to the media. Well, since one cannot tell for sure who actually rules this country considering the chaotic situation of the society and the hookup between the police, secret services and extreme radical groups, it’s obvious that the plan behind revealing my name as a witness for Croatia in a genocide trial to Serbia was to keep me under pressure, and expose to maltreatment and intimidation…

Are you afraid?
Although this is not the first time I’ve been subject to campaigns of intimidation meant to force me out of the country or the like, I must admit I do not feel exactly at ease; the more so since my consent to take the stand in the trial is treated as an act of treason. People seem to forget what kind of war it was; they forget the tanks heading for Vukovar, the flowers Belgraders were showering them with; they forget that Vukovar was razed to the ground later on. All this is being neglected, actually swept under the carpet just to prove that Serbia had not been in war. Regretfully, some developments have been playing into the hands of this thesis.

You mean some verdicts ruled in ICTY?
Sure. The sad fact is that no one from Serbia has been accused of the war in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. As you know, Slobodan Milosevic died before the end of his trial. Hence anyone trying in any way to remind citizens of the developments in ex-Yugoslavia in 1990s is proclaimed “the enemy of the people,” “the hater” or “the traitor.” And all this notwithstanding 400,000 veterans that are treated as an almost missing group in order to deny Serbia’s responsibility for the wars in 1990s. Where have all those people taken the field? On whose territory?
Finally, I must say there is a difference between campaigns against me staged at the time of Slobodan Milosevic, Vojislav Kostunica and today.

What difference?
Well, people who waged the war, people responsible for it are in power today. Head of state Tomislav Nikolic himself was on the battlefield, Aleksandar Vucic fought as a volunteer in the siege of Sarajevo; the leader of his former party, Vojislav Seselj, is standing trial in The Hague…In my view, the protagonists of historic developments, the protagonists of Serbia’s dire straits of today, should explain how come they changed their beliefs and policy. Should they do that people would support them more and understand them better. But as things stand now, they have reason enough to obstruct public argumentation and testimony by anyone reminding citizens of their past doings. This is why this regime is by far more oppressive in its pressure on people. And the Serbian society in ruins, Serbia’s non-existent institutions, all this makes it easier for the regime…

Have the institutions ever been in a better state over here?
You are right: they have never been in a much better state than they are now. And yet, it seems to me that the international community, once it placed Kosovo on its priority agenda, is less focused on the situation in Serbia. And this regime, naturally, makes good use of it.

What do you mean?
I am saying that the West has obviously reached some kind of agreement with the structure in power: the later shall give up the partition scenario for Kosovo and, in return, the West shall be turning a blind eye to Serbia’s domestic policies for a while, development of institutions included. Luckily, the agreement is provisional.

How provisional?
The political context will change once Serbia obtains the date for the beginning of accession negotiations with EU: Europe will be finally controlling the functioning of Serbia’s institutions.
By the way, the Democratic Party is most responsible for this crying paradox of today’s Serbia: people with such track records are taking the country towards EU! Everything would have been different had the Democratic Party had more mature leaders and taken stock of the wars of 1990s, the stock Serbia will have to take sooner or later. As it is, Serbia continued the war by other means after October 5, 2000. Serbia has been obstructing consolidation of the states emerging from ex-Yugoslavia – primarily of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo. All these countries have to cope with this problem or that with Serbia.

They still do?
Of course they do. True, there is a truce of a kind now, with Montenegro for instance. But this means not that /Serbia/ no longer tries to undermine these countries’ movement towards EU or NATO. In this context, it is after compromising leaders of these countries and destabilizing their domestic situations, it attempts to exert all sorts of pressure on them and the like. This is a comprehensive strategy on which – I regret to say – Serbia still wastes most of its energy.
The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia has published numbers of books on this /strategy/ and the developments in the territory of ex-Yugoslavia in the past two decades; it has collected large documentation and produced documentaries on the issue. The Helsinki Committee has been widely circulating its findings – domestically, in the region and internationally. And this is yet another reason why this regime picks on me: as it seems, it takes we are the organization with considerable international influence.

Are you? How much in demand are your reports?
People do read them since they provide precise and accurate analyses based on factual information. And it goes without saying that the influence – this regime refers to and is evidently afraid of – is by far smaller than the Helsinki Committee’s and mine actual influence. But this influence is deliberately mystified and interpreted as such.
I would, if you don’t mind, revert to the international community’s role in and its influence on the developments in the Western Balkans. I think the problem is in the West’s frequent “sweet-talk” policy for Serbia. And there are two reasons for it: first, Serbia is the biggest country in the Balkans and, second, as such Serbia has to be calmed down this way or another and pushed into a dialogue with EU. And Serbia has made the best of it considering its decades-old and well functioning diplomatic and intelligence mechanisms. I regret to say that the international community’s attitude as such is detrimental to Serbia in the long run.

In what sense?
With all this wheeling and dealing and under-the-counter bargains and trades Serbia has actually neglected itself, its real-life problems.
If we take a look at, say, the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia – the institution I truly do appreciate – we shall realize that neither this court has developed mechanisms that would make Serbia, as well as other ex-Yugoslav republics, take into consideration its verdicts and evidence – these have been usually ignored instead; at the same time the Tribunal was anathemised and named “anti-Serb”…And that was the case in any country emerging from ex-Yugoslavia.
I think the failure to develop a serious strategy for the region was also a big mistake the West made; and then, following this “example,” all ex-Yugoslav republics gave no thought to a strategy for the region. EU has been focused on human rights, institutions and corruption instead: the corruption that cannot be eradicated without solid economic foundation.

The Ivica Dačić cabinet has placed the struggle against corruption at its priority agenda. What came out of it?
I would say it was more of a media campaign canvassing for Aleksandar Vucic as the only one who against all odds – risking even his own life – seriously copes with pressing problems of this society. But a year and a half later everything boiled down to a farce, a non-stop election campaign meant to raise Vucic and his party to the only position the First Vice-Premier earns for: of a new, unquestionable leader of the Serb nation. This is why the whole story sounds so phony, tragicomic…I would say citizens are becoming aware that Vucic’s anti-corruption campaign is a dead loss: nothing but a personality cult campaign.

Why a dead loss? Some people were arrested, they stand trial…
So what? What’s the outcome? Have we had an epilogue to any of these cases? We have not. Corruption still thrives instead, which testifies that this government is up to its ears in it like all the previous ones. And so instead of promised epilogues we have new promises, pledges and arrests in tabloids – on Fridays usually. In a word, what we have is populism that channels people’s justified dissatisfaction towards targeted individuals or groups; in this specific case, towards the Democratic Party that, unfortunately, itself opened to question some moves by its presumptuous officials. And yet it would be tragic should the Democratic Party – even such as it is now – disappear since you cannot have a normal political life with a single party dominating the scene.

There is something I have to ask you: what do you, being in the membership of the Political Council of the Liberal Democratic Party, think of the party’s initial decision to accept the invitation to the Provisional Council of the City of Belgrade?
I am glad that things have changed in the meantime…

Things have changed because, as Cedomir Jovanovic put it, it was the Democratic Party that “poisoned the atmosphere and behaved irresponsibly.” Otherwise one thousand flowers would have bloomed I guess…Everything considered, does this hint at a closer cooperation between the Liberal Democratic Party and the Serb Progressive Party?
I do not know the answer to this question. You can see for yourself how fluid our political scene is. Alliances are made overnight, literally. Boris Tadic, say, tells one story and Dragan Djilas quite a different one; Even the Democrats could end up in an alliance with the Progressists, who knows…Anyway, this not the way I scrutinize our political scene.

In what way do you scrutinize it?
I am trying to get to the bottom of it. And I regret to say that the situation if extremely bad: freedom of expression of under the reign of terror; not only the recent history but also the history of the entire 20th century is being revised and historical facts distorted, while hardly anyone raises a voice against it. And for all this we have to thank our immature, selfish and rather incapable political elites.
Speaking of the Liberal Democratic Party I have supported and still stand for its policy although I am not in its membership. I believe it managed against all odds to put across some messages to this society. After all, the stands Cedomir Jovanovic and the Liberal Democratic Party have advocated for years today make Serbia’s policy, formally at least. Of course, there is still no telling what will come out of it.

And when Croatia invited you to witness for it in the charge for genocide it pressed against Serbia…
First of all, this is about charges everyone expected the two countries would withdraw in the end…

Is there still a chance for something like this?
I would say there is always a chance. Withdrawal of charges would indicate that our politicians and societies have matured, that would be a step toward serious regional cooperation. Because, as things stand now, we are still glaring at one another.
By the way, Croatia had three preconditions for withdrawal of its charge against Serbia: solution to the problem of missing persons, non-impunity for war crimes and defining the border line at the Danube. Serbia’s leadership turned this down. What I am saying is that Serbia constantly obstructs the negotiations on these issues

But hasn’t Premier Ivica Dačič himself recently appealed to Croatia for the settlement of genocide charges?
Yes, he did. But Croatia still waits for the answer to its demands. Once they are answered positively the charges will certainly be withdrawn. It would be nice, therefore, should President Nikolic, Premier Dacic and his deputy, Aleksandar Vucic, finally tell the public what Croatia’s preconditions are about. This is the more so important since both Serbia and Croatia are aware how costly the trial would be. On the one hand it could easily turn into yet another prolonged agony; on the other, it could be useful as it would lift the veil from the developments in 1990s.

This is what Croatia’s President Ivo Josipovic also said during his recent visit to Belgrade.
Many things have already been disclosed in ICTY trials. Let me remind you that, say, Milan Babic, in his capacity as the witness for the prosecution, revealed key facts that speak about the character of the war /in Croatia/, the manner in which it had been prepared, financed, and how one-third of Croatia’s territory had been occupied…Besides, when taken into custody for fraud in 2002 Slobodan Milosevic said that all money flows could not have been made public because with these funds Serbia had financed the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In what sense could this trial harm Croatia?
Probably by opening the question of Croatia’s war crimes against Serbs committed in the course of the Homeland War.

You mean in August 1995?
Yes, I am referring to this as well. But that was not about ethnic cleansing…

Was not?
No, it was not. And that’s the most problematic part…The Serbian side takes that what happened in the aftermath of the Storm operation – those six hundred old people – could be qualified as ethnic cleansing. But that was an organized exodus with Belgrade in a leading role.
On the other hand, should the trial take place at all, that would be an opportunity for citizens of this country to learn that in 1990s Serbia started aggressive wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina; that would once for all define the character of the wars waged in the ex-Yugoslav territory. And this is the crucial fact that is being ignored over here.

When you know how the ICJ ruled in the case Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Serbia, what’s the purpose of these charges after all? Would you say that the developments in the territory of Croatia could be labelled genocide on any ground?
I would refrain from saying my opinion about this – this is something I wish not to comment on. But speaking of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s charge one must not forget that the court decided that – as Žarko Puhovski ironically put it – a “municipal genocide” had been committed in Bosnia, in Srebrenica. On the other hand, Radovan Karadzic is standing trial not only for Srebrenica but also other places in Bosnia-Herzegovina where Serb forces have committed genocide.
The ICJ decided that there was not evidence enough to support genocide. And the evidence was insufficient because Serbia had blotted out some documents that could have been used as evidence on the one hand, and because of certain EU member-states attitude towards genocide. Nevertheless the ruling was that Serbia did nothing to prevent the Srebrenica genocide; and that’s a terrible accusation. Besides, ICTY verdicts to some high officials of Republika Srpska testify of the way in which Serbia supported the Bosnian war: how it provided trucks, arms, moneys, logistics… Anyway genocide cannot be committed without the support from a state and its apparatus.

But how come that Croatia invited you to testify in this process?
I’ve not asked for it, that’s for sure…You know, each of the parties in legal proceedings tries to secure witnesses for it; and so they found me. They probably know that the Helsinki Committee has concerned itself with Croatia; numbers of Serb refugees from Croatia were turning to us at the time and we were trying to help them; the Helsinki Committee’s reports were based on their testimonies, the available documentation, study and, most importantly, on its understanding of Yugoslavia.

What do you mean by understanding of Yugoslavia?
The Helsinki Committee and I have been concerning ourselves with ex-Yugoslavia’s disintegration for long; deeply involved in the issue, we’ve been analysing it carefully. Before the war broke up I was working for the Yugoslav Secretariat of Foreign Affairs and, by the very nature of my job, I was informed about the developments in Yugoslavia. In this context, let me remind you that The Hague Conference in 1991 was Yugoslavia’s last chance to safeguard its integrity. Having already won over the YPA and defined its goals, Serbia refused to take this chance. It justified this by claiming, “Serbs are not a minority community,” although all minorities, Albanian included, have already obtained “special statuses.” Serbia’s leadership of the time obviously thought it could get all it planned to. But their assessment was wrong – to this very day we witness how much it cost Serbia; especially Serbs in Croatia who had been hostages to Belgrade’s policy.
And speaking of SFRY’s problem as an complex community, the war and the crimes committed, I must say that what is crucial in my view is a person’s attitude towards the processes that person was a contemporary of.

What attitude have you taken?
I am trying to find the truth, no matter what it costs…Contrary to all those interpretations and manipulations, I’ve never took sides /in my search/, sided with one side and against the other; that’s never been the case.

What was then?
I’ve concerned myself with human rights as someone to whom a person’s belonging to any single ethnic group – Serb, Croat or Bosniak – means little. Simply, this is not the way I am, feel or think. And I live and work accordingly. This is why I carefully observe processes, take notes, analyse…At present I am in the membership of the international mission that monitors human rights violations in North Korea. Can you tell the side I’ve sided with here? What side do I favour? What side do I frown on?
You can see for yourself how senseless all these allegations are.


Post compiled and translations into English of Zarko Korac text by Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia: Government Has No Mandate To Withdraw Lawsuit Against Serbia For Genocide

Open Letter in the Croatian Language  - Croatian Government Has No Mandate For Withdrawal Of Lawsuit Against Serbia For Genocide

Open Letter in the Croatian Language
– Croatian Government Has No
Mandate For Withdrawal Of Lawsuit
Against Serbia For Genocide

Click here for Croatian language version of the letter

It goes without saying that, having seceded from the deeply entrenched totalitarian communist regime in 1991, and having as a consequence suffered profound human life, property and economic damage from Serb aggression, Croatia has been in a place of transitional democracy where under the banner of the buzz-word “democracy” a great deal occurs that is far from a democratic process one encounters in a developed democracy, or one expects. A stark example is when the government and the President of the country keep drumming: “law must be respected”! As if the nature and provisions under the law are something they have no control over. We see that in many examples in Croatia but perhaps the latest example could be seen in the area of law regarding bilingual signage and ethnic minority rights under the existing law. I have written rather extensively about the Vukovar case on this Blog.  Instead of acknowledging the fact that the existing law is causing monumental difficulties and unrest among the people and going about its business of fixing the problem through assessing the law and possible need for amendments, the government acts like this: “ tough luck people, the law is here, it was passed in 2002 in its current form, it’s now to be applied in Vukovar and you can complain till the cows come home!” (And that’s with the fact that the full force of that law has not been applied despite the governments boasting about it, for if it had then the signs would not have gone up, would have been been torn down by the people…)

Another example of shoddy practices of democracy in Croatia at the moment also affects the whole nation but especially so the possibility of compensating people for the damage and severe losses sustained during the Serb aggression in the 1990’s in Croatia. Both the government and the president have been giving all sorts of statements that lead one to see that they are considering withdrawing the lawsuit against Serbia for genocide filed in the International Court of Justice in 1999.

Of course, judging from Serbia’s media, Serbia is gleefully rubbing its hands together at such a prospect.

And, bugger the multitudes of victims who deserve compensation at the very least!

Having lived in a western democracy for decades I see that there a big, big problem with this: the Croatian government does not to my and interpretation of many, have the mandate to withdraw the lawsuit which contains claims for compensation on behalf of multitudes of individual citizens.

I personally care very much for the victim and have, therefore, written yesterday an Open letter to Croatian citizens hoping to strengthen a democratic life, a fight for individual as well as national rights.  I am grateful that a number of media representatives in Croatia have passed on my letter and the Croatian cultural council portal (HKV) was the first to act in publishing it on its portal. I hope the spirit and the thrust of my letter is picked up among people in Croatia and rigorous public actions organised.

This is what I wrote:

For some time now I have been reading in the Croatian media that the current coalition government is contemplating withdrawing the lawsuit for genocide against Serbia filed at the International Court of Justice. Given that Croatia is aligned into the democratic government regimes allow me to offer you my assessment and my thoughts on that matter, and it is up to you how you will bring a true democracy into your lives and to your benefit.

On 2nd July 1999 the government of the Republic of Croatia filed the lawsuit against the Republic of Serbia (then known as FR Yugoslavia) in which, among other things, as parens patriae (father of country) it claims compensation for the damages suffered by people and property as well as by the Croatian economy and environment, caused through mentioned breaches of international law, in the amounts to be determined by the court.

Cock-a-doodle-doo coalition went to general elections in 2011 with its Plan 21 (its program when/if elected into government).  It was elected into government on the basis of that Plan 21 and formed the government of the Republic of Croatia. But, Cock-a-doodle-doo had not in any part of its Plan 21 mentioned a plan to withdraw the lawsuit for genocide against Serbia, and which lawsuit directly and indirectly includes the rights of multitudes of individual citizens who had, through war destruction, suffered enormous personal losses and who have a right to compensation.

Accordingly, this government of the Republic of Croatia does not have the mandate to withdraw the lawsuit against Serbia without going through a referendum or, at least, public discussions that would include a large portion of the public.

Mandate to govern a country in a democracy is the authority to carry into action those plans that have been revealed by the party prior to elections. The work plans of a future government, which have not been revealed to the public prior to elections do not have a mandate after elections because there is the possibility and reality of democracy that the same party may not have won the elections due to widespread disagreement in the public with that plan of work.

And so, had the Cock-a-doodle-doo coalition revealed its plan to withdraw the lawsuit against Serbia perhaps it would not have won the elections. For, it is obvious that this lawsuit has to do with a matter that is of national importance.

Should the government continue its pursuits with the plan to withdraw the lawsuit against Serbia then citizens must seek public debates and/or a referendum on the matter because, at the end of the day, it has to do with their personal compensation (for which the government has no mandate to toy with) should the court rule in favour of it.

Of course, the withdrawal of the lawsuit against Serbia would also mean doing a favour for the political current that, for several years now, has attempted to equate the victim with the aggressor and it would leave the truth about the Homeland War to the mercy of history.  These, though, are topics which are not the subject of this letter and other political analysts could perhaps address them better than I can, and my letter concerns the question of Croatian government’s mandate in the matter of contemplated lawsuit withdrawal, which question has a clear solution/answer within the frame of a democratic regime where no government has the authority to change the direction or state of a nationally important question if it failed to disclose such intentions prior to or during elections.

That is democracy and it is yours to live.
Ina Vukić, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)
Sydney, Australia, 28th October 2013.
CC: Prime Minister of Croatia, President of Croatia, Leaders of parliamentary opposition parties in the Croatian Parliament

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