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.
The 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
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
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
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.
'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.'
Sarinic'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
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
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.'
Sarinic 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