bosnia report
New Series No. 8 January - March 1999
His Master's Voice: the adventures of Hrvoje Sarinic in the land of the Serb aggressor

From our Zagreb correspondent

Hrvoje Sarinic, until recently Franjo Tudman's most faithful servant, resigned last year from his post as head of the Croatian President's Office after losing out to Ivic Pasalic, the current strongman of the HDZ. Sarinic's forthcoming book All my Secret Negotiations with Slobodan Milosevic will be the first memoir to be published by a senior HDZ politician, so will be read with considerable interest. Although the book deals mainly with Sarinic's visits to Belgrade between 1993 and 1995, to judge by the advance extract published in the Zagreb weekly Globus of 12 February 1999 it reflects also on the earlier period. The Globus text includes photographs which the author took of Milosevic and Tudman during their meeting at Karadordevo, walking in the woods or sitting at a table adorned with fruits and flowers as they discussed the carving up of Croatia and Bosnia- Herzegovina and the 'redistribution' of their populations.

MilosevicThe text inevitably contains some damaging, indeed damning, reminders of Tudman's behaviour and political philosophy during the war years. It also contains additional material for an indictment of Milosevic by the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. It confirms that the emergence of Republika Srpska was part of what Milosevic called 'my solution of the Serb national question', and not - as so many Western politicians have tried to persuade us - the result of people's inability to live together because of 'centuries of ethnic hatred'. Reading this material one wonders all over again just why Western politicians went along with this 'final solution'; why they found it necessary to deceive their electorates about the nature of the war; why some of them continue to this day to advocate Bosnia's partition; and last but not least why they are pressing the hapless Kosovars to continue to live in a state run by the Butcher of the Balkans.

Rewriting History
It is clear that Sarinic's main aim is to present himself and the policy he served in the best possible light. This involves a major re-writing of history. The story opens up with the still unexplained circumstances surrounding the arrival of UNPROFOR in Croatia in early 1992. The author writes that the international community - 'in its attempt to divest itself of its responsibility for all the crimes suffered by the Croat people' - decided in the autumn of 1991 to send UN forces to 'maintain peace' on terms set out in the Vance Plan. The plan was negotiated and accepted by Tudman alone: the Croatian parliament and government were not informed or consulted in advance of its adoption. The whole nation, indeed, was for a long time kept in the dark as to its content and implications.

ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ It is obvious why. According to Sarinic: 'Since it was forged after a brutal aggression against Croatia, the price of the compromise was that the plan did not prejudice the political solution.' In other words, it left open the issue of Croatia's territorial integrity. For this reason alone, it should have been submitted to the Sabor, as the Croatian constitution demands. Had the legal procedure been respected, it is unlikely that the Vance Plan would have been approved. There was no military compulsion on Croatia at this time to go for a compromise peace: the nation was fully mobilized behind the war effort, and the armed forces were doing extremely well. They were doing so well, in fact, that their general staff was making plans for the final liberation of the country. By contrast, as Serbian sources inform us (most recently Milos Vasic et al. writing in the respected Belgrade journal Republika), the morale of the Serbian people and soldiers was at its lowest point. The Serbians simply did not want to go to fight in this war. They refused the draft and deserted in large numbers. What had once seemed a quick victory had turned into a nightmare for Milosevic and his military. The Vance Plan saved them from an outright defeat.

Sarinic, however, repeats the standard HDZ deception that in 1991 Croatia was unable to win the war. 'Given that an unarmed Croatia was not in a position to liberate the areas occupied by the Yugoslav army [Croatia at this point, in fact, had some 200,000 men under arms!], and that it saw the guarantee of its integrity in the principle of the preservation of borders, which Europe was bound to defend also because of other potential sources of conflict, the Croatian supreme leadership [i.e. Tudman] accepted the arrival of UN forces. This decision was proved right in the long run, despite criticism coming from part of the opposition.' It is as if the 1995 military operations Lightning and Storm had never happened, and Yasushi Akashi himself had seen off Martic's 'Krajina' army from Croatian soil.

The Croatian president, fully aware that his chiefs of staff saw no need for a compromise that would leave one quarter of Croatia under occupation, presented them with a fait accompli. Acceptance of the Vance Plan was followed by a charade which Sarinic describes in the following terms: 'Those few Croats, mainly former Communists, who could not get over Yugoslavia, blamed the Croatian government for losing a quarter of Croatian territory. Those who had always wished to see an independent Croatia saw it as the defence of three quarters of sovereign Croatia.'

The events that followed proved Tudman's critics right. The Vance Plan not only erased de facto Croatia's borders with Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, but, as Sarinic himself writes, the UN forces once fully deployed 'began to guard the results of the Serb aggression under the pretence of preserving peace'. Almost immediately after this, 'following the same model as in Croatia, Serbia occupied almost 70% of Bosnia- Herzegovina.' Despite some pro forma expressions of outrage for domestic consumption, Sarinic shows no surprise at this development. For what he describes as a compromise dictated by Croatia's military weakness was in fact intended to further cooperation between Tudman and Milosevic in the business of partitioning Bosnia- Herzegovina.

The Secret Mission to Belgrade
On 9 November 1993, Sarinic was summoned by Tudman to his quarters. He found the president lying on his bed covered with a blanket and listening to the radio with his eyes closed. 'Although I could not tell exactly what the matter was, I was quite certain that he had got some new idea, provoked most probably by the radio news.' The following characteristic conversation ensued:

'Hrvoje, I am listening to this. . . these communications. . . It may be good to talk about this with Milosevic.'
'I understand what you mean, President', I replied. <ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ br> 'Then, ring up and see how Milosevic is keeping', the President concluded, when he had explained the gist of his idea.

What followed were Sarinic's several visits to Belgrade. 'The Belgrade meetings were kept secret and only the narrowest circle of the Croatian supreme state leadership [i.e Tudman and his personal friends] knew about them. I reported solely and exclusively to the President on the content of our conversations. The reason for this strict secrecy was to avoid speculation and pressures coming from domestic and international public opinion, and to prevent the international mediators from widening their scope of manoeuvre. They as a rule brought their own state interests into their mediation and negotiations. It was only after meeting with Milosevic that I realized the extent of such behaviour on their part. By talking directly with each other we kept a step ahead of them, thus minimizing their national games, since they could no longer be certain that we would not quickly reveal their bias and lack of sincerity.'

Sarinic's writing expresses well the essential duplicity of Tudman's rhetoric. On the one hand, we have mantra-like complaints about 'brutal Serb aggresü sion', about 'the crimes suffered by the Croat people', about the UN guarding 'the results of Serb aggression', combined with boasting about how 'the authors of aggression in Knin and Belgrade' knew in 1993 that 'Croatia was systematically arming itself so as to safeguard Croatia's survival for ever.' At the same time, there is sympathy for, and friendship with, Milosevic. Sarinic provides a fascinating account of the warm reception he received from the 'author of aggression' in Belgrade, which evidently did not surprise him at all. It would be no exaggeration to say that he felt himself, and was made to feel, at home there. He reminisces at this point on how Milosevic always treated him with affection and 'a degree of respect which was unusual with him', for which he takes personal credit, although he admits that 'it must also be the case that his attitude to me was in a way related also to my status as head of the Croatian President's Office, and Milosevic always knew that I was very well informed on all matters.'

Greek Diplomacy
MilosevicSarinic's first visit to Belgrade was preceded by the Greek foreign minister's visit to Zagreb - Greece was due at the start of 1994 to take over the presidency of the European Union. The Greek diplomat brought with him Milosevic's request for a meeting with Tudman, since 'Milosevic saw the need for a Croatian-Serbian rapprochement'. According to Sarinic, Tudman replied that the precondition for such a meeting would be Serbia's giving up 'the currently occupied Croatian territory'. But this was merely an aside, since: 'The main problem at this moment, however, is Bosnia-Herzegovina. The international community has agreed that the latter can sustain itself only as a Union [of Three Peoples]. The Muslims wish to take Croat territory in B-H and their intention is to do the same with Serb territory, after which they would establish an independent Muslim state.' To which the Greek foreign minister replied: 'We are concerned about the creation of a Muslim state in the centre of Europe, as well as about the aid that the Islamic states are sending into B-H. We have a minority on our border with Turkey, and the creation of a Muslim state in B-H would only encourage it to seek secession.' The Croatian president's response was that his friendly relations with Turkey were due 'to the difficult situation of the Croats in B-H, who are exposed to Muslim aggression' - an issue on which Turkish influence could help.

The Orient Express
That Sarinic's visit to Belgrade was not unknown to 'the international community' is proved by the fact that he flew to Belgrade in an UNPROFOR planÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ e allegedly transporting humanitarian aid along the Zagreb-Belgrade-Skopje route. The envoy's first impression of the city was highly negative: 'It was exactly like the political situation in Serbia: dark, cold and sombre. However much my hosts tried to be helpful, paying at times inappropriate compliments, this did not improve the picture.' The building in which he was to meet Milosevic was very cold - the city heating service served only parts of the city at any given time - and this meant that the lavatory to which he was taken was kept locked up. After being searched for listening devices, he was ushered into Milosevic's office, which 'contained a very modest bookshelf of merely decorative nature. It was not very refined.'

Milosevic received him with 'his characteristic smile. . . it seemed to me that he was impatiently and somewhat excitedly awaiting our conversation.' Sarinic informed the Serbian president of Tudman's proposal that Greece should organize a conference of all the states of the former Yugoslavia, at which they would agree to recognize each other, recognize their respective minority rights, and agree on procedures for the succession. 'I then informed him that, in the course of its elaboration of this initiative, Croatia had taken into account Serbia's real political interests in order to make the plan realistic.'

Sarinic does not say what 'Serbia's real political interests' were, but in an interview he subsequently gave to a Croatian paper he argued that Milosevic should keep at least a 'small Greater Serbia' [so much for the principle of preservation of borders!] - for which, he now writes, 'some of our "great" political strategists pronounced me a traitor'. He omits to say that this reaction was caused by well-supported rumours that the 'small Greater Serbia' would include, in addition to a large part of Bosnia-Herzegovina, also Croatian territory between Cavtat and the Montenegrin border and possibly also the Croatian province of Baranja, both of which Serbia had seized at the start of the war in 1991.

During their first meeting Milosevic drank pear brandy and took no notes. After Sarinic had concluded his introductory remarks, Milosevic 'briefly and in no particular order responded to questions as he remembered them'. Regarding the proposed conference: 'We can accept it, but B-H cannot take part in it as a state represented by Alija Izetbegovic. B-H should be represented by one representative each of the peoples who live in it. I agree that Greece should be the host. It should be our own meeting. It is better that we solve the problems by ourselves.'

He then asked if Sarinic knew that Izetbegovic was massing his forces around Novi Travnik, Vitez, Brusnica and Gornji Vakuf. 'He told me he had talked on the telephone with Alija Izetbegovic the day before, and had proposed a secret Serb-Muslim meeting which would discuss Sarajevo. According to him the Serbs were ready to make concessions on Sarajevo in return for Muslim flexibility in regard to eastern Bosnia. He believed that if Sarajevo became predominantly Muslim - on which, he said, the Serbs were presently working - the Muslims would slacken their aggression in the west. . . This was not the first time that Milosevic had suggested an alliance against the Muslims and Bosnia's partition. I would go so far as to say that this attitude towards B-H was a rare consistent element of his policy.' Sarinic recalls at this point how in mid-April 1991, when he and Tudman were returning from one of those meetings of Yugoslav republican presidents, Tudman showed him a paper written by Milosevic warning of 'the danger of Muslim expansionism'. In his view, Milosevic's chief preoccupations - apart from Kosovo - were the economic sanctions and the so-called 'green transversal' running from Turkey through Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo and Sandzak to Bosnia.

Milosevic told Sarinic that Krajisnik and Silajdzic were meeting weekly in Sarajevo, that he favoured a Muslim exit on the ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ Sava, and that the Muslims were unhappy about their exit to the sea: after the resolution of the Sarajevo problem and concessions made to Serbia in eastern Bosnia, this would become the main stumbling-block. 'Why are you so mean about the sea? What does twenty-odd kilometres matter to you, when you already have a thousand?' Asked again about the proposed conference under Greek patronage, he stated that 'regarding mutual recognition, there are some problems that would have to be solved in advance. First a cease-fire, secondly [re-establishment of] communications, and thirdly the political solution.' He, in fact, rejected the conference.

Sarinic then asked: 'I know that you think that Knin is Croat, but I am not sure that this is how you see Baranja.' Milosevic was apparently categorical: 'I can openly state that with Republika Srpska, which will sooner or later become part of Serbia, I have solved 90% of the Serb national question, just as Tudman has solved the Croat national question with Herzeg-Bosna.' Milosevic's immediate pressing need was oil. 'After the cease-fire agreement we should sign an agreement about opening communications, the oil pipeline, and the rest. I say openly we need oil - it is cold. In order to heat Belgrade I have had to close down industry. I have had to close down two fertilizer factories.' Asked about the threatened unification of Krajina with Republika Srpska, after which they would unite with Serbia, Milosevic said: 'I guarantee that this is not our aim and that it will not happen. It would be a big mistake. I said earlier that I have solved the Serb national question with Republika Srpska. I have nothing against the Union of Three Peoples in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but it will not last long. Nobody wants such a union.'

MilosevicSarinic writes that the main purpose of his visit to Belgrade was Croatia not Bosnia-Herzegovina, yet it is clear that they discussed Bosnian affairs at some length, including the future of Fikret Abdic in Velika Kladusa. Milosevic told Sarinic: 'Abdic has sent me a clear message that he sees his future in Croatia. He told me that he cannot as yet say this publicly. We think that this is normal and will, therefore, not object. Let his "Republic of Western Bosnia'' be an autonomous province within Croatia.' Asked about Arkan, Milosevic apparently laughed and said: 'I too must have someone to do certain kinds of work for me.'

Batman and Robin
Sarinic's account of his mission to Belgrade provides additional insight into the intimacy, even camaraderie, that existed between Tudman and Milosevic throughout the war years, and which stands in direct contradiction to Sarinic's repeated references to 'the Serb aggression', 'the Serb occupation', 'Croatia's survival', and so on. The meeting described here, in fact, produced no positive results, but only a list of demands from Milosevic - some of them quite desperate. Judging by Sarinic's public endorsement of the 'small Greater Serbia' and Zagreb's readiness to supply Serbia with oil, they found a sympathetic listener in the Croatian president . 'Our first direct and secret conversation lasted until 2 p.m., i.e. two hours and fifteen minutes. On his part, the conversation was for the first time more than open and completely met its purpose. By analysing my conversations with Milosevic, the Croatian supreme leadership [i.e. Tudman] was able to assess the consistency of its [his] political strategy, how the changes that had occurred during the past two and a half years of aggression had affected it, and the tendencies that could realistically be expected. It was now much easier to foresee Milosevic's future political moves. He too was very happy. Indeed, he showed a great interest in future meetings. While seeing me to the door, he kept explaining his future actions. This made it clear that he wished to leave an open door forÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ future meetings. He told me that he would speak next week to Papandreou and to the Krajina Serbs, with whom he would arrange a meeting. I was back in Zagreb at around 6 p.m.'

Watch this space for Hrvoje Sarinic's next great adventure in the land of the Serb aggressor.


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