Dr. Franjo Tuđman and Slobodan Milošević were connected through a key political thought, even in all the opposites and repetitive hatred and war.
That the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia was a real opportunity for changing the existing republic borders of both Croatia and Serbia.
When Milošević took power, when he was removing and liquidating his opponents and becoming a new political icon, he knew that he had to talk about the changes. Not only because it was at the end of the 1980s, when European communist regimes fell, but primarily for the strengthening of his power.
A year before his election, the Presidency of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts appointed the Commission, and ordered it in 1985 to prepare a special Memorandum on the conditions in Yugoslavia, and in particular the issue of Serbia in the then Yugoslavia. At the time of his election, the key provisions of the Memorandum were already known. That Serbia was always a neglected republic in the second Yugoslavia, that the Serbs in Croatia were threatened, that there was a secret republic coalition against Serbia, and that it was therefore necessary to demand the unification of all Serbs in one country. This meant the final regulation of conditions in Kosovo, as well as the territorial unification of Serbia with parts of the territory of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Milošević did not know Tuđman yet at that time. But Tuđman, Tito’s general, and later a Croatian political prisoner and dissident, followed the Belgrade political coup. And he made the decision. That he will continue with the initiative announced to Milovan Đilas a decade before that about the need for mutual talks on Serbian – Croatian relations. Then, Đilas and Dobrica Ćosić confirmed the basic thesis that Zagreb and Belgrade can decide on the fate of Yugoslavia.
In any case, based on the type of decisions that obviously were not only accidental, the leadership of the Croatian police and secret police obtained in 1987 the approval of the federal Yugoslav authorities, very likely Stane Dolanc, who controlled all services, and issued a valid passport to Tuđman. This meant that he could travel to Canada and America to visit the politically most influential section of Croatian emigrants, to present them with his political plan for the establishment of a new Croatian political party and promote his presidential candidacy.
Tuđman’s main competitor for leading the new Croatian political party HDZ was Dr. Vladimir Veselica. He was also a political prisoner and dissident. In their programs, there was at least one difference. I have to stop at that difference.
To be more specific, without that, we cannot understand the content of the last verdict of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague pronounced a few days ago against six Bosnian-Herzegovinian Croats. A verdict which is at the same time condemnation of the then Croatian state policy and its leaders. Tuđman wrote a book titled The National Question in Europe a few years before his important American trip. In the third chapter, on the national question in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, hе first states that the so-called AVNOJ borders were determined to the disadvantage of Croatia, in favour of Serbia and Montenegro, and immediately afterwards he added the disagreement that Bosnia and Herzegovina became a separate republic, although it had always been in its major part connected with Croatia with which it forms an inseparably connected geographic and commercial traffic unit.
Since Tuđman protests against this, he also, of course, notes which federal arrangement would be more just than so established internal, inter-republican borders. Tuđman’s model was Banovina of Croatia, an agreed establishment from 1939 with western Herzegovina included, as well as those Bosnian towns where the Croats were allegedly majority citizens. Within this paradigm, there was also a thesis on the human resettlement of the population and the formation of pure national areas. Tuđman’s presidential competitor, Dr Veselica, promoted the opposite thesis, on an integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and, therefore, he lost in elections.
On March 16, 1991, Milošević spoke for the first time about the war. At a closed meeting with the presidents of the municipalities, he said that state borders were always determined by the strong ones. That he was of opinion that the right of Serbia was that all Serbs live in one state. And that the fight was part of such a right. Only a few days before that, he sent a message to Zagreb. Stjepan Mesic, the then member of the presidency, protested with Borisav Jović due to Milošević’s support for rebel Serbs in Croatia. Jović allegedly responded to him, as stated by Croatian military sources, that they are not interested in the Serbs in Croatia, because they were their citizens. But, that it was their interest to acquire most of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The message was delivered. There was a small uncertainty here. Did Tuđman forward the invitation to Milošević for an urgent mutual meeting through his presidential office, Hrvoje Šarinić or again through Mesić. The meeting was arranged fast. On March 25, 1991, two presidents met in Karađorđevo. After the introductory Tuđman’s protests over Serbian military aid to rebelled Knin, Milošević replied that they could agree on absolutely everything. Then, for four hours, they walked and talked alone. No witnesses and official notes.
Mesić later talked about Tuđman’s euphoric return to Zagreb. His associates were waiting for him, he landed with a helicopter, in his offices in Zagreb’s Visoka Street. I know the rooms and I can imagine them, and I always remember their constant ventilation, because Mesić was a passionate smoker, and he smoked a special type of long cigarettes, the Golden Filter 160, fearing that Tuđman would smell the smoke of cigarette smoke during one of his visits. Was it the same the evening when he came from Karađorđevo, of course, we cannot know. However, we know that Šarinić, immediately after returning to the conference table, unrolled the military maps and literally said “look, this is what Milošević offers us.”
Bosnia and Herzegovina was divided so that Croatia would get all the territories of the so-called Banovina, as well as Velika Kladuša, Cazin and Bihać. Tuđman believed Milošević’s offer and also immediately appointed a state commission to agree on such new borders between Croatia and Serbia, including the development of topographic maps.
At the end of July of that year, Tuđman convened a session of the Supreme State Council. It was actually about his battling and the dismissal of General Martin Špegelj. This was the first consequence of his understanding of the deal with Milošević. Špegelj was removed, because he wanted, during the JNA aggression against Slovenia, to respect the agreement reached with the Slovenian Defense and Interior Ministers, Janez Janša and Igor Bavčar, as well as to block the Yugoslav army when crossing the Croatian territory. Tuđman refused such cooperation, because, as he said at the above-mentioned session, the key to the solution of the Yugoslav issue is on the relation between Serbia and Croatia.
That, he said, the so-called war in Slovenia was agreed, and that Špegelj wanted Croatia to be caught in a trap and a catastrophe. Because General Veljko Kadijević personally clearly convinced him that the Yugoslav Army would never attack Croatia. As for that Kadijević’s confirmation, Tuđman most likely referred to his confidential conversation with Kadijević in his Belgrade residence a month earlier. Therefore, it was necessary to insist on agreement with Milošević and the final agreement with the Serbs.
President Tuđman recorded all his meetings, conversations and small chats. For the history. That is how his assessment made on September 17, 1991 was recorded. I said, Tuđman says, and it can be heard from the official tape record of the president of the Croatian state, part of Bosnia and Herzegovina to Serbia, part to Croatia. But there can be, he continues, a Muslim state in the middle, such historic Bosnia that will no longer have the ambition to form a large Islamic state in Europe.
After the end of the bloody and brutal Yugoslav wars, a special International Criminal Tribunal for the War Crimes was established in The Hague. In 1999, a trial of Croatian General Tihofil Blaškić was held.
In his closing argument, US prosecutor Gregory Kehoa accused Croatian President Tuđman of being a creator of the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks. As one could see from the explanation, the US prosecutor understood Tuđman’s writings on the national issue in Yugoslavia, which were issued for the first time in America in 1981, as a plan written five years before the Serbian Memorandum and at least a year before Milošević’s arrival to power.
Croatia’s official policy simply did not hear such a wild indictment. In the indictment of the same court, on March 2, 2004, against the six Bosnian Croats, who were finally convicted this week, the name of Dr. Franjo Tuđman appeared again as the main creator of the crimes committed in the Croatian Muslim War. He was accused, together with Defence Minister Gojko Sušak, General Janko Bobetko and the President of the Herceg Bosna, Mate Boban, for the organized criminal enterprise.
Therefore, the verdict pronounced this week, on the guilt of the six officials and soldiers of the so-called Herceg Bosna, could not have been a surprise for the official Zagreb.
The statements of the highest Croatian officials about the unfair trial and neglecting of Milošević’s aggressor role are again primarily an alibi for the late and implicated waiting for subordinate executors, military and political, to assume all responsibility and guilt.
The suicide of General Praljak during the sentencing is sad as every single death is sad.
The Hague Court ended its work and made a judgement on guilt.
And it will take more time for acknowledgment of responsibility and the commemoration of remembering of all victims in the Yugoslav wars.