Historical Transcript: Tudjman on Ethnic Cleansing
17 July 2003
publishes transcripts of former Croatian President Franjo Tudjman's secret staff meeting, held shortly after Croatian forces retook control of Serb-occupied territory in 1995.
CROATIAN PRESIDENT FRANJO TUDJMAN: The demographic problem should be solved militarily.
"One should proceed with the consideration that a military command could be a most effective means for solving the internal needs of the state. Considering the situation we face with the liberation of occupied territories, the demographic situation, it is necessary for military command precisely to become one of the most efficient components of our state policies in solving the demographic situation of Croatia. We have to consolidate Croatianhood in Istria and populate certain parts. … We didn’t accidentally create the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosna [a Croatian wartime self-proclaimed entity in Bosnia] and the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) [the Croat militia in Bosnia].
"We have, as you see, despite everything, despite all the circumstances, created an admired army. Therefore, we will solve that too."
It was with these historical words that Tudjman addressed the members of his military establishment on 23 August 1995, after they gathered that morning in the presidential palace at Pantovcak. Tudjman’s words were recorded in a transcript that--together with hundreds of other records of the Pantovcak sessions … --has long been in the possession of the prosecutors of The Hague [International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia]. Early this week, [the transcripts] reached the Feral Tribune
’s editorial office.
“We will solve that too” referred, in fact, to the violent state-sponsored Croatization of territory that was, until the beginning of August of that year, part of the so-called Republic of Srpska Krajina [the self proclaimed Croatian Serb entity]. “We will solve that too” was the code for the beginning of a broad campaign to cement the results of ethnic cleansing that the Croatian authorities--with the unselfish assistance of Krajina and Belgrade chiefs--realized through Operation Oluja [Storm]. After military action, it was necessary to radically change the ethnic picture of the liberated and “cleansed” area.
Consequently, on 23 August 1995, at 10 a.m., Tudjman’s defense heads, represented by Defense Minister Gojko Susak, Chief of Staff General Zvonimir Cervenko, Major-General Vinko Vrbanac, Rear Admiral Davor Domazet Loso, Colonel-General Josip Lucic, Colonel-General Imra Agotic, Colonel-General Petar Stipetic, Admiral Sveto Letica, and Admiral Davorin Kajic, assembled. The central role at the meeting, however, wasn’t intended for any of the soldiers, but civilian Jure Radic, former reconstruction and development minister and the supreme commander’s main operator in the sophisticated question of ethnic engineering. The settling of the deserted Krajina and the definite “consolidation of Croatianhood” in the until-then “un-Croatian” regions were the main topics of the session in Pantovcak.
We remind our readers that the transcript from the presidential palace discussed here appeared 18 days after the end of Oluja. The atmosphere is no longer particularly euphoric, but noticeably solemn and, above all, worklike. It was necessary to think of a model that would bring into action Tudjman’s instructions, addressed in a short dialogue with Jure Radic, a dialogue that could function as the motto of the session.
“Vojnic,” said Radic, “had 76 Croats, and 7,600 Serbs.” Tudjman responds: “Ok, now it’s going to be different.” [Vojnic is a town in central Croatia.]
Supreme commander Tudjman intended to carry out his plan with the help of the new territorial organization of Croatian armed forces. At the very beginning of the meeting he stated the following: “Considering a military-administrative command, or what we would consider division in operational zones as we have addressed them up until now, as well as the distribution of military units, one consequently needs to consider the geopolitical stance and strategic interests of the country, taking into account foreseen and possible enemies, today and in the future. However, one should also proceed with the consideration that a military command could be a most effective means for solving the internal needs of the state. We, however, don’t have the need, the special need, to solve consolidation of the existing order as it is the case in other countries, but we have it, for example, in the Istria region. But considering the situation we face with the liberation of occupied territories, the demographic situation, it is necessary for military command precisely to become one of the most efficient components of our state politics in solving the current crucial problem, namely the demographic situation of Croatia.
"Therefore, I called the vice president of the government and the reconstruction and development minister, Dr. Radic, to this meeting, in order to present, for the start of this debate, the current demographic situation, because the distribution of authority, regions, brigades of others, educational facilities, etc., can be a very beneficial and effective way of solving the situation where we need to consolidate Croatianhood as in Istria, and on the other hand to do it as soon as possible--nowadays it is not about changing the makeup as much as about populating certain towns, certain regions. If you establish towns, greater authorities, educational facilities, etc., it means that tens and hundreds of people will come to establish a family there and at once we have a different situation, life, etc.”
Jure Radic then took the stand to share his ideas for “consolidating Croationhood.”
JURE RADIC: Indeed, to be concise, I think it is well known to all of us that after the liberation of Croatia, the main problem in Croatia is the Croat. Simply, there are fewer and fewer Croats every day for a couple of reasons. One of the reasons is exile, as many were moved out of Croatia in the past because of political and economic reasons. The other reason has to do with the fact that in the past 40 years, fewer and fewer people are returning to Croatia every year. From 1953 until today, the number of those born in Croatia has declined by half. In 1953, … there were 98,000 births, and last year, only 48,000, thus half the number. This is certainly something that we in the army will experience in a little while, when those who can carry a gun will be fewer and fewer. We have black holes on the Croatian soil, where no Croats live. This of course is a consequence of devised greater-Serbia politics that intended, through the preparation of this aggression, to create deserted regions, and when we look at today’s picture of Croatia, we are counting on the premature return of all people to their homes, something difficult to expect when many have gotten accustomed to the surroundings of their exile …
"In this order of range, the critical area is the area that attempts a division of Croatia’s narrowest part in half, a division that those plotting in Belgrade and other places wanted to accomplish. Thus, from our point of view, the area that gets first priority for population consists of the former counties of Vrginmost, Vojnic, and part of the Karlovac county. Thus, the region of Petrova Gora and the surrounding mountains. Before the war, … 4,259 Croats and 26,298 Serbs lived in these three counties. Thus, [it is] a completely empty region, and the national priority No.1 is to populate that region with Croats and create as much of a balance as possible. I think that we have to focus on economic propulsion in towns that exist there, and these are Vrginmost, Vojnic, and some larger villages such as Veljun, Krnjak, etc."
TUDJMAN: We don’t have time for that. You present the situation, we’ll make decisions afterward."
RADIC: That’s the critical point. Equally critical is the area underneath, the Slunj area, where Croats have to return. This area is also pretty empty, but fortunately, there weren’t any Serbs or there were few. Thus, of equal concern from our point of view is this red-blue area [pointing at a map] at the narrowest part of Croatia, where Croatia was completely split. The next priority, ranging third, depends on whether we will consider the regions in Herzeg-Bosna, or Bosnia and Herzegovina, or not. It can be placed in order of importance in regards to Croatia. If the liberated areas of Livno, Glamoc, Kupres, Grahovo, and Drvar ever become populated by Croats, then the region of Knin becomes less important." [Livno, Glamoc, Kupres, Grahovo, and Drvar are Serb-populated towns in western Bosnia taken by the Croatian Army in the aftermath of Operation Oluja].
TUDJMAN: If it ever happens."
RADIC: That’s why the decision is up to you whether it will happen or not. If not, an equal third priority is everything in the former counties of Donji Lapac and Knin. These are two split communities that stretch along the Croatian border, with almost no Croats. In Knin there were, for example, 1,660 Croats, in Srb 29, in Doljane none, and in Donji Lapac 14."
TUDJMAN: Do you know how many there were after World War II, approximately?
RADIC: In Knin, 60 percent of the population was Croatian after World War II. I have the data but not with me right now.
TUDJMAN: What, 60 percent?
RADIC: Yes, 60 percent of Croats only in the city of Knin. … Knin was small then. Thus, this entire region of Donji Lapac and Knin is a key border region entirely devoid of Croats. I don’t know--I think it is interesting that the ethnically purest community in Croatia was the county of Donji Lapac, with over 99 percent Serbs. There is not one county in Croatia that has over 98 percent Croats, according to a prewar census from 1991, not one. There are in Herzegovina, four of them …"
TUDJMAN: There aren’t any in Zagorje either."
At this point we will take a short break to note Radic's joy that in the county of Slunj, there "weren't any Serbs," consequently to establish that Tudjman and company were cold-bloodedly handling the distribution of people in another country [Livno, Glamoc, Kupres, Grahovo, and Drvar are in Bosnia and Herzegovina], and to notice that the regions to be populated with Croats precisely overlap with the regions dehumanized during Oluja. Dehumanization entailed hundreds of liquidations of Serbian civilians, the departure of 200,000 people considered unwanted by the [ruling] HDZ [Croatian Democratic Union] for having the wrong names and surnames, the looting and burning of 15,000 to 20,000 Serb houses. … The goal of the listed activities was clear and clearly stated: Krajina should never again be Serbian by majority. Now we give the stage back to Tudjman …
TUDJMAN: Regarding the headquarters in the listed regions, operatively and strategically speaking it is not normal that a fifth division is in Osijek, Djakovo, and Pozega. Thus, primarily operatively, [I consider] Karlovac and Petrinja. Here, due to political reasons, I would rather go to Pazin than … you understand. Here I think that Knin is indisputable, considering that we have school facilities in Knin, a system more extensive than needed for civil schools in 50 years. Thus, should we make use of that for the headquarters for the … does that mean we should then have a high school?"
GOJKO SUSAK: There is enough space to bring in a guard brigade, headquarters, and a school. We don’t have to invest anything, Mr. President, all three will fit there."
TUDJMAN: I agree that we should make use of it and thus make Knin Croatian fairly quickly. But I want to see what we will do with Gospic. We also have to give Gospic some military institutions …"
CROATIAN ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF GENERAL ZVONIMIR CERVENKO: Here, Mr. President, we have a proposition for the operative distribution of commands, it is item No. 2, so allow the general to present what we think …"
TUDJMAN: I’m not sure whether Ploce, Metkovic, Neum would be the best, but we can’t [consider that] for now." [Ploce and Metkovic are Croatian towns on the Adriatic coast, while Neum is part of the Bosnian Federation, also on the coast.]
SUSAK: No, no, … the headquarters should be on the other side of Neum, not in Neum."
RADIC: If so, yes, precisely the other side."
SUSAK: South of Neum."
TUDJMAN: Maybe Ston."
And it was, naturally, Ston, but the most important is the recognition that Tudjman had intensively thought about making Knin “Croatian fairly quickly,” and that in August 1995 he still thought … that it was impossible to install military headquarters in Neum as the furthest region of southern Croatia. The headquarters for the military regions (six regions of the Croatian armed forces where units, constituting operational and administrative command) were finally established in Pazin, Knin, Karlovac, Varazdin, Dakovo, and Ston, while Knin, Karlovac, and Pazin were chosen to stabilize Croatianhood in those regions after decades of instability. Knin and Karlovac were also chosen in order to have more Catholic flesh transported from somewhere (most probably Bosnia) to the regions--a guarantee for making Serbs second-grade citizens and actively obstructing their return. The following two dialogues from the shorthand report bear witness to that very well …
GENERAL MAJOR VINKO VRBANAC: By liberating, Mr. President, this third part of the occupied area of the Republic of Croatia, the present conditions show, as you said in the introduction, that a change in population needs to occur by military means."
TUDJMAN: We have the fortunate situation that the liberation demands a distribution of military units that would simultaneously solve the demographical [aspect]."
RADIC: Vojnic and Vrginmost are the most critical counties. In one of those counties one should have at least some …"
TUDJMAN: Not only one, but both. If not a whole unit, at least a company should be placed there, without a compromise, please. Let‘s move on."
And then the grand finale of the Pantovcak session happens. Near the very end, Tudjman addresses his favorite topic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and complains to his chief assistants about the world idiots [leaders] that didn’t recognize the genius of his Bosnian adventures.
TUDJMAN: Maybe someone was watching when in the last pre-electoral speech in 1990 I somewhat undiplomatically said that the borders of the Croatian ‘pretzel’ were untenable,” says the commander, “but this doesn’t mean that we accidentally created the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosna and the HVO, and are now conducting those operations there. It is true that never in Croatian history have Croatian soldiers controlled more territory than now, but it's clear that in a formally administrative sense we can't yet organize differently than we have proposed. You know, in this formation, after creating such an army and politically succeeding in demoralizing Serbianhood and its army, if there were any international circumstances and wisdom, if they had let us, if they had told me, ‘we won’t allow Yugoslav air traffic, rockets provided by Russians, etc. to engage against Croatia,’ we could have said today, after [operations] Ljeto (Summer) and Oluja, we could have borders that would fit Croatia, and the rest of the world as well. But considering that there is no such wisdom, we have to discuss things under these circumstances, and ignore what we have accomplished in terms of Croatian interests and the Croatian state.”
And this is how Tudjman spoke in August of 1995.
This transcript--together with hundreds of others located at The Hague--testifies to the fact that the former Croatian authorities carefully planned, prepared, and carried out the ethnic cleansing of Krajina Serbs. From the forged leaflets distributed in Krajina before Operation Oluja, asking Serbs to flee, to post-Oluja days when from Knin to Dvor na Uni mass murders and burnings of houses took place, to later weeks and months when the ethnically cleansed regions were sometimes successfully populated with Croatian settlers brought together by poverty. They were assigned Serbian houses spared by the flames and the dynamite, in order to exclude the possibility of a return of the unwanted. And that wasn't the only method used to stop their return.
Finally, it is unclear why individuals from the current Croatian government, who sent kilograms upon kilograms of Tudjman's transcripts to The Hague, are today fanatically defending Ante Gotovina [suspected war criminal indicted by the ICTY], claiming that no ethnic cleansing took place in Krajina. It would be better if they spoke to, let's say, Jure Radic, about that issue.
Translated by Mirna Skrbic.