bosnia report
New Series No: 45-46 May - August 2005
The International Community wanted to divide Bosnia-Herzegovina
by Mate Granic - interview

Dani: Your political memoir ‘Foreign Affairs - policy behind the scenes’ is due to come out in September. You state there that Alija Izetbegović was among those who sought partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Is that true?

Granić: It would be dangerous to consider things outside their context, so allow me first a short introduction. Alija Izetbegović was for me a largely positive personality. The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina occurred in consequence of a criminal aggression planned by Slobodan Milošević and Radovan Karadžić. It is wrong to share the blame equally among the parties to the conflict, because that is not true. As for the context, in 1991-92 the international community, lacking the will or the ability to stop the war, was of the opinion that Bosnia-Herzegovina could and should be divided. This is shown by many statements and formal proposals coming from David Owen, Thorvald Stoltenberg, Cyrus Vance, Jose Cutilheiro, etc. Milošević wanted to take all of Bosnia - he was not much interested in Herzegovina - yet the international community treated him as an equal partner in all negotiations.

What about President Tuđman?

Up to 1992 Tuđman the Historian dreamed about Banovina Croatia.* Tuđman the Politician initially helped the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina, supported the Bosnian referendum, sent an ambassador to Sarajevo, and agreed to all international proposals favouring Bosnia-Herzegovina. But at the same time Tuđman the Historian dreamed about Banovina Croatia, and also about Turkish Croatia....

And Milošević knew this, of course?

Let me say that President Tuđman did not hide his dream from the international community. He was rather open about it, since he did not believe that Bosnia would survive as a single entity. Few at the time did believe that. The British, especially David Owen, by and large supported such views. There is no written document saying explicitly that Britain and France wished Bosnia’s partition, but that is nevertheless true. Milošević knew Tuđman’s thoughts and used them for his own purposes, just as he counted on everyone’s weaknesses and inclinations. And we know that Tuđman was no diplomat.

Let us return to Izetbegović’s attitude to Bosnia’s division.

Up to January 1994 Izetbegović was in the situation of having almost 70% of Bosnia-Herzegovina under occupation, with crimes being committed against Croats and Bosniaks, especially the Bosniaks. I have never mentioned this before, but on the eve of the signing of the [Washington] agreement creating the Federation of B-H, Haris Silajdžić told me in Washington that the SDA, at a secret meeting, had divided between 55% who favoured the Federation and 45% who preferred a tripartite division. In August 1993 Silajdžić and I conducted negotiations aimed at ending the war between Bosniaks and Croats, and the establishment of peace throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina - which assumed a military victory over Radovan Karadžić. Our meetings ended with the Geneva Declaration of 14 September, which was a big move for both Tuđman and Izetbegović. Two or three days later, however, Owen craftily brought Momčilo Krajišnik from Podgorica, with the idea that the Bosniaks and the Serbs would jointly block any agreement between the Croats and the Bosniaks. But by this time the Americans had engaged, bringing about a complete change. On the eve of the meeting in Washington, Tuđman and Izetbegović met in Vienna on 9 January to define the relationship between the Bosniaks and the Croats, given that Silajdžić and I had already reached a high level of agreement. Izetbegović took a hard stance, hoping to gain all of central Bosnia for the Bosniaks. When Tuđman asked him if he would be able to halt the Bosnian army’s operations, Izetebegović replied that this would be difficult, since his generals had already made their dispositions. But during the night of 10 January we reconvened at the suggestion of the Bosniak side. It was then that Izetbegović offered Tuđman for the first time that everything south and west of Prozor should go to the Croats, while central Bosnia would go to the Bosniaks. Tuđman refused this, saying that he could not accept the removal of the Croats from central Bosnia.

Why did Tuđman refuse this, given that the HDZ up to that time had encouraged the departure of Croats from central Bosnia?

The primary reason was that it would have meant the arrival of another 100,000 refugees in Croatia. Then there was the problem of the opposition, the problem of Croatia’s poor international standing, and so on. Also, he knew that I would have resisted it to the point of resigning my post. At that time we had a good chance to create the Federation, peace negotiations with the Bosniaks were quite advanced, and this was undoubtedly the best solution for all of us.

If Izetbegović had offered more, would you have accepted?

Look, until 1994 Tuđman really did believe that a three-way partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina was the best solution. At the moment that we are discussing, however, even he came to realise that there were better options. I myself was strongly against the division of Bosnia, including for the following crucial reason: the British, and much of the international community, held that in the event of any partition the Serbs and the Bosniaks should each be given access to the sea. This meant ceding parts of Croatia. Quite apart from that, it seemed to me most unlikely that the Croats and the Bosniaks would agree on borders in Bosnia-Herzegovina, particularly in central Bosnia.

How keen was Tuđman on the Federation?

All I can say is that he gave me full freedom to negotiate in Washington, in order to facilitate as far as possible an agreement with the Bosniaks. So I then asked him about Milošević: ‘Karađorđevo, Tikveš - any obligations incurred there?’ He replied: ‘None’. I had to know that before leaving for Washington. While I was in Washington, he asked me once again whether it would be possible for the Bosniaks and the Croats to have their own entities within the Federation. I said no, after which he repeated that I had his full confidence. The subject was never mentioned again after the Washington agreement.

Prior to the agreement, Izetbegović proposed to Tuđman once again that they should divide Bosnia. What happened?

The second offer came a week after the first one. We met on 15 or 16 January in Geneva, and at one point Izetbegović, Tuđman, Silajdžić, Miomir Žužul and I found ourselves in a small room. Izetbegović repeated then: ‘How about that south of Prozor idea?’ A corollary to this was that Mostar would then be divided into eastern and western parts along the Neretva. Tuđman simply answered ‘No’, and that was the end of the conversation on this subject. I heard later that the Bosniaks were allegedly testing out Tuđman, but I cannot say if that is true. Silajdžić never mentioned it to me. I wish to add here that the only people who up to then had been for a unified Bosnia-Herzegovina were Silajdžić, Krešimir Zubak and myself.

You say you did not favour division, but what about the entities?

The division of Bosnia into three entities was an idea that had been suggested also by the international community. That is the context I was referring to earlier. When I became foreign minister in June 1993, however, there was no longer any talk of Bosnia’s partition. Silajdžić and I, acting on behalf of Izetbegović and Tuđman respectively, were working towards an agreement based on the principle of establishing peace and an association of Croats and Bosniaks as the right solution.

Milošević said in The Hague that you knew about the offer of alliance made by Izetbegović and Zulfikarpašić to the Serbs.

I learnt about it indirectly, from Tuđman. It would be wrong of me to judge Izetbegović’s role in that, since I do not know the details. But I witnessed several major moves made by Izetbegović, such as the Split Declaration of 1995: I used all my diplomatic skills to persuade Izetbegović and Tuđman to meet in Split.

But first a digression. On 10 July that year I met Yasushi Akashi, the special envoy of the UN general secretary, on the occasion of the opening of the Dubrovnik summer festival. While we were on the plane he had kept asking me why Croatian soldiers were on Mount Velebit [in Croatia], until I stopped him by asking whether they should perhaps be in Serbia. On the terrace of Hotel Argentina his mobile rang: he was told about the difficult situation in Srebrenica. He quickly got Milošević on the line and talked to him for about fifteen minutes. After their conversation ended, he told me with a beaming face that the attack was coming from one direction only and that Srebrenica would survive. But given that Akashi, as a representative of the international community, had already proved incompetent, Srebrenica soon fell and the greatest crime of the war followed.

At all events, Izetbegović came to Split at our invitation, and the Split Declaration - making possible joint action by the Bosnian and Croatian armies - was signed on 22 July. The only people who knew about the text of the declaration in advance were Hido Biščević and myself; the others, including minister of defence Gojko Sušak, were given the text only after we got together.

Izetbegović on this occasion showed great wisdom and good will, since together we managed to push the Serbs all the way to Banja Luka, and halted only under threat. Izetbegović told me that NATO had threatened to bomb him if we did not stop. Warren Christopher told me that they would allow 100,000 Serbs into eastern Slavonia and then protect them with NATO bombs.

What else do you remember about Izetbegović’s moves? What happened at Dayton?

Two days before the end of the Dayton conference, I remember Silajdžić’s brilliant negotiations with Milošević. It was settled then that Sarajevo would remain in the Federation, with the Serbs getting only one suburb. The ratio of 51:49, though, had already been decided in 1995, at talks between the Americans, British, Russians and French. I was woken up that night at 4 a.m. and asked to join the others quickly. I saw a map according to which the Serbs were to be compensated for the loss of Sarajevo at the expense of the Croats. I came out in a sweat. Two hours later Izetbegović too arrived, and said immediately that he did not agree, because it was not fair towards the Croats. I had a very good relationship with Izetbegović.

What do you think of him as a person?

He was rather indecisive. He had little experience of international politics, and when the war came he at first did not know what to do. As a result he sometimes made a wrong assessment or decision. He was also a very devout person. I mention this since not only did he not hide his religious principles, he even presented them as absolute values. He did eventually accept the mujahedeen, but only because he had little choice, not because he was a militant fundamentalist. I recall several details that told me lot about him. For example, at one lunch in Bonn Tuđman talked about the likely great number of victims if the war was not ended speedily; Izetbegović replied that the most important thing was that Bosnia should remain whole. He was committed to his ideals, but he was indecisive. It took them six hours to persuade him to accept the Washington agreement, while Tuđman needed only twenty minutes of discussion with me. There was no chemistry between the two of them, but they respected each other as national leaders. They were quite different personalities and there was not much warmth between them - they tended to keep their distance from one another. After the Split Declaration, though, they relaxed and became more open with each other.

You say you do not wish to comment on whether Izetbegović was sincere in offering partition of Bosnia to Tuđman. Given that you knew him, do you think it was only a probe?

It is difficult to say. Izetbegović was then in a very difficult situation, and perhaps he judged things wrongly. Tuđman was getting information, some of it false, regarding British and French determination that Bosnia should be divided, and it is possible that the same was true for Izetbegović. But that it may have been simply a probe is suggested by the fact that he did not try hard to persuade Tuđman. I was glad, since the negotiations regarding the creation of the Federation, prompted by the Americans, were going well. I would certainly have resigned if Tuđman had suddenly accepted partition.

You say that even earlier you had never taken part in plans for the partition of B-H. Yet the minutes of a meeting with Bosnian Croat leaders held at Pantovčak [Zagreb] on 19 November 1993 record you saying about Mostar: ‘It might be a good idea, Mr President, to take a firm position that we want a united city as the capital of Croat Herzeg Bosna’, and so on.

Before that meeting we had visited Brussels, where we had talked about Mostar. {Mate] Boban favoured its division, I its unity. At that time the possibility of dividing Bosnia-Herzegovina into three parts was still being considered - it was the Americans who later rejected it. At that time a three-way division of Bosnia was the official plan of Owen and Stoltenberg. I held that Mostar should remain whole and become the centre of Herzeg Bosna, in place of Boban’s stronghold at Grude.

In that case the capital of Herzeg Bosna would have include also the Bosniaks who formed a majority in its eastern part?

I wanted Mostar, and not just Mostar, to stay together. I wished to prevent Boban’s idea of a border along the Neretva, since the division would not have ended with Mostar. My position was that Croatia should neither take nor give up anything, whereas Owen favoured border changes. But at the start of 1994 there was a turn, after which the terms of the discussion were different.

If you felt so strongly about it, what did you feel during 1993 when the Croatian government, in which you occupied such a prominent position, was seeking to organise precisely the partition of Bosnia?

I became minister on 1 June 1993. I devoted myself primarily to humanitarian issues. When I heard about the Croat camps for Bosniak civilians, I did what I could to have them closed down, which is what finally happened. I started negotiating with Silajdžić in August of that year, and within a few months we ended the conflict and agreed on the Federation. I can say, therefore, that my aims were achieved. Mainly thanks to the Americans, of course. I considered Boban to be incompetent and unreasonable, and I disliked him also because he lied. He led the Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina into an extremely difficult and uncertain situation, and he was against peace with the Bosniaks. Quite apart from that, the Bosniaks were advancing and would have taken all of central Bosnia had it not been for the Washington agreement.

What is your view on the Croatian parliament’s ‘Declaration on the Homeland War’ [2000], according to which Croatia was not an aggressor in Bosnia-Herzegovina?

I say again that the policy of partitioning Bosnia-Herzegovina was never my policy. But the situation was very complex in reality. Few countries - in fact none but America - helped Bosnia as much as Croatia did. Croatia took in one million refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina. It must also not be forgotten that both at the start and at the end of the war the two countries won together several major liberating battles.

Yes, but what about the period in between, the awkward 1993?

Yes, the HDZ had some bad policies too, supporting at that time Mate Boban. What he was doing should not have been supported. He should not have been accepted...

But he was not exactly a spontaneous phenomenon, and it seems entirely logical that a person like Tuđman would find ‘on the ground’ a person like Boban.

I agree, he was not a spontaneous phenomenon. But I do not want to talk about things in which I did not actively or officially take part, i.e. prior to June 1993. I want to talk only about what I personally did or witnessed. After becoming foreign minister, I did things that in my view do me credit. I could not have done more.

You have not replied to my question about whether Croatia was an aggressor in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

I would not say that Croatia was an aggressor in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is known, of course, that the Croatian army was in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The only true external aggressor, however, was Slobodan Milošević. The responsibility for the conflict between Croats and Bosniaks lies to a considerable extent on the Croat side, but some of it also belongs to the Bosniaks. Apart from that, Croatia cannot be called an aggressor because before and after the Croat-Bosniak conflict the Croatian army worked together with the Bosnian army.

A friend of mine from Dubrovnik, who fought in the Croatian army, was sent in the middle of 1993 to man Croat positions on Popovo Polje [eastern Herzegovina], where Bosnian POWs were brought in to help dig the trenches. Who in that case was the aggressor?

The context was very complicated. We had a written agreement for cooperation between the two armies and the two states, and then came the Croat-Bosniak conflict. I do not wish to defend anyone, and especially not the radical wing of the HDZ which committed certain mistakes in 1992 and 1993. But it was not all black and white. If I had become foreign minister earlier than I did, I would personally have done all in my power to prevent that conflict at any cost.

* The Croatian banovina within royalist Yugoslavia envisaged by the Cvetković-Maček agreement of August 1939 encompassed sizeable areas of present-day Bosnia-Herzegovina, notably in Posavina and western Herzegovina, and including the mainly Bosniak-inhabited region round Cazin and Bihać often termed ‘Turkish Croatia’ by eighteenth-century Habsburg cartographers.

Mate Granić was a doctor before becoming Croatia’s foreign minister from1993 until 2000. A member of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and a close associate of Franjo Tuđman, Granić was considered a moderate within the party. .In January 2000, following Tuđman’s death and the HDZ’s defeat in parliamentary elections, Granić was the party's losing presidential candidate, before leaving it to form the Democratic Centre (DC). However, the latter barely survived the next elections in 2003, whereupon Granić retired from active public life, although in 2005 he became foreign-policy advisor to the right-wing Croatian Party of Right (HSP).

This interview has been translated from Dani (Sarajevo), 24 June 2005



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