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Comment: Milosevic Trial: Protected Witness Goes Public

Milan Babic confronts his onetime political master in open court and declares that his nationalist policies belong to the past.
By Mirko Klarin

Even before the start of his marathon testimony on November 18, journalists covering the trial of Slobodan Milosevic were pretty sure witness C-036 could only be Milan Babic, former president, prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of the so-called Republika Srpska Krajina, RSK, the Serbian statelet which was established on one third of Croatian territory at the beginning of the Nineties.


This conclusion could be easily made 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 his client is under investigation and that in due course might be indicted for participation in the joint criminal enterprise in Croatia in the period 1990-1995.


In the indictment against Milosevic, all three former presidents of RSK are named as his accomplices.


One of them, Milan Martic, 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 "Martic militia".


The other former president, Goran Hadzic, has apparently remained absolutely loyal to Milosevic and can hardly be of any use as a prosecution witness.


After eliminating Martic and Hadzic, C-036 could only be Babic, who had several scores to settle with Milosevic 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 realised 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 November 19, 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 realised 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 Babic wanted to respond in public to some of the accusations Milosevic made 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 Friday, December 6, C-061 finally appeared before the court as Milan Babic - but 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.


Babic is a dentist from Knin, the capital of Krajina, that part of Croatia with a 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 Raskovic, which at first advocated territorial and cultural autonomy for Serbs in Croatia.


A party with the same name was later established in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Curiously enough, it was also led by a psychiatrist - Dr Radovan Karadzic.


There were attempts at the start of the Nineties to interpret the events in Yugoslavia as a "plot of the psychiatrists" who used their "patients" as executors.


According to Babic'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 Milosevic'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 Milosevic's concept of "the right of the people to self-determination".


According to this concept, if the Croats have the right to break away from Yugoslavia, then the Serbs living in Croatia have the right to remain in what is left of the federation, on the territories in which they live.


The same concept, of course, applied in case of the Serbs (and "their territories") in Bosnia and Hercegovina.


Babic 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 Milosevic's idea that all Serbs should live in one state.


He supported Milosevic in spite of warnings from Stjepan Mesic - then prime minister, and now president of Croatia - who at the beginning of 1991 told Babic that Milosevic would "cheat him" and that in the end he will not only be denied Greater Serbia "but his dentist practice as well".


And that was exactly what happened. Most recent reports said Babic was running a chicken farm in Vojvodina, northern Serbia.


Until the removal of protective measures on Friday, December 6, the greater part of cross-examination took place in closed sessions, and therefore it is not possible to assess whether, and to what extent, Milosevic had any success in countering Babic's version of events in Krajina in the period 1990-1995 and the role the accused played in them.


The essence of Babic's testimony given to the prosecutor - which was presented in detail in two previous tribunal updates - 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, Milosevic persistently attacked the credibility of his former political ally and follower, in a manner which at times verged of defamation, and eventually turned into overt humiliation.


Having described him at the beginning as a careerist, opportunist and a political gadfly - who used to "think one thing, speak another and do a third thing" - Milosevic tried to accuse Babic of the theft of 170,000 US dollars, and of the killing of a police inspector who secretly worked on this case.


Finally, on December 6, the last day of the cross-examination, Milosevic flung a series of insulting and vulgar slurs at the witness.


In order to show that he never had any favourable opinion of Babic, Milosevic used the prosecutor's transcripts of intercepted telephone calls he and Radovan Karadzic had 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", "pig" and "Tudjman's trump".


"You see, I said the worst things about Babic," Milosevic said triumphantly, overlooking the fact that in this way he confirmed the authenticity of the transcripts and recordings of the intercepted telephone conversations, which he otherwise rejected as a forgery.


Babic calmly accepted these insults and replied in style, "Your opinions and the manner in which you express yourself speak more about you than about me."


Milosevic's anger with the witness was provoked at that time by the fact that Babic, then president of RSK, opposed the Vance peace plan for Krajina at the end of 1991 and beginning of 1992.


Milosevic and Tudjman 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 which was earmarked to remain in rump Yugoslavia, and Tudjman had achieved recognition of independent Croatia, his primary war goal. The latter reckoned that in due course Zagreb would regain lost territories, either with help of the international community or through its own efforts.


Babic, 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 Babic was ousted and replaced by the more pliant Goran Hadzic, a former storehouse keeper who boasted that he was but "a messenger for Slobodan Milosevic".


The Vance plan was finally accepted, but never put into practice. Namely, demilitarisation of the Krajina was never achieved, no mixed Serbian-Croatian police units were established and displaced persons, that is, Croats who 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 Babic's testimony, was a direct result of the "the parallel structure" of Serbian secret police, which controlled all the institutions and armed forces in Krajina. In other words, Milosevic was the man behind this failure.


The accused denied that there was any sort of parallel structure and claimed that Babic made it up "out of fear".


Milosevic 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 refers to the prosecution.


Milosevic has insinuated that the witness has been speaking "out of fear", and in doing so betrayed the principles he once believed in - that Serbs should have the right to self-determination and to live in one state - that he finally forced judge May to invite Babic to express his views on the subject.


The witness replied that he did not abandon these principles because he was in fear, but because they had been used by Milosevic to "seduce the Serbian people in Croatia and Bosnia" and "were the main cause of ethnic conflicts, war, destruction and misery".


Milosevic, apparently, still believes in these principles and by the end of the cross-examination - noting that "Krajina lasted longer than Paris Commune" - he said "Croatia will have to return to Serbs the status of the constitutive nation".


Judge May interrupted the "political speech of the accused", and Babic used the opportunity to deliver his final blow to the man who deprived him not only of the post, which he liked so much, but of his dentist practice as well.


He turned to the accused and, looking him straight into the eye, said, "You and your nationalistic politics now belong to the past, just as the politics of Franjo Tudjman and my own politics at that time belong to the past."


Milosevic, however, was not impressed and instantly retorted with a slogan that sounded as if he 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


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