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South Slavic: August 5, 2004

5 August 2004, Volume 6, Number 25


Part II.

A program by Srdjan Kusovac of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service.

RFE/RL: What makes officers often gravitate towards extremist political parties, as were the cases of General Nebojsa Pavkovic in Serbia, General Sefer Halilovic in Bosnia, or Admiral Davor Domazet in Croatia?

Tarik Kulenovic (of Zagreb's Faculty of Political Science): Every case requires a separate explanation. Mr. Domazet probably had personal reasons for doing what he did after being retired.

As far as Mr. Halilovic is concerned, his approach to fighting the war was an unpopular one. I see him as an angry man. His case can be explained as bitterness and stubborn fighting for what he believed.

Zoran Dragisic (of Belgrade's Faculty of Civil Defense): There are some practical reasons, too, like trying to protect themselves from the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The Croatian veterans' association worked hard to prevent the extradition of Generals Ante Gotovina and Janko Bobetko. Those two obviously considered joining extremist political groups their best protection against extradition.

Kulenovic: They will never escape the tribunal's reach.

Ljubodrag Stojadinovic (former director of Yugoslav army's Information Service): I blame many officers' careerism -- even in the case of some very promising individuals -- for their doing what they did, so that it became hard to tell the differences between extremists of the right and the left.

People like Serbian General Nebojsa Pavkovic chose whichever party offered the most power and privileges. He accordingly joined the [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic "family" and chucked his professionalism to the wind, such as by delivering speeches in Mira Markovic's [Milosevic's wife's] backyard about preventing people from taking power from the street.

When a careerist's career is destroyed, he cannot fathom what happened and searches vainly for justice. Of course, he will never find it, because he does not understand what hit him.

RFE/RL: Why do the best military people shun politics?

Stojadinovic: There are many real intellectuals among the army officers, capable of becoming promising politicians. However, in spite of the promised reforms, the ones who get ahead are the ones who toe the line, not the creative thinkers. Those are considered heretics.

RFE/RL: Why are professional soldiers often unsuccessful in politics in the western Balkan states?

Jovan Divjak (former Bosnian army general): In Bosnia-Herzegovina, power is in the hands of the ignorant. In my view, people in politics should be very knowledgeable.... Money and political backing are also crucial. [There are examples demonstrating that] army officers have a difficult time in politics because they lack such a base.

Stojadinovic: There is nothing to stop a general from going into politics. The problem is that they rose through a military system that rewards mediocrity, so that when they leave the military and find themselves in a more competitive environment, they often have trouble adjusting....

RFE/RL: In conclusion, we asked our guests whether they see any future for professional soldiers in politics.

Dragisic: We are on the right track. Slovenia has already joined NATO, Croatia is a member of Partnership for Peace, Bosnia-Herzegovina is about to join it, and I hope Serbia will become a part of it in the foreseeable future, too.

The armed forces in all the former Yugoslav republics will eventually take on the role they are supposed to in a democratic society.... Once those armies are transformed in keeping with democratic and European standards, there will be no problem for a person who has decided to end an army career and start a political one.

Civilian institutions, such as parliaments and governments, need people with military and defense expertise.... Retired officers are the only military experts available outside armies. One should bear in mind that in a normal and democratic environment, there is nothing scandalous or controversial about retired generals getting involved in politics.

Kulenovic: I find it very good for a [military] person's mental health. In the United States, people get used up in war and they simply cannot do their job anymore. Switching to another profession, including politics, is a sort of a re-socialization for them, allowing them to face different views and ways of functioning.

This also enables the former generals to live normal lives as human beings and depart that Balkan mythical world that transforms generals into the heroes of folk ballads and epic poetry. Returning to civilian life makes them real people again.