Affairs: Generals on Trial
19 April 1993
The Criminal Council of the Military Court in Belgrade (presided by officer Dusan Dopudja) has acquitted Brigadier-General Aleksandar Vasiljevic, the former head of the Security Department of the Yugoslav Peoples' Army (JNA). A rather unpleasant trial, which had taken up a year almost, was, thus, brought to an end. The trial has set a precedent in the judicial and political practice of the post-communist countries. The head of the military security was put on trial, the first such case ever, without an earlier hearing in the Military Council, the top political bodies (formal and informal ones), or a specially formed State Commission (even though the issue was most delicate). The whole thing was poorly prepared, unconvincingly performed, and, a total failure, as far as the proceedings in the court of original jurisdiction is concerned. General Vasiljevic says he has known this from the very beginning, "I was afraid that the proceedings will be abolished, since I'd then remain under suspicion. I have said that they would abolish themselves in that case, and not me. Captain Dopudja and his Council have mustered the courage and the nerve not to succumb to pressure."
While the main hearing was still underway, the President of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, paid a visit to the Yugoslav Air Force in Batajnica. That is where he talked about the "damage" inflicted by trials and affairs. At the beginning of March, 1992, when the affair was launched with an appropriate uproar of the state-controlled media, Branko Kostic, the then Vice-President of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ) and General Bozidar Stevanovic, the Air Force Commander announced "the biggest espionage affair in the post-war Yugoslavia" and the "Opera" affair in the line of the Air Force. Everything ended the way it had begun - with political statements. The "Opera's" history cannot be separated from General Vasiljevic's trial: Colonel Slobodan Rakocevic was an officer directly submitted to Vasiljevic in the line of the Service as the head of the Air Force Security.
Why was so much potentially compromising effort put froth only to get the upper hand over one General (out of 130 others expelled from the Yugoslav Peoples' Army(JNA) - The Yugoslav Army(VJ) ), several senior officers (hundreds were chased away) and two "conscripts-volunteers"? The Counter Intelligence Service used to occupy a significant place in the former Yugoslav police system. Unlike police departments, which are local phenomena in charge of the local authorities, the military security remained the only police agency (or the secret service) with limitless competency on the entire territory of the Federation, after the Fourth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Yugoslav Communist Party in July, 1966 (to which it considerably helped and contributed). The competency of the Federal Police was subjected to systematic limitation since 1973 (when the tasks of the state security were passed on the republics and provinces), only to be practically liquidated in 1990 with a mass layoff of workers; the Federal Police no longer exists since the Serbian Police took over the Federal Police building last fall (like Federal Yugoslavia, like Federal Police).
The competency of the Counter Intelligence Service (KOS) was, understandably, limited by a need to protect the Armed Forces, but both life and practice necessarily account for the Service' s wider field of work. In short, KOS used to be the only interior secret service for decades, whose activities covered the entire territory of the Federation; it was accountable to its minister, and through him, to the head of the state. All until a year ago, it had been used in this capacity, to make an evaluation of the political and security situation in the country's capital ahead of March 9,1992, for example, all until the public trumpets blew the "Opera" affair.
The roots of these affairs, which focused on the Security Department of the JNA-VJ, are to be found in the outbreaks of the Balkan wars in June 1991. The Commander of the JNA Air Force, General Antun Tus, was retired in the mid June. It had been assessed that the General was not suitable for what was to follow, since he recognized the regime in Zagreb and gave his support to the idea that JNA removes the barricades in Krajina. Generals Vojislav Radovic and Zivan Mircetic, as well as Colonel Slobodan Rakocevic, stood out in the assessment-making process. The military action in Slovenia started on June 17th, at the point when General Zvonko Jurjevic had already been appointed Air Force Commander. At about the same time, the Air Force General, Bozidar Stevanovic, who is a close friend of Antun Tus', handed in a request to be retired in a regular procedure, through the Personnel Council (comprising the staff of the Federal Secretariat of National Defense (SSNO) and some other important bodies on the federal level). It was comprehended that Stevanovic believed he stood no chance of becoming the Air Force Commander, since he did not get on with Jurjevic (as Tus didn't). However, somebody - who is not just anybody - persuaded General Stevanovic to be patient and to revoke his request, which he did, while the Personnel Council accepted the annulment of the request for retirement (which had never happened before). The war in Croatia gained in intensity, with the Air Force going into action, but not in a way which would satisfy the pilots. Therefore, in August, 1991, the pilots and officers of the Air Force 5th Corps wrote a famous and (soon forgotten) letter to the Zagreb-based Supreme Command. In the letter, it was demanded that Generals Kadijevic, Brovet, Jurjevic and all non-Serbs on high command posts be replaced. It is said that the head of the 5the Corps Headquarters, Ivo Martinovic, compiled the letter, which was signed, among others, by Commander General Ljubomir Bajic as well. Bajic had seen General Stojanonic two days earlier; hardly was there no mention of the letter on the occasion.
The atmosphere was already hot: the Supreme Command was aghast at the letter but the Security Department (General Vasiljevic) established through an operative process that Tus was behind the letter, and that General Bajic had been deceived; Kadijevic reprimanded him when taking his report and KOS said that Bajic was a proven Yugoslav patriot and capable commander and that he would not do it again. Besides the "letter" affair, the Air Force was rocked by the case when Vojislav Seselj (the leader of the Serbian Radical Party) was transported to Bihac by a military helicopter, which most of the pilots condemned, noting that it would be very much the same as transporting Dobrosav Paraga (the leader of the Croatian Party of Rights). In the meeting of the Air Force Command the act was also condemned by everyone, including General Stojanovic, form under whose window Seselj took off. That was not the isolated case: the base of the 252nd fighter squadron in Batajnica was often frequented by people, such as Mirko Jovic (leader of the Serbian National Renewal Party), Zeljko Raznjatovic-Arkan (leader of Serbia's strongest paramilitary formation) and Captain Dragan (former leader of Serbia's volunteers, now running a humanitarian fund for war invalids); the squadron was nick-named the "First Serbian."
All this only ushered the main events: At General Stevanovic's ,on September 24th, 1991, the commanders of his (First) Corps, the Air Force Academy, the 5th Corps and the Commander of the fighter wing from Bihac got together. Generals Jurjevic and Radovic, along with Colonel Rakocevic, were also present there. Stevanovic demanded that Radovic and Rakocevic leave; Jurjevic refused, so that Stevanovic demonstratively walked out. Some commanders bolted after him, but Jurjevic ordered them to stay. The meeting lasted until 11 p.m. and ended with an ultimative letter being read by Colonel Zivota Markovic: the replacement of Jurjevic and Kadijevic was demanded. Everything points increasingly to a putsch.
The course of General Vasiljevic's trial roughly indicates the following sequence of events: Colonel Nedeljko Boskovic, former member of the Air Force Security, was gotten out of retirement, first on an amateurish basis, without being activated. Boskovic found out, through his own lines, about the "Opera" affair and the presence of Radenko Radojicic and Slavko Malobabic in the Counter Intelligence Group (KOS) along the lines of that action. The two arrived from Zagreb, after the operative work there, which was enough for Boskovic to, according to his connections, launch a story on "Ustashi spies in the Air Force." Beginning of December, a group of KOS associates, by the name of Labrador, was exchanged; their return was taken as another "infiltration of co-opted spies." Some KOS sources hint that Boskovic, allegedly, then got hold of his personal dossier, through one officer. The dossier is claimed to be compromising. Naturally, these hints should be taken with a pinch of salt. But, the fact is that since the beginning of 1992, Boskovic and his allies within the Service pressed upward (to the Presidency and the state-controlled media in Serbia) the data, which were to compromise the "Opera" action. The working hypotheses and dismissed proposals (destabilization of Macedonia and "terrorist activities") were used as already-made charges. General Simeon Tumanov, Vasiljevic's deputy at the head of the Service, was accused of handing over a "counter intelligence assessment" (a report on political mood) of the Yugoslav Air Force pilots to Kiro Gligorov, the Macedonian President, who then sent it to Franjo Tudjman, the Croatian President. The end of January Major Zeljko Paradjin was killed in the OK Café in Zemun. Paradjin was known for bombing the Training Center of the Croatian National Guard (ZNG) in Novi Cakovci. The campaign in the state controlled media on March 5th linked the killing (without a political background, as the city police and military authorities claimed) to the "orders from Zagreb" - along the lines of the very same report for which General Tumanov fell under suspicion.
That was only a beginning: the accusations were soon to appear that Vasiljevic was preparing a putsch against the regime in Serbia by "meeting with the opposition", and Rakocevic was reproached for intending the arms, originally collected for the Serbs outside Serbia, to be used in the putsch. These two accusations, which were most serious, were not mentioned at all in the charges, later raised against the two of them.
VREME has already written on several occasions about the course of the investigation against the "Opera" and General Vasiljevic. They were kept in private prison in the Air Force Command without a verdict and against the law (from 4 to 40 days); there was beating and mistreating; the witnesses were "worked on" through bargains; there was everything. The Colonel famous for being able to force anybody to admit anything was brought from retirement. But, it does not end there: in the framework of the rationalization of the military legislature, two out of 3 Military Prosecutor's Offices were abolished with a decree issued by Branko Kostic, only to have a new decree abolish the previous one. Vasiljevic and comrades say that this was done so that the trial against them could be carried out properly. The Military Prosecutor and the President of the Military Court - as they say - were replaced because they refused to handle the case.
In the meantime, while the protagonist were meddling with the trials, Nedeljko Boskovic was reactivated and extraordinarily promoted to the rank of Brigadier General (without taking the Generals' exam); the JNA pulled out of Bosnia, where the current war broke out; General Stevanovic distinguished himself politically with his pre-election speeches, etc. The Service was finally purged and put under "control of the State Security Service of the Serbian Police," as the "outcasts" claim, relying on the KOS take-over following General Vasiljevic's retirement. It was the Fourth Plenum of the Military Security, General Vasiljevic says.
On the basis of cooperation with Alija Delimustafic, the Interior Minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina, KOS managed to infiltrate the B-H Interior Ministry and ensure their cooperation at the onset of the Bosnian crisis. Delimustafic handed over to JNA four intercepted arms transports destined for the Bosnian Serbs and one for the Bosnian Muslims, although he could have formally kept them in the hands of the B-H militia. Vasiljevic had made a deal with him: the Military Security would equip the B-H militia with protection means and several hundred hand-guns, while they would let the transports for Kninska Krajina through. That's how it worked; General Kadijevic testified in the Vasiljevic trial, and said, "The thousands of trucks and the thousands of soldiers roared down the roads in Bosnia-Herzegovina without a single incident taking place." When Jerko Doko, the B-H Defense Minister, requested a mobilization of the Territorial Defense - keeping in mind the Croatian experience of the besieged army barracks - Alija Delimustafic, according to an agreement with General Vasiljevic, procured a mobilization of the militia reserves instead (with the pre-war ethnic composition, politically reliable and under his control). Thus, the outbreak of the war in B-H was postponed. Somebody was obviously dissatisfied with such activities of KOS:
The leadership and members of the JNA Security, undoubtedly, had a Yugoslav orientation (whatever this might mean nowadays). The nature of the service considered, its infiltration by supporters of Milosevic's option - the union of all Serb states - was not easy. They did not fight for that - as former KOS members say; they seem to have defended the state which was already dead. As such, they posed a possibly big problem for the army, which was reduced to almost a third of the former territory, and, too strong for a local ruler. This time those who repeated the Fourth Plenum carried out their task properly, until the end. The destiny of General Vasiljevic and others is at this point politically insignificant: the service they headed is now dead.