Wrong Political Decisions

The Croatian President, Dr. Franjo Tuđman, interpreted accurately two key facts that could change the war and consequently most of the later events during time after the end of the Yugoslav wars. First, the consequences of the bloody march of Ratko Mladić on Srebrenica immediately followed by the fate of the then new peace attempt named Z4. Tuđman knew that American diplomacy was becoming a new key actor in searching for solutions in the Balkans, and he knew even more precisely that he could not reject the proposed peace plan, since the officials in Belgrade would do it. Mladić’s army headed toward Bihać after Srebrenica. On July 21, 1995, the mayor of Bihać, Adnan Alagić, wrote to the Croatian president on quite uncertain fate of the inhabitants and his fear of further crimes.
Tuđman possessed the necessary information for those two decisions that could, and probably would, if they were wrong, literally change the course of history at that time. Intelligence services, both ours and in neighbouring countries monitored, recorded and followed not only the key domestic political actors, ministers and representatives, but also crucial people in Serbia. It was during the war. Therefore, the former were monitored more or less for the convenience of reporting to the country’s president, Dr. Franjo Tuđman, and the latter due to war conditions and evaluation of the preparations of liberation of the country. Of course, it is not an everyday thing for the head of state to monitor its associates in such a way, but is quite understandable that in times of war, the intelligence services seek all the information necessary for military success. Even less understandable is that such wiretapping of Tuđman’s closest associates continued after the end of the Yugoslav wars.

During the peace and serenity of the Christmas and New Year’s period, on the eighth of January, 1999, the president of the Croatian parliament wrote a letter to the Minister of Internal Affairs, one of my Croatian colleagues, Ivan Penić. However, this was not a belated greeting card, not even one of the messages sent by the heads of parliament to ministers on important event or meeting at which the presence of a very special member of the government is necessary. No, the first sentence was telling everything. Academician Vlatko Pavletić wrote to the minister that there was a rumour that he was tapped, that he himself had such indications, and that he therefore requested to be confirmed with honour that he was not thoroughly wiretapped all-around during his four-year term as a president of the parliament. Who would expect that the appropriate departments would clean up his phone and working offices? A week later, Pavletić learned that they were tapping the Prime Minister as well.

It was some kind of internal state mode of communication that had political permission.

At the same time, the services actually brought the key information that formed the decision on military operations. Also on the Operation Storm, whose anniversary is being celebrated these days with the parade both in Zagreb and in Knin. On August 5, 1995, at half past seven in the morning, they recorded the conversation of the head of the Serbian Army, General Momčilo Perišić, with Colonel Mirko Radaković, who was somewhere in Krajina. The Croatian Operation Storm began just few hours before. Radaković mentions a possible fall of Knin for the first time. When asked whether they could endure, he only said that obviously everybody was leaving the territory, on which Perišić could only answer that he should not allow the soldiers to leave too, and to call him occasionally when he can. Several hours later, on the same day, the conversation between Perišić and General Milan Mrkšić was tapped. Mrkšić asks Belgrade whether they will get any assistance. Early in the evening, they tapped the conversation of Ratko Mladić, who estimated that Knin was lost because no one wanted to defend it and that the residents were fleeing.

Nevertheless, Tuđman did not get the key information in the preparation of Operation Storm from organized intelligence. The key information was brought to him by his then personal emissary, a member of the first Croatian presidency before that, a historian Dr. Dušan Bilandžić. On May 5, 1995, after returning from Belgrade, he reported that Serbia would not intervene militarily if the Croatian army attacked the then Republic of Serbian Krajina, and that the majority of Serbian population would move to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.

This produced later discussions on whether Tuđman and Milošević had agreed in advance. Not on the course of the Croatian offensive, but that the then Serbian army would not intervene militarily. However, there are various records, including the diary, of the ambassador Bilandžić, about the dinner at the Croatian general Martin Špegelj, on first days of May 1996 and the general’s claim that the Operation Storm was agreed with the Serbian president who was supposed to send General Mrkšić to Knin with a task of protection of withdrawal of the army of the Republic of Serbian Krajina.