Dragan Djokanovic - a pediatrician who served as a Serb representative in the Bosnian parliament and later became a member of the Bosnian Serb wartime presidency - appeared as a prosecution witness in the Krajisnik trial this week.
Krajisnik, a former chairman of the Bosnian Serb assembly and a close associate of most-wanted fugitive Radovan Karadzic, is charged with genocide, grave breaches of the Geneva conventions, violations of the laws and customs of war and crimes against humanity for his role in the Bosnian wars in mid-Nineties. He denies the charges.
The witness appeared to confirm the prosecutors’ thesis that the accused wielded great power and influence among Serbs in Bosnia.
“The most influential political elite among the Serbs were [Nikola] Koljevic, [Biljana] Plavsic, Krajisnik and, most influential of all, [Radovan] Karadzic. And then there was [Serbian president Slobodan] Milosevic above him,” Djokanovic told the court.
Besides his influence, the witness said, Krajisnik also had knowledge of crimes taking place in Bosnia.
To illustrate this, the witness spoke of his experiences in the town of Zvornik – which had a majority Muslim population before the war - in 1992, where he was sent to work as a member of the wartime authorities.
In the first month of the war in the spring of 1992, the majority of Zvornik’s Muslim population was expelled by Serb armed forces and paramilitary units. The prosecutors are trying to prove that this was done in a deliberate attempt to cleanse the area of its largely Muslim population and establish Serb power there.
The witness denied such a plan existed, but he did confirm that widespread crimes against Muslims took place in Zvornik at the time.
“There was terror there,” he said. “Some Serbs also asked me for help because the paramilitary forces, after they had expelled the Muslims, turned against [them].”
Djokanovic added that he had warned Zvornik’s local politicians at a 1992 assembly session “that all those who commit [war] crimes will face justice”, and was harshly criticised for that.
Later, in a meeting with Krajisnik and Karadzic, the witness told them about the attacks he had seen in Zvornik and how houses had been burned down and the Muslim population was forced to flee.
“People were killed and forced out of their houses, and that happened on a massive scale. What I saw was confirmation of that and I had no doubts about the stories of crimes,” he told the court.
Djokanovic said that he had given the Bosnian Serb leadership general information about the situation in Zvornik at the time, during a meeting in their headquarters in the ski-resort of Pale.
During cross examination, however, he added that he could not give the Bosnian Serb leaders concrete evidence of specific crimes committed – and insisted that they wielded little influence over autonomous municipal authorities such as those in Zvornik.
In any case, the witness said, the Bosnian Serb political leadership did not have a plan to commit ethnic cleansing in the area, or create a Greater Serbia out of such territories.
Djokanovic also claimed that Bosnia’s 1992 declaration of independence had been a “provocation and a challenge” to Serbs living there. It was Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic’s independence ambition that “led to war”, the witness said.
He confirmed that on the morning of October 14, 1991 - when the Croat and Muslim deputies were expected to adopt a declaration of independence - Krajisnik had deliberately tried to prevent this. In his role at the time as Bosnian parliamentary speaker, Krajisnik had the power to bring the session to a close – and did so.
“The deputy speaker, a Croat, then reconvened the session and they adopted the declaration on the independence of Bosnia and Hercegovina which paved the way to war,” Djokanovic said.
After the declaration of Bosnia’s independence was adopted, the Serbs established their statelet, Republika Srpska, and formed its parliament with Krajisnik as the speaker and Karadzic as its president.
“All the ruling elites wanted separation and discussed the division of Bosnia and Hercegovina,” Djokanovic told defence counsel Chrissa Loukas.
“The Croatian side wanted 17 per cent [of the Bosnian territory]; Izetbegovic said that as a constitutive people the Muslims could agree to no less than 30 per cent, and Karadzic said that, according to the land registry, the Serbs had the right to 70 per cent of territory.”
Djokanovic was expected to complete his testimony on March 18. The trial, under presiding Judge Alfons Orie, continues.
Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR contributor in Zagreb.