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

A Map and a Pistol

Court hears that Momcilo Krajisnik was right behind Karadzic in advocating the Bosnian Serbs’ militant cause.
By Ana Uzelac

An expert witness called by prosecutors in the trial of Momcilo Krajisnik has detailed how he helped the former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic shape the policies that tore their country apart.


Patrick Traynor, a senior researcher with the prosecutor’s office, spent the latter part of the Nineties collecting documents relating to Karadzic’s Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, including internal memos, correspondence, transcripts of assembly sessions and party meetings, official publications, press and radio reports, and intercepted telephone conversations.


This exhaustive research offers an unprecedented look at the role played by SDS leaders including Karadzic himself and in this case Krajisnik, who was indicted in March 2000 on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, violation of the customs of war and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions.


Traynor’s testimony portrayed Krajisnik – who held the post of head of the Bosnian Serbs’ parliament as well as other important positions – as an uncompromising nationalist and a heavyweight political operator, working in the shadow of his flamboyant superior Karadzic. Krajisnik’s role, the witness suggested, was that of a trusted adviser and a skilful manipulator, in charge of giving a semblance of legality to the carving up of Bosnia by steering the political process within first the national parliament and then the Serb assembly.


Traynor told the court this week that Bosnia’s post-communist political landscape was quickly dominated by nationalist ethnic parties. The SDS, formed in the late autumn of 1990, was one of the last to be founded, but it quickly grew in popularity by appealing to Bosnian Serbs’ historical grievances and the fears emerging from them.


In his opening session at the SDS founding congress, Karadzic, the party leader, said the Serbs were a “dismembered and fragmented nation”. Referring to the conflict that shook Bosnia during the Second World War, he reminded them of the “genocide that our enemies have committed against us” and added that the “enemies” were still “destroying our national and cultural identity”.


The witness testimony suggested that while Karadzic spoke in public, Krajisnik worked quietly behind the scenes organising parliamentary proceedings which were used to promote the SDS’ political goals.


Eventually, as the speaker of the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb assembly, Krajisnik would lead marathon sessions that often stretched into the night, making sure that the sleepy delegates voted the right way at three in the morning.


The evidence also suggested that although Krajisnik wasn’t much of a talker, he was one of Karadzic’s most valued confidants. The president appeared to seek his advice on very important matters.


In a telephone intercept dating from late 1991 that was played in court, Karadzic was heard consulting his ally about what position to take on the Bosnian government’s planned referendum on independence. Together they concluded that they should not try to stop the vote, but rather exploit it to further their aim of breaking the country up.


Krajisnik is heard saying, “We’ll tell them, ‘fine, it’s your referendum, you want to get out of Yugoslavia. But we Serbs want to stay. You can leave without us’.”


Traynor’s testimony also showed that Krajisnik participated in some of the most important negotiations at the time, including the March 1992 meeting in Lisbon where the European Union proposed cantonisation as a solution to allow Bosnia to become an independent state. At the time, it appeared as if all sides were prepared to accept the plan.


However, as the minutes of a Bosnian Serbian assembly session show, many of the deputies were not prepared to accept the proposal. As Karadzic tried to convince them, the minutes show that Krajisnik came to his aid, calling the negotiations “a good first step towards the main goal – Serbian empire”.


At times, the assembly speaker lent a sense of levity to the sessions. The minutes record Krajisnik telling the assembly that Serbs were already having an impact on Europe, “We really enjoyed it yesterday when we saw all those Europeans carrying maps under their arms, just like the Serbs do. The only thing they were missing was pistols – but who knows, maybe they had them hidden somewhere.


“These are the two things that make a Serb: a map and a pistol.”


But Krajisnik did not mince words when he talked about serious policy matters. “We do not need any confederation of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” he told deputies at one of the long sessions in early spring 1992. “This is unreasonable. We need only a single monolithic Serbian state with a single centre.”


“We want to stay with Serbia, in a single state. We only need to agree on the method,” he said at another session in roughly the same period. And if political methods fail, he added, “you know what our profession is – to wage war.”


Prosecutors showed that Krajisnik was present at the crucial assembly session in April 1992 where the Bosnian Serb republic was proclaimed, as well as at an earlier session when Karadzic told deputies that “you know the Serbs were armed”, and subsequent ones when deputies debated a document called Six Strategic Goals – a roadmap to establishing ethnically clean Serbian territories in Bosnia.


The minutes from a session in late March 1992 show Krajisnik addressing the heads of municipal crisis staffs – the ad hoc local government bodies set up by the Bosnian Serbs – telling them that they might soon have to “start implementing what we’ve already agreed upon: ethnic separation on the ground”.


Thus far, the line taken by Krajisnik and his defence team is that the former speaker has been wrongly accused, so it is not clear how they will deal with the mountain of evidence showing his hand in the SDS plan to carve up Bosnia.


Patrick Traynor will be cross-examined by the defence after a two-week break.


Ana Uzelac is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.