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Karadzic's Right-Hand Man

Momcilo Krajisnik’s career spans the entire period from the conception of a purely Serb state to the politics of postwar Bosnia.
By Amra Kebo

One of the architects of the Bosnian Serb state and the policy of “ethnic cleansing”, Momcilo Krajisnik was born in Zabrdje, in the Novi Grad municipality of Sarajevo, on January 20, 1945.


After war broke out in 1992, Krajisnik became right-hand man to Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, and when – after the war ended – the latter went into hiding, he took over the SDS leadership.


Though Krajisnik never wore a uniform, as a co-founder of the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS he was one of the principal architects of a separate, ethnically pure Bosnian Serb state.


He held several senior positions in the SDS, joining its main board in July 1991. He became speaker of the Bosnian Serb assembly in October that year, a post he held until November 1995.


From March 1992, he joined the National Security Council of the self-proclaimed Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.


Along with Radovan Karadzic and other SDS members, he was additionally a member of the expanded presidency of the Serb republic from June 1992 to December 17, 1992. Around November 30 that year, he became a member of the supreme command of the Serb republic’s armed forces.


If war had not broken out in Bosnia in April 1992, Krajisnik and his close friend Karadzic might have served jail terms, because in September 1985 a district court in Sarajevo sentenced him to four years – and Karadzic to three years – in jail for theft and abuse of office.


The case underwent several twists and turns. In January 1988, Bosnia’s supreme court ruled in favour of the two men’s appeals and returned the case to the lower courts. The prosecutor appealed against this, but after the SDS came to power in 1990, the case was dismissed.


In the early Nineties, Krajisnik acted as speaker of the pre-war parliament of Bosnia-Herzegovina. International officials regarded him as a difficult interlocutor as well as a hard-liner. But to many Serbs he was almost as popular as his leader, Karadzic.


According to one Serb who was close to the SDS inner circle, Krajisnik and Karadzic made a team. “Karadzic had the big ideas while Krajisnik knew how to put them into practice,” he said.


Under their leadership, Serb forces besieged Sarajevo, “ethnically cleansing” and killing several hundred thousand Muslims and Croats from territories they had designated “Serb” land, and executing several thousand more civilians trapped in the United Nations Protected Areas in Srebrenica and Zepa in eastern Bosnia.


In an indictment issued on March 7, 2000, the Hague tribunal charged Krajisnik with genocide, crimes against humanity, violation of the customs of war and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions.


The indictment said that between July 1, 1991 and December 30, 1992, Krajisnik participated in criminal acts through which Bosnian Serb forces took control of 42 municipalities – persecuting, terrorising, deporting and killing the non-Serb population.


Krajisnik’s role in planning these crimes was manifold. As an active member of the Bosnian Serb wartime leadership, in the period covered by the indictment he exercised formal authority over all Bosnian Serb forces, and over all SDS and state bodies which participated in the criminal acts he is charged with.


As member of the SDS’s central board – chaired by Karadzic – from July 1991, he shared control over its activities. It was the party board that ordered the establishment of SDS “crisis staffs” in Serb municipalities, which exercised complete power as de facto local administrations in those areas.


With Karadzic, Krajisnik was considered one of the sponsors of the policy of “ethnic cleansing” and the establishment of purely Serb territories, which formed a central plank of SDS policy.


After becoming speaker of the new Bosnian Serb assembly in October 1991, Krajisnik personally supervised the establishment of separate Serb authorities on territories that the SDS proclaimed its own.


Krajisnik had special powers as a member of the National Security Council, formed in March 1992, and as a member of the presidency of the Serb republic. Through this – together with Karadzic and others – he controlled Bosnian Serb military forces, as well as the SDS and state bodies.


In December 1992, Krajisnik joined the Bosnian Serb republic’s expanded presidency, which acted as supreme commander of the military and police.


From all these positions, Krajisnik clearly exercised control over Bosnian Serb forces, as the indictment states. The document describes in detail more than 40 mass killings, beatings, rapes, executions and acts of torture that occurred in detention camps such as Omarska, Manjaca, Keraterm, which were under the direct control of the Bosnian Serb leadership.


The document also refers to the persecution of non-Serbs through deportation and other actions in 1991-92 - all carried out with the help of the “crisis staffs”.


Acting on his own or with Karadzic, Krajisnik – according to the indictment – planned, abetted or ordered the destruction of the Bosnian Muslim and Croat communities.


After the end of the war in 1995 and after the first post-war elections in 1996, Krajisnik became part of the three-member collective presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, alongside Alija Izetbegovic and Kresimir Zubak.


He used this position, which he held until 1998, solely to push for the secession of the Bosnian Serb entity, the Republika Srpska, RS, and promote its annexation to Serbia.


By this point, Karadzic had gone into hiding and Krajisnik had assumed the leadership of the SDS. Until September 1997 it is known that Krajisnik maintained contact with Karadzic either in person or by telephone.


Foreign observers considered Krajisnik the de facto boss of the old Bosnian Serb capital of Pale, as well as a wealthy man. Many viewed him as the real master – more so than the unstable Karadzic. He was a “cold man of decision”, in the opinion of one observer.


Diplomats remained deeply critical. The British ambassador to Bosnia, Graham Stewart Hand, once described him as a “fascist whose ideas have no place in Europe”.


In 1998, Krajisnik lost his post on the state presidency after being defeated by Zivko Radic. More moderate Bosnian Serb politicians were then gaining on the nationalist hardliners who refused to cooperate with the international community.


On leaving the presidency, Krajisnik remained a member of the SDS board, though party members said he was no longer politically active and was concentrating on business.


Krajisnik was arrested on April 3 2000 on the basis of a secret indictment.


He became known as the politician who went to The Hague in his pyjamas, because French SFOR forces arrested him while he was asleep at 3.30am, using explosives to blow down the door of his home.


At the time, Krajisnik was the highest-ranking Serb politician to be arrested by NATO forces.


When he first appeared before the tribunal, he pleaded not guilty to all counts of the indictment.


The Serbian Orthodox church and the RS authorities have tried several times to get him out of detention in The Hague, offering guarantees for his security. The church’s head, Patriarch Pavle, and later Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica even signed a statement supporting his request for temporary release.


But to no avail - the prosecutor’s office has never allowed Krajisnik to leave Scheveningen.


Amra Kebo is a commentator for the Sarajevo daily Oslobodenje and a regular IWPR contributor.


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