Jovan Raškovic - victim of a delusion
by Davor Ivankovic
In a speech delivered at the end of 1990 to Serb émigrés living in Canada, Jovan Rašković demanded the creation of an autonomous Serb territory in Croatia, as a ‘transitional form until the Serbs decide in which state they wished to live’. At that time he envisaged a Serb ‘Krajina’ to be formed by joining up ‘Serb lands’ in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. ‘This would be a state of 3.1 million people, twice the size of Macedonia and one and a half times bigger than Slovenia. You who live abroad can help us in achieving this, because you know how to fight the Ustashe [i.e. the Croatian authorities].’ Two years later, however, on the eve of his death, Rašković was troubled by feelings of guilt: ‘I feel responsible. If I had not created the emotional charge among the Serbs, nothing would have happened. My party [the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) of Croatia, founded February 1990] and I lit the fuse of Serb nationalism, not only in Croatia but also in Bosnia.’
Today, at some historical distance, Belgrade intellectual circles making an audit of the recent catastrophic Serb wars are also examining the failure of the experiment initiated in 1990 by Š ibenik psychiatrist Jovan Rašković, putative leader of the Croatian Serbs. ‘Dr Jovan Rašković’s forgotten testament’, published back in 2004 in the Belgrade magazine Profil [controlled by the Serbian security service1], recently resurfaced on Krajinaforce - Voice of the Exiles from Krajina,2 a website whose pages have been filled of late with articles, films and books bearing the message that the war could have been avoided, and the Croatian Serbs gained autonomy - thus avoiding exile.
This too is the message of an article on Rašković’s testament by the Belgrade journalist Dragan Tanasić, who belongs to a circle of intellectuals who are still lamenting the fact that they too quickly lost control of Slobodan Milošević. According to Tanasić, he met Rašković at the latter’s house in Primošten [near Š ibenik] at the suggestion of Dobrica Ćosić. Tanasić testifies that prominent Serbian academicians had been visiting Rašković for years, dreaming up plans for Serb autonomy within Croatia. He writes that at the start of the 1990s the Croatian Serb population became worried by certain acts on the part of the HDZ government, and that Rašković felt it was his duty to calm people down and stop them from doing anything rash or irrational. Rašković also took part in ‘preparatory intellectual working groups’ organised by Milošević in Belgrade, which he would leave feeling ‘deeply unhappy and depressed’ in view of the great fascination with Milošević felt by most of the dozen or so intellectuals involved.
As Tanasić writes: ‘Jovan kept begging Milošević to halt the fanning of tensions, not just in the Serb areas but also in the rest of Croatia. [He] stressed that Croatia was a state also of Serbs, that they should fight to realise their rights within it, and that any other solution would be harmful to the Serbs.’ The Serb Leader thought differently, however. ‘At the time of the London conference , he visited Dobrica Ćosić’s apartment half drunk and poked fun at his depressed colleagues: "Why are you worried? Don’t you understand we have already defeated them [the Croats]"’, records Tanasić. He adds that it was at this time that Rašković first told him his professional diagnosis of Milošević’s personality: ‘a vicious and vengeful paranoiac’.
Apparently at one time Rašković was planning a Gandhi-type Serb march on Zagreb. But he soon became seriously ill, especially after he had been summoned by Milošević one evening when the latter verbally abused him, telling him that a march of such a kind was out of the question, ‘because world leaders understand only the language of force’. Milošević instead asked Rašković to destroy Croatia’s tourism: ‘You should order the Krajina Serbs to cause incidents in Croatia.’ When Rašković refused, Milošević then came up with ‘a most monstrous demand’: ‘You should also organise the murder of uniformed Serbs in the Krajina, of soldiers and policemen, for which you should blame the ZNG [embryo of the Croatian army], using this as a pretext to withdraw all your [SDS] deputies from parliament.’ Rašković’s alleged reply was: ‘I am a humanist, not a terrorist.’ According to Tanasić, Rašković told him afterwards: ‘You must know that he [Milošević] is quite crazy. One day he will betray all us Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia, and leave us to fend for ourselves. It will be a Kristallnacht. He plans to have me killed in the near future.’
Rašković travelled next to the United States, to get money from Serb emigrants there for a radio and television transmitter in Knin. A day later Milan Babić established a Krajina SDS. There followed the contrived ‘assassination’ of Miroslav Milnar, a young SDS member from Benkovac, who was allegedly slashed with a razor-blade by a Croat. Following his return from abroad Rašković immediately visited his young friend, examined his wounds, and found that Milnar’s throat had been slashed by a professional doctor, not an assassin. Milnar told him he had been forced to submit himself to the operation. Soon afterwards the Serbian media announced the killing of a Serb policeman by ‘Croatian paramilitary units’.
How Rašković died
Tanasić writes that following his political destruction Rašković became also materially and morally crushed, as a result of which his health quickly deteriorated. After his property in Croatia had been destroyed, he moved to Belgrade. At the start of 1992 he was denied the right to address a meeting of the central committee of the SDS, a party which he had helped to established.
Rašković died suddenly in March 1992. The suspicion that he was murdered was never proven. He died after an ugly encounter with a new neighbour, the commander of a special unit who had recently returned from Kosovo. The man lived above Rašković, and while repairing something he closed off the water supply for the whole building. Rašković, sweating heavily from the heat and the medicines he was taking and unable to take a bath for two days, hobbled up the stairs to see the man and asked him to switch on the water briefly, so that he could wash and clean a wound on his leg. ‘As soon as Jovan called him "neighbour", the man started to shout and swear; he called Rašković an Ustasha and threatened to kill him. Rašković, astounded and frightened, went downstairs pursued by the man’s continuing threats.’ He retired to his room and collapsed. His wife Tanja called for an ambulance, which failed to turn up. She then rang Dobrica Ćosić’s wife, after which the ambulance came and took him to hospital, where he was proclaimed dead on arrival, of an oedema of the lungs.
Translated from Večernji list (Zagreb), 12 November 2005
1. Profil is run by people close to Dobrica Ćosić, whose close involvement with the Serbian security service is widely known. See, for example, Dragoljub Todorović, Knjiga o Ćosiću, Belgrade 2005. See too the brief comment on Ćosić by former Bosnian Partisan and Communist leader Rodoljub Čolaković, penned in the mid 1960s, i.e. at the time of the fall of Ćosić’s close friend Aleksandar Ranković, organiser and head of the notorious Communist security service UDB: ‘highly conceited, convinced that his writings are part of a great mission, a self-proclaimed protector of the Serb nation, and an UDB favourite’ (Zdravko Antonić, Rodoljub Ćolaković u svetlu svog dnevnika, reviewed in Republika, Belgrade, September 2005, p.23).
2. The term krajina refers normally to the Military Border created by the Croatian Habsburg kings in the16th century as a defensive measure against the Ottoman advance. Some of this territory came to be settled by an Orthodox population of various ethnic origins, most of whom became Serbs in the 19th century. The Dalmatian town of Knin, however, which was made capital of the short-lived Belgrade construct called Republika Srpska Krajina created in 1991, was never part of the Military Border.