Babic comes clean
by Mirko Klarin
Even before the start of his marathon testimony on 18 November, journalists covering the trial of Slobodan Milošević were pretty sure witness C-036 could only be Milan Babić, former president, prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of the so-called Republika Srpska Krajina (RSK), the Serbian statelet established on one third of Croatian territory at the beginning of the nineties.
This conclusion could be easily reached on the basis of the pre-trial brief, in which the prosecution declared what the witness in question was to testify about, as well as on the basis of a letter from C-036's attorney which revealed that his client was under investigation and in due course might be indicted for participation in the ‘joint criminal enterprise’ in Croatia in the period 1990-95.
In the indictment against Milošević, all three former presidents of RSK are named as his accomplices. One of them, Milan Martić, is already in detention in The Hague, indicted for rocket attacks on Zagreb in May 1995; this indictment may soon be expanded to include other alleged crimes committed by the ‘Martić militia’. The other former president, Goran Hadžić, has apparently remained absolutely loyal to Milošević and can hardly be any use as a prosecution witness. After eliminating Martić and Hadžić, C-036 could only be Babić, who had several scores to settle with Milošević dating back to 1992, when in February of that year, on the initiative of Belgrade, he was removed unceremoniously from the RSK presidency.
Once the witness realized that observers had guessed who he was, he asked the court to give him a new code name, apparently believing this would conceal his identity. So on 19 November, he appeared before the court as protected witness C-061! For the next ten days he testified as C-061, and on many occasions the sessions were closed to the public so that his identity - already known to all interested parties in the court and outside - would not be revealed. Finally, on the eleventh day of his testimony, C-061 realized that this situation made no sense at all and requested that the court remove the protective measures and allow him to testify in public for the rest of the hearing.
In addition to the fact that his identity had already been discovered, his lawyer Peter Michael Mueller explained that Babić wanted to respond in public to some of the accusations Milošević was making against him in closed sessions. Mueller also expressed the witness's hope that in this way he could ‘contribute to reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia’. Thus on 6 December C-061 finally appeared before the court as Milan Babić - though the public had already been deprived of approximately one half of his testimony up to that point. The judges still have to decide what parts of the testimony given in closed session will be made public, and under what conditions.
Babić is a dentist from Knin, the capital of ‘Krajina’, the part of Croatia - some of it with a local majority Serb population - where Republika Srpska Krajina was established. At the beginning of the nineties he entered politics, and - as he admitted in one of the answers to the accused - he ‘liked his political role’. He joined the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) established in Croatia in 1990 by psychiatrist Dr Jovan Rašković, which at first advocated territorial and cultural autonomy for Serbs in Croatia. A party with the same name was later established in Bosnia-Herzegovina, curiously enough also led by a psychiatrist - Dr Radovan Karadžić. There were attempts at the start of the nineties to interpret the events in Yugoslavia as a ‘plot by psychiatrists’, using their ‘patients’ as executors.
According to Babić's testimony, under the influence of propaganda from Belgrade, which was spreading fear of the new Croatian authorities' ‘genocidal intentions’, and through ‘the parallel structure’ that was established in Krajina by Milošević’s secret police, the SDS very soon moved from moderate ‘autonomist’ positions to more radical ‘unitarist’ ones. Negotiations with the Croatian government were rejected and the party accepted Milošević’s concept of ‘the right of the people to self-determination’. According to this concept, if ‘the Croats’ had the right to break away from Yugoslavia, then Serbs living in Croatia had the right to remain in what was left of the federation, on the territories on which they lived. The same concept, of course, was applied in the case of the Serbs (and ‘their territories’) in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Babić admitted that he himself for some time was ‘under the spell’ of this propaganda of fear and hatred coming from Belgrade, and that he embraced Milošević’s idea that all Serbs should live in one state. He supported Milošević in spite of warnings from Stjepan Mesić - then prime minister, and now president of Croatia - who at the beginning of 1991 told Babić that Milošević would ‘cheat him’ and that in the end he would not only be denied Greater Serbia ‘but his dental practice as well’. And that was exactly what happened. Most recent reports said Babić was running a chicken farm in Vojvodina, northern Serbia.
Until the removal of protective measures on 6 December, the greater part of cross-examination took place in closed sessions, so it is not possible to assess whether, and to what extent, Milošević had any success in countering Babić's version of events in Krajina in the period 1990-95 and the role the accused played in them. The essence of Babić's testimony given to the prosecutor was that the events in Krajina were not controlled from Knin, but directly from the office of the accused in Belgrade.
During those parts of the cross-examination that were open to the public, Milošević persistently attacked the credibility of his former political ally and follower, in a manner which at times verged on defamation, and eventually turned into overt humiliation. Having described him at the beginning as a careerist, opportunist and political gadfly - who used to ‘think one thing, speak another and do a third’ - Milošević tried to accuse Babić of the theft of 170,000 US dollars, and of the killing of a police inspector who secretly worked on this case. Finally, on 6 December, the last day of the cross-examination, Milošević flung a series of insulting and vulgar slurs at the witness.
In order to show that he never had any favourable opinion of Babić, Milošević used the prosecutor's transcripts of intercepted telephone calls he and Radovan Karadžić made at the end of 1991 and the beginning of 1992, in which the then president of Serbia spoke of the witness as ‘an idiot’, ‘ordinary scum’, ‘a pig’ and ‘Tuđman's trump card’. ‘You see, I said the worst things about Babić,’ Milošević said triumphantly, overlooking the fact that in this way he was confirming the authenticity of the transcripts and recordings of the intercepted telephone conversations, which he otherwise rejected as forgeries. Babić calmly accepted these insults and replied with style: ‘Your opinions and the manner in which you express yourself speak more about you than about me.’
Milošević’s anger with the witness was provoked at that time by the fact that Babić, then president of RSK, opposed the Vance peace plan for Krajina at the end of 1991 and beginning of 1992. Milošević and Tuđman accepted the plan, because both of them had achieved their war objectives at that point. The accused had established control over one third of Croatian territory, earmarked to remain in rump Yugoslavia, and Tuđman had achieved recognition of independent Croatia, his primary war goal. The latter reckoned that in due course Zagreb would regain its lost territories, either with the help of the international community or through its own efforts.
Babić, who obviously ‘liked his political role’ at that time, thought that he should have been consulted on this issue, and requested a referendum in which the people of Krajina would vote on the proposed plan. Of course, there was no such referendum, and in February 1992 the disobedient Babić was ousted and replaced by the more pliant Goran Hadžić, a former storehouse keeper who boasted that he was merely ‘a messenger for Slobodan Milošević’.
The Vance plan was finally accepted, but never put into practice. Namely, demilitarization of the Krajina was never achieved, no mixed Serb-Croat police units were established, and displaced persons - i.e. Croats who had in 1991 fled their villages, destroyed and burned by the Yugoslav army and local police and volunteer forces - were not allowed to return home. The failure of the peace plan, according to Babić's testimony, was a direct result of the ‘the parallel structure’ of the Serbian secret police, which controlled all institutions and armed forces in Krajina. In other words, Milošević was the man behind this failure.
The accused denied that there was any sort of parallel structure and claimed that Babić had made it up ‘out of fear’. Milošević claims the witness is in a panic that he himself might be indicted for involvement in the ‘joint criminal enterprise’ in Croatia, and therefore is willing to say whatever is requested or expected from him by the ‘other side’, as the defendant persistently terms the prosecution. Milošević has insinuated that the witness has been speaking ‘out of fear’, and in doing so has betrayed the principles he once believed in - that Serbs should have the right to self-determination and to live in one state. When he finally forced Judge May to invite Babić to express his views on the subject, the witness replied that he had not abandoned these principles because he was in fear, but because they had been used by Milošević to ‘seduce the Serb people in Croatia and Bosnia’ and ‘were the main cause of ethnic conflicts, war, destruction and misery’.
Milošević, apparently, still believes in these principles. At the end of the cross-examination, noting that ‘Krajina lasted longer than the Paris Commune’, he said: ‘Croatia will have to return to Serbs the status of a constituent nation’. Judge May interrupted the ‘political speech of the accused’, and Babić used the opportunity to deliver his final blow to the man who had deprived him not only of the post he liked so much, but of his dental practice as well. He turned to the accused and, looking him straight in the eye, said: ‘You and your nationalistic politics now belong to the past, just as the politics of Franjo Tuđman and my own politics at that time belong to the past.’
Milošević, however, was not impressed and instantly retorted with a slogan that sounded as if he had borrowed it from one of his wife's literary works. ‘The struggle for freedom will never belong to the past,’ he exclaimed with pride. The trial continues.
Mirko Klarin is a senior IWPR editor in The Hague and editor in chief of the SENSE news agency. This report appeared in IWPR'S Tribunal Update No. 292, 2-6 December 2002. See www.iwpr.net