Gojko Šušak's gift to RS
by Branka Magaš
According to the Croatian government’s own investigation held at the time, the then Croatian minister of defence Gojko Š ušak was responsible for the fall in September 1992 of this territory strategically vital to the Bosnian Serb forces: see Nacional (Zagreb), 30 January 2007.
The Bosnian Serb entity gained the Bosnian Posavina in 1992 as a gift from the Croatian minister of defence
The Bosnian Posavina (the Bosnian side of the river Sava) is defined here as an area of 2,650 square km comprising the nine municipalities of Bosanski Brod, Derventa, Doboj, Odžak, Bosanski Š amac, Modriča, Orašje, Brčko and Gradačac. According to the census of 1991, 260,793 people lived in this area, of whom 51% were Croat, 29% Serb and 12% Bosniak. As the geographical link between Serbia, Banja Luka and Knin, the Bosnian Posavina became early on a contested territory. Aided by the local Croats and Bosniaks, who were fighting for their survival, the Croatian Army (HV) managed in April 1992 to liberate a large part of this area, and in this way to halt the military and logistical aid being sent by Belgrade to the Bosnian Serb insurgents. The Serbian counter-offensive, which began in the middle of July, ended a few months later with the capture of Bosanski Brod. According to Nacional, published documents and transcripts show that Gojko Š ušak played a key role in this outcome by issuing instructions to the lower-level commanders that bypassed the HV high command, by spreading defeatism among the HV soldiers and the Croat population, and by preventing the local civilian authorities from organising an effective resistance alone or in collaboration with the Bosniaks. Although the Bosnian Posavina was defensible from a purely military point of view, the HV units and the units of the local Croat Defence Council (HVO) withdrew from the area in disarray in September 1992.
Although it is not clearly established as yet that Tuđman himself ordered its surrender in September 1992, it was evident already in 1991 that political plans meant that the Croatian Army would not engage seriously south of the river Sava.1 According to retired general Karl Gorinšek, who commanded the Slavonian theatre of war at the time, he kept getting orders not to do anything to help the Bosnian Posavina, despite repeated requests on the part of the local resistance for help, without which they could not hold out against the Bosnian Serb forces armed and commanded by the JNA.
According to Josip Manolić, who had read the investigating commission’s report at the time, the report ‘clearly indicated the responsibility of Gojko Š ušak, and of his separate military and political lines [of command] on the ground, for the fall of Posavina’. According to another witness quoted in Nacional, who refused to be identified, the commission was composed of men who themselves were involved in the ill-fated withdrawal from the Bosnian Posavina, which helps explain its confused character. This witness, who comes from Slavonski Brod, told Nacional that after the fall of Bosnian Posavina his town not only gained 25,000 fresh refugees, but also with the fall of Bosanski Brod became exposed to ‘Chetnik’ shelling and snipers from across the river.
An insight into the thinking behind this extraordinary decision on the part of the Croatian minister of defence is provided by a transcript of the conversation held on 28 November 1993 between Croatian president Franjo Tuđman, defence minister Gojko Š ušak, and the head of the HVO Mate Boban, about coopting a Croat from Bosnian Posavina into the leadership of the Croat para-state of Herzeg-Bosna. According to Nacional, Tuđman said on that occasion: ‘Strictly between us, he would have to be reasonable enough to understand in the last instance that, however important the Bosnian Posavina may be to us politically and economically, because of the solution whereby we gain the Novi Travnik, Busovača, Bihać frontier and have a cleansed Baranja returned to us, we can give up the bulk of Bosnian Posavina.’
The Dayton Accords left Bosnian Posavina in the Serb entity, with the exception of Orašje, which had succeeded in defending itself; Odžak, which the Accords allocated to the Federation; and the town of Brčko, which became a separate district. When Krešimir Zubak, who was at that time president of the Federation, threatened to leave Dayton if the Bosnian Posavina were given to the Serb entity, Richard Holbrooke noted in his book To End the War that he was tempted to let him go, since he was nothing but trouble.