Interview with Vladimir Srebrov
by a founding member of the Serb Democratic Party
with Adil Kulenovic
Mr Srebrov, you were one of the founders of the Serb Democratic Party [SDS, subsequently led by Radovan Karadzic]. At a certain moment you distanced yourself from the party you helped to found. Why?
I had come under tremendous pressure to accept a plan which, as I was subsequently to learn, had been drawn up not in 1990, but in the 1980s. This was the famous 'Ram Plan', the aim of which was to destroy Bosnia economically and completely exterminate its Muslim people. I was terribly shocked. I am not exaggerating when I say that I felt terrible pain when I heard about this from people who had been my friends for almost twenty years. The plan was drawn up in the 1980s by the General Staff of what was then the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA). It envisaged a division of Bosnia into two spheres of interest, leading to the creation of a Greater Serbia and a Greater Croatia. The Muslims were to be subjected to a final solution: more than 50% of them were to be killed, a smaller part was to be converted to Orthodoxy, while an even smaller part - those with money, of course - was to be allowed to leave for Turkey, by way of a so-called 'Turkish corridor'. The aim was to cleanse Bosnia-Herzegovina completely of the Muslim nation, and to divide the country along the River Vrbas. The very nÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ`ame of Bosnia was to disappear. This was the aim behind the creation of 'Republika Srpska'.
From what you say it would seem that the war in Bosnia- Herzegovina did not start spontaneously.
Of course not. This war was conceived by the General Staff of the former JNA. One day this evidence will be found: so far as I know, it is a two-page typed document outlining what to do with Bosnia in the future, though when the plan would become operational was not stated. General Kukanjac referred to this plan in a television interview, when he also said that he would soon be publishing his memoirs. These, unfortunately, have not come out, since Kukanjac knew it all, and it would be interesting to know how the military plan for the destruction of Bosnia-Herzegovina was actually made. There was also another plan - the Memorandum [of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences] - which was the spiritual complement of the military one. The main ideologist of the Memorandum in Bosnia-Herzegovina was Milorad Ekmecic. I intentionally omit to mention his doctoral title, because he proved to be a great coward, an imhuman person and a great enemy of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In March 1992, in conversation with an SDS delegation, Ekmecic said that the Serb people was ready to sacrifice at least 200,000 lives in order to realise its historical aims.
Before the war I held Milorad Ekmecic in high regard as an intellectual. But he did not use the great respect he enjoyed among the Serbs to direct them in the positive direction. He should have ended up, like me, in the Kula prison. It is shameful for the Serb intellectuals of Bosnia-Herzegovina that I alone among them was imprisoned for his beliefs in the so- called Republika Srpska. It would have been better if at least 1,000 of them had ended up in prison.
How do you judge the responsibility of the Serb intelligentsia for the fate of the Serb people, not only in Bosnia-Herzegovina but also in Croatia?
They proved to be real cowards. Most of them turned out to be nonentities. We must make an exception here, of course, for Mrs Vesna Pesic and a small number of intellectuals in Serbia, who have protested. I am surprised they have not been killed because of their views.
Radovan Karadzic is undoubtedly a person who will leave his mark on the destiny of the Serb people in Bosnia- Herzegovina.
You may remember that in 1990-1, when he started to be promoted by certain circles in the political and academic establishment of Serbia, I was saying that he - like Krajisnik - was an embezzler, and that such people could not be Serb national leaders. The proof of his criminal past can be found in the archives of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Ministry of the Interior.
However, it is he who influences decisively the fate of the Serb nation today.
No, not at all. You are making a big mistake here. Those who hold power are not in Bosnia but in Serbia. I have in mind, in particular, President of Serbia Milosevic and former President of 'Yugoslavia' Dobrica Cosic. They also engineered my removal from the SDS leadership in 1990.
Nevertheless, even as an instrument of Slobodan Milosevic's political will, Radovan Karadzic is formally the government.
You keep talking about him as a government, but he is nothing but a common swindler. Those who are protecting him and working with him are mainly criminals. He is an insane person, chosen - I say this openly - by the Serbian leadership as their instrument for the destruction of BosniÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ`a-Herzegovina. They chose Radovan Karadzic because he was already known as somebody who hated Sarajevo and Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was a member of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Writers' Association. As its members we knew that he was working for the police, that he spied on us for the police. Being a man of no moral integrity, he was a suitable person to implement the plan to destroy Bosnia-Herzegovina.
It is indisputable that in this war the Bosniak-Muslims have suffered most, and that the Croats have suffered as well. Not enough is known, however, about the suffering of the Serbs.
When we talk of genocide against the Muslim people, we must at the same time speak of the genocide against the Serb people. But this genocide against the Serb people has been conducted by no other body but the SDS leadership - what goes by the name of the Presidency of the so-called Republika Srpska. It is well known that 150,000 Serbs between the ages of 18 and 30 have died in this war, which means that Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina have been biologically destroyed - they have become a nation of old people.
It would be wrong to classify the Bosnian Serbs as a genocidal nation. According to the pre-war census, there were 1,350,000 of us Serbs here. Only a core of about 20-30,000 people set out to commit massacres in Bosnia-Herzegovina. They were later supported by some 270,000 more. But 1,000,000 have not taken part in the war. Imagine what an army 1,300,000 Serbs could have created, if they had all wished to destroy Bosnia- Herzegovina. Bosnia-Herzegovina would not have survived. I must say that we were politically inexperienced, because we allowed the JNA to take its weapons out of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Those weapons were later returned to the fronts in Bosnia- Herzegovina and used to wage war.
Why did you remain in Sarajevo?
Before the war, I was not too keen on Sarajevo. I lived in lodgings, which was miserable. As a student I experienced all kinds of hardships and when I started to work I suffered a lot of unpleasantness. But when I reviewed it all, I realised that all this negative experience was part of life, that it could not negate my belonging to Sarajevo and Bosnia- Herzegovina, that my life was tied to this city and to Bosnia- Herzegovina. It was this that made me (gave me the strength to) say to myself: 'Wait, your place is in Sarajevo. Whatever happens to its inhabitants will happen to you as well. If every Sarajevo citizen is to be killed by a bomb, then you will be killed as well. But do not run away.' When I was in prison , I used to say: 'My only desire is to take a walk from Marin-Dvor to Bascarsija.' Why? In your city you are a citizen, because a hundred people greet you. You are a citizen because you communicate with thousands of others like you, because you know every house, you know so much. Abroad you are nobody.
39 months ago you, in the middle of this city's cataclysm, you made a suicidal gesture by going on what can be described as a mission of good will, hoping no doubt to be able to bring those who were systematically shelling this city to their senses. How do you see that act now?
I went to meet the SDS leaders because I hoped I would be able to sit down with them and talk to them about three things. The first was the feeding of the 60-80,000 Serbs who remained in Sarajevo. They were surviving thanks to [the Muslim charity] 'Merhamet' and [the Catholic charity] 'Caritas' - whereas [the Orthodox charity] 'Dobrotvor' existed only on paper. The second was the opening of a corridor through Ilijas - a corridor of life for Bosnia and Sarajevo. The idea was to allow all those who wished to leave Sarajevo to go, and those who wished to come in to do so. It did not occur to me then that they wished practically to dig up SÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ`arajevo, to kill its complete population and turn it into a field of wheat. But this is precisely what they did intend to do. The third thing I wanted to tell them was: 'Stop shelling. Most of those who get killed are children.'
You could get asylum in practically any country. You have, nevertheless, chosen to stay in Sarajevo. Why?
Why should I go away? To lecture at some university abroad? I do not need that. When I was in prison, Radovan Karadzic and Nikola Koljevic used to send emissaries to tell me that I should apply for 'Republika Srpska' citizenship and promised me a good life. But from the very first day I used to tell them: 'I only want to be in Sarajevo. The only place I want to go to is Sarajevo.' That is that. Bosnia-Herzegovina is my country and Sarajevo is the city in which I want to live. Never mind that Sarajevo is destroyed, for we shall rebuild it. We will make it the cultural, political and economic centre of the Balkans. That is clear.
A longer version of this interview was published in Vreme, Belgrade, 30.10.1995.
Ivan Srebrov was born in Pozarevac (Serbia) and educated in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Before the war, he was in charge of the Philosophical Faculty library of the University of Sarajevo. In 1990 he was a founding member of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), whose leader became Radovan Karadzic. In late March 1992, he warned Serb intellectuals - at their notorious congress held in Sarajevo - that the quest for a Serb ethnic state in Bosnia-Heregovina was leading the nation to war and genocide. In early September 1992, after obtaining personal safety guarantees from both the Bosnian government and Pale, he went to meet Karadzic and Nikola Koljevic in the occupied Sarajevo suburb of Ilidza, to discuss with them the situation of the Sarajevo Serbs. On his arrival he was promptly arrested, beaten up and imprisoned in Kula. Karadzic's military court at Han Pijesak charged him with committing, through his appearances on Sarajevo television, 'the criminal act of attempting to weaken army morale and sow unrest among the soldiers', and also 'other acts that could be interpreted as high treason'. Srebrov was condemned to five years (later reduced to three) in prison. General Sefer Halilovic, who was then commander of the Bosnian Army, offered to exchange him for several 'Republika Srpska' army officers, but the offer was rejected. In the few interviews he gave to Belgrade media during his term in prison, he refused to show remorse and continued to insist that Karadzic's SDS was leading Bosnian Serbs into a catastrophe. He was recently released and now lives in Sarajevo.