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

Plan to Divide Bosnia Revealed

How the Serbian and Croatian presidents met to carve up the Bosnian state between themselves.
By Chris Stephen

Yugoslavia's former prime minister Ante Markovic told the Hague Tribunal this week about a secret deal between the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and his Croatian counterpart to divide Bosnia.


The evidence, given on October 23, came in one of the most powerful days of testimony at the Milosevic trial, as Markovic gave the court a rare insight into the heart of Yugoslavia's government on the eve of war.


The meeting between Milosevic and President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia at Karadjordjevo hunting lodge in March 1991 has long inspired claims that the two men hatched a plot to divide Bosnia there.


This was the first time that hard evidence of a plan has come from such a high-profile official. According to Markovic, "In March 1991, Tudjman and Milosevic had a meeting at Karadjordjevo hunting lodge where they agreed on two things - the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and [my dismissal]," he told the court.


"My dismissal was viewed as necessary to achieve their first goal, the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina between Serbia and Croatia."


As Yugoslav federal premier, Markovic was the author of a programme of liberal economic reforms that attempted in vain to stall the nationalists on the eve of war. He told the court that both men told him they aimed to split Bosnia into Croatian and Serbian areas, leaving a Muslim enclave in the middle.


"The result of these talks was that both confirmed to me that they would divide Bosnia," Markovic said. "Milosevic said this very soon [in the discussion]. Tudjman took more time to admit it."


Markovic's testimony marked the first time in 12 years that he has broken his silence over the events surrounding the break-up of Yugoslavia.


He said he tried to persuade the two leaders that such a division could plunge Bosnia into war. "Milosevic said Bosnia and Herzegovina was an artificial entity created by Tito, and that most of the Muslims were Orthodox [Christians] forced to change religion," he said.


"Tudjman said the Muslims were Catholics who had been forced to adopt Islam."


At their separate meetings, Markovic asked the two leaders about the implications of a carve-up, "I asked both of them directly - 'Do you think this will be so simple to do without blood up to the knees?'"


After becoming Yugoslav prime minister in March 1989, Markovic initiated reforms which he said were blocked above all by Milosevic. "The programme I introduced in December 1989 was [about] both economic reform and democratisation," he said. "[It] was an obstacle to Milosevic in his surge to absolute power in Yugoslavia.


"Introducing a multi-party system and elections in Yugoslavia would not allow Milosevic to stay in power. Serbia and Slovenia were opposed to Yugoslav elections - Slovenia due to separatism, and Serbia, or Milosevic, due to their Greater Serbian ambitions."


Glancing at Milosevic, Markovic did not hide his bitterness. "I did my best to prevent the worse from happening," he told him. "And I failed in large part thanks to you."


Markovic said that by the early Nineties, Milosevic had gained total control over Belgrade. "Milosevic was the overall ruler of Serbia," he said. "Everything had to be done according to his instructions."


He said Milosevic used nationalism as a cloak for his ambitions. He "used everything he could to ensure power for himself and power over people", Markovic claimed.


"If that was nationalism, then he used nationalism. But he was not a nationalist. He was someone who used would use anything at his disposal to secure power for himself."


He described the ex-president as a master of deception: "He would say one thing and do another. He would say he was fighting for Yugoslavia but in fact he was fighting for something different. He was quite obviously fighting for Greater Serbia."


Markovic recalled his successes in his first year in office, reducing rampant inflation to zero, halting the rise in the country's 21 billion US dollar debt and overseeing the creation of 65,000 private companies.


He accused Milosevic of wrecking this through what he called "The Robbery of the Century". This referred to his discovery that the National Bank of Serbia had seized 18.2 billion dinars - worth 2.5 billion deutchmarks at the time- from the accounts of the National Bank of Yugoslavia.


"I immediately phoned Milosevic and accused him of the robbery, which of course he denied, lying that he hadn't got a clue and would look into it," Markovic said. He said he got just over half of the dinars repaid, but the rest remained in the Serbian bank.


The court was told that Yugoslavia's then federal defence minister, General Veljko Kadijevic, was at first friendly but gradually fell under Milosevic's sway.


This evidence is likely to be among the most important heard at the Milosevic trial, as it confirms the prosecution's claim that although Milosevic was president of Serbia, he effectively controlled the Yugoslav army, JNA.


"Milosevic was rather reserved in his attitude to Kadijevic in 1989, but events brought them closer," the witness said.


"In the beginning Kadijevic understood and supported my programme, in particular the stabilisation part. However, my programme went further with the development of democracy. As a result our differences increased. Finally Kadijevic assisted in creating a new Communist Party, rooted in the army."


In early 1991 Kadijevic became angry when Markovic refused to endorse his call for certain political changes, "He jumped up and said Milosevic was the only one fighting for Yugoslavia and who would back this up, if it wasn't for him?"


Their final break came in mid-March 1991 when Kadijevic visited the Soviet Union without even informing Markovic. On June 25, war broke out as Croatia and Slovenia declared independence.


In October 1991 Markovic had a miraculous escape when the JNA bombed the presidential palace in Zagreb where he had just dined with President Tudjman and Stipe Mesic, a member of Yugoslavia's collective presidency. The jets struck apparently after Belgrade had been tipped off that the leaders were dining there.


"The assessment was that these were MiG-29 aircraft," he said. "Had we remained in the dining room I would not be sitting with you today, probably," he said.


His final meeting with Milosevic took place in December 1991. "I told Milosevic that he had destroyed everything I stood for, that he had destroyed Yugoslavia and the only thing left was to kill me," he said.


He made one final attempt to warn Milosevic of the danger of war in Bosnia. "I had earlier been made aware of conversations between Milosevic and [former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan] Karadzic regarding the delivery of weapons," he said. When he felt he could do nothing more, he resigned in December 1991.


He kept in contact with Ivan Stambolic, the former Serbian president who disappeared in 1999 while out jogging. Milosevic has been charged in connection with his death.


Markovic said Stambolic told him earlier that year he wanted to return to politics, and Markovic felt this would be popular among people weary of Milosevic.


"It seems someone else decided this besides myself, which is why he disappeared," he said.


During cross-examination, Milosevic accused Markovic of ordering the federal army into Slovenia in 1991.


Markovic replied that he had only had the power to order frontier guards into action.


The cross-examination was adjourned and is expected to resume next week.


Chris Stephen is IWPR's project manager in The Hague.