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

Karadzic's Partner in Crime

Momcillo Krajisnik, arrested on Monday by NATO troops, is the highest-ranking political figure to be apprehended by the Hague Tribunal.
By IWPR

Entering politics as an anonymous director of A Sarajevo company in 1990, Krajisinik became one of the most influential Serbs in Bosnia.


People who knew him before his emergence on the political scene recall a well behaved village farmer, who would get up at the crack of dawn, feed the cattle, and then go to work at one of the factories of the big socialist concern in Sarajevo, Energoinvest.


"For 14 years while I was his superior, not once was he late for the Directors' 5.30 morning coffee meeting," said Krajisnik's then boss.


After the first multiparty elections in Bosnia in 1990, won by Serb, Bosniak, and Croat parties, Krajisnik became the President of the Bosnian parliament.


His personal friendship with the then leader of the Serbian Democratic Party,SDS, Radovan Karadzic, helped to get him the position. The two had become close in the eighties after spending a year in prison for financial fraud.


Now Krajisnik and Karadzic are together accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. But because Karadzic appears to have fled Bosnia, Krajisnik looks as though he may have to face the charges alone.


Having grown up on the outskirts of Sarajevo, Krajisnik is considered to have had a very good understanding of the Bosnian Muslim mentality. The Bosniak war leader, Alija Izetbegovic, preferred to negotiate with him. Karadzic was considered too aggressive.


Even after Sarajevo came under siege, Krajisnik held secret negotiations with Izetbegovic in the rubble of the parliament.


While Karadzic, who came from a poor family and received a modest doctor's salary before the war, was fascinated by money, Krajisnik viewed it as a means of spreading influence.


Although he was technically not as powerful as Karadzic, he became hugely influential after acquiring control of the police force and the economy.


The full extent of his power first came to the fore in May 1993, when he skillfully manipulated the RS parliament to deal a humiliating blow to Slobodan Milosevic, then undisputed leader of the Serbs.


Although Karadzic promised Milosevic the parliament would accept the Vance-Owen peace plan, inviting the Serbian leader to witness the event, Krajisnik skillfully managed to persuade members to reject the treaty. This was when he got his nickname, Mr No.


It is assumed the prosecution in the Krajisnik case will have a hell of a difficult job. Unlike the majority of other Serbian leaders, Krajisnik refrained from making inflammatory statements during the conflict.


Even Izetbegovic's rhetoric treated Krajisnik gentler than his former colleagues. His name, for example, is never mentioned in connection with war crimes.


Krajisnik is perhaps the only Bosnian Serb leader who was not photographed on the battlefield or parading around some "liberated" town. He seemed more concerned with acquiring ever more lucrative jobs.


During Serbia's economic blockade of Republika Srpska in 1994, Krajisnik and his brother Mirko became major oil and ammunition traders. They purchased supplies illegally in Serbia and then sold them in RS, making huge profits.


At the same time, he gave an impression of being a man of peace. For a short time many foreign negotiators saw him as the post war leader of the Bosnian Serbs.


Milosevic, though, distrusted Krajisnik. During the Dayton Conference in the US, Milosevic only allowed him to see the final agreement ten minutes before the end of negotiations.


"When we finally saw the results, we said that nobody had the right to accept them on our behalf," said Krajisnik, who subsequently gave into Belgrade pressure and accepted the treaty.


Thereafter, Krajisnik continued to enrich himself gaining control of the cigarette smuggling business and the import of construction material.


In the post-Dayton era, international officials insisted on Krajisnik's removal from the political scene as one of the conditions for the SDS's continued involvement in the running of RS.


He was eventually forced to retire from politics following an anti-corruption campaign by Biljana Plavsic, in January 1998. After that he spent more and more time at his village home at Arandjelovac in Serbia, which he bought during the war.


His seizure has provoked a political storm in RS with parties accusing each other of involvement in the arrest.


Senior SDS official, Mirko Banjac, claimed the Prime Minister of Republika Srpsak, Milorad Dodik, had advance warning.


At the same time, the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical party charged that Krajisnik had probably been arrested with the cooperation of senior officials in the SDS.


The mutual accusations, however, are probably unfounded and have far more to do with political point scoring in the run up to local elections.


Very reliable sources close to Krajisnik maintain that he knew he was on The Hague's list of war crimes suspects. SFOR is said to have first tried to arrest him towards the end of last year. There have been two other attempts since then.


Indeed, such was his fear of arrest that he had already started preparing a defence team.


Krajisnik once said that Serbs indicted by the Hague were heroes not war criminals. Now that he is behind bars he will have time to dwell on the distinction.


Zeljko Cvijanovic is an independent journalist from Republika Srpska.


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