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

Ex-Protégé Turns on Milosevic

Former Serbian Socialist Party leader tells tribunal of his old mentor's influence and hunger for power.
By Chris Stephen

One of Milosevic's key allies-turned-enemies, former Yugoslav president Borisav Jovic, told the tribunal this week that Milosevic had "absolute authority" in his former country.

"Milosevic was the absolute authority whether he was party president or not," Jovic said. "Not a single important decision in Serbia was taken without him - nor could it be."

This will be music to the ears of the prosecutors, who hope the judges will see this as further proof that Milosevic was responsible for war crimes in neighbouring Croatia and Bosnia.

The witness was once Milosevic's right-hand man. He was the Serbian member of Yugoslavia's collective presidency in 1989 and 1990, later moving to become president of the Serbian Socialist Party. Many felt that he was put there to ensure Milosevic had control of these institutions.

"[Milosevic] needed people he could trust to accept the decisions he had made," said Jovic, adding that the former Serb leader paid close attention to selecting the right people who could ensure he would have control through the web of institutions in a state split between federal and republic structures.

"He paid strict attention to who was the best. [Milosevic would influence the] list of candidates for the government of the Republic of Serbia, list of candidates for Federal deputies, all positions where decisions were needed. He took care of that because he did not want anybody to clash with the policies he wanted to [enforce]."

This evidence, coming from so senior a figure, will do much to strengthen the prosecution's assertion that Milosevic, although only president of Serbia, was in effect the spider at the centre of a web that reached out across the government and the armed forces.

Perhaps Jovic's candidness was helped by the news this week that another key individual, Milan Babic, former leader of the Krajina Serbs, had been indicted for war crimes.

Babic has already given evidence to the Milosevic trial, and might have expected this would help him in escaping indictment. In fact it did not, and Jovic will certainly be hoping not to antagonise the prosecutor.

Prosecutors will be pleased that large chunks of Jovic's book, Diary, will be admitted into evidence, as it chronicles Milosevic's alleged manipulation of the Belgrade political system and the extent of his power.

But the witness also echoed recent testimony of Lord David Owen - by stating that Milosevic was not a nationalist. Like the former European Union negotiator, the witness said he felt the former Serb leader simply loved power and manipulated the media for his own end.

Jovic said Milosevic focused on developing a personality cult, ordering the printing of thousands of huge pictures of himself to be carried by demonstrators.

"He enjoyed the massive support of citizens. They carried photographs, big photographs of Milosevic and a few other individuals," the witness said. "I asked him [to stop this], saying we had had enough of personality cults with Stalin and Tito. All the other pictures were removed. But his stayed on."

Jovic defended the government's decision to use the media for propaganda, saying, "He (Milosevic) thought it was important for television and radio to report in the interests of current politics."

Milosevic turned against his former ally after Jovic published his highly critical book in 1995, and eventually had him replaced as Socialist Party president.

"The fact is I was replaced like many others," Jovic said. "Without written decisions, in a non-democratic manner."

Jovic then found himself subject to the same treatment made famous by the Soviets, who air-brushed Trotsky and other fallen stars out of official pictures. He claimed that footage of a rally he addressed was broadcast showing only the cheering crowd, and not himself delivering the rousing speech.

Later, he found that a number of organisations refused to host him. "They were told if you invite Borisav Jovic to attend the celebrations there will be no celebrations. This was the method [Milosevic's acolytes] used," he claimed.

But he also came to his former ally's defence, saying that neither Milosevic nor himself were aware of the massacre of 200 Croats outside Vukovar in 1991.

Under cross-examination, he told the court that the federal army - over which the Yugoslav presidency, including himself, had control in 1991 - was sent into areas of Croatia not to attack Croats but to interpose itself between warring Croat and Serb groups.

In fact, the longer Milosevic's cross-examination went on, the more Jovic began to defend his former mentor.

He agreed with Milosevic that Serbia had wanted only "equality" with other nationalities in Yugoslavia, adding, "There was no other plan."

He told the court, over three days of testimony, that neither he nor Milosevic had wanted a Serb-only state, but in fact supported a united Yugoslavia, preserved without force or violence.

"The break-up of Yugoslavia started with the forceful secession of Slovenia and Croatia," he said, claiming that Germany had encouraged this process.

"No warnings could dissuade Germany from recognising Croatia in 1991," he added.

Chris Stephen is IWPR's project manager in The Hague.