used without permission, for "fair use" only

Croats and Serbs are (Un)suitable

by Duro Kozar, Oslobodenje-Svijet, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina, 2/8/96

In June, 1992, Safer Halilovic, then the Chief of Staff of the Bosnian Territorial Defense (TD), informed the public that 18 percent of the TD members were Croats, 12 percent Serbs while the remaining 70 percent were Muslims. He explained that these percentages did not correspond to the proportions of population in the last Bosnian census in 1991, but that one had to keep in mind that a majority of Serbs were in republic srpska, while the majority of Croats had joined the units of the Croatian Defense Council (HVO); he also pointed out that a lot of people had fled the country.

The fact that 12 percent of soldiers in the TD units at the beginning of the war were Serbs, meant a lot in the political as well as in the military sense. That was an unmistakable sign that a part of the Serb people refused to follow the policies nationalist of Radovan Karadzic. The Pale authorities tried to deny this fact, but were ultimately unsuccessful in that.

In the middle of 1992, a Serb lobby managed to convince a British journalist to ask a Bosnian Army soldier, a Serb, Radoslav Zoranovic, a provocative question about the participation of Serb people in "Alija's army". The journalist asked: "Do you really fight or are you simply a statistical factor?" Zoranovic didn't allow to be confused; he replied with confidence:" We do fight; as for our number and quality, you should ask Karadzic's Serbs about that: they know!"

Some changes followed: the TD was transformed into the Bosnian Army and Rasim Delic became a new Chief of Staff instead of Sefer Halilovic. The reorganization went quickly, Corps and ranks were formed; the Army settled accounts with those units and individuals who tried to stay out of the command chain. During that process, which was followed by significant battlefield successes, the participation of Croats and Serbs in the Bosnian Army was drastically reduced. According to some data, at the end of 1995, Delic's Army had at most 5 percent of Serbs and Croats!

In spite of the official declaration that all Bosnian patriots are welcome in the Bosnian Army, there seems to be an unofficial opinion that Serbs and Croats are unsuitable and that the Army is better off without them. This discrimination reaches all the way up to the Deputy Chief of Staff, brigadier general Jovan Divjak [a Serb], who is these days in charge of "parading".

Intensive personnel changes in the Bosnian Army began in the Fall, 1993, when brigadier general Stjepan Siber [a Croat], until then an assistant to the Chief of Staff, was suddenly (at least as far as the public was concerned) relieved of his duties and appointed to the position of a military attache in the Bosnian embassy in Switzerland. It was a strange decision: a country in war gives up the services of a general who had proved himself on a battlefield and transfers him to the foreign service. It seems that somebody's goal was to send Siber as far away as possible from Bosnia-Hercegovina and to remove the only Croat with strong pro-Bosnian orientation from the Bosnian Army. After that, there were rumors that the Bosnian presidency and the Army Staff would appoint another Croat to the position of an assistant to the Chief of Staff, but nothing came out of it. It was expected that brigadier Andelko Makar, also a Croat and then the Deputy commander of the Second Corps in Tuzla, would replace Siber. However, Makar was actually removed from an operative duty and sent to the officer school in Zenica, to teach. This happened in the second half of 1993, during the worst battles in this war, when the knowledge and experience of brigadier Makar was needed a lot in the zone of operation of the Second Corps in Tuzla.

The case of colonel Mihajlovic is probably the best illustration for this story. This officer was born in Serbia but, as an officer of the former Yugoslav Army, lived and worked for a long time in Bosnia-Hercegovina; at the beginning of the aggression against Bosnia he didn't escape to the so-called Yugoslavia nor joined Karadzic like some of his colleagues; instead he volunteered and joined the Bosnian TD. During 1992 he was an assistant to the commander of the First Bosnian Army Corps, in charge of morale and religious problems. A year later, he was relieved of his duties and demoted to a position of a chief of the department for social problems of soldiers. He accepted that duty as a soldier, although aware that he was demoted.

However, that wasn't enough; at the end of the last year, Mihajlovic was sacked and put on a waiting list for a new assignment! Mihajlovic finally understood what was going on. He felt cheated, because when, in the Spring of 1992, he joined the TD he hadn't been told that three years later he would become unsuitable because of his nationality. Something similar happened to officer Nikola Ivancevic. He left the former Yugoslav Army with the rank of the captain and joined the defenders of Bosnia. He reached the position of the assistant to the commander in charge of morale at the Teaching and Recruiting center in Sarajevo. Then, as a Montenegrin, he became superfluous. Because the people from the Army personnel department couldn't find anything which could discredit Ivancevic, he wasn't expelled from the Bosnian Army but was instead assigned to a position of an intendant in a logistics base. Considering the offered assignment equal to a demotion, Ivancevic refused to accept it as, in his words, "I didn't graduate from a Military Academy in order to work as an accountant in a military warehouse." He complained about the assignment to the command of the First Corps but he never received a reply. What is his status today? Officially, he is still a member of the Bosnian Army, he receives his salary and cigarettes; however, he hasn't worked for more than a year and a half. It seems that someone in the Army would rather have an non-Bosniac do nothing. Ivancevic could be very useful to the Army, but unfortunately, has an unsuitable nationality.

Mihajlovic and Ivancevic say that they complained to general Divjak about their status. They say that Divjak received them well and showed understanding but that he is unable to help; even his position doesn't correspond to his rank.

General Divjak was effectively assigned to civilian duties. He represents the Army at meetings, exhibition openings, book promotions, talks to children and does everything but what he knows the best - to command soldiers. Divjak graduated from a military academy in the former Yugoslav Army, worked for a long time in military education (he was even for a while the chairman of a tactics department), but all of that is of no use because of his nationality. There were rumors that he would be moved to foreign service or sent to retirement; however General Divjak says: "Even if they retired me, I would stay in the Army as an ordinary soldier."

Officer Zlatko Petrovic isn't any more a member of the First Corps Staff; there, he used to be the chief of a legal department. He has a mixed ethnic origin: his father is a Serb and his mother a Bosniac [Bosnian Muslim], but since his surname is Petrovic [a Serb surname], he is "privileged" to be listed as an Army member while working as a lawyer. After his and Mihajlovic's departure the First Corps Staff has become ethnically pure, purely Bosniac. The same is true for the Staffs of all other Corps except for the Fifth Corps, based in Bihac in western Bosnia.

From the beginning of the war, everything in the Fifth Corps has been "multi". The largest number of officers of all nationalities from the former Yugoslav Army joined the Staff and the units of the Fifth Corps. Its commanders, Hajrudin Osmanagic, Ramiz Drekovic and Atif Dudakovic, cared more about the abilities of their men than about their surnames. Very soon, the Fifth Corps became the best organized unit, even the best unit in the Bosnian Army.

Even now, the third in the chain of command is a Serb, colonel Aleksandar Mrenica. There is another Serb in the Staff: Drago Ilic. A significant number of soldiers in the units of the Fifth Corps are Serbs. There are a few Croats as well. Two Croat officers, Ivan Prsa and Franjo Grgic were members of the Fifth Corps Staff; they were later transfered to the HVO command for the Bihac region. This is the reason behind good cooperation of the Bosnian Army and HVO in the Bihac region. Division general Dudakovic, besides being a capable commander, is also a very wise man. All commanding officers in his headquarters are highly skilled professionals. On one occasion he said:" I can loose a battle before i explain the tactics to an amateur."

The situation might improve in the future. According to some unofficial informations, it seems that general Dudakovic has ordered that colonel Mihajlovic be assigned to a new duty and that every case of dismissal of non-Bosniacs from Corps Staffs be investigated and he informed about the results of the investigation. This is an encouraging move.

Translated on 2/29/96