Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Prosecutors in the trial of former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic this week showed a 1991 video clip where the accused warns that those pushing for an independent Bosnia are choosing a “highway to hell”.
The now famous speech was delivered before Bosnia’s multi-ethnic assembly on October 15, 1991, as tensions were building in the run up to war.
At this point in time, Karadzic was leader of Serbian Democratic Party, SDS. He was “determined to prevent Bosnian Serbs from being separated from other Serbs in the former Yugoslavia by the establishment of a sovereign and independent [Bosnia]”, states the prosecution’s pre-trial brief.
Both Slovenia and Croatia had already declared independence earlier in 1991, igniting a full-scale war in Croatia.
In the video clip screened in court, Karadzic is seen standing at a lectern and gesturing emphatically with his hands.
“I ask you once again, I am not threatening, I am pleading that you take seriously the political will of the Serbian people represented here today…The road you are choosing for Bosnia and Hercegovina is the same highway to hell and suffering that Slovenia and Croatia have already taken,” Karadzic exclaimed.
“Do not think that you will not take Bosnia and Hercegovina to hell and the Muslim people maybe into extinction, because if there is a war, the Muslim people will not be able to defend themselves.”
The clip was played during the testimony of historian Dr Robert Donia, who specialises in the political and social history of the former Yugoslavia. He has testified in numerous trials at the Hague tribunal and prepared various reports for the prosecution.
“Do you have any comment on what we’ve just seen?” prosecution lawyer Carolyn Edgerton asked him.
“This was a youthful and energetic Dr Karadzic speaking to the multi- ethnic assembly in what was actually fairly long address, the last part of which you played,” Donia responded. “…[Karadzic] said that he was not threatening but pleading, but he used some expressions that were interpreted by others as threats.”
Donia added that October 15, 1991 was a “watershed date” because the Bosnian assembly had passed a “declaration of sovereignty”.
“That was the point in which the SDS essentially lost the battle to veto the drive towards independence,” Donia said. “From that point on, the energies of the SDS were directed towards planning.”
Shortly thereafter, on October 24, the SDS established a separate Bosnian Serb assembly. This move, Donia said, eventually led to the creation of a separate Bosnian Serb entity, which came to be known as Republika Srpska, with its own separate constitution. Karadzic became president of Republika Srpska in May 1992.
When it was Karadzic’s turn to cross examine Donia, he began by quizzing him about the reports he prepared for the prosecution.
“Did you have to adhere to [the prosecution’s] views and the tasks they set out for you?” Karadzic asked.
“I have to prepare a report according to the guidelines they establish,” Donia answered. “I’m free to have different views or interpretations, and actually I’ve never been asked to adhere to a particular viewpoint in a report or testimony.”
Karadzic then asked Donia how much he is paid “per case and per day in this job”, but Presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon interjected, questioning the relevance of the point.
“Because we’re all human beings and if you imagine that Mr Donia did something prosecution didn’t like, would he testify 15 times?” Karadzic asked. “I’m interested in why the prosecution has favourite witnesses and keeps bringing them back.”
Judge Kwon said the question was not relevant and told Karadzic to move on to other topics. On June 3, Karadzic filed a written motion asking judges to reconsider their decision on the matter.
“Dr Karadzic contends that the amount of money paid by the prosecution to Dr Donia is relevant to his credibility and provides an incentive to deliver the kind of evidence that will keep his income stream going from case to case and year to year,” the motion states.
Karadzic spent much time this week asking Donia about a variety of historical events in the former Yugoslavia. The questions were at time so lengthy and detailed that Donia remarked on their “convoluted” nature.
“I believe you must be referring to something but I have no idea what it is,” Donia said at one point.
As he has in the past, Karadzic brought up the persecution of Serbs during World War II during the cross-examination.
“In 1948, was the number of Serbs smaller than it would have been otherwise?” he asked.
“I would agree that the 1948 census [in the former Yugoslavia] was … profoundly affected by the suffering of the Jews and every group that … suffered substantially in the Second World War,” Donia replied.
Karadzic noted that it was “correct what you said about the Jews”.
“Do you accept that Serbs suffered most during World War II and that genocide was committed against [them]?” he asked.
“I don’t accept that Serbs suffered the most,” Donia replied. “But I concur that genocide was committed against the Serbs in World War II.”
Karadzic then asked Donia about the word Bosnian Muslims now use to identify themselves. “They took the name of Bosniak, right?” Karadzic asked. “Do you agree that we Serbs and Croats are Bosniaks, too?”
“No,” replied Donia. “There is a distinction in both languages between Bosniak, which refers specifically to people who used to be [known as] Bosnian Muslims, and Bosnians, which refers to all citizens of Bosnia-Hercegovina regardless of ethnicity.”
“The Muslims want to say that Bosnia is theirs and we’re some guests there or something like that,” Karadzic contended.
“Some Bosniaks have attempted to do that,” Donia said. “Most are of the view that Bosniaks that one of three primary nations living in Bosnia-Hercegovina.”
After being chided several times by judges for not focusing on the time period in his indictment, Karadzic proceeded to show video footage featuring former Croatian defence minister Martin Spegelj.
The well-known black and white footage, which aired on Yugoslav television stations in January 1991, features Spegelj talking to undercover counter-intelligence officers from the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, about preparing Croatian forces for war.
“This will be a civil war with no consideration towards anyone—not even women and children,” Spegelj says in the footage.
Spegelj also remarks that “we’re going to slaughter them now that this whore has won in Serbia” and “Serbs in Croatia will never be there again for as long as we are”.
After watching the footage, Donia said that he “loves this video.”
“It is a very dramatic moment that shows both the advanced point at which Croatian defence forces are preparing for conflict and the degree to which the counter-intelligence service of the JNA was intent on discrediting the Croatian leadership,” Donia continued.
He added that it worsened relationships between presidents of the republics in the former Yugoslavia.
“I assume [former Serbian president Slobodan] Milosevic didn’t appreciate being called a whore,” Donia said. “It’s evidence of a high-ranking official plotting against Yugoslavia.”
“Do you believe that this had to give rise to Serb concerns in Bosnia?” Karadzic asked.
“Not necessarily, no,” Donia replied. “This really pertained to Croatia. It might have contributed to fear on the part of some Serbs in Bosnia, but in general, what was going on in Croatia was something different than in Bosnia.”
The cross-examination will continue next week.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight
Also in This Issue
As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.
The effects are proving particularly acute in countries already under stress - whether ethnic division, economic uncertainty, active conflict or a lethal combination of all three.
Our unparalleled local networks, often operating in extremely challenging conditions, look at how the crisis is affecting governance, civil liberties and freedoms as well as assessing policy responses to tackle the virus.