Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Prosecution witness Borivoje Savic in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
A former friend and colleague of wartime Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic testified this week about the defendant’s relationship with the then Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic as war was breaking out in Croatia in 1991.
Prosecution witness Borivoje Savic had known Hadzic since high school and later worked with him in the Serbian Democratic Party.
He recalled questioning Hadzic about his growing and “close” relationship with the Serbian president in 1991. The defendant, he said, described Milosevic as a “true Serb and a good man” who didn’t “have any major political ambitions”.
Savic said the defendant was recommended to Milosevic for a leadership role in Croatia by a retired general in the Yugoslav People’s Army. According to the witness, the general later told him he “very much” regretted recommending Hadzic.
Prosecutors allege that Hadzic was Milosevic’s “man on the ground” in Croatia.
During the war in Croatia in the early 1990s, Hadzic held senior political positions in Serb-held parts of the country. He headed the government of the self-declared Serbian Autonomous District of Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srem, and from February 1992 to December 1993 was president of the Republic of Serb Krajina, which had absorbed the autonomous district.
Hadzic is charged with 14 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against Croats and other non-Serbs, including persecution, extermination, murder, imprisonment, torture, inhumane acts, cruel treatment, deportation, wanton destruction and plunder.
He is also alleged to have been part of a joint criminal enterprise with other political and military officials, the purpose of which was the “permanent forcible removal of a majority of the Croat and other non-Serb population from approximately one-third of the territory of the Republic of Croatia” in order to create a Serb-dominated state.
Prosecutors showed the witness several minutes of video footage in which a bearded, black haired Hadzic gave a speech to supporters in January 1991.
In the video, Hadzic says that “if the Croatian people do not publicly renounce the Ustasha, we will propose that we cut all ties between Serbs and Croats”.
“Ustasha” is a term that refers to Croatian fascists during the Second World War. Prosecutors allege that Hadzic repeatedly used this derogatory term before and during the Croatian war, usually in reference to civilians, prisoners and villages.
The prosecutor asked whether it was “usual” for Hadzic to use this term.
“Every now and then,” Savic replied.
He added, however, that “one had to take every opportunity to garner applause, be publicly acclaimed. It was a perfectly normal type of [word] to use when addressing an audience, depending on who was in the audience. So yes, one tended to use that kind of expression at the time.”
Savic said it was difficult to convince people that “when you spoke about the Ustasha, you were actually helping the Croatian side”.
“I myself opposed these unnecessary acrobatics, making daily political references in speeches like this. I tried to influence people to keep from using such expressions,” he said.
The prosecution also showed video footage of an interview Hadzic gave to Serbian television, which the witness said probably took place in early November 1991. In the video, Hadzic talks about the siege of Vukovar, which would fall only weeks later, on November 18.
“We are capable of dealing with this quickly, but we are thinking of human lives and taking care to do it slowly with as few casualties as possible. We do not want any casualties,” Hadzic says in the interview.
The accused is charged with responsibility for crimes committed against Croat civilians in Vukovar – including murder and torture – before, during, and after its capture by Yugoslav army and Serb volunteer forces in November 1991.
In the television interview, Hadzic acknowledges “mass crimes against civilians” in Vukovar and pledges to “interrogate perpetrators and bring them to a court of law”.
“There is no use whining… Serbs never whine, Serbs should fight, and will fight, to protect their people,” Hadzic is seen saying.
The accused also “takes this opportunity” to thank all the volunteers who had come to fight around Vukovar.
“The group that came from Belgrade stands out – they are on the first lines of combat. They fight and are killed just like us, and do not hesitate to go all the way and win,” Hadzic says in the video.
The witness said the Territorial Defence force at Vukovar was responsible for receiving such volunteers and issuing them with weapons and clothing.
During the cross-examination, Hadzic’s defence lawyer Zoran Zivanovic showed the witness an article from a Croatian daily newspaper, dated May 30, 2011, where the then Croatian interior minister Josip Boljkovac describes Hadzic as a “peacemaker” who was in “charge of peacemaking” before the war started.
“Did you know about that?” Zivanovic asked.
“Yes, this was said at one time in some contexts. Mr Boljkovac and I are on very good terms…There were all these things that needed doing and [Boljkovac] said everything should be done in a peaceful way,” Savic replied.
The lawyer asked whether Boljkovac was “speaking the truth” about Hadzic in the article.
“It really depends on the moment. It’s difficult for me to know if he told the truth. There is no reason to doubt his good intentions or his judgement. There were other statements made on various occasions for various reasons, and this got written up the way we see it,” the witness said.
“But point is not the way it was written up, because we can see that for ourselves. This is something Mr Boljkovac is supposed to have said,” the lawyer retorted.
“I can hardly put myself in the position to judge any statement he may have made,” Savic replied.
Zivanovic pointed out that the article also says that “Goran Hadzic attended numerous meetings where a peaceful solution was being arranged”.
“Mr Boljkovac attended those as well. Were you familiar with meetings being held?” the lawyer asked.
“If [Boljkovac] said so, then I’m sure they were [held],” Savic said.
The trial continues next week.
Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.
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