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

Karadzic the "Good Democrat"

Former Yugoslav foreign minister says Bosnian Serb leader believed in tolerance.
By Velma Šarić
  • Vladislav Jovanovic, defence witness for former Bosnian Serb president Karadzic. (Photo: ICTY)
    Vladislav Jovanovic, defence witness for former Bosnian Serb president Karadzic. (Photo: ICTY)

The trial of Radovan Karadzic continued this week with testimony from former Yugoslav foreign minister Vladislav Jovanovic, who told the court that the defendant was “a good democrat” who wanted to have positive relations with Bosnian Muslims (or Bosniaks) and Croats.

Jovanovic, now 79, was foreign minister of Yugoslavia between July 1991 and August 1995, after which he was appointed head of the diplomatic mission to the United Nations, of which Yugoslavia was not a full member at the time. He stepped down in 2000 and has since been living in retirement.

Jovanovic has already appeared as a defence witness in The Hague, at the 2005 trial of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic died in 2006 before his trial was completed.

This week, Jovanovic testified as a defence witness for former Bosnian Serb president Karadzic, who is accused of having “planned, instigated, ordered and/or aided and abetted persecutions on political and religious grounds against Bosnian Muslims and Croats” during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.

At the beginning of his testimony, the witness told the court that in the early Nineties there were "forces in action which were clearly opposed to Yugoslavia continuing its existence".

He said Germany and the Vatican, in particular, were responsible for the break-up of Yugoslavia. Such states also contributed "massively to the violation of international law” by recognising "mere administrative units" like Bosnia and Hercegovina as independent countries.

"All they [the West] cared about was breaking up Yugoslavia into little bits and pieces,” he added.

Jovanovic said that as a lawyer, he was competent to comment on the right to self-determination, which he said was a "basic principle of the Yugoslav constitution", but which in his opinion was denied to the ethnic Serbs living in both Croatia and Bosnia.

At the time, he said, Serbia was insisting that all the peoples of the former Yugoslavia had an equal right to self-determination. The late Milosevic, he said, was a "champion of the fight for equality and freedom of Serbs, both of which were severely hindered by the war".

"Serbia, for its part, accepted all peace plans, as all our government cared about was peace and a solution which would please all three sides – the Serbs, the Muslims and the Croats," the witness said.

He told the court that the pursuit of a “Greater Serbia” was not part of Serbia's policies. According to the witness, the whole concept was a "propaganda instrument which was invented by those opposed to Serbia, and Serbs in general".

"Propaganda was an important tool, and Serbs were always blamed for bad things that allegedly happened during the war," Jovanovic said.

When Karadzic, who represents himself in court, asked the witness to be more specific on this point, Jovanovic said he was referring to several massacres which took place in Sarajevo in 1992-95. To illustrate his claims, he said that the UN Secretary General’s special envoy at the time, Yasushi Akashi, gave an interview to a German newspaper saying that Serbs were not responsible for the 1992 incident in the city’s Vase Miskina street known as the “bread-queue massacre”, which left 26 people dead and more than 100 injured.

Jovanovic insisted that there was no ethnic cleansing in Bosnia during the war, and that the movement of people from one part of the country to another was “a natural consequence of the war”.

The witness also spoke about the wartime relationship between Serbia and Republika Srpska – the Serb entity in Bosnia which Karadzic headed. Relations, he said, were "dynamic, and not necessarily cordial".

He said Karadzic and Milosevic were two completely different personalities – the former "a liberal spirit advocating democracy without reserve", while the latter’s view of democracy "included some caveats".

Karadzic, he went on, was “a good democrat who had a progressive relationship with Muslims and Croats and had a very tolerant approach, which they didn't seem to embrace".

During the cross-examination, prosecutor Alain Tieger cited statements that Jovanovic made during the Milosevic trial in 2005. At that time, Jovanovic claimed that the Bosnian Serb leadership, including Karadzic, was acting "ridiculously" and was "rightfully accused of the various crimes, which led Milosevic to scorn and criticise them very often".

Jovanovic seemed to be caught off-guard when confronted with this statement, but then he said he still "stood by what [he] said” at Milosevic trial.

However, this week he said that even in 2005, he had doubts about whether he and Milosevic had known the whole truth, since Karadzic had always claimed that "some irresponsible groups and individuals” were shelling Sarajevo and committing crimes elsewhere.

Tieger also confronted Jovanovic with quoted remarks in which Karadzic spoke about "the unification of all Serb people and unification with Serbia", seen as a clear indication of a Greater Serbia ideology.

To this, Jovanovic replied that Karadzic was an impulsive figure prone to making statements "which reflected his spirit", but which did not reflect the actual position of either Serbia or Republika Srpska.

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.

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