Excerpts from an interview with General Jovan Divjak, the top Serb officer in the Bosnian Army: (Un)suitable son of the people
by Rajko Zivkovic, Oslobodenje-Svijet, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina, 2/8/96General Jovan Divjak joined the Bosnian Territorial Defense at the beginning of the war. Today he is the deputy Chief of Staff of the Bosnian Army and one of a few Serb officers in the top ranks of the Army.
What do you think about the present situation?
I don't think that this is a peaceful situation. This behavior was imposed on Bosniacs, Serbs and Croats by the Europe. On the other hand, it is obvious that certain things are not functioning. We have had some incidents on the territory controlled by HVO [Bosnian Croat militia]. Still, the bulk of activity reminds one of peace. The war has been interrupted, although the fighting readiness remains on the highest level.
Mostar, like Sarajevo, was supposed to be a center for the reintegration of the common life and the multinational nature of Bosnia-Hercegovina. What are the biggest obstacles?
The majority of those coming to Bosnia come unprepared. I say this although I have respect for these people. They accept jobs which are very risky; they even risk their lives. Just remember the assassination attempt on [the European Union appointed administrator of Mostar] Kocshnick. Koschnick, as well as some earlier peace moderators in Bosnia-Hercegovina, has received the informations about the situation in Bosnia from the enemies of this country. For example, [European Union peace moderator Thorwald] Stoltenberg spent some 12 years in Belgrade, and his informations and knowledge about Bosnia came from the people who later attacked Bosnia-Hercegovina. Koschnick was frequently updated on the situation by the people close to Zagreb, people whose goal is the division of Bosnia. It is an illusion to talk about the return of Serbs to the Neretva valley if 200,000 Serbs don't return to Krajina at the same time and Bosniacs and Croats do not return to Banja Luka. The situation is complicated and a foreigner might have a hard time understanding it. It is an illusion to expect the return of Serbs to Mostar until Bosniacs begin to return to Foca [a town in eastern Bosnia].
Do you have reliable data about the number of Serbs living in the four Sarajevo municipalities still under the control of Karadzic's forces: in Ilijas, Ilidza, Vogosca and Hadzici?
The Bosnian Army is not concerned with those questions. Even the government doesn't have reliable data. Chris Janowski stated that there are approximately 40,000 Serbs in those municipalities. Out of curiosity, from conversations with foreign journalists who visited Grbavica, I found out that the original inhabitants comprise only 20 percent of total population in those four municipalities. The others moved in during the war. I am confident that the majority of those 20 percent want to stay in their homes.
What do you think about recent Mr. Izetbegovic's statement that all soldiers should leave the suburbs which are scheduled to come under the Federation control and that only civilians should remain?
According to the Dayton agreement, only civilian authorities can remain. Therefore, all soldiers must be demobilized and remain in the suburbs as civilians. Of course, the [Federation] authorities must not tolerate anyone who took part in the genocide. For example, current mayors, Perisic and Prstojevic, shouldn't wait for the Federation authorities, since they incited genocide against Bosniacs and Serbs who remained in Sarajevo. It is probably unnecessary to keep repeating that anyone not guilty of war crimes should stay. Karadzic and Krajisnik use in their propaganda only the second part of the sentence. Of course, if that propaganda is successful, it might provoke an exodus of Serbs from those territories, which will probably prod the Serbs from Sarajevo center to leave as well. This would turn Sarajevo into an ethnically pure city and that is against my ideals.
As a soldier and a fighter since the first days of the aggression against Bosnia-Hercegovina, do you think that the goals with which you started the struggle have been fulfilled?
In this moment the most important thing is to preserve, through political means , the multiethnic nature of Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Bosnian government and the Army were unrealistic, although patriotic, in their feeling that Bosnia would almost immediately be constituted in its internationally recognized borders, on the rivers Drina, Sava and Una. Still, the platform of the Bosnian presidency from 1992 gave an impetus for the preservation of the unitary Bosnia. Our expectation that the world, Europe and the United States would help in the realization of that idea was at the time unrealistic. However, Karadzic said in the Bosnian parliament that one people would disappear from these territories. That people [Bosnian Muslims or Bosniacs], however, has survived. The war has been interrupted. Nevertheless, the struggle for the territorial unity of Bosnia continues, this time with political means.
In this moment, Bosnia-Hercegovina is still divided into three entities. If the Palestinians have fought for 45 years for their freedom and autonomy, if Vietnam fought for 30 years against the greatest world power, than it makes sense that the people with secular and civic orientation will continue their struggle for Bosnia-Hercegovina in its historical borders.
What do you as the Deputy Chief of Staff think about the fact that, besides you, there are no Serbs in the Army Staff? The only Serb in the command of the First Corps, Rajko Mihajlovic, has recently been dismissed.
Since the second year of the war, the Bosnian authorities accepted Karadzic's claim that the common life of Bosniacs and Serbs is impossible. That influenced the treatment of the Serb Army members. It should probably be mentioned that, for example, in June, 1992, 18 percent of members of the Army Staff were Croats and 12 percent were Serbs. Today in the Bosnian Army there is one percent of Serbs and one percent of Croats. I discussed that problem with the Chief of Staff, Delic, and president Izetbegovic. Unfortunately, I must say that their explanation of a small number of non-Bosniacs in the Army was that other soldiers supposedly don't trust Serb soldiers.
I think that that is not true; during all four years of this war there were no problems between Serb, Croat and Bosniac soldiers on the front. I witnessed their tolerance, and respect for each other. However, as soon as you go up the chain of command to commanders of platoons and battalions, a different attitude toward Serb and Croat soldiers is noticeable.
Unfortunately, there was a time when Serb soldiers were not allowed to fight. They worked on trenches and other engineering jobs. It was feared that they would be killed from behind. The situation was most difficult during 1993 and 1994. I know of cases where Serb unit commanders were dismissed; that shows that Karadzic's methods have been accepted by the Bosnian Army. Practically that is the same as ethnic cleansing. I would like to remind you that five months ago Mr. Siber and I, based on Mr. Izetbegovic's request, were put on a list for retirement. In the present situation, as the Deputy Chief of Staff, I have no authority at all. I have been offered by president Izetbegovic to retire or go to the embassy in Paris, supposedly because of my knowledge of French; alternatively I was to stay in the Army but on the sidelines.
Representatives of the Serb citizens [living under control of the Muslim-Croat Federation] are not taking part in the present round of negotiations about the future of Bosnia-Hercegovina. I have to remind that in 1993, my participation in various government and military delegations was questioned by the Serb side; they refused to talk to a man who, according to them, had betrayed the Serb people. For them, I was a war criminal. At the time, the Chief of Staff and Prime minister, Mr. Silajdzic, were saying that mine and general Siber's participation in the negotiations was unconditional. Today, unfortunately, all three delegations discussing the future of Bosnia-Hercegovina are completely ethnically pure.
It has been said that you are a general for show. Do you really feel that way?
I've been aware for a long time that there is a bit of truth in every message of this kind. I said once to a foreign journalist that I felt like a flower arrangement. Of course someone has to be a flower arrangement too. But if I'm here only for temporary use, than it is shameful.[General Divjak is often used as a proof of the multiethnic character of the Bosnian Army]
The greatest weakness of my Army Staff is that it has never included me in the decision making process. It's been said in the General Command that I am one of the best educated and most capable soldiers in the Bosnian Army; unfortunately, the situation is different in practice. They tell me that I'm a "shop window general," as my friend Duro Kozar wrote in Oslobodenje. I must say that I enjoy working with people and that I like to be able to offer some assistance. Therefore I do try to solve problems with which people come to me. Things to do with culture, sport, youngsters, children, orphans, shehid [martyr for faith in Islam] families; I've been preoccupied with problems of this kind in the war.
Why does the Chief of Staff, general Rasim Delic, exclude you from the decision making process in the Army? How do you feel as a general who doesn't make decisions about military problems?
It is very unpleasant. I was even directly offended in certain situations. I think that, based on my education and experience, I can contribute and help find better solutions. However, since I am an Army member, my opinion is my personal thing. Hopefully, the Chief of Staff will realize that he has missed an opportunity he shouldn't have.
My opinion is that there is no confidence in me. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that someone is asking himself:"Why hasn't he gone to the other side?" My son has been asked that question as well; he was my escort for a while and this happened when he was arrested and sent to dig trenches. They swore at his mother and wanted to know why his father was in Sarajevo instead of in Pale [Bosnian Serb unofficial capital]. I think that, even today, some people wonder how come Divjak had enough courage to stay here when he could have finished with a bullet in the back of his head. I don't think that anyone can give me a reasonable justification regarding why I'm not allowed to carry out the duties for the benefit of Bosnia-Hercegovina.
Your own Army arrested you on one occasion. You refused to reveal the real reasons for your arrest. Is now a good time to talk about this?
I said once that I was arrested. I was supposed to stay in jail for seven days. Instead I was imprisoned for 27 days. There is a document which says that I was allegedly arrested because of collaboration with the Cetniks [nationalist Serbs], weapons trade and so on. It should be emphasized that I was treated extremely well during the first two days in jail; they detained me in order to protect me but, even in jail, some veteran fighters from the Konjic area were threatening me and accusing me of preventing liberation of Glavaticevo and Bjelimici.
In jail, I was on a hunger strike for 4 days but no one payed attention. I was interrogated for some 5-6 days. Then, on the seventh day, they told me that I was free to go, but that I couldn't go back to Sarajevo because I was in danger from Juka [Prazina]; allegedly he wanted to abduct me and keep me as a hostage.
What was my most painful experience from that period? On 12 or 14 December, 1992, president Izetbegovic visited Neretvica, actually the village of Parsovici near Neretvica, where I was detained; I was told to go to the dining room so that the president could see me. Naturally, I refused. If the president didn't find it suitable to visit a man who had risked his life, then I wasn't willing to go out to the dining room and see the president. Let me remind you that I was near Izetbegovic during the decisive moments in Dobrovoljacka [Volunteer] Street at the beginning of the war.
I asked Izetbegovic on one occasion why he had not wanted to see me in jail. He said that he had had unflattering information about me at the time. And then he said that I was in jail for only three to four days. Actually, as I said, I was in jail for 27 days.
Although I was the Deputy Chief of Staff at the time, nobody bothered to organize my transport over the airport runway in an UNPROFOR vehicle [before the completion of a tunnel running under the airport runway, the only connection of Sarajevo with the outside world went over the runway, in full view of Serb snipers]. As all other soldiers and civilians I had to run the full length of the runway. I later asked Halilovic whether he had doubted in me. He said he hadn't. I don't know if he was honest with me. Later, one of the men who had arrested me boasted that he was behind that. I have his name as well as the name of a man who told me about that. But, that will have to wait for another time.
The founding of a first Serb battalion was announced in Tuzla almost a year ago. It was even announced that Momcilo Duric was supposed to be the commander of that unit. However, the battalion has never been formed. According to some informations, general Muslimovic is responsible for that. Why wasn't the battalion formed?
Momcilo Duric used to be a battery commander; today he is on a lower position in the Tuzla garrison headquarters. Bosnia-Hercegovina is a multinational state; therefore it should have a multinational army too. I've been thinking about what would happen if such a unit were to be sent to the front. Serb soldiers would fight Serb soldiers on the other side. I think that the common army of all Bosniacs, Serbs and Croats is a much better solution than the formation of separate national units and armies.
A number of municipalities in western Bosnia have been thoroughly ethnically cleansed. Was western Bosnia liberated or was it actually occupied?
As eastern Bosnia was occupied by the army of republic srpska and military units from Serbia and Montenegro, in the same way the "liberation" of municipalities in western Bosnia (which have majority Serb population) is actually an occupation if one has in mind that both the Serbs and Bosniacs cannot return to their homes on that territory. It was simply occupied by another state. The Dayton agreement deadline for departure of foreign fighters has expired. However, some volunteers from FR Yugoslavia are still in Karadzic's army and some Croatian army members have been transferred to HVO.
Today, on the territory of Bosnia-Hercegovina, there are several armies: the Bosnian Army, HVO, republic srpska army, foreign armies, IFOR... In that context, what is the future of the Bosnian Army?
The documents from Dayton are one thing and what happens in practice is another. The Dayton agreement accepts the existence of the Federal Army and republic srpska army. Therefore , first, it is necessary to establish the Federal Army as a common Army of Croats and Bosniacs; it should also be accepted by other nationalities. The Bosnian presidency is supposed to be in charge of these two armies but, in practice, they are bound to encounter problems. I don't expect that a common army will be formed in a near future, simply because the western part of the state is closly entwined with Croatia and the eastern one with Serbia. Therefore, I don't expect to see a unified army for a long time.
According to you, who are the greatest criminals on the Bosnian territory?
The basic responsibility for the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina lies on the Army Staff of the former Yugoslav Peoples Army. It tried to influence the transformation of political relations in Yugoslavia. That shows that there was a military takeover, although the Army stayed in the background. Milosevic was the main actor in this coup. It is a fact that the Yugoslav Army put its potential in the service of the idea of greater Serbia on the line Virovitica-Karlovac-Karlobag [towns in Croatia]. Draskovic and Seselj [Serbian nationalist politicians] also supported this line as a western border of greater Serbia. They are also responsible in front of their own people in spite of Draskovic's about face during the war. He supported the idea that Bosniacs and Serbs cannot live together. His novel "Knife" gave a false picture of interethnic relations in Bosnia-Hercegovina. As far as Croats are concerned, the main culprit is a man who said in Paris that the Muslim nation is a fabrication of the communist system, and that it was used to disrupt Croat-Serb relations. Individual war criminals are only exponents of a greater Croatian and greater Serbian policies. The Hague knows about them. On the Croatian side, there are Blaskic, Kordic and others. Of course they are also on the Bosniac side.
The most brutal in all this was Mladic; his orders, like the one from May, 1992, "aim at Velusici (Velesici); there aren't many Serbs there," or the one "shoot in their bodies, blow up their brains," show that he is a monster. Unfortunately, he wasn't the only one.
Certain paramilitary formation within the Bosnian Army as well as the extremists in HVO also committed crimes.
Regarding HVO, I am certain that everything was politically organized. In Hercegovina, HVO committed a crime against people and against history.
Since no one has been sentenced for war crimes yet, I don't want to brand anyone with that accusation. I did say that the members of the Bosnian army had also committed crimes. At the beginning of June, 1992, a five member Ristovic family was killed in Sarajevo. The Chief of Staff said at the time that the culprits would be found within 24 hours. He knew who was guilty for that crime six hours later but, unfortunately, he didn't react. I am sorry that he didn't react appropriately. That would have helped to maintain the multinational nature of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Paramilitary formations in Sarajevo used to decide on their own, actually individuals in those units, whether someone was an informant for the Serb side. The Bosnian Army did everything in its power to prevent vengeance among the soldiers who had lost their loved ones.
All top people in the Bosnian Army, General Delic and you personally, as well as president Izetbegovic, knew about what Caco, Celo and other commanders of different paramilitary armies did. What do you think now about that sort of "tolerance"?
First, I should say that Mr. Pejanovic, the president of the Serb Civic Council and the president of the Commission for protection of the constitutional order also knew about that. Pejanovic had data about the missing and did nothing about it. The question is why all those responsible for the destiny of Bosnia-Hercegovina failed to react. Mr. Miro Lazovic was among those who publicly reacted to the murder of four Croats and a Serb woman in Hrasno. I am not trying to justify Army's nor president's behavior. On May 27, 1993, I sent a letter to Mr. president and gave him a detailed description of what was going on with Caco. He called me and we talked for about ten minutes. He said that he would take steps to rectify the situation.
The conclusion was that, at that moment, Caco and those like him weren't dangerous for the president and the Bosnian government. The moment the president and the government felt endangered they reacted. On the other hand those units were not paramilitary armies, but legal formations and a part of the Bosnian Army. The responsibility for their actions falls on the Army Staff and the Presidency.
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