The trial of Momcilo Krajisnik this week heard testimony about the “financial acrobatics” within the ruling Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, that allowed some party members to acquire immense personal fortunes almost overnight.
Radomir Neskovic, former vice-chairman of the SDS executive board, told the Hague tribunal about huge sums of money that poured into SDS coffers both before and during the war that were distributed to cronies of Krajisnik, Radovan Karadzic and other top SDS officials.
“I think that people who had no particular importance used the party…to establish a business, to build houses, to by flats, and so on and so forth,” Neskovic told the judges.
He said many SDS members “[solved] their own personal problems and even became rich by virtue of being engaged in the party”. Neskovic was angered that his own request for a loan to build a house was turned down by Karadzic, who said there was no money.
Neskovic, also considered a suspect by the tribunal’s prosecutors though he insists he has no idea why, told the court that Krajisnik and the UN court’s most wanted fugitive Karadzic were “the supreme authorities” among Bosnian Serbs.
“I would not be able to say who was more important - they were equal and both number one,” he said, adding that Karadzic and Krajisnik represented the “top level of power”, with everyone else in the Bosnian leadership “lagging somewhat behind”.
While Krajisnik’s defence lawyers have tried to raise doubts as to how much actual authority their client - the former Bosnian Serb parliamentary speaker - had on the ground, the prosecutors maintain that the accused, along with Karadzic, was the most influential politician in Republika Srpska during the war.
Krajisnik is charged with genocide as well as crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war relating to his alleged role in a campaign to drive thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats from Serb-held territories from 1992 until 1995.
Neskovic told the judges that lower-ranking SDS officials avoided confrontation with the leadership - despite growing dissatisfaction with many decisions made at the top level - because they feared for their lives.
“There was war, and human lives didn’t have much value,” said Neskovic. “If at such times you voice criticism of certain things, especially your leadership, you can expect all sorts of consequences.”
To illustrate his point, the witness described what happened when he and 17 other SDS municipal representatives went to Bosnian Serb headquarters in Pale in June 1992 to protest against the deteriorating security situation in the Serb-held territory around Sarajevo and their disapproval of the decision to hand over the city’s main airport to the United Nations Protection Force, UNPROFOR.
But as they got close to Pale, said Neskovic, many members of the group became afraid of the potential consequences of criticising their leaders.
“We managed to lose most of the delegates on the way to Pale. They simply wandered off,” said Neskovic. “It was a bit of a black comedy really.”
Only the witness and a handful of the bravest delegates eventually reached their destination, and after “a stiff drink” they expressed their concerns to Karadzic, Krajisnik, former RS president Biljana Plavsic and the ex-RS vice president Nikola Koljevic.
The task was made more difficult by the presence of three top military commanders, including General Ratko Mladic. Neskovic said he and the other delegates were “very frightened of Mladic”, who was “angry, arrogant and unpredictable, and there was no way of talking to him properly”.
Krajisnik did most of the talking at this meeting and tried to “diffuse the tension”, Neskovic said, adding he and the others were “pleased to have escaped unscathed”.
Neskovic emphasised he was never afraid of Krajisnik, though said that their paths “didn’t cross that much”.
Merdijana Sadovic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.