bosnia report
New Series No. 15/16 March - June 2000
 
When force knows no law
by Branko Vojicic

He used to say that Montenegrins didn't consider war a calamity, but fun. And he was murdered in Belgrade in an undeclared street war. A career was cut short by Kalashnikov bullets. `FRY has lost an uncompromising fighter for its honour and dignity', was the official line. If it wasn't for his assassination in the Rad restaurant on 3 March this year, Pavle Bulatovic would be celebrating his seventh year in the top job of federal defence minister in a country which has fought war after war during those seven years. And lost them.

He shot to political stardom overnight. It was extinguished with the same speed. He entered high-level politics in 1988. At that time he was a delegate in the republican assembly and riding the wave of Greater Serbian nationalism and the `movement of the people'. He began this ride with his protest at the intervention of the Montenegrin police at Zuta Greda. Previously he had been a quiet assistant lecturer at the Economics Faculty in Podgorica teaching `price theory'. Although he overthrew the `hated old' leadership, in his youth he had been an exemplary communist - one of the editors of the regime paper Univerzitetska Rijec, directed by Janko Brajkovic and with Momir Bulatovic as a regular columnist.

After the breakup of the old Montenegrin elite, the new authorities gave him a responsible task - Pavle Bulatovic became Montenegro's interior minister, in charge of the police force. `My estimation was that it's better for me to deal with the police than for the police to deal with me,' he commented laconically on his appointment. However, despite the fact he became the country's top policeman with the declared supreme goal of making a political police force into a professional one, in those years the service was characterized by the persecution of dissidents, opposition figures and ethnic minorities.

He began his work as interior minister with purges: he sacked and sent to early retirement several hundred people, many of whom had not reached forty. People were sacked on suspicion of supporting the previous leadership. He removed old files and opened new ones. He used all means available to promote his friends from the top ranks of party and state. After the communists of Bulatovic and Djukanovic won the first multi-party elections, he circulated a telegram to all interior ministry employees, greeting `those who wished for and contributed to the victory of the communist party, while others should regret and reconsider.'

Pavle Bulatovic proudly stated that at the time of those elections he `had chased away Ante Markovic's reformists' in Niksic. He made no secret ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ of the fact that the Montenegrin police was illegally and semi-illegally arming citizens and forming `volunteer units' in Montenegro to fight the `implacable foes - Catholicism and Islam'. He also openly spoke about arms trafficking for the benefit of `the brothers in Kosovo and Knin'.

Pavle Bulatovic was publicly accused of deporting Bosnian refugees into the hands of Karadzic's army, which was the equivalent of a death sentence for many of them. A few years ago, the Montenegrin State prosecutor Vladimir Susovic spoke about this as well, saying that `the Hague Tribunal is interested in ascertaining the possible responsibility of Federal defence minister Pavle Bulatovic for the arrest and deportation of some 50 Muslim refugees in 1992, while he was interior minister of Montenegro.'

After Pavle's assassination, the deputy chief prosecutor of the Hague Tribunal, Graham Blewitt, confirmed to the SENSE agency that Bulatovic was being investigated, but for his possible role in the crimes committed in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999. Blewitt denied in fact that Bulatovic was already under a so-called `sealed indictment', but did not deny the possibility that he might be `included in the second round of Kosovo indictments'.

Bulatovic became the first interior minister in the `new Yugoslavia', in Milan Panic's government, and then in 1993 defence minister following an unprecedented scandal. In an unexpected move special forces under Zoran Sokolovic, Serbia's interior minister, had assaulted and taken over the institutions of the Federal police, on the pretext that `the building of the Federal interior ministry was the property of Serbia'. That was when Pavle Bulatovic experienced for himself that force knows no law. He saw also that within the `common state' one police force could disarm another - and what is more that the republican police could disarm the Federal.

Still in a state of shock, at a meeting held in the Sava Centre where he was addressing the Federal policemen who had been thrown out into the street, Pavle said that he had found out about the special forces' instrusion only after the event. `I am obliged to tell you that it was only on Sunday evening at about 9 o'clock that I was informed, while everything happened between the hours of 6 and 9. I arrived in Belgrade at 3 in the morning, at 8 o'clock in the morning I walked to the second floor to my office, where they turned me back. But force knows no law.' Minister Bulatovic expressed his hope that he would one day meet the man who had planned it all, on which occasion he himself would have no reason to blush.

Subsequently Pavle would on many occasions meet Milosevic, `the man who had ordered it all'. His tolerance of the `sins' committed during the takeover of the Federal interior ministry building would bring him promotion. After Panic's replacement as prime minister, Pavle was given a new building, a new position and a new task.

Many years later, when the clash between official Podgorica and Belgrade began to shake up the FRY, Pavle would be given the task - of once again forming a Federal police force. And returning it to its former glory. But only in Montenegro, which had to be brought to heel after Milo Djukanovic had rebelled against the regime in Belgrade. It seems he was involved in that. According to statements by Montenegrin officials, within the Yugoslav Army (VJ) a party paramilitary battalion was formed, comprised exclusively of SNP members.

If we leave aside the fact that Milan Panic also held the position of Federal defence minister for a while, it turns out that Pavle Bulatovic was our first civilian minister of defence. Bulatovic, who held the rank of a reserve lieutenant-colonel in the VJ, was proud of this fact, aware that it bore the hallmark of a democratic and civilized world. He often pointed out that `we are not enslaved to the principle that the higher rank is always right.'

According to the testimony of former Federal deputy Stefan Susic, after Pavle Bulatovic had systematicaÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ lly replaced the commandants of the territorial guard in all municipalities of Montenegro, subordinating them to the SNP, he confided in him that: `In Montenegro, only the will of God and the defence minister are eternal.'

`Bulatovic was not a centre of power, he was a symbol of authority', said Ljubodrag Stojadinovic, former army spokesman and chief of the information department of the VJ general staff, immediately after the assassination in Belgrade's Rad restaurant. In his time, Stojadinovic once wrote of the defence minister that: `Given his incompetence, unreliability and superficiality, all he can do is be loyal to the master, travel round the world, and promote officers.'

Stojadinovic was wrong. Where Montenegro is concerned, Pavle Bulatovic truly was one of the centres of power. After the split within the DPS, during secret sessions of the still united DPS's leading body he was - along with Zoran Knezevic - the most ardent critic of Djukanovic. He was the most outspoken in advocating the preservation of FRY `with no alternative'. He was Momir Bulatovic's right-hand man. He spent more time in the north of Montenegro involved in clan assemblies and gatherings than he did in Belgrade. Shortly before the presidential elections he instructed his supporters on how they should behave towards the `traitors' and `separatists': `We were victorious over the Turks, the Austrians and the Germans and we shall also be victorious this time', he said.

Pavle Bulatovic tried unsuccessfully to obtain Kontic's consent to bring the VJ out onto the streets of Podgorica on 14 January 1998, in order to prevent Djukanovic from `stealing and robbing' votes. Nevertheless, on the eve of the second round of the Montenegrin presidential elections, a strengthened detachment of seasoned Federal special forces, some of them belonging to the famous 63rd Airborne division from Nis, did arrive undercover in Podgorica from Belgrade, directly to Hotel Ljubovic to be on hand for Momir.

When the Kosovo crisis escalated last year, the Federal defence minister summoned the Montenegrins to war in defence of Kosovo. He condemned deserters. He considered the neutrality proclaimed by Djukanovic in the conflict between Serbs and Albanians as traitorous. Later on, he said of the Montenegrin amnesty law, `with this act, Montenegro has been humiliated more than ever before in its history.'

Interestingly, during the intervention of the NATO forces, while Montenegro was on the brink of war, each arrival of Momir and Pavle Bulatovic from Belgrade was followed by a crisis between the military and civilian authorities. It has been noted that before the military blockade of the Montenegrin borders and the port of Bar, and before the siege of Cetinje, Pavle Bulatovic visited VJ barracks throughout Montenegro and doubtless gave instructions to those waverers who were more prone to compromise than to the raising of tension.

In his last interview, given to the Russian Nezavisimaya Gazeta only a few days before he was murdered, he once again denounced ferociously the `neo-imperialist policies' of the USA and NATO. `The bloody crusade of nineteen exceptionally developed and powerful countries against one small nation was based on media falsification, the most sophisticated weaponry and the failure to select targets or victims,' said Bulatovic. For him, there was no defeat in Kosovo. To the contrary, `we were extremely efficient in shooting down their planes and rockets.' Bulatovic also revealed that the American F117A warplane was shot down by an updated `Neva' rocket.

In this last interview given to the Russians, for whom he had particular esteem, Bulatovic pointed out that the FRY was `completely innocent' and unjustifiably attacked. Perhaps now even some of his closest aides can see that within this `innocent country', where the lives of many ordinary people have been wasted, nobody is safe anymore. Not even the defence minister - murdered in Belgrade in an undeclared street war, just as undeclared as the ones in Bosnia,ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ Croatia or Kosovo?

This article is translated from Monitor (Podgorica), 11 February 2000

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