March 13, 1995 Vreme News Digest Agency No 180

Political Clashes in the Krajina

Orders From Belgrade

by Filip Svarm and the VREME documentation center

The clash between Republic of Serb Krajina (RSK) president Milan Martic and prime minister Borislav Mikelic was interrupted in the second round of a regular session of parliament with a draw

A majority of RSK parliament deputies voted against the president's initiative to oust Mikelic but did not raise the issue of confidence in the prime minister as the state-controlled media in Belgrade said they would. The man to profit from this clash, like most other recent ones, was foreign minister and RSK SDS party leader Milan Babic; his close associates took over two important ministries. Drago Kovacevic took over the information ministry and Slobodan Peric got the labor and veterans ministry.

From March 1 (when Martic launched the initiative) to March 8 when it was rejected the circle of people interested in resolving the RSK leadership clash grew. Both the president and prime minister got telegrams of support "from the working people and citizens". Martic seemed to be leading in terms of RSK public opinion: the support he got from some army units echoed loudly.

Radical party leader Vojislav Seselj rallied the leaders of his party branch in the Krajina for a meeting in Belgrade and voiced unconditional support for Martic. He had two goals in mind: demonstrating that the RSK Radicals had not been separated from their party in Serbia; and showing Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic that he isn't the only Serb leader who can topple or appoint Serb leaders west of the Drina river.

The leaders of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) from all Serb territories met in Pale and discussed Mikelic. They also decided that he has to go. The SDS leaders had the same anti-Milosevic motives as the Radicals but they had another reason: he upset the supply lines from Serbia to the Bosnian Serb Republic (RS) after Milosevic clamped a blockade on the Drina.

Belgrade's state media tried to provide an explanation of who was trying to topple Mikelic. They said the initiative comes at the worst possible moment just a month before UNPROFOR is due to leave Croatia. They asked why Martic, if his claims are true, didn't raise the issue earlier and added that RSK government reports that production had risen along with foreign currency reserves had not been denied. They also noted that Martic goes to Pale and Banja Luka much more often than to Belgrade and interpreted his statement that a war with Croatia would mean an end to Croatia as warmongering while the prime minister wants to impose peace. All the comments underscored the need for unity in the RSK.

That tone dominated statements by Serbian opposition leaders. Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) leader Vuk Draskovic said the RSK parliament should discuss the Z-4 plan instead.

Democratic Party (DS) spokesman Slobodan Vuksanovic said he hoped that clashed would be solved peacefully and added that "any time is bad for this kind of clash especially since we, as a nation, have not gotten the borders that would allow us to live together".

Serbian Democratic Party (DSS) leader Vojislav Kostunica said his party "regrets the clash in the RSK in these hard times" and blamed the regime in Belgrade.

Martic can justify his defeat with the fact that the winners in any political clash in the Krajina always had Milosevic on their side while the losers were always the ones who dared counter his policies.

The history of those clashes dates back to 1990 when the late Jovan Raskovic, founder of the SDS, laid the foundations for the RSK. The SDS did not score any significant victory in the first multi-party elections in Croatia and Raskovic saw that he wasn't a strong political force and acknowledged the legitimacy of the elections saying that "A Croatocentric party" had won the elections not an Ustashi party. He soon started negotiations with Croatian president Franjo Tudjman but while he was negotiating Babic created a party apparatus and started grabbing power.

Raskovic might have stayed in power if he hadn't decided to enter his party into the first multi-party elections in Serbia in late 1991. The SDS rejected his request to run in those elections but the SDS branch in Serbia went ahead independently and lost.

But Babic should not be judged too harshly politically. He lent support to Milosevic and got the Yugoslav Peoples' Army (JNA) on his side for the coming war. He even expelled the popular police special forces commander Kapetan Dragan from the RSK in the summer of 1991 to please the army. Initiatives to abandon the "communist JNA" and set up a new Serb army were launched because of Kapetan Dragan. That move also allowed him great influence over the army.

But the JNA cost Babic his career indirectly when he opposed the Vance plan which Milosevic supported. He said the plan meant the withdrawal of Yugoslavia and that it was just a matter of days before the RSK is integrated into Croatia. He forgot that in western Slavonia the authorities were appointed directly by the army and Serbian police and the traditional influence of the League of Communists-Movement for Yugoslavia in the Banija region. Milosevic easily found allies to oust Babic from the RSK presidency.

Still, that would not have been possible without Martic's police support. That was the period when Martic became the real master of the Krajina. Babic's successor Goran Hadzic was so humiliated in Knin that he had to withdraw to Slavonia and come to the capital only under strong escort.

That situation prevailed until Croatian troops attacked the Maslenica area. The RSK army was surprised and fell back but Hadzic's close friend Zeljko Raznjatovic Arkan saved the day with his para-military Tigers. The real rift came when Hadzic tried to use Arkan's men to subdue Martic. Belgrade had no doubts about who should run the Krajina. Arkan left the RSK and Hadzic and Martic were forced to make up. Milosevic couldn't just do away with Hadzic, although there are signs that he wanted to, so Hadzic fell completely in line but he wasn't up to the task.

The tension between the RSK president and Martic (then police minister) escalated in late 1993. They were pushed into accusing each other of crime, corruption and similar. Hadzic ousted Martic at a parliament session but the next session annulled the decision leaving elections as the only choice.

Babic profited from the situation. Hadzic got a symbolic number of votes in the first round and Martic got half the vote Babic got. Then the SPS machinery started up and the elections were repeated until Martic won.

Another rift loomed after the elections when Martic appointed Mikelic as prime minister. The Krajina SDS opposed the appointment insisting that Babic should get the post. The SDS must have known that Mikelic was Belgrade's choice and those clashes were actually a bargaining for ministries.

It isn't clear what Martic wanted to achieve with his initiative to oust Mikelic whose departure would mean the government falls. It's hard to believe that Martic could now appoint a new incoming prime minister to choose a government and that parliament would accept it. There was even speculation that Hadzic, leader of the SDS for all Serb lands, was a candidate for prime minister when he appeared at the 51st UN human rights commission session at the invitation of the World Serb Community.

Martic was most probably drawn into the fray to test the balance of power between Belgrade and Pale. The stakes in the game are recognition of Croatia and Bosnia by Yugoslavia. Most probably, the Bosnian Serb leaders used Martic's feeling of losing power at a time when Karadzic's hold on power is being undermined from within.

Most RSK deputies decided not to confront Milosevic aware that Belgrade decides their fate.