Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Dokmanovic Trial

Tribunal Update 68: Last Week in The Hague (March 16-21, 1998)
By IWPR ICTY

In this case Mesic's testimony on Serb crimes will do him nothing but good at home: it is a "patriotic act."

Slavko Dokmanovic, along with three officers of the former Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), is accused of the massacre of at least 200 Croats, who were taken out of Vukovar hospital by Serb military and paramilitary units and executed on the Ovcara farm in November 1991.

The bodies were discovered in the summer of 1996, and American forensic expert Dr Clyde Snow, the leader of the international team which carried out the exhumation, testified last week.

The citizens of former Yugoslavia have thus far appeared before the Tribunal mainly as defendants or as the victims. Stipe Mesic does not fall into these two categories. He was a leading protagonist, involved in the policy which led to the war and the war crimes, the Tribunal was set up to try. At one point, during the testimony, Mesic even admitted he felt a political responsibility for what had happened.

Mesic's testimony revealed all the pettiness and cynicism of the politicians and the policies that broke up the former Yugoslavia and pushed its peoples to war. In calling him, the prosecution hoped to prove the international character of the war in Croatia at the time of the Ovcara crime.

Apart from confirming that, Mesic also told of how, as Prime Minister of the Croatia, he had met with Slavko Dokmanovic, then president of the Vukovar municipality. Their conversation was, he said, "quite correct" and they came to "identical conclusions." Mesic avoided references to Dokmanovic's trial and the crime he is alleged to have committed.

He did, however, provide a lengthy description of the political events that preceded the war and the break-up of Yugoslavia. Mesic described the rise of Slobodan Milosevic and the development of Serbian nationalism, Milosevis's abolition of autonomy for Kosovo and Vojvodina, as well as the staging of a coup in Montenegro.

It was this that enabled Milosevic to take control of four of the eight votes used in the decision-making process within the framework of the SFRY presidency. This is how the so-called "Serb block" was established, which obstructed every decision that was not to Milosevic's liking and, effectively made a political solution of the Yugoslav crisis impossible. Milosevic, Mesic claimed, was not interested in Yugoslavia, but only in "Greater Serbia."

Mesic also gave an account of the famous secret meeting between Milosevic and Tudjman at Karadjordjevo on 25 March 1991. Upon his return from that meeting, Mesic claimed, Tudjman told him that he had guarantees from not only the then Yugoslav Defence Minister Kadijevic but also from Milosevic that the JNA would not attack Croatia.

Tudjman also passed on Milosevic's assessment that Bosnia-Herzegovina "cannot be sustained", as well as a generous offer of the area of Bosnia known as the Croatian Banovina before World War Two along with some other parts of Bosnia in which Serbia had no interest. Mesic allegedly expressed doubts that Milosevic would abide by such an agreement, but Tudjman countered with an argument on "historical forces."

When Dokmanovic's defence asked why, if there was such an agreement, the JNA had attacked Croatia, Mesic replied that "Milosevic cheated everybody, and he had wanted to deceive Tudjman and grab a part of Croatia." He added that Milosevic "also deceived the Serbs in Croatia, whom he had needed to ignite the situation initially and then he never moved a finger to protect them" from the Croatian army.

To illustrate this Mesic described how Bora Jovic, the representative of Serbia in the SFRJ presidency, allegedly told him on the eve of the secret meeting in Karadjordjevo: "We are not interested in the Serbs in Croatia. They are your citizens and you can do whatever you like with them. You may even impale them, if you like! Nor are we interested in the Croatian territory, only in 66 per cent of Bosnia."

In order to establish a "balance", Dokmanovic's defence noted in cross-examination that the witness had said "all kinds of things about Milosevic", and asked whether Tudjman could be held responsible for the crime that was committed against the Serbs in Croatia.

Mesic replied: "I did not accuse Milosevic of any crime, except of an erroneous policy of planning the war, calculated genocide and the forcible change of borders. I also accuse Tudjman of an erroneous policy, but others should assess what its results are." In the end, Mesic admitted that crimes took place in Croatia as well, but are yet to be "processed."

He described how an atmosphere of "collective accusations" had been created during the war years, when "everybody was accusing everybody", and concluded it was necessary to "individualise the guilt, so that it would not remain collective."

More IWPR's Global Voices