used without permission, for "fair use" only

Predrag Radic, war time mayor of Banja Luka

Ask Novic About "Red Van"

by Biljana Gagula

Nezavisne Novine, Banja Luka, Srpska, B-H, September 15 1999

A people's representative in the Parliament of the Republic of Srpska and the war time mayor of Banja Luka talks for Nezavisne Novine about his role in the war, about the alleged secret list of the Hague Tribunal, about assistance to non-Serbs in Banja Luka, about the Serb Defense Forces, a conflict with the leadership of Krajina Autonomous Region in the Republic of Srpska, his meeting with Clinton, "Red Berets", demolition of mosques, "September '93" and much more

NN: Mr. Radic, a list of persons allegedly indicted for war crimes by the Hague Tribunal has appeared in the public. Your name is also on that list. However, it seems that you were not perturbed by that (semi)information?

RADIC: If that is the impression I give, the reasons should be sought in your question. Namely, I as well as you and the majority of those who know me believe that the whole affair with "alleged indictments" for war crimes is basically a "(semi)information". However, it is true that secret lists with the names of, besides yours truly, Madam Plavsic, General Milovanovic, Dr. Rajko Kuzmanovic, Jovo Rosic, Milan Puvacic, and Dr. Dragoljub Mirjanic, did not leave anyone indifferent. However, it is also certain that this (semi)information from "a diplomatic source close to the Hague Tribunal" has become a very pliable material in the hands of certain publications that are prepared to try and condemn people before a finished investigation and publication of arguments for an indictment. The very same source, close to the Hague Tribunal, allegedly told Dragana Vujovic, a journalist of Ekstra Magazin, that "... two former Serb officials have implicated themselves in their contacts with the Tribunal office in Banja Luka. One of them is Predrag Radic..." I don't know whether the other unnamed official has incriminated himself but I know for sure that I haven't done so. I am not even sure whether the Hague Tribunal does have an office in Banja Luka. I leave that for you to check. It is true that, irritated by the manner and place of General Talic's arrest, as well as (planned) psychological pressure on the Serb population in the Republic of Srpska, I stated that my conscience is clear and that I am prepared to travel to the Hague and appear in front of the Tribunal if necessary.

The indictment against Radoslav Brdjanin, among other, states the following: "The chief members of the Crisis Staff of the Autonomous District of Krajina were leaders of the Banja Luka municipality, leaders of the local organization of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), and the SDS commander of the Regional Security Center adjunct to the First Krajina Corps. These key members planned, incited, issued orders, abetted and urged all actions in connection with orders for the destruction of Bosnian Croats, Bosnian Muslims and other non-Serb population in AD Krajina. Every member held certain responsibility..." Your comment?

The first thought after such a long question is whether, during the copying of article 14 in the indictment against Radoslav Brdjanin, which is obviously the basis for your question, you (un)intentionally modified the original text in order to be able to ask "your comment?"? For example, why didn't you copy the part of the indictment which says "members then individually carried out those obligations for which they were placed in charge, according to the plan, each one in accordance with his own function," rather than saying "every member held certain responsibility" as you stated in your question? You must admit that there are essential differences between these two formulations: individual responsibility is one thing, while the responsibility of all members implies collective responsibility of all members of the Crisis Staff. Since the number of names on secret lists is growing, I would not be surprised if, based on article 24 of the indictment, you journalists, who according to that article "... spread propaganda which portrayed Bosnian Muslims and Croats as fanatics who intend to commit a genocide against Serb people...", also appear on secret lists. Of course, I won't be malicious and ask you for "your comment". Instead, I would like to draw attention to the appearance of "ketmanism" in journalism, as defined by Czeslaw Milosz and Borislav Pekic. Every individual who has committed a crime should be held responsible for that crime. However, when a whole nation is accused of that crime, and apparently that is the goal, then that is the end of the Republic of Srpska. If you intend to seriously investigate and write about what happened in those murky times, read Senad Pecanin's article published in Dani on May 28 199 under the headline "Requiem for Bosnia". You shall see that Serbs were behind the Muslims in everything.

Many are prepared to testify that during the war you assisted non-Serbs in Banja Luka. For example, that you sent a car for Anton Ruzic, a vice president of the municipal authorities, who had been taken away to some forced labor unit.

If I indebted someone, I leave it to him and his consciousness whether he shall testify to that effect. Regarding this question, I would like to recall late Nikola Koljevic, as another person whose name has also cropped up on all sorts of secret lists. As a vice president of the Republic of Srpska, he asked and begged me to, using all means at my disposal, bring back Anton Ruzic and Alojz Curic (a painter) from Grahovo to Banja Luka. He did the same for his colleague Vesna Sefic-Hadzovic when, because of "improved efficiency", she was almost fired. On the one hand that speaks about Nikola as a man and on the other hand about his impotence to issue an executive order as a vice president of the Republic of Srpska (RS). This is above all my, and perhaps Anton's, Alojz's and Vesna's debt to his soul. The fact that his name had appeared on secret lists speaks more about the people who put together those lists than about Nikola Koljevic. Unfortunately, it also speaks volumes, so help me God, about us.

You intervened to keep your predecessor Zekija Haznadar in her apartment...

The case of Zekija Haznadar and the Zvirac family has forced me to contemplate our nature. Both of these families received Serb refugees to their family houses and were then threatened by these people. Of course I intervened. They also wanted to confiscate Zekija's one bedroom apartment in which she moved her mother and sister after they had been thrown out of their house. In this case, Zekija was protected by the Lazarevic family, her next door neighbors, while the Zvirac family was protected by the then Chief of Staff of the Yugoslav People's Army, General Panic. The Zvirac family took in General Panic's relatives during the war. I could list many more similar examples, not because I am seeking someone's gratitude, but because I would like to defend the honor of the city of Banja Luka and its citizens. During the war, as they are now, the city and its Serb inhabitants were deliberately assailed. The importance of the citizens of Banja Luka in those murky times is illustrated by the following case as well. Late one night I received a phone call from late Slobodan Kustrinovic. He said that someone was trying to evict prof. Dzemal Kolonic from his apartment. I intervened with the Police and Kolonic stayed in his apartment. Such cases are numerous so that I can accept that I failed but that the citizens defended their honor, which cannot be said for many other towns and cities in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Those knowledgeable about the situation in the former AD Krajina claim that you had numerous conflicts with the members of this body.

You know, Banja Luka is the city of my youth. Its citizens entrusted me with a very responsible function at a very difficult time. Because of that, for two months after the elections I refused to enter mayor's office, so that Zekija Haznadar had to stay as the acting mayor until January 1 1991. They called me a secessionist while I fought for local interests. Whenever someone from outside, including the leadership of RS, tried to hurt the interests of the city, I reacted. They even imposed an administrator (!) in order to control me, but when he saw what and how I was doing in Banja Luka, he refused the appointment. I think that that episode was a joint product of some people from AD Krajina and Banja Luka. They certainly had an issue with my questions about hemorrhaging of funds from Banja Luka as well as commandeering of local assets by various republican, regional and even political party structures. I waged a real war against the assumption of state control over television, radio and "Glas Srpski". Documentation about that exists, as well as about who and how in the end placed all of these media under state control. Even today, I am convinced that Banja Luka (as a state capital), thanks to new and also old regulations is still subject to an unregulated outflow of funds. The Minister for Finances promised last year to let the public know to what extent each municipality participates in the finances of RS and how much is returned to eash municipality from the state budget. However, we are still waiting. Today, as well as in the past, I am convinced that the abolishment of the local police in Banja Luka, which would, as well as those in Celinac, Laktasi, Knezevo etc., be a part of the regional Police, is inexcusable. Does that make it clear why I was in conflict with both the state and regional authorities?

There were several attempts to replace you. On one occasion, I seem to recall, it was alleged that your son avoided mobilization?

You said it well, "I seem to recall". However, that was not the real reason. There are documents which clearly show that after the first mobilization, to which he responded, in June 1991 my son started studies in Santa Barbara in California. He graduated and continued his studies without using a cent of public, or my for that matter, funds which cannot be told for those who used this lie in the pre-election campaign in 1996. This lie was published in the state-controlled daily "Glas Srpski". I sued the daily in July 1996. However, the trial hasn't been concluded until today. As far as I know, at the time you worked for "Glas Srpski" and should know about this matter.

The real truth is that after a few months I tendered a resignation because the parties in the local council could not agree about the composition of the local government. I wrote that I refused to be held responsible for a situation that was out of my control. And, surprisingly, with overwhelming majority of votes by SDA [The Party for Democratic Action, leading Muslim-Bosniak political party], HDZ [The Croatian Democratic Union, the leading Croat party in both Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina], leftist parties and SDS [The Serb Democratic Party, during the war the leading Serb party in Bosnia-Hercegovina], my resignation was rejected. Half way through 1996 I wanted to resign my seat in the local council and thus the mayoral office, but I withdrew that resignation as well after the insistence of the councilors. After that, on two occasions local councilors from SDS demanded my resignation but the majority of the councilors, in a secret vote, rejected that demand. Demands for my dismissal were coming from certain circles in Pale [former capital of the Republic of Srpska, a mountain resort just outside Sarajevo]. They managed to replace me after the general elections in 1996, when I was the presidential candidate of DPB RS and was expelled from SDS. However, they needed a public, rather than secret, vote to pull that off. That is the whole truth about my dismissal.

At the time, Karadzic formed a commission to establish to what extent and why you were deviating from the official SDS policy.

That is not true. He issued a decree and formed a commission whose purpose was to establish the truthfulness of my statements in the public media. Namely, once I realized that none of my initiatives at the Chief Council of SDS was likely to succeed I publicized my platform through interviews to newspapers, news magazines and Serb TV. I think that Karadzic was under influence of his collaborators who were irritated by my insistence on the opening of "cesspools" that blighted RS (affairs: cars, aluminum, printing of money and oil). I came to this conclusion from the fact that Karadzic reacted to Brdjanin's decision to refuse to take part in the work of that Commission because according to him I was an honorable man with a telegram that stated that he agreed. The Commission completed its investigation and the Presidency of SDS decided to strike Commission's conclusions from the agenda of a meeting of the Chief SDS Council. However, the affairs have also not been resolved to this day. The consequences of all that were felt by Ekstra Magazin (it was banned for a year after publishing an interview with me in their 10th issue) and journalist Branko Peric who published an interview with me in NIN. Ceca Pezer also got in trouble because of me and the editor-in-chief of SRTV issued instructions that I was under no circumstances to appear on TV screens, even if I was chairing meetings of the Banja Luka city council. It seems to me that that document is still in force at SRTV because the sharp eye of a censor sometimes misses my likeness, but never my words, so that announcers always have to explain what I was trying to say.

There was quite a lot of controversy about your meeting with [American president] Clinton in Tuzla as well?

That was an integral part of the already mentioned pre-election scenario from 1996. If you recall, at the time at electoral rallies in Banja Luka they would say: "It is unthinkable to vote for Radic - his son is a deserter and he has meetings with Clinton and [Secretary of State] Christopher(!!)". And we have all seen what happened after the elections in 1996 and has been happening until today. It is enough for Mr. Clinton or Ms. Albright to as much as snap their fingers and they rush head over heels to meet them, journalists prominently announce those meetings, and later the meetings are hailed as yet another contribution to the building of better relations with the rest of the world. That is the situation today. However, a few years ago, my brief meeting with Clinton, organized under instructions of the presidency of the Republic of Srpska, was a huge sin and a black spot in my resume. As Mr Miodrag Zivanovic knows, I have never met Christopher but that did not prevent one of your colleagues from Glas Srpski from writing an article about the alleged meetings backed up by copious "documentation" provided by the Republic of Srpska Police. Glas Srpski and all other publications in Srpska refused to print my denial. The American embassy in Sarajevo also refused to issue a denial. All that had to do with the general elections in 1996.

What is actually SOS and who is behind the formation of this organization?

When in one of the previous answers I said that Serbs in Bosnia were in many ways behind SDA and especially HDZ I was referring, among other, to the Serb Defense Forces (SOS, Srpske Odbrambene Snage). This question, by the way, reveals another characteristic of journalists that I haven't been aware of. Namely, it is well known that journalists are "universally ignorant", but I was not aware that you also suffer from amnesia.

Before saying what, or better said who, was SOS, I will again refer to the mentioned article from Dani, "Requiem for Bosnia", in which Sefer Halilovic claims the following: "On February 7 or 8 1992 there was a meeting on military strategy in the village of Mehurici near Travnik... commanders of regional staffs of the Patriotic league of Bosnia-Hercegovina participated in this meeting. The preparations for this meeting started in 1991". The Patriotic League emanates from SDA as "...the exclusive founder of all Bosnian resistance movements". I quoted this because SOS was a Serb counterpart of the Patriotic League. It was established long after the establishment of the Patriotic League and definitely long after the establishment of the Croatian Defense Forces (HOS). Similarly, this formation existed very briefly and, as far as I know, its members were quickly absorbed by the Army of the Republic of Srpska (VRS). I really do not know who initiated the founding of SOS but if that was SDS then it only copied its then coalition partners in Bosnia-Hercegovina (SDA and HDZ) and with a long delay.

I seem to recall that in April 1992 SOS forces blocked Banja Luka. You negotiated with them as with a legal formation.

If that is what you seem to recall, I'll go along with your recollections. However, I would like to remind you that Banja Luka was not an island in a wide ocean, but a city connected by roads with Prijedor, Jajce, Kotor Varos, Derventa and, via Gradiska, Slavonija - all regions where fighting had already started. One does not have to be a marvelous strategist to realize that it was necessary to block the spreading of these flames to Banja Luka.

As far as the legality of various military formations is concerned I must draw your attention to the fact (and a documentation about this exists) that at the very beginning of the war the authorities in Banja Luka decided that all those who want to fight must be under a single command. I would also like to remind you that at the time you are referring to military units from Banja Luka were fighting in Slavonija and that immediately after their return VRS mobilized people from SOS so that they also participated in fighting to open the [Posavina] corridor. As far as "negotiations" with people from SOS are concerned I do not see anything strange in that. They had a specific task: to protect peace in Banja Luka and had to be pulled back into the proper framework whenever they exceeded their original orders. The difference between SOS and similar forces in Sarajevo, Travnik, Bugojno etc. can be discerned from conversations with Serbs who had the fortune to escape from these cities during the war, and quite a few of them are currently living in Banja Luka.

Later "Red Berets" showed up. Under whose orders?

That is exactly how that happened. "Red Berets" showed up, which means that they were not established by Karadzic, nor anyone from Banja Luka. I am saying this because you will find in the already mentioned article by Senad Pecanin that "Green Berets" were founded by Ermin Svrakic at the Police Hall [in Sarajevo] and that most of their members were recruited among the body guards of the president of SDA, Alija Izetbegovic. Most of them were recruited in Sarajevo, while "Green Berets" had branches in Jajce, Travnik and Hercegovina. Therefore, "Red Berets" were nothing new in this region and appeared with a significant delay. I am afraid that I cannot help you with the second part of your question: I do not know who ordered them to come to Banja Luka.

Although there was no fighting in Banja Luka, one cannot say that there was no violence, unsolved murders and intimidation?

It is correct that there was no fighting in Banja Luka but not because we were lucky, as some have maliciously implied, but because the best sons of our city sacrificed their lives far away from here in order to preserve that tenuous peace. Peaceful Banja Luka was a haven for Serb refugees from Slavonija, Bihac, Travnik, Bugojno, Zenica, Knin Krajina, Bosnian Krajina and many other places. All of them were exposed to violence and intimidation. Did not similar cases occur in Zagreb, Split, Rijeka and other cities where, also, there was no fighting? However, there are no mass graves in Banja Luka nor were there mass executions. There were unsolved murders, then as well as today, but the motive in most of these was financial gain. Also, one needs to keep in mind that there are appropriate institutions, here as well as among our neighbors, whose duty is to find perpetrators of such crimes. Of course, it is not my intention to try to justify such things, but everyone today understands that they were not unique for Banja Luka during the war.

During the war, all mosques in Banja Luka were demolished. Among them were Ferhadija and Arnaudija, both of which were landmarks of the city.

I went on record condemning these barbarous acts at the time when others were silent or made personal anonymous attacks because of my condemnation. Can you imagine our moral prestige if that did not take place? It does not make it any better that Banja Luka is the last settlement [in the Republic of Srpska] where mosques were destroyed. It is true that almost all Serb Orthodox churches in Croatia, as well as Saborna Church in Mostar and monastery Zitomislic, older than Ferhadija mosque, were destroyed, but that was not done by Muslims. An investigation was conducted immediately after the demolition but, what will happen in the future, having in mind that religious objects were destroyed on all three warring sides, depends on the agreement of religious leaders and the realization of the return of refugees. The preserved church in Donji Vakuf is pointless if there are no Serb Orthodox faithful who would pray in it.

Numerous companies in Banja Luka were ethnically cleansed and Muslims and Croats were fired. Was that also the case with the Banja Luka local authorities while you were the mayor?

Even in that we were behind Muslims and Croats in Sarajevo, Mostar, Zenica, Travnik, Bugojno and other towns and cities in the Federation and even in peaceful Zagreb. Since I cannot interpret this question as anything but a provocation, as I doubt that you can be that ignorant, I would like to respond to this question with a counter question: do you know how many Serbs, as you say, were "ethnically cleansed" from companies and local authorities in the Federation or, to make it easier, how many are currently employed by the private and state-owned companies and local authorities in the other entity? I doubt that you are aware that in Drvar, where Serbs won in the most recent local elections, a legally elected mayor does not dare enter the City Hall. If no one else, your colleagues journalists who were thrown out head first from all the media in the Federation only because they were Serbs should be able to answer that question. I seem to recall that one of them found an employment with your newspaper. Would you like to guess how and based on whose orders these people were "ethnically cleansed" from companies, local authorities, the Police and the Army in the Federation?

In 1992 the infamous "red van" was driving through Banja Luka. This vehicle was used to pick up Muslims and Croats who were not mobilized by VRS and to drive them to the Police station. Who controlled that van?

Since you've already mentioned that the van drove people to the Police station which was then and has been since then under the control of the Internal Affairs [Police] Ministry of the Republic of Srpska, you should perhaps put that question to minister Sredoje Novic. I am sure that he would answer your question. While at that, you may perhaps consider the Minister of Defense as well. However, having in mind journalistic ketmanism, I very much doubt that you will do so.

How do you today interpret the rebellion "September '93"? What was its goal, who organized the rebellion and what were its consequences?

That was quite a spectacle! 250 soldiers armed for combat, with tanks and armored troop carriers blocked the city and demanded from the local authorities to fulfill demands that could have only been fulfilled by the Government of the Republic of Srpska and VRS Chiefs of Staff. I went to talk to them and they sort of arrested me and kept me in custody between 8a.m. and 11p.m. without bothering to tell me what they wanted from me. Only the following day, at a meeting where General Talic was also present, they talked about demands that I would characterize as absolutely justified but definitely sent to a wrong address. I asked them why they hadn't made a left turn and continued to Pale instead of driving to Banja Luka.

Once all of that was over, suddenly people's representatives who had previously for three days in Prnjavor worked on a list of the District Board of SDS showed up. From the old list they tailored a new one which included their names, but also the names of some people who were not even the members of SDS at the time. At its next session the Parliament of the Republic of Srpska formed a commission whose task was to find answers to the questions you've just mentioned. Of course, the commission never did anything of the kind. One night Brana Crncevic and Momo Kapor [Bosnian Serb nationalist intellectuals, currently living in Belgrade in Serbia] tried to convince me that the League of Communists - Movement for Yugoslavia was behind the whole business. I very much doubt that Mico Carevic was behind that. I know him. He was never into oil, which continued to flow through the corridor although the participants in the rebellion were especially ticked off by the enrichment of the oil smugglers. At the same time, that rebellion was the beginning of the end of SDS and that would be its main consequence. I don't know whether oil was the goal of the rebellion. Maybe I am naive.

Minister [of justice] Milan Trbojevic has stated that there is a list of potential witnesses from the Republic of Srpska who could testify against Slobodan Milosevic in the Hague. What if you are invited to testify?

That can under no circumstances happen to me. First, according to the information "from diplomatic sources close to the Hague Tribunal" I am already on the list of war criminals. Secondly, there are many "super-achievers" who were in Milosevic's office almost non-stop. It would make sense that they now testify as his close collaborators against him. Even a sparrow wants to jump a dead mare but they should be careful and recall that even a dead mare can let loose a fart: they could find themselves in deep shit together with those who are calling on them to testify.

You mentioned several times ketmanism among journalists. What were you referring to?

Late Borislav Pekic gave a very simple and intelligible example for this phenomenon. Consider a missionary who wants to take cannibals off a human flesh diet. In order to win their trust, he has to join them and eat human flesh, pretend that he likes it and even ask for more. When his time comes and he finally recalls his humane mission and manages to convince cannibals to turn to vegetarianism, his stomach has already definitely digested a number of people whom he had to eat for only to him known higher goals. Do you understand what I am talking about? A ketman [henchman] is not innocent because he shared a place next to the cauldron with the cannibals, although he would continue to claim that he was right then and continues to be now and blame everything on the condition of the society which until recently he adored and which plentifully rewarded his efforts. Take a look at the articles of some of your colleagues journalists and you will be surprised by how many of them used to circle the cauldron of the previous authorities and eulogize them. Such people should not be allowed to teach anyone how to be a vegetarian since their breath still stinks of human flesh. Pekic identified ketmanism among writers which means that such examples can be found in all fields, especially those that have close ties with the rich cauldron of the people in power.

Translated on October 22 1999