May 31, 1993 Vreme News Digest Agency No 88

Army and Politics

A Year as Chief of Staff

by Milos Vasic

Generals Veljko Kadijevic (former Yugoslav Defence Minister) and Blagoje Adzic (former chief of staff) fell as the victims of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) Slovenian-Croatian debacle which ended with Vance's plan. General Zivota Panic is the victim of the Bosnian cataclysm and the battle in the background for control over the Yugoslav Army, in the presence of the Vance-Owen plan. The choice of executors shows a subtle sense for humiliating expended people. The handwriting is recognizable...

When General Zivota Panic was appointed JNA acting chief of staff a little over a year ago, and as such the future successor of acting Defence Minister General Blagoje Adzic, the stars were not very auspicious. Early in April 1992 General Panic made his then famous statement, saying that the JNA would remain in Bosnia-Herzegovina "another five-seven years at least". He was told to say this, because the rump presidency of the dead state, the gang of four, had to appease the Serbs in Croatia, who had been promised that the JNA would keep an eye on them from across the Bosnian border, from Strmica above Knin. It must not be forgotten that General Panic probably believed in this sincerely, in fact everybody did -except for General Ratko Mladic (Commander of Bosnian Serb forces), who as usual, was better informed than the others. The JNA could have remained in B-H, but it didn't want to. Had it remained, there wouldn't have been a war, and the Milosevic-Tudjman (Karadzic-Boban) agreement on the fraternal division of Bosnia would have fallen through.

The political context in which General Zivota Panic found himself at the head of the JNA is also dubious: a purge of generals was underway, the role of sacrificial lamb was a very sought after specialty in the army and the list of candidates long. A young major told VREME at the time that the "fish would be cleaned from the head this time". General Zivota Panic turned out to be the ideal choice for bridging the crisis: an engaging bon vivant liked by his subordinates, an adroit man from the Morava region (central Serbia), an officer with some combat experience (in the Vukovar operation, such as it was). In short, the ideal man for a transitional period.

The experience of General Panic's predecessor was instructive. General Veljko Kadijevic who originates from Imotski (Herzegovina) and is the offspring of a mixed marriage, was immediately suspect to extreme nationalists, and being a declared Yugoslav, all the more so. He lived to see pro-Milosevic demonstrators call him an "Ustasha" in front the Yugoslav Defence Secretariat building. General Blagoje Adzic (also from Herzegovina), the Serb nationalist's candidate was kicked out, and none of his supporters gave it a thought. The main advantage of General Panic's new post was the shock over the JNA's pull out from B-H and its so-called "transformation" into the Yugoslav Army. In the end this was akin to the transubstantiation of the League of Communists of Serbia into the Socialist Party of Serbia.

General Panic is a tank officer, and as such understands the complexity and interdependency of issues far better than most other active officers. Sanctions were introduced against Yugoslavia on May 31, 1992, and General Panic must have been aware that under such circumstances the Yugoslav Army would die out in time. The issue at stake was a modern army equipped with up to date arms and relatively modern systems dependent on imported parts (such as the Rolls Royce Viper engine built into all domestically produced planes, something that can't be found in Budapest supermarkets). The interdependency on parts of the military industry which had remained in the former Yugoslav republics, need not be gone into. The appearance of namesake Milan Panic, the deterioration of relations between Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Yugoslav President Dobrica Cosic, Montenegro's wavering and vacillating, upcoming early elections, and growing troubles with Bosnia, led General Panic into understandable temptations. He understood Milosevic's strategy regarding the JNA: to pull the wool over their eyes and lead them by the nose, until the armed forces became politically helpless and eliminated as potential competition.

General Panic saw his chance in Milosevic's troubles. He became closer to his namesake Milan Panic and the President and Supreme Commander Dobrica Cosic. He even had a private meeting with opposition party leader Vuk Draskovic, to the horror of those promoting the all-Serbian cause. The elections were a chance for getting rid of an awkward ally (i.e. Milan Panic), and General Panic adopted a neutral-loyal stand, never passing up an opportunity to declare his loyalty to Dobrica Cosic, formally the Supreme Commander. This was also done by some other generals: Belgrade District Commander General Vladimir Stojanovic (Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj's attack on him last Thursday must be viewed within this context). The President, however, was unable to resist the call of his first love (Slobodan Milosevic) and withdrew his support from Milan Panic, destroying the unity of the opposition, and so pulling the rug from under the feet of his chief of staff. Zivota Panic's fate was sealed ahead of the 1992 December elections, because of his "vacillating and untrustworthiness". He was aware of the danger: at a cocktail party for journalists following elections in late December, he criticized the journalists saying they weren't to "write how we are helping our Serb brothers in B-H", even though nobody had asked him anything. The message was clear: I have not "betrayed the Serbian cause", as some are prone to claim. The election results marked a new phase in General Panic's political statements - that of a man reborn as a hardline supporter of the Serbian cause. He is increasingly using the language of nationalists, but takes care not to make promises of the Yugoslav Army's help in the event a military intervention by the great powers in B-H. In his last interview (to Krasnaya Zvezda the organ of the former Red Army on May 12), there are some inconsistencies: "Bosnian Serbs have not abandoned the Vance-Owen plan, or the peace process. On the contrary, they continue to urge for its enforcement". He then enlightens Russia about its interests: "We believe that Russia's role so far in setting up peace in the Balkans did not correspond with its objective geo-political and geo-strategic interests... The reasons are understandable, but unacceptable". General Panic further deals with the "historical closeness and the centuries long alliance with Mother Russia - as we call your country with affection"... "We believe that Yugoslavia is the front end of Russia's defence..." It was all too late: the sentence had been passed and the executor chosen.

Milosevic's knowledge of how to humiliate his victims is worthy of admiration. With an unerring instinct he chose Serb Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj for the task. The moral purity he defends can be compared only to a parliamentary democracy in which Zeljko Raznjatovic Arkan (leader of the largest Serbian paramilitary force - the "Tigers") is a deputy; both are a mockery and a caricature.

Of course, General Panic made an unforgivable mistake when he allowed his son to do business with the army. Seselj's principled approach, however, leaves room for many questions: why the same standards are not applied to all - Panic Jr.'s deals have been known for some time, as well as those conducted by some generals close to Seselj. Criminal charges against General Boskovic show that some things were known from the beginning: a series of slip ups in the OPERA scandal, and the disappearance of a large sum of money and quantity of arms, three apartments, the receiving of a salary and pension at the same -all in the space of a few months; the disclosure of military and other confidential information for personal gain e.t.c. Someone as well-informed as Seselj should know about General Domazetovic's affairs, compared to which those of the Panic family are naive. But, General Domazetovic did what Seselj is criticizing General Panic for not having done. Namely, General Domazetovic ethnically cleansed the Yugoslav Army so thoroughly that General Panic was forced to intervene and override his orders. Seselj is in possession of interesting data on the Vukovar operation and the roles played by some of the military brass in the removal and final destination of the "war booty", and no measures have been undertaken in the matter. This is not the first time that Seselj has been carrying out tasks such as these. The results are known. The approach however, is interesting: the degradation of the officer status, so that Seselj has a free hand with the victims is a radical novelty in the history of the armed forces here. The message is clear: start thinking and draw your horns in. You are nothing once we hand you over to Seselj for sport. In other words - keep your mouth shut.

That General Panic was politically dead could be seen from a correction made by the Yugoslav Army's General Staff Information Service sent to those - who like VREME failed to notice an important difference: the announcement in which Seselj is accused of having lost his mind was made by the general staff and not its information service. The message is clear: Don't mix us with them. For the first time in the history of the JNA/Yugoslav Army, a subordinate service has publicly distanced itself from a superior command. The chief of staff can now seek satisfaction through the courts with a libel suit against Seselj. So many libel cases have been filed against Seselj so far, that the competent court has decided to put them together into a single process. General Zivota Panic has joined those seeking legal satisfaction. Seselj is not much disturbed by this (he enjoys immunity), but one never knows when the rug will be pulled out from under him.

Speculations as to General Panic's successor abound.